Throughout the month of July, I took a break from writing and posting online. I took the opportunity to relish the joy of finishing my third book, spend time with my family, and find loving homes for the six kittens we'd fostered in June. I must admit, it felt like an odd time to be quiet when so much turmoil, tragedy, conflict, and discord were happening in the world. It felt like an odd time to be quiet when there was much to be vocal about. Although I was not posting, many people were. Reading the latest news reports and passionately expressed opinions wasn’t always easy, but I did it. My belief is that when we are divided and conflicted, listening is critical. So I listened in an effort to gather information, perspective, and understanding. After listening, I found it necessary to put on my walking shoes. Walking has always been therapeutic for me, offering clarity and hope with each step I take. It’s where I do my best thinking and words fill the pocket-sized notebooks I carry with me.
My younger daughter’s swim practice gave me ample opportunity to walk each day. It lasted an hour and half. The only downside was it occurred at 2:15pm—the hottest part of the day. But the blank pages in my July writing notebook served as great motivation despite the near 100-degree temps. I’d been doing a lot of listening and thinking, but not a lot of writing. It was difficult to put into words what I was feeling in my heart. I worried I wouldn’t have any words to bring back to you. So I lathered up my exposed areas with sunscreen, threw on a ball cap, and walked by faith, hoping words would come as I wore down the soles of my shoes.
During one especially hot afternoon walk, I kept thinking about something a friend suggested to cultivate more peace and understanding within our society. She’d said something like: “Look for those who are different from you and connect with them in some way.”
That’s when I saw him—he was working in the flowerbeds at the entrance of a neighborhood. He might have looked more fitting in a professional football uniform or in secret service attire. With shoulders of a linebacker, his orange landscaping shirt was stretched to capacity and soaked with sweat. At that moment, the massive man paused over the red zinnias to wipe his brow. I knew the feeling. I’d run out of dry cloth on my tank top to wipe my face. This gave me an idea.
My daughter’s swim center wasn’t far away, and it sold cold drinks in the vending machine. I ran back and bought two Powerades. I walked briskly back to the weary gardener, hoping he would still be there. Despite feeling a little nervous and unsure about what to say, I forged ahead.
As the man saw me approach, he looked a bit worried. I raised the drinks up and smiled brightly to appease any confusion. This is what came out of my mouth: “I was thirsty, so I thought you might be too.”
The man’s entire face broke into the most beautiful smile. “Yes! Yes! I am very thirsty,” he said enthusiastically. “Thank you! Thank you so much,” he said as he reached for one of the bottles.
Behind mirrored sunglasses, my eyes filled with tears. I wasn’t expecting his joy to be so big. It was tangible. I held on to it for a moment as the two of us stood there smiling at each other.
We couldn’t be more different, this man and I, but we are both thirsty. Yes, we are both thirsty. It feels good to quench that thirst. I thought to myself.
“Thank you so much,” the smiling man said once again as I turned to go.
“Thank you for making the world beautiful,” I said pointing to the flowers.
I returned to the swim center to retrieve my daughter. I felt more optimistic than I had in weeks. I went to the vending machine again and purchased a bottle of Powerade for her. I’d never done that. Water is what we use to hydrate.
“Here,” I said when she came through the door, red-faced and breathless from practice. “This is for you.”
“Really?” she said beaming, unable to hide her delight. “What’s the occasion?”
“I’ll show you,” I said as we walked through the parking lot. “See that man working so hard down there in the flower bed? He looked so hot and tired when I walked by. I bought one for him. He was so happy and grateful. It made me so happy and grateful too.”
My daughter looked up at me and smiled. “That was so nice, Mama.”
“I think I’m going to buy more cold drinks,” I thought out loud. “So when I walk, I can hand them to people who look thirsty.”
