And I got this love in me.
But it's not just mine to keep.
Like treasure that's buried deep.
I come alive when I set it free.
—Judah & the Lion, Love in Me
My daughters and I have been volunteering at a cat shelter for several months now. I knew it would be painful to fall in love with cats we couldn’t take home with us. I knew it would be painful to not be able to rescue them all. But I felt certain that the joy of this experience would outweigh the pain.
I knew this, yet something caught me off guard.
It was an email message from the shelter director to all the volunteers about an obtrusive chain that would be added immediately to the already padlocked cages. Apparently someone was caught in the act of tormenting an animal. The helpless victim was Bob the cat—five-year-old Bob who is already severely depressed because his owner had to give him up. Bob who meows a lot but loves to be free from his cage so he can explore.
The director’s email went on to list other cruel acts occurring over the past year in this small cat shelter housed in a local Petsmart. I tried to keep reading the email message, but when I got to the part about someone trying to pry a kitten out of the small opening at the bottom of the cage, I could not read anymore.
To be honest, I broke down.
I covered my face in my hands and cried. It may seem ridiculous to some, but my heart for animals is huge. My hope for the world in which my children and future grandchildren will live in is even bigger.
But not then.
Not in that moment.
Suddenly, things looked especially bleak.
Why? Why would someone do such a thing? I cried angrily. And just where do we go from here? When we get to a place where fragile, abandoned animals must have chains across their cages to protect them from harm—just where do we go from here? Combine this troubling question with five minutes of the nightly news and hopelessness begins to set in; you begin to look at people skeptically. You begin to feel foolish for being so trusting and optimistic. You begin to walk with your head down, thinking what’s the use in smiling at people anyway? That’s precisely what I did for a few days.
The next email that came from the shelter director to the volunteers was a list of shift vacancies. I quickly looked at the open slots and responded. Never in a million years did I expect to sign up to clean cages, entertain kittens, and console agitated and depressed cats on Mother’s Day, but that is what I did. In fact, volunteering on that particular day was the most certain I felt about anything all week.
Everything went as normal during our time there until the end of the shift. When I was struggling with the new security chains for over ten minutes, I lost my patience.
“Just look at this!” I said exasperatedly to my older daughter as I showed her there was still a gap at the bottom of the cage where a cat could be squeezed out. “I just can’t get it any tighter!” I seethed, my voice rising along with my frustration.
“Mom, you’re overreacting,” my almost 13-year-old daughter said calmly and sternly, bringing me back to my senses.
I let go of the chain and exhaled. “You’re right,” I said softly. “I’m sorry.”
My daughter knew exactly why I was upset—maybe better than I did. She bent down next to me and whispered, “They’ll be okay, Mom. Most people that come in here are nice people.”
Yes. Yes. Thank you for reminding me to focus on the good, precious child.
As we were walking out of the tiny shelter to go home, we noticed a young couple looking through the glass at the cats. I knew the door to the shelter would remain unlocked and they could go in and pet the animals through cages like my daughters and I used to do.
But for some reason I stopped and said, “Is there a particular cat you are interested in?”
The young woman with her long, silky, white-blonde hair and flawless skin spoke in a beautiful accent. “I would love to see the white one,” she said shyly.
“That’s Harper!” my younger daughter piped up. My daughters and I all exchanged a look of relief. Harper has been living in that cage for many months and could desperately use a loving home.
We took the woman inside the room and bragged on Harper for several minutes. We learned that the woman recently said goodbye to her beloved white cat and was ready to get a new cat.
“I have been to all the shelters in the area today looking for white cat,” she explained. “But you are the first people I have been able to talk to; I wanted to hear about the cat, not just see it.”
“Well, Harper takes a little time to warm up,” my younger daughter said, “But once she trusts you, she is so sweet! She would make a wonderful pet!” the mini cat spokesperson said convincingly.
We gave the interested woman the director’s business card, assuring her that when she was ready to adopt Harper, all she had to do was contact the director to make arrangements. The woman thanked us three times. She mentioned again how grateful she was to talk to us.
