“It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive at the restart.” -Mumford & Sons
* Dedicated to a beautiful gypsy warrior named Beth
I put my earphones in. I pushed ‘play’ on my new favorite band that recently opened for Mat Kearney. I set out to walk toward a little clarity, but it arrived much sooner than expected. Something that had been weighing on my heart all day suddenly became so clear. It was an answer to a question that had become my hourly prayer. With tear-filled eyes, I began typing a text message as fast as my little pointer finger could type.
A man walking his dog approached me from the other direction. I smiled warmly at them and said, “Good evening.” That’s when the man said, “Are you going to look at your phone the whole time you walk?”
All at once, shame washed over me. I was brought back to a painful time in my life when my phone was an extremity … when the ding of electronic notifications pulled me away from loving eyes and tender arms … when I took dangerous risks at stoplights and justified them with flimsy excuses. All at once, I felt like that distracted, overwhelmed woman who once came painfully close to losing everything that mattered most.
I almost kept walking. I almost lowered my face in shame. I almost berated myself. But I am not that person anymore.
And there was something that needed to be said, so I stopped walking.
With a surprisingly warm and forgiving voice, I spoke to the man … or perhaps the birds … or perhaps the heavenly evening sky.
“My dear friend’s sister died today. And all day I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out how I can help her. And just now as I was walking, it came to me: I can write words for her. I can write a eulogy or I can write a keepsake. My dear friend told me she didn’t have any words, but I do. I have words. And just now, I was letting her know I have words for her.”
The man said, “Oh,” like I just told him I was putting broccoli on my grocery list.
And then he kept walking.
I thought I was finished. I thought I’d said what needed to be said, but I wasn’t finished. There was something else that needed to be said. And it kind of surprised me because I had some ugly thoughts going through my head about the man’s question to me. But I called out to the man … or perhaps to the birds … or perhaps to the heavenly evening sky.
“I hope when you are in need, someone is there for you.”
And then I walked for thirty more minutes as the sun descended around me. And when I got back home, my Tiny Topics notebook that I carry with me when I walk contained a new message. Maybe it’s for you. Maybe it’s for someone you know. Maybe it’s for all of us at one time or another.
That Is My Hope
When you find yourself at the end of your rope, I hope someone pulls you back.
When you feel alone, I hope someone sits beside you.
When you find yourself enveloped in the shadows, I hope someone shines a light.
That is my hope.
When you are most uncertain, I hope someone gives you assurance.
When you are most judged, I hope someone defends you.
When you find yourself so different than the rest, I hope someone spots a common thread that binds you together.
That is my hope.
When you don’t have the words, I hope someone speaks them for you.
When you are lost, I hope someone leads you home.
When you bleed, I hope someone applies pressure.
That is my hope.
When you bravely sing out, I hope someone’s voice joins in.
When you wonder if you matter, I hope someone reminds you that you do.
When you cry out in question, I hope someone answers.
That is my hope.
Why such hopes? Because life is too short to be lived without them. I know. I know. We’ve heard the phrase “life is too short” to the point it sounds completely meaningless. But today, today, a 46-year-old mother warrior left too soon. And “life is too short” had new meaning when human fragility collided with human hostility on a sidewalk illuminated by the evening sun.
Suddenly that overused phrase “life is too short” were no longer words, but an anthem—an anthem for bringing more living and loving into our precious days. It sounded like this:
Life is too short for shame.
Life is too short for judgment.
Life is way too short to live in regret over what you did or didn’t do yesterday.
Life is too short to stop brainstorming ways to help a friend.
Life is too short to speak unkind words to a stranger.
Life is too short to ruin good walks with vengeful thoughts.
So when you find yourself on one side or the other,
Even if you have to say it to the birds or to the heavenly sky.
Choose love for that person crossing your path.
Because you just never know what ride she’s coming off of
Or where he’s going
Or where she’s been.
Choose love. I hope it comes back to you when you need it most.
Friends of the Hands Free Revolution, when my friend and her sister found themselves facing a very difficult road in their cancer journey , I reached out to my friend Garth, The Napkin Notes Dad and asked for recommended resources. He suggested these very helpful books: Radical Remission, Shrinkage, and What It Takes. I would also like to share what Garth wrote about my forthcoming book, HANDS FREE LIFE. It is everything I hoped someone would find when he or she read the pages. It is exactly why I hope the book reaches anyone searching for concrete ways to stop managing life and start living it.
“It took one day. I only could allow one day to read ‘Hands Free Life: Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More’. I was busy being a dad, a husband, and cancer patient. I knew I was distracted, but there was a purpose. I was on a mission and I acknowledged my limited time left. As I settled in to read Rachel's words, my heart stayed in my throat the entire journey. She gets it. She knows we're distracted and it's not just the amount of screens we have in our lives. It's our incredibly complex, crazy, and somewhat out of control lives.
Rachel Macy Stafford will help you reconnect and build strong relationships. Even if you make a moderate amount of effort, your family will thank you for strengthening your relationships! Once again, I owe Rachel a big ‘thank you’ for bringing relationships and family to the forefront of everyone's minds.”
