My older daughter was sitting on the floor of her room totally engrossed in a project. She was writing to her sponsored child, Priscilla, but I didn’t know what she was writing because it was written in Swahili.
The last letter she sent was also written in Priscilla’s native language, but I thought it would be a one-time thing. I was surprised to see my typically speedy child patiently looking up words on the Internet in order to write full sentences in a foreign language. She knew all notes written in English were translated to the sponsored child, but for some reason she felt compelled to write in words Priscilla could read and understand herself.
“I see you’re writing in Swahili again,” I said sitting down next to my daughter.
“I want to be sure she knows she is loved … in words she can understand,” my daughter explained. “There are many diseases in and around her village,” she said gravely. “This way Priscilla can read the letter herself and won’t have to wait for a translator.”
That powerful little tidbit shed some light on my daughter’s motive.
“I want these words to stick,” my child added determinedly.
Like a bulletin board, I thought to myself looking at the corkboard directly behind my daughter’s head. It was filled with photos, motivational quotes, swim team goals, and love notes from family members. It was filled with words and images she wanted remember—treasures she wanted to stick with her.
I imagined Priscilla holding my daughter’s note lovingly written in words that were familiar to her. There would be no bulletin board in which to pin this note, but she would not forget. If she had to flee her village with nothing but the clothes on her back, she would still have these words and assurances secured to the bulletin board of her heart.
As my daughter drew one last smiley face at the bottom of the letter she spoke my deepest fears. “I don’t want to miss the chance to tell her she’s loved … you know, just in case.” My daughter gave me a knowing glance as if to acknowledge the worldly dangers that seem to permeate the media and as well as our daily life.
I immediately thought about our experience just a few weeks ago when we visited a new library. We’d moved to a new state over the summer so every building we visit is unfamiliar territory to us. But yet, my child’s need for independence has not decreased through this move; it has actually heightened.
“I’m going to look for medical books in the adult non-fiction section,” my daughter announced, subtly indicating her desire to be alone.
She wanted to roam freely in this new library like she did in our old one. I’d reminded her plenty of times that we now live in one of the biggest cities in America and that things are different here. I didn’t feel like I should remind her again.
“Okay,” I said hesitantly. “I will be right here,” I said pointing to the “Fiction A-G” sign.
With a deep breath, I watched her go. I pulled a few books off the shelf in front of me. I read a few back covers to see if I might like to take any of them home.
After a few minutes I felt the need to check on my child. I began going row by row looking for her blonde ponytail and neon green Nike shirt. I noticed the shelves were exceptionally tall and the books were packed tightly. I tried to peer through the collection to see the next row, but the isles of books acted as solid walls.
As I made my way to the row of Z authors, my heart was pounding a little. It was quite dark back there. My mind imagined all the silent atrocities that could happen to a child if she or he encountered the wrong person in this darkened cavern.
I was practically running now as I looked down every isle for a second time. I finally broke the #1 rule of library etiquette and called out my daughter’s name. Loudly. Much to my relief, she came out from an isle across the library that I somehow missed. She was clearly embarrassed and annoyed.
“Why’d you do that, Mom?” she grumbled while briskly walking over to meet me. She glanced around to see how many people witnessed her moment of embarrassment.
“I had a bad feeling,” I said honestly. “Something doesn’t feel right,” I said looking around at an unsmiling group of faces hunched over a row of computers.
As we headed to the section that she came from, a burly man with short, cropped hair and a library worker quickly emerged from behind the circulation desk. They were heading for a man who was using one of the library computers. When the man saw them coming, he bolted. They raced after him, right out the front door of the library.
My daughter asked what was going on. I scurried over to the window to watch the man in question speed away while the woman got on her phone and the other man hopped in his vehicle with dark, tinted windows.
“I think the man on the computer was doing something illegal. I get the feeling it has happened before and they were trying to catch him,” I surmised. That’s when I turned and placed my hands on my child’s shoulders. I looked right into her face and said, “I had a bad feeling just a few minutes ago. That feeling was right. You must always, always trust your instincts. Trust that little warning voice inside you when it tells you something doesn’t feel right and then get to safety,” I advised.
Although I didn’t know it then, I know now that I was pinning something important to the bulletin board of her heart—the one she will carry with her as she navigates life.
And that was a pin for safety.
“I love you very, very much,” I said pulling her gently to my side because I knew a public hug would not be favorable.
And that was a pin for love.
“Now let’s go look for those medical books,” I said. “I just love how you are pursuing your passion. You inspire me to think about my own dreams,” I admitted.
And that was a pin for affirmation.
I was determined to keep trying to fill the bulletin board of my child’s heart with safety measures, loving words, and positive affirmations so these important messages would be quickly accessible to her—no matter where she was or who she was with.
Since the library incident, I’ve found myself not holding anything back. If the opportunity comes up to talk about potential dangers, I talk about it in words she can understand, the way she carefully and purposefully communicated to Priscilla.
Getting Sudafed became a discussion about Meth—what it does to your brain, how peers might ask her to use drugs and alcohol, and what a good response might be.
Our weather radio failing to go off in the night became a discussion about the different danger codes used at her school and what she would do if someone entered her classroom with the intent to harm.
A sign on the interstate became a discussion about depression and who in our family has suffered and how asking for help was important and brave.
An episode of Full House became a discussion on eating disorders and what to do when friends ask us to keep secrets.
A college textbook from the used bookstore became a discussion on plagiarism and safety measures for walking across campus at night.
Her father’s suitcase became a discussion on Ebola in America—what it is, how it is contracted, and who would take care of her and her sister if her dad or I could not.
I’ve discovered that the more we engage in these types of honest discussions, the more questions my child thinks of and openly asks about. I’m thankful she turns to me for information and feels safe to confide in me, but I am left with a painful reality. There is so much yet to tell her and so much yet to teach her. She is only eleven years old. There is much uncharted territory ahead of her. When I watch the news and see the disease, the abductions, and the threats to our safety and security, I hope and pray I will be around to guide her, answer her questions, and equip her to make wise choices. But alas, the days are full. There is only so much time to talk, teach, respond, and listen. The number of days I have to be a guiding force in my child’s life are beyond my control. But today is not beyond my control. Today I have time, even if it is just a few moments, to place messages on her heart that I hope will stick indefinitely.
Today, a pin for safety:
Trust your instincts.
You can always blame me if you need an excuse when asked to do something you know is not safe.
Be alert when you walk anywhere in public—don’t look down at your phone.
Today, a pin for love:
You make my day better.
I love spending time with you.
You amaze me. You honestly do.
Today, a pin for affirmation:
I admire the way you handled that disappointing situation.
I enjoying hearing what you think about things. Tell me more.
You came up with a smart plan to get that project accomplished.
Unlike an actual corkboard that hangs upon a wall, the heart’s bulletin board cannot ever become too full. There is endless room, especially for soul-building words and life-giving messages. There is no age requirement—every human being, young or old, has a heart’s bulletin board. Every person needs words of safety, love, and affirmation offered in words he or she can understand.
We have no control over how many pins we will be allowed to give in our lifetime, so let us pin as many as we can today.
Pin love … pin lots and lots of love, every chance you get.
Because the heart’s bulletin board goes where they go. Messages can be retrieved at a moment’s notice, in fear, worry, despair, or joy. Even if you are not standing right beside them, your loved ones can hear these life-giving, life-saving messages. No translation necessary.
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, I wrote this post a few days before our beautiful page was taken over by malicious hackers for a 24-hour period this weekend. The content they posted was so vile and so obscene it only intensified my desire to do whatever I can to prepare my loved ones’ hearts to navigate an often troubling world. It also fueled my desire to keep spreading messages of goodness and positivity. Each time you comment on your experience, encourage others, or share a post, you are helping goodness prevail over darkness. Here are two incredible resources, two authors I know personally, that offer ways to connect with and build up our loved ones in a troubling world. Please don't miss my note of gratitude below these resources.
1) Napkin Notes by Garth Callaghan is an incredibly inspiring book that shows how one small, daily act can impact a lifetime—even if you only have a limited amount of time to make that impact. Garth writes:
“I share this book because none of us knows how much time we have left. Yes, we walk around the planet with the hope that we are invincible, but we all know life can be taken away in an instant. I have the ‘gift’ of realizing that the end is coming. I can take the time to take stock and share with the people I love how much they mean to me … This book is a call. To wake up. Connect. Share your feelings. Make that phone call. Write that note. Because I know all too well the fragility of life and how important it is to take the time to connect with those we love while we’re still here, while we still can.”
Napkin Notes releases Oct. 28th. To pre-order, click here.
2) My eleven year old daughter is currently engrossed in 10 Truths Girls Should Know by Kari Kampakis. This book, written so directly and so beautifully for girls in the tween/teen age range, offers sound advice to help navigate tough challenges and real life dilemmas. Kari’s book has opened up wonderful dialogue between my daughter and me on the topics of cliques, bullying, rejection, and social media issues. Check out this beautiful review of Kari’s book and click here to pre-order. The book releases on November 4th.
* A final note of gratitude – over the past few days I have experienced an indescribable outpouring of love and support from this community, fellow bloggers, Facebook pages, personal friends, and members of my publishing team who did everything in their power to help me regain control of The Hands Free Revolution page, protect this blog, and make sure I was okay. When fear urged me to go into hiding, you said, “We are here, Rachel. You are not alone. We got your back.” In one day, our community has regained the thousands of followers lost over the weekend and added so many more. We are now bigger and stronger than we ever were. Goodness prevails. Goodness prevails. Thank you for blessing me in such a profound and life-changing way.