As we walked to our car, my younger daughter said, “Harper and that lady matched. They are both beautiful and exotic. They seem a little shy at first. They both seem a little sad. I think they are made for each other. I’m so glad we were here to tell her that is her perfect cat. I hope they end up together!” she said excitedly.
“I hope so too,” I agreed, feeling something I hadn’t for several days: optimism.
Thank you for reminding me to hope, sweet child.
As we made our way home to a delicious meal prepared by my husband, my heart felt certain about its obligation to the world. My heart hopes sounded like this:
Let me be like the woman whose heart was hurting so she came looking to love another heart that was hurting.
Let me be like the little girl who voiced the best qualities in a beautiful creature so it could have a home.
Let me be like the daughter who steadied her mother in her moment of instability.
Let me be like the man who bakes his wife a cherry pie from scratch while she cares for homeless animals on Mother’s Day.
Let me be love.
Not the shiny, perfectly worded, flashy and flowery love that comes and goes with special occasions or when it’s convenient.
Let me be the messy, genuine, put in the effort, feel it in your bones, come as you are, kind of love.
Let me be the Show Up kind of love that is found where it is least expected and when it is most needed.
Let me be the kind of love that silences hate talk, breaks down barriers, and cannot be contained by chains or cages.
Let me remember love is stronger than that which torments, but I must be willing to do my part to keep it alive.
After I devoured my husband’s delicious homemade pie, my younger daughter gave me her Mother’s Day gift. It was a laminated word cloud. All the qualities she used to describe me were meaningful, but one stuck out: “Always smiling.”
I immediately decided I’d go back to smiling at people I pass on the street and believe the best about each one. Once in awhile, I might get it wrong. But more times that not, they’ll smile back. And then there will be two of us working toward a greater good.
And together, we’ll set love free, hoping it finds the perfect home.
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, as I mentioned in the post, the benefits of our family’s volunteer experiences at the animal shelter, as well as the retirement home, have far exceeded my expectations in a very short time. I’m certain my family will continue to be blessed and enlightened with every visit in the coming months and years. While I recently found myself wishing we could’ve started sooner, I know we couldn’t have. In fact, if we tried to do this in years past, it would have felt like “one more thing to do” in an already overloaded schedule. In order to get to a place where we could pursue our purpose and passions, we had to apply intentionality to our schedule. We had to start making choices with greater purposes and longer-term goals in mind. A tremendous source of inspiration and guidance for me has been Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist. I became a fan the minute I read his post “35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget.” His list stuck with me for years and solidified my desire to gift my children with time, opportunities, and experiences rather than stuff. Joshua recently released an incredible book called The More of Less. In his book, Joshua reveals how we can “pursue our greatest passions by owning fewer possessions.” Joshua brilliantly illustrates that getting “more out of less” applies far beyond our household goods.
One of my favorite phrases Joshua says is, “Once we let go of the things that don’t matter, we are free to pursue all the things that really do matter.” Especially powerful to me were the sections in the book entitled: Intentional Life, Addicted to Busyness, and Becoming Unbusy.
Friends, I encourage you to read an excerpt of Joshua’s book here or just trust me and purchase your own personal copy right away. You will start highlighting passages and making notes on the first few pages. By opening this book, you will see how to unburden your life, freeing you to pursue what matters most.
One final reminder to my Denver friends: It’s not too late to purchase tickets to my speaking event happening THIS Saturday (5-14-16) at Denver First Church from 10am to 12pm. I am really looking forward to seeing many of you! Click here for tickets & information. My other upcoming speaking events can be found by clicking here. Thank you being part of The Hands Free Revolution, dear ones. You give me hope.
You are truly an inspiration and I look forward to and devour your posts hanging on to every thought. Thank you for using your God given talents and heart to inspire others!!!
Rachel Stafford says
Oh Bridget, thank you! Thank you!!! I really, really needed to hear this. There is just so much out there to read on the Internet … and lately, I have been questioning myself — wondering if my posts each week even matter … wondering if I shouldn’t be using my time and energies elsewhere. It hurts to even type that, but I think we all go through seasons of questioning and doubt. And then here you are, showing up to tell me my posts DO matter. To know that you “devour” my words and absorb every thought is just incredibly affirming to me. What a blessing you have been to me today. With love and gratitude.