—Garth Callaghan, The Napkin Notes Dad
Lastly, thank you for the wonderful response to the new “I Choose Love” bracelets. Our talented artists in PA have made more and they are available today in the Hands Free Shop. Thank you for your incredible support that allows me to keep writing and sharing this journey with you. You are my daily blessing.
Rachel, you never fail to inspire. Thank you for this reminder.
Yep, I no longer feel guilt for looking at my phone when I do. And I never judge anyone else for doing so either. Yes, there’s all kinds of posts out there making us feel shame but I don’t feel it. The times I’m looking at my phone is when I’m away from my daughter or friends or the rest of my family (unless of course, it’s a really urgent message) … It’s when I know I CAN look. I’ll be reading a book on my phone or jotting down the things I need to get done tomorrow or this afternoon or just finding a recipe for tonights dinner. Just because I’m not scrolling through my paper notebook, or paper book, doesn’t mean to say, I’m not writing notes, or reading a book. People can be really too quick to judge. I have enough stuff to carry in my bag now I have a young daughter and after losing my bag (stolen) on several occasions, I now keep my phone in my bag as that can be backed up … My very precious notebooks cannot! I’ve lost addresses and diary entries that I’ve never been able to recover … Now, I don’t need to worry. It’s all in one place and can be backed up. Isn’t it great to be able to write down the notes that are in our heads at any given time. I LOVE it!
This is a beautiful post. It cuts very close to home as I lost my husband last year to a very aggressive cancer, taking his life at the age of 43.
I’m so sure that your words gave lots of comfort to your friend during her time of loss. I know they help me each week.
Lots of love. Julie
I’m so sorry for your loss, Julie.
Wishing you much love and light,
Another one, that resonates with my heart. Thank YOU
Thank you for this reminder. Life is too short. And if you have children you realize this even more. They grow so fast. I don’t want to waste my life concentrating on shame or regret. I want to look at my husband and 2 beautiful babies and LIVE. Thank you so much for your guidance Rachel! Your journey is changing lives because you are brave enough to share it with us. You wrote “When you find yourself enveloped in the shadows, I hope someone shines a light”. You are a shining light for so many of your readers. I can’t wait to get my hands on your new book in September!
Thanks for shining a light; I needed that.
Jenny Johnston says
Our loyal family dog of 12 years passed away suddenly on Saturday. I have spent the last 48 hours recounting all the times I chose to stop and give her love instead of hurrying on with my day. This experience clarifies for me just how important it is to CHOOSE LOVE every moment of the day. You just never know when that last moment with a loved one is going to be.
As always, your words speak right to my heart. Love and prayers for your friend’s family.
♡ do you believe in angels? Well today your words are my souls strength. Tomorrow is the anniversary when my right to decide if I want more children was taken away, a horrible ectopic pregnancy ending with the loss of my tubes, I have four beautiful children 2 loyal and loving dogs and a wonderful husband, but this date, may 5th,Cinco de Mayo,crushes my soul every year. I know it’s coming, I try and prepare my heart but still May 5th hits me like a mack truck every time. So thank you for your words,your reminders of love and hope. I will be clinging to them for dear life ♡♡♡♡
Rachel Stafford says
Sending love and strength to you, dear one. I hope you can feel it lifting you up. You are not alone.
I’m very sorry about your friend’s sister.
I am a rather new reader and I want to share these thoughts in a way that conveys my heart. In sharing my view, I am hoping to soften how the event came across to you. I wasn’t there though and didn’t hear his tone or see his face but the way I let it play out in my mind as I read, I didn’t pick up hostility.
His delivery was not the best at all but perhaps you could look at his question as one trying to reach out. A wanting for you to see the day as he was seeing it on his walk.
He probably was at a loss for what to say after your reply – not ready for that kind of open hearted sharing. I don’t know. I wasn’t there – just sharing my observations.
I find myself thinking , if he only knew who you were and about your blog and books. His comment to you is actually pretty ironic.
It reminds me that we never really know someone and who they are when seeing them for just a moment in time.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Kerry. This is very helpful and healing to see this perspective. Writing this blog and receiving some very shaming comments about my mothering and my writing over the past 5 years has helped me in understanding that when someone says something critical, it is usually about him or her, not me. I thought about that man for many days. I wondered if he was ignored by someone he loved because of a phone. I wondered if he had missed some important moments in his life because of distraction. I felt sad for him that after I offered him such a welcome greeting, he would say that to me. And like you, the irony of the situation was not lost on me. That is why I felt it happened for a reason and that instead of brushing it away, I needed to create something positive from it. I felt so blessed when my little notebook filled that night knowing I had loving people like you to share it with it. I am so grateful you are here helping me learn, grow, and consider all the angles along this life-changing journey.
