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The Life of the Party Is Closer Than You Think

04/15/2015 08:55 am ET | Updated Jun 15, 2015

The other night, my friend and brilliant writer Alexandra Rosas shared a glimpse into her life. With short, non-descriptive sentences, it wasn't intended to be profound. With text structure unpolished and informal, it wasn't meant to evoke an emotional response like the well-crafted essays she writes. But her words brought me to my knees. I read them three times and then I cried. This is what Alexandra shared:

I fell asleep on the couch at 7 last night. Woke up two hours later at 9, looked around, everyone gone. I popped in to check on littlest, found him in bed reading. "Where is everyone, honey?" He looked up and answered, "We all went to bed, Mom, because you're the party."

That's it, I thought to myself. This woman has achieved life's highest honor. She is the party. She is the heartbeat of her family. She is the reason for gathering. She is the celebration. If there is a more important role in life, I do not know what it is.

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For days, I thought about that ultimate compliment spoken by a little boy about his mother. In fact, I became a little obsessed with it. Could I be the party? The question frequently popped into my mind in the days following.

As I played Frogger with my younger daughter at the orthodontist's office and we both squealed when my frog made it safely to the other side...

Could I be the party?

As I talked to my 11-year-old daughter at bedtime and she said, "Just put your arms around me and stay a little longer"...

Could I be the party?

As I congregated with old friends and we laughed, cried, and shared our difficult truths...

Could I be the party?

As I participated in the silly "Furry Language" my daughter made up to communicate with Banjo the cat...

Could I be the party?

As I spent the morning playing with my little nephews and happily agreed to "more jelly beans and more stories, Aunt Wachel"...

Could I be the party?

As I hoisted my growing girls over my head to do an "underdoggy," their favorite move on a swing...

Could I be the party?

It wasn't until I pulled the car into the garage after picking up my older daughter from swim team practice that I finally had an answer. Our latest favorite song was playing on the radio. We had the bass pumping and the windows rolled down as we belted out the lyrics. My husband happened to be entering the house at the time. But when he saw us, he stopped for a moment and just smiled at me. The way he smiled with such joy -- like he was happy to see me happy -- made me catch my breath. He was happy to see me happy. He was happy to see me being the party.

And that's when I knew why Alexandra's words had affected me so.

There was a time in my life when I wasn't the party. I could plan the party like a boss. I could clean up the party without wasting a moment. I could wow the partygoers with beautiful presentation and decadent treats. I could make my family look picture perfect for the party. But when it came time for the party, I wasn't really there. I was not a present and joyful participant.

I was not the party.

After all, how could someone who wasn't emotionally present be the party?

When I saw my husband's wide smile as he stood at the garage door, I remembered what he looked like when he was most worried about me. It was during the height of my overwhelmed life. I'd blown up when he said I needed to slow down... to stop doing so much... to smile once in a while. I locked myself in the bathroom and squeezed myself into the dusty corner between the powder blue wall and the toilet. I rested my head against the cold porcelain as my body was wracked with sobs.

"I don't want to be here anymore... I don't want to be here anymore," I cried over and over and over.

I was just so tired. I was just so empty. I was just so stressed. I was just so sad all the time. I envisioned running away from it all, and then I felt like a monster for even thinking that.

My husband kept knocking on the door and insisting that I let him in. But I stayed in my little corner, tucked into a ball, until my tears ran out -- wondering if I'd ever feel life in my heart again.

I wasn't able to articulate it then, but I can now. And it is always something I tell others when I have the privilege to share my story in person. I say:

Life is meant to be lived...

not managed,

not controlled,

not screamed,

not stressed,

not hurried,

not guilt-ridden,

not regretted,

not scripted,

not consumed by distractions, big or small, obvious or subtle.

Life is meant to be lived... and sometimes we lose our way.

I know I'm not alone when I share these difficult truths by the reactions I see. When I spoke these words to a group of people recently, I saw the look of recognition... the tears of pain... the sighs of relief knowing we are not alone. The cause of our overwhelm might be different from person to person, but our desire to live a fulfilling life is not. It took many, many small, daily steps to free myself from my distracted state and get to the place where I woke up excited and happy... where I could turn off the outside world and turn toward my family... where I could offer my undivided presence and attention... where I could take time to love and be loved.

I do not need to hide in the bathroom anymore. I am able to deal with struggles and challenges by staying present, communicating, and forgiving others and myself. I feel a new sense of urgency in my life now. It is no longer about how much I can accomplish in a lifetime, but rather how much living and loving I can do each day.

Last Sunday afternoon I felt that heart-stirring sense of urgency, so I said no to an outside request. I said no to a pile of laundry. I said no to my dinging devices, my full inbox, and my dirty kitchen. I said yes to hiking up a mountain with my family.

We got to the top of the glorious summit feeling triumphant and connected. After we ate our picnic, I stretched out on a big slab of rock. The sun relaxed me as the spring breeze blew back my hair. The next thing I knew, there was one daughter on each side of me. With no space between our bodies, we lay in silence, warming our dry winter skin in the sun's nourishing light.

That's when my younger daughter turned and looked straight into my soul. She said, "This is the life, Mama."

But what my joy-filled heart heard was, "This is the Life Mama."

I am the party.
I am the gathering place.
I am the heartbeat.
I am the celebration.

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By the grace of God and many, many tiny steps toward the light of love and connection, I am fully alive and well with my soul.

My friends, where do you find yourself today? Far from where you want to be? Missing the joyful person you once were? Huddled in a tight corner with weary tears? Wherever you are on your own personal journey, I want you to remember it is not the grand gestures, the glowing accolades, or the perfect presentation that make you the party. It is something you do every single day, whether you realize it or not...

When you squeeze his hand before he walks into that new building and smile bravery right into his heart,
You are the party.

When you answer every single question without showing the least bit of irritation,
You are the party.

When you wait and wait and wait so she doesn't have to wait alone,
You are the party.

When you think of one nice thing to say when no one else does,
You are the party.

When you sing softly when he's frightened and say, "It will be OK,"
You are the party.

When you give up what you desperately want so she can have what she needs,
You are the party.

When you take a deep breath and choose love,
You are the party.

When you tearfully delight in the wonder of your precious ones,
You are the party.

You are the party because of the love you offer in small, daily doses.

So don't worry about how you look.
Don't worry about what you did or didn't do yesterday.
Don't worry about that long list of flaws and failings no one is keeping but you.
Your love and presence are the highlight of someone's life -- the highlight of someone's life.
Keep waking up.
Keep showing up.
Keep picking yourself up from off the floor.
You are the party.
Your love and presence make it so.

You are the party -- the Life of the Party.
Your love and presence make it so.

This post originally appeared on www.handsfreemama.com. Rachel is the New York Times bestselling author of HANDS FREE MAMA. Her second book, HANDS FREE LIFE, hits bookshelves on September 8.

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