I’m a long time reader and the first time commentator. As a mum of a beautiful boy who inspires me to reach for the best in me and to get up each time I fall, I am on the constant lookout for the worthy mentors, and you are in a selected company of precious women I am learning how to be good mum, and wife, and person from.
Please never doubt if your posts matter. I am grateful for each post you write, knowing I’ll be a better person once I finish reading it. You have an amazing ability to simply and powerfully point to what matters, and you do it with so much grace and love.
Rachel Stafford says
O. – I am so grateful you chose to comment today and let me know you hold the other end of the lifelines I send out into the world. Thank you so much for the beautiful words you used to describe my writing and what it means to you. I am so deeply encouraged by this.
Jenny Johnston says
Yesterday I read Lisa McCrohan’s post – Life is Hard and I thought about you. I thought about the ways in which you and her are these women in my life who offer me support and feel like friends who I can trust, yet neither of you would recognize me on the street. Sometimes I think this cannot be normal? But most times I just let it go and am grateful to know that there are other women out there who feel as I do and it helps guide me on my path as a mother and a friend. I am not alone, I am never alone on this journey. Thank you for writing when you are called to write.
I am sorry that you are still feeling uncertain (unsteady) about your time commitment to your blog, but it is understandable. I also hope that when you are called to take a break that you can do so without guilt, shame or judging yourself. We all go through times of certainty followed by times of feeling like we are wandering aimlessly. I believe that one year from now you will look back on this time in your life and you will understand EXACTLY why you are walking this road right now. And as always those of us who love and support you will be nearby.
Jill Alsup says
Rachel–your words are SO needed in this world and I too as well cannot wait to read your posts. I pretty much cry every time I read your posts (a good cry). 🙂 I have both of your books and re-read them all the time. They help me to focus on what’s really important.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, sweet Jill. This means absolutely everything.
You have a way with words that touches the deep parts of me. I end up with tears so many times when I read here!
Hope specifically, has been a thing I’ve been struggling with for awhile. I related to the thoughts and emotions of this post. You touched so many places in me I hadn’t been able to identify. This was a powerful post for me. Deep encouragement. Thank you!!!
Rachel Stafford says
Tammy, thank you for taking the time to tell me. To hear you say, “You touched so many places in me I hadn’t been able to identify,” is incredibly meaningful to me. It is my hope & prayer with each post that I help one person in some way — to let him or her feel unalone or to gain clarity or connection with someone else — are so important to me. It blesses me to know you were encouraged and strengthened. I appreciate you so much.
Melanie P. says
Thank you again for sharing your heart with us. It’s hard, sometimes, when we look out into the world, and think “Where’s the light? Who can I follow? Who is with me on a journey to do things DIFFERENTLY?” It’s so hard to lead, to put your foot out there and, without anyone to follow, you take that first step in the light to be different. Thank you for leading with your love, and showing us that Love is always the answer. Even when it’s the hardest thing we could ever do.
I’ve already noticed such an immense change in my daughter’s behavior as I’ve worked at changing my own. When I am angry, she reflects my anger. When I am soft, gentle, loving, and available– she is, too….and she is open and responsive to me. I guess that’s how it is on a bigger scale, as well. If we give out that “messy” love (and sometimes when its most inconvenient is when its most needed) that love will be reflected in those around us.
Please do not stop writing– if only just to be my own reminder that my purpose here on earth is to LOVE and to show up and give my best- no. matter. what. You do that for me. Thank you. 🙂
Lots of love,
Rachel Stafford says
Please know that I am wiping away tears — you understood what my heart feels & what it needed to hear with this profound truth: “It’s so hard to lead, to put your foot out there and, without anyone to follow, you take that first step in the light to be different. Thank you for leading with your love, and showing us that Love is always the answer. Even when it’s the hardest thing we could ever do.” And the changes your described in daughter (as you transform yourself) touched me profoundly too.
