“We are love.
We are one.
We are how we treat each other when the day is done.
We are peace.
We are war.
We are how we treat each other and nothing more.”
–The Alternate Routes
Being an author can be a lonely occupation. But most of the time, my introverted self thrives in the solitude. I relish the control I have over work decisions and work environment. But there are times, particularly book deadlines times, when I’d do anything to have a colleague peek over the cubicle and say, “We’re in the home stretch! We got this!” or “You want to take the last few paragraphs of this section, and I’ll run with the conclusion?”
As I neared my recent book deadline, I felt the aloneness, the weight of it all, bearing down squarely on my shoulders. With this being my third book, it was possible most people assumed I had this in the bag. Rachel’s got this—most of my loyal supporters probably thought. But I didn’t. Instead of becoming more energized as I reached the finish line, I became more uncertain, more emotional, and more depleted. I knew I was going to drag myself across the finish line, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. I saw the red flags—the urge to speak in short, snippy responses … the lack of patience … the surplus of irritability. Sadly, my discontent was directed at one person—the person I am closest to … the person who loves me at my worst … the person who knows me better than anyone else.
My husband knew the book deadline was looming, but hadn’t noted the exact day it was due. In his mind, he was doing many things to support me during this intense and challenging time. But in my mind, I was alone in my cubicle. My team had deserted me. The momentous March 1st date starred and circled on my calendar for almost a year was just another day at my house. The team high-fives and clinking glasses I’d been hoping for didn’t happen. As you can guess, my fatigued, weary self did not communicate my disappointment to my husband very well.
The good news was there were no slamming doors or tearful meltdowns. There were no squealing tires or smashed coffee pots like the days of old. But there was a severe lack of perspective. I could only see the situation through my eyes. And because of my fragile state of aloneness, it was hard to let go of my disappointment and see it any other way.
For several days, I remained snippy, impatient, and unkind to the one I am closest to … the one who loves me at my worst … the one who whispers, “I love you,” before I fall asleep. Unconsciously, I was unsettled by my behavior. I knew this because I continued to have horrible nightmares about my book even though the manuscript was written and submitted.
Several nights after the deadline passed, I had the most horrific dream. It was so bad I felt compelled to get up and run. As I tore myself from my bed, my left ankle got caught in the sheet. The rest of my body landed hard on the floor, slamming my shoulder and right ankle against the bedside dresser.
Stunned and in pain, I sat there and cried. And that’s when I felt the worst loneliness of all, worse than being alone at the finish line. Because the hand that was usually there to help me up … the one that holds mine every time I have a nightmare … the one that offers forgiveness, no matter what happened yesterday, was not there. My husband had gone on a work trip, and I was sorry, so very sorry for losing sight of what really mattered. I sat there for several more minutes, crying and praying.
The next morning, I hobbled downstairs on my sore ankle to boil eggs for my daughters’ breakfast. I immediately noticed my husband’s slippers sitting by the garage door. Each morning he puts on slippers with his business attire so the click of his dress shoes don’t wake our children as he comes down the stairs. It’s pretty much a metaphor for the way my thoughtful husband lives his life—always putting others needs before his own, the one who always gives more than he receives.
I picked up those slippers and felt long-held tension leave my body as my stubborn heart softened and remorse hit me like a ton of bricks.
As I walked those slippers back to their place in the closet, the lyrics of a beautiful song by Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors began to play in my head.
“Everyone's got their own set of troubles.
Everyone's got their own set of blues.
Everyone's got their own set of struggles.
Walk a mile in another man's shoes.”
I’d always thought that song was about being aware of the unseen burdens carried by strangers we encounter. I’d never applied these lyrics to the ones I am closest to … the ones I live and breathe … the ones whose faces I know by heart. Too often I assume I know what burdens my loved ones carry. Too often I fail to consider the situation from their points of view. But it is not too late. Thank goodness, it is not too late.
With clarity, I admitted these perspective-shifting truths:
Yes, my husband missed my deadline, but how many important deadlines of his do I miss?
How often do I wonder about the burdens he’s carrying—ones he doesn’t want to trouble me with?
When I notice worry in his eyes, how often do I ask, “How can I help?”
How often do I consider the influence of his past experiences on his approach to life before deciding his way is “wrong?”