People are awkward and often say the wrong thing (or nothing at all) especially when taken by surprise. It’s usually not out of malice – or even for any particular motivation at all. Rachel, I read your blog all the time and sometimes I think “how can she be so patient all the time?”. This is my favourite post of yours because it shows me that although you’ve made amazing changes in your life you’re still human. Thank you for sharing. Showing that you’re fallible is a difficult thing to do – and I really do learn a lot from you.
Kudos to you for speaking up instead of sinking into shame. It’s so easy to let what others say impact us negatively – whether the intent on their part is negative or not. I am so impressed by what you did and love how you turned that moment into your beautiful post. I think that happened so you could share it with all of us and be an encouragement. It’s wonderful to be on this journey with you. xoxo.
I really needed this today. I’m at this point where lots of things keep going wrong. I won’t get into but let’s say it’s all-encompassing and has become almost depilitating for me. I could see myself as being distracted during a work out in order to get my thoughts out (usually onto my phone via text, email, voice, notes, etc). A comment like that from a stranger would probably make me lose it! I would end up lashing out at the wrong person and feeling awful about my behavior. This post has given me some wonderful insight into a better way to respond. I wish all these things for others and truly hope there is someone out there wishing it for me until my luck begins to change. Thank you for your words.
Elizabeth, I wish for you that your luck changes soon.
Sending you love and light, stranger.
Hey Rachel! I Hope you’re doing well! Thank you for this post. It made me cry. But I needed it. I’m striving to treat someone who has hurt me very badly, the way God treats them. It’s hard, but your blog is helping me to get better at it. Thank you for that. God bless you. I’m also reading your book or listening to it. I love it so far!
Janna Thomas Espinosa says
You never cease to amaze me. The messages I receive when I read your articles are always just what I need! Thank you for the beautiful poem in this one!!
Maren Breitwieser says
And please consider giving your friend a copy of Tear Soup. There also is a website, but I order those books 2 @ a time & get free shipping from Barnes & Noble & they end up being about $15 each. You rock, Rachel!
You continue to inspire and motivate me from a deep place within my soul. I am a firm believer that God places people and situations and circumstances in our lives when we need them the most. I am struggling with shame issues of my own at this time and this article brought me to tears. It also brought me a feeling of A new beginning. I thank you for your courage and wisdom that you continue to share. Bless you!
I loved this one, it is beautifully written! Thanks for the inspiration 🙂
I think you shocked the person with your reaction.
Words are powerful and when we can use them to express ourselves – especially during difficult times – it can uplift. I hope your words will help your friend.
This is another great post, Rachel, but I am responding to something else … thank you for the free shipping on your shop items! I was able to purchase myself a Mother’s Day gift – Only Love Today bracelet and a Gold Foil Presence Pledge as a Teacher Appreciation gift for my daughter’s teacher. Two things I’ve been thinking about purchasing and the free shipping sealed the deal! Thank you very much.
A neighbor verbally attacked me because I asked her workman who kept blocking my garage to move his car. She was brutal with her attitude and words. She told me not to ever speak to her. I’m not angry. I figured she must be suffering from something but I couldn’t find what to say to bridge her hatred. Thank you, you just gave me those words. “life is too short to speak unkind words. Let’s move on.”
John S Green says
Another beautiful expression to live by… passing boat in the night…
I nominated you and two others as my favorite blog! Cheers!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you so much, John! I am honored! Your faithful support & encouraging comments mean so much to me on this journey!
Your posts never fail to inspire and touch me. So here i was having a bad day, wondering what life was about and how as christians we could only look forward to heaven, when I came across your post in the mail. And you talked about hope, hope on earth and hope in relationships. About the being there for others and others being there for you. It doesnt matter even if it doesnt happen, there is hope that it will someday.
God bless you.
Rachel…as usual your words cut right to the heart of the struggle I have been having the last few weeks. Thank you for your willingness to share your heart – openly and honestly. This message breathed life back into my tired soul. Thankful that God has provided you with the ability to share these messages with us.
I am so glad you said something to that man, and the words you chose to say really show just what a special person you are. You constantly encourage me to be a better mom, wife, daughter, friend, coworker, and person in general. Thank you for sharing the words from Garth regarding your book. Garth has changed my life as well just from what you have shared from him in the past. Every school lunch I pack has a napkin note in it for my 2 girls. I started when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten and she could barely read what I wrote. Now that she is in first grade, my notes have become more personalized since she can read. She tells me that they open their lunch boxes on the way to school every day just to read what my notes says. Even though I am not the one taking them to school because I am already at work, it’s nice to know that my encouraging and loving words are the first part of their day. I am very sadden to hear that Garth has cancer. I will put him in my prayers. Thank you Rachel!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you so much, Tracie. This message means so much to me. I will be sure and tell Garth how he has touched you and your daughters life. This will bring him great joy. It is my prayer that we will meet in person someday soon. He is such a remarkable man. Thank you for praying for him.
VIVIAN S. says
Rachel, I’ve been reading your posts for over a year now. They are inspiring , empowering, encouraging and so many more wonderful things.
Every single one of them moves me and helps me to focus on the important things in life. Thank you!
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