My “soul-building words” & divine confirmation came these words you wrote today: “Please do not stop writing– if only just to be my own reminder that my purpose here on earth is to LOVE and to show up and give my best.” I have to tell you that my publisher and I went back and forth MANY times about the subtitle of my new book, ONLY LOVE TODAY. They had their ideas and reasonings, but I KNEW with great certainty what subtitle words this daily inspiration-type book must have and several of them you used in your message to me! The subtitle for my book ONLY LOVE TODAY is: Reminders to Breathe More, Stress Less, and Choose Love. I am so grateful my publisher agreed because you made me feel like it was meant to be.
So grateful for you, dear Melanie.
Once again you brought me to tears. My love for animals is also very strong and the thought that people are cruel to something so helpless and loving as an animal always breaks my heart.
You have such a talent with your words, thoughts and expressions. You touch my soul every time I read your posts. The post seems to come at just the right moment as if I needed to hear/read your message. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!! Please do not ever doubt your importance to others and know your message is always appreciated!
Nicole Wascoe Bauman says
Please keep writing, Rachel. I always take time to read your posts because they matter…to me, to my kids, to my family, to our community. When we all stop to recognize that life’s hard, but love is the answer and then we strive for that love, we all win in that moment. Hopefully, that moment leads to another and another and another. Please keep writing and posting. I so appreciate you sharing your journey.
One of the aspects I enjoy most about your posts is your talent for self-examination and correction. I cried once again today, first for the animals mistreated and the people who carry such hate as to be capable of such cruelty. I cried a second time reading your heart hopes, listening to you learn from and honor those around you, the daughters you paint so beautifully and consistently and the husband you cherish as well. I’ve been with you for a couple of years now and gain insight and renewed energy to do good and be love, show love, live love after reading your posts. Thank you.
Wendy LaPointe says
I am an ethical vegan. This post is heart breaking and restoring all at once. Thank you for the work you and your daughter do for these dear souls. It will be a great day when future generations look back and wonder how in the world we ever treated other living, sentient beings as lesser, disposable, entertainment, food and so on.
Thanks, Rachel. This showed up in my inbox exactly when I needed it. I was feeling the same despair for similar reasons. We do need more of us working toward the greater good. I will keep 🙂
Melissa K says
Rachel, I found your blog almost 3 years ago through Daily Good and I have been reading your blog and both books since that day. I was on an inner negative path and your words helped save me and refocused my mind, heart and soul back to Love. I have been wearing an Only Love Today bracelet for a year and it keeps me grounded. When I begin to feel overwhelmed by the negativity in our world, you seem to write what I and many others need to read. This is my favorite ” Let me be the messy, genuine, put in the effort, feel it in your bones, come as you are, kind of love.” This my new mantra. Thank you once again for sharing your soul. I can’t wait to meet you this Saturday!!! Hugs, Melissa
There is a powerful solidarity in well placed words. I am grateful.
Your wonderful post gave me an insight I wanted to share. It was because of this sentence:
‘You begin to walk with your head down, thinking what’s the use in smiling at people anyway?’.
It gave me the insight that our psychological blocks (like ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I am worthless, nobody will really like me’) only come from our thinking. We learn that our intelligence and our ability to have thoughts is the most imporant thing in the world. But it is actually also quite limiting. Our spirit (or how you want to call it) however is limitless. Trusting our spirit instead of our thoughts can never bring you those blocks. At first you were listening to the thought ‘what’s the use?’ and you felt discouraged and sad. That thought was blocking you. Then you switched to love, you started to focus on your spirit, and the block was out of the way!
Laura Jane says
This is such a beautiful and inspiring story. It lifts me up to read that you were weighed down by worries and fears for a few days… but you didn’t stay there. Instead, you chose to use your own special day to care for others. So often as mothers we can get distracted by the “shiny, perfectly worded, flashy and flowery love that comes and goes with special occasions or when it’s convenient”…. as you’ve said (and that part made me cry.) Thank you for this reminder to get back to “messy, genuine” love… more than anything I hope I can pass on this kind of love to my children, that they can remember Real Love when they remember home, and that they can pass it on to their own families. Thank you so much Rachel, for words that always bring me back to what’s most important.
I cannot wait to see you in Denver!!
Rachel Stafford says
YAY! YAY! YAY! Thank you for telling me, Wendy. I love to hear “I’ll be there, Rachel” when I am going somewhere unfamiliar and far from home!
Oh, I love this. The cat shelter volunteering, the steadying of your daughter, the beauty and grace of a cat hopefully finding her match, and your daughter’s recognition of such a moment. And the words cloud! What a precious gift. Thank you for all this and for reminding me to smile more.
Rachel, Your blog is the first one I ever followed and still my favorite one to read. Thank you for your honest emotions, vulnerability in the struggle, and truth. I hope one day my blog affects even one person the way yours affects me! Life changing 🙂
Rebecca, A Mummy Engaged says
What wise words. Sometimes the world seems like a dark place. I’ve stopped watching the news and reading the paper recently because I find it so difficult sometimes to hear what seems like endless bad news stories about the cruel and unhappy things going on.
There is always hope though. There are always people looking out for each other. There are positive things happening.
And positive things can come from bad things too. Lessons can be learned. My 2 year old neighbour was killed by a car 2 weeks ago and his eyes are being donated to give site to another. Good things come from bad things.
Perhaps not quite what you were getting at but it’s what I got from your post.
Your daughter sounds thoughtful and grounded and full of goodness.
Catherine Robinson says
I really value each of one your posts. In fact, I wish they were written way back when my 16 year old daughter was so much younger. Like the above commentators have said, you wouldn’t know me on the street (plus I’m farther away as we live in England!) but you manage to “connect” with the deep and true. I am better for reading your essays. I’ve even recommended this blog to friends. But – no pressure! We all have Seasons. Thank you for how much you’ve already helped me in the past, and for all that you share.
Happy Belated Mother’s Day Lovely Rachel! Love your blog! Your thoughts, reminders, encouragement, awareness, caring – you inspire us to love more! Thank you!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, dear Tina! That makes me smile so big!
Thank you for your message this week. I realized this morning that I have been living in fear – just waiting for the next bad thing to happen or the next person to be upset with me. This is a timely and important assurance to trust in the good that God has for me – so that I do not hold back the smile and that I do the needed work and share the love that has been given me. Thank you for your ministry to my heart today!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for bravely sharing your struggle. I am blessed to know my words have helped you.
You know how amazon has statements like “If you like ___ then you’ll like ____.” Well, apparently you and Joshua Becker have similar styles of writing/life goals because I ironically found out about him this spring and pre-ordered his wonderful new book. Bravo to both of you for making such a Godly difference in people’s lives!
Rachel Stafford says
That is a huge compliment to know Amazon pairs my books with Joshua’s! I love his writing style & message! Thank you for letting me know and for saying something so kind & uplifting!
As I started typing this, my 13 year old cat started throwing up on the carpet. You know the sound before it happens. That uggg, ugggh, ugggh sound! Anyway, I recalled your post and instead of getting irritated, I felt compassion instead. 🙂 Thank you for this important and meaningful post.
Anyway, just bought a ticket to see you tomorrow in Denver! I was supposed to bring my children to a birthday party at the same time as your event, but I convinced my husband to take them instead! My sister-in-law first introduced me to your blog, and I hope to purchase a book and have you sign it for her birthday next month. See you tomorrow!
Rachel Stafford says
THANK YOU, Jen! I am so touched you made these arrangements so you could come to the event tomorrow! There will be lots of books there & I would be honored to sign one for your sister-in-law. I can’t wait to meet you!
Caroline McGraw says
Beautiful, beautiful. Praying that Harper finds her home soon, and that you have more encounters that help you — and the rest of us! — to keep the faith. xoxo
I hàve been hàving severe depressive issues and I am very discouraged by the state of the world in general and the meaness in it. While I have in my life a general sense of I suppose a naivete, I want to believe that the best is just right there, under the surface. But my hope is fading, fast….it seems sometimes the good can never overcome the bad because things have becom3 so bad. As a person who is hyper sensitive to the feelings of others, I am quickly becoming disillusioned. While I love your blog, I cannot help but feel that I am fighting a losing battle in the kindness movement. God help us all
I found and started reading your blog a few months back. I know I am older than the young mothers here, but as a grandmother, I wish you were writing your blog when I was a young mother. ( I guess that was before the internet became so popular)
Anyway, you have opened my eyes and mind to so many things. Made me think, that sometimes I am too critical of things that go on. And sad for what I see going on in this world. But, you have uplifting my spirit to be more open, and not so critical of people and of things going on in this world of ours. I worried about what kind of world we are leaving for children and grandchildren. You have shown me that I can help my grandchildren to be kinder, and more giving human beings. Even if it only a smile at a person, or a kind word.I am going to pass along your blog to my daughter, in the hope that she slows down a bit, to just vedge out and do helpful, and meaning things with her children. Instead of running herself ragged, bringing them to sports, parties,you name it. She works, and I feel she overcompesites to make them happy. I think time helping others, either human or animals, will bring a piece of mind to oneself, than running to play dates, sports, or everything else these kids go to.
You brought me down to earth with your story about volunteering at the shelter.
I am going to check our area for volunteers needed, and take myself and grandchildren along with me. I feel it is important to give back, for all we have, for all we should be grateful for.
Again, I thank you, it was a lovely and very moving story.
Rachel Stafford says
If I could hug you right now, I would, dear Connie. Your message — every single word — is exactly what my heart needed to hear today. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
V. Sam says
I am just speechless after reading your blog. You have explained a totally new way of thinking. Love is not we used to think what it is. I have learnt the importance of loving myself before loving anything else or anyone else. Finally you made me aware of the ultimate truth of this life.
Stephanie H. says
We rescued our cat, Simba, 3 years ago. This post really touched my heart. Thank you to you and your daughters for dedicating your time for these precious beings! Please never stop writing. I look forward to your posts, and each time I’m reminded to be the best of myself. You truly have a gift. Thank you for sharing it with us!
If you find out, you’ll have to share if Harper found her furever home! Thank you for the work that you do!
What a beautiful experience Rachel. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. I will be posting this blog on facebook.com/GreatParentingShow/ this weekend. Kriz <3
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Kris! Your support is a true blessing to me!
I’ m sure you hear this all the time but I am reminded how beautiful the world is through reading your blog! I can focus on ONLY LOVE TODAY! I can smile bigger and spread love to my own children and the children in my classroom better because of the inspiration I get from reading your words! Thank you for spreading love!
I love this post because I can relate to it so much. My daughters & I also volunteer for a local shelter as cat socializers. Some of the cats have had such hard lives, but it’s my daughters & I that benefit from taking care of them. All they want is someone to take care of their basic needs, play gently with them, give them a cuddle, a lap to nap on, and reassure them. My 13-year-old has anxiety, but it completely dissolves when she’s taking care of the cats. One day a kitten was sleeping on her lap. I asked how she felt and her comment knocked me over. She said, “just right”. Yes, this young lady who has struggled with anxiety said the words she should be feeling all of the time, and we had a tiny 10 week old kitten to thank for that “just right” feeling. We have our ups & downs. Last night’s challenge finding out she installed some social media apps that I don’t approve of. My initial response was raising my voice (not the best plan for a kiddo with anxiety) & saying things that brought her to tears (no profanity, but I wish I would have paused & thought before I spoke). I realized that we weren’t getting anywhere besides more frustrated and further separated when I finally asked why do teens want these social media sites–Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Kik. That’s when the conversation changed from accusing/confrontation to idea sharing & peace. I went back through your archives to reread the Hands Free Summer post. While they will still have some access to technology, I want this summer to be so much more than being behind a device. So we’re implementing the plan. I’m still sticking to the no social media this summer & I’m not sure when I’ll let them have access to it. I want so much to keep their world real–something multisensory & not behind a screen. Yes, the screens serve a purpose, but life for a teen/tween should be so much more than what a device can provide. I’m hoping this is a memory making summer. Thank you so much for all of your inspirational posts.
Thank you I very much enjoy your blog