How often do I celebrate his quiet, steady sacrifices that often go under my radar, but make a tremendous difference in my life?
In a nutshell: How often do I walk a mile in his shoes?
In the Drew Holcomb song, my favorite section is the bridge. This powerful line repeats four times, “If you ain’t learned that by now, go ahead and walk another mile.”
I’m pretty sure I need to walk another mile.
It’s far too easy to be impatient and unkind to the ones I love because I know they’ll always love me. But shouldn’t I be most kind to those who love me no matter how poorly I’ve behaved? Shouldn’t I be most tender to those who wipe my tears? Shouldn’t I be most generous to those who tend to my deepest needs?
Recently my 75-year-old parents visited. Lined up in the hallway were my mom’s sensible, low-heeled flats with orthotics. Next to them, were my younger daughter’s worn out, smelly pair of TOMS. And next to that, were my husband’s colorful running shoes. I became a little emotional when I thought about what the people who wear those shoes do for me: They see me at my worst, but they love me anyway. Is there any greater gift to receive than unconditional, never-failing, steadfast love? I don’t think so. Seeing the shoes of my beloveds created a sense of urgency to keep becoming the best version of myself—one who is kind to those she’s closest to—particularly in times of challenge, fatigue, frustration, and hopelessness.
As a start, I am going to do a better job of acknowledging what my love ones might face when they walk out the door. After all, I don’t know who will speak unkindly to my child or make her feel unwelcome. I don’t know what stressful events my husband will encounter in his workday. I don’t know how often my parents will feel the fragility of life tapping them on the shoulder. I don’t know what moments my beloved people will feel alone, inferior, scared, or worried. So while they are here, in my house, I will love them the way I want to be loved—with understanding, kindness, empathy, and grace. I want to love them with the kind of love that comes from walking in their shoes.
Although I could end the post right here, I want to acknowledge those who offer the greatest gift a human being can give: unconditional, never failing, steadfast love. I think it’s safe to say many of you fall into that category along with my husband. The significance of that gift is seldom acknowledged, but it should be acknowledged every single day. So as a tribute for those whose love knows no boundaries or limitations, please read this final message. I hope it silences your inner critic today.
You Love Them Anyway
Someone you love might be unusually clingy today.
Someone you love might have some extra hostility.
Someone you love might be eerily quiet or unreasonably defensive.
And you love her anyway.
Someone you love might have paper-thin patience.
Someone you love might be trying to shut you out.
Someone you love might be trying to push you away.
And you love him anyway.
Someone you love might say hateful words.
Someone you love might hate herself right now.
Someone you love might hate you right now.
And you love her anyway.
Someone you love might not be himself right now.
Someone you love might be really hard to love right now.
Someone you love might feel very far away.
And you love him anyway.
And you love her anyway.
Just let that soak in for a moment.
You love someone at his worst.
You love someone when she’s most unlovable.
You love them anyway.
You love them anyway.
Because of you, there is a human being walking on this earth who doesn’t have to ask for love—it is just given; it is given.
Because of you, there is a human being who doesn’t have to wonder if he or she is loved. He just knows; she just knows.
Because of you, someone can be human—with faults, flaws, moods, and mistakes—and still be loved.
There is no greater gift in someone’s lifetime than unconditional, never-failing, steadfast love.
And that’s what you give.
Let that soak in … and put your doubts and failings to rest.
Then go on doing what you do best: Love them anyway.
© rachel macy stafford 2016
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, when I began this blog, I had no idea how much I would come to cherish the community we would form here. I read every comment and feel so grateful and inspired by the way you share your struggles and triumphs. Every comment you write offers us a chance to walk in someone else’s shoes … to see a different perspective … to feel less alone. Through your comments, we are learning how to love each other better! It makes me teary when I think about it! Friends, I am honored that many of you have been recommending me as a speaker for events in your cities. Hearing your stories in person is the next best thing to reading your stories online. Many of you have let me know you are coming to the Denver speaking event from 10am to noon on Saturday, May 14th! I cannot wait to meet you! Please click here for information about that event happening at Denver First Church (scroll down to “Ladies Spring Tea” for the ticket link). Friends in San Francisco, Nashville, and Bismark, I am coming your way this fall! Please see my event page for dates. I will update the information as the events get closer. Thank you for being part of this very special Hands Free Revolution community. I cherish every single one of you!