“What a good idea! I will look for thirsty people too, Mama,” she said. As we drove home, she spotted seven. I saw them too. They looked thirsty as they waited for the bus in the blistering sun … as they took their children’s hand to cross a busy intersection … as they repaired severed power lines and gaping holes in the road. Not one of them was smiling. Most looked stressed and worried. I had some work to do, I decided.
I bought a pack of Powerade. I put it in the fridge and considered the best way to go about distribution. Carrying the drinks in a backpack didn’t seem ideal, but when I tried other bags, it felt awkward. I figured the backpack would be quite heavy since I’d have to include ice packs to keep the drinks cold. I estimated it might take over an hour to find people as I walked. But despite the drawbacks, this idea felt right. This concrete act of love felt far better than any words I could merely write or speak.
My husband came downstairs and immediately noticed the cooler. “What are you doing with that?” he asked skeptically. I immediately wished I’d gotten it to the car sooner.
“I am doing a kindness project,” I replied to my overly protective spouse, knowing the less I said the better.
“You’re not going to approach strangers are you?” asked the guy who knows me far too well.
“I’m not going to do anything unsafe,” I said lifting the heavy cooler and grabbing the empty backpack.
“There’s dangerous people out there, Rachel,” he cautioned as I walked out the door.
Yes, but there’s good ones too. I thought to myself. And thirsty ones … lots and lots of thirsty ones … and I won’t let fear stop me from loving them.
I could understand why my husband said that last comment. He’d been watching the news every single night and listening to politicians speak. And some days I might have been there with him, afraid to walk up to people I didn't know. But I’d made a decision. I refused to let fear dictate my actions. I would let love lead me.
After parking at the swim center, I loaded up the backpack. I expected six bottles of Powerade and two ice packs to be quite heavy, only adding to the oppressiveness in the air. But as I pulled up the straps, I received the most refreshing feeling. The ice pack rested against my back, cooling my body instantly. I could walk for miles like this. I thought to myself optimistically.
I immediately spotted two teenagers approaching the bridge where a homeless man had been sleeping in the shade two weeks ago. With my backpack full, I carried two bottles in my hands. They felt cool and refreshing. The young men were speaking to each other in a language unfamiliar to me. I noticed the backs of their t-shirts were spotted with sweat. Perhaps they’d been walking awhile.
“Hey guys!” I called out. “I’m spreading kindness today by giving out cold drinks!” I said feeling satisfied with the unprepared wording that came from my mouth. This heart-led mission was a bit hard to explain.
Initially, the guys looked unsure. One young man pushed his glasses up on his nose and said, “Wow.”
“If you are thirsty, they’re all yours. The bottles still have their seals; would you like them?” I asked.
They looked at each other and then back at me with broad smiles. “Yes. We are very thirsty,” one said politely. “Thank you. Have a nice day,” he offered.
“Keep on smiling!” I said in response.
We couldn’t be more different, these teenagers and I. But we are both thirsty. And it feels good to quench that thirst. I thought to myself.
I walked over the bridge and headed to the shopping plaza across the street. I was drawn to the wide-open doors of a dry cleaner. It didn’t seem possible, but the air pouring out of the shop was hotter than the outside temperature. I peeked in and saw three elderly women busily working. I unzipped my backpack and walked inside. I set the drinks on the counter and offered them refreshment.
The language barrier caused confusion at first. I could see it in their faces.
“Are you thirsty?” I asked. The woman at the cash register nodded timidly. “These are for you if you would like them,” I smiled.
She looked at the cash register and then back at me, as if to say, “What is the cost?”
“No cost,” I smiled. “Please enjoy. Thank you for working so hard.”
Her hard, unsmiling face transformed in front of my eyes. This woman, whose sad eyes and arthritic hands revealed much, had the most beautiful smile. I wondered how many people had ever seen it. I felt blessed to witness it. She covered her boney hand with mine. “Thank you,” she said.
We couldn’t be anymore different, this elderly woman and I, but we are both thirsty. It feels good to quench that thirst. I thought to myself.
I walked on with just one Powerade left. I wondered what thirsty person might cross my path. I quickly noticed a jogger running toward me. We had the same color of skin and her hair was in a ponytail just like mine. We might have even been wearing the same Old Navy workout clothes. We couldn’t have been more alike, but I stopped and dug into my backpack anyway. As she was about to run past, I held out the bottle.
“Are you thirsty?” I asked with a smile. “I’m passing out cold drinks today to spread kindness.”
She stopped, removed her earphones, and offered me a gracious smile. “Oh my goodness. Thank you. It’s so hot! This is perfect. Thank you for your kindness.” As she reached for the bottle she unexpectedly admitted, “I’ve been feeling really hopeless lately.”
We are oddly similar, this woman and I. And although my aim is to connect with those who are different from me, this woman is thirsty too. She is thirsty, just like me, and all the others that came before her. It feels so good to quench that thirst and offer a sense of hope to her hopeless heart.
It’s small, so very small, this heat relief mission I’m doing by foot. But it’s made me more aware. Even when I am not lugging bottles in a backpack, I am still looking. I am looking for those who are different from me, but thirsty like me—thirsty for kindness, acceptance, love, and hope. When I see them, I give them a welcoming smile, my thanks for working so hard, or a look of understanding as they navigate life. I’ve been asking, “How’s your day going?” I am amazed at the surprised look on their face. It seems no one’s cared to ask in awhile. I am sorry I didn’t take the time before.
My friends, I am still listening and thinking and struggling for words to use in this difficult time for our country—but action, one loving action, was far easier than anything I could ever have imagined. In fact, it was too easy.
It was too easy to find people who are thirsty.
It was too easy to make them smile in real, genuine, soul-building ways.
It was too easy to counteract an act of unkindness with an act of goodness.
It was too easy to express love and acceptance.
It was too easy to say, “I care about you,” without saying a word.
It was too easy for two strangers to see each other in a whole new light.
It was too easy to bridge the gap.
It was too easy to bring hope to a hopeless situation.
My friends, if you’re thirsty, chances are, he is thirsty too; she is thirsty too—thirsty for relief, peace, connection, and understanding. But we’ll never know our shared thirst unless we offer to quench it through loving action.
I have another package of drinks chilling in the fridge. I’ll be hitting the pavement soon. Temperatures are expected to soar in the month ahead; thirst is imminent. But I am ready. My ball cap bears no sports emblem, no college logo, no clever saying—just a heart. I am on Team Love, going as far as my feet will take me to offer relief to parched souls. Walk beside me, will you? The load is lighter when we carry it together. We’ll let love do the talking. I’m certain it will lead us to a better place.
Friends, thank you for the grace and understanding as I stepped away from the blog and Hands Free Revolution Facebook page during the month of July. It was beneficial for me professionally, relationally, medically, and spiritually. I spent the past month trying live out the anthems I wear on my wrists: SEE FLOWERS, NOT WEEDS, ONLY LOVE TODAY, TODAY MATTERS MORE THAN YESTERDAY, and COME AS YOU ARE. I will be sharing more about this via The Hands Free Revolution on Instagram as I've found it to be a perfect space to share images from my life that evoke feelings of hope, love, and connection. I’d love for you to join me there. Use the hashtag #onlylovetoday or #handsfreerevolution so we can inspire each other. Also, the gorgeous metal cuffs I'm seen wearing in the photos above are now in stock in the HFM Shop. I'd be honored if you choose to wear these soul-building anthems on your wrist or gift them to someone you love. My final note is in regards to my four upcoming speaking events: California friends in the Bay Area, our evening together is getting close! I would love to meet you when I speak on Tuesday, September 13th at 6pm at the Diablo Country Club, 1700 Club House Road, Diablo, CA. This lovely event, which includes dinner and a book signing, is hosted by Community Presbyterian Church. They have set up an event page with registration coming very soon. Friends in Chattanooga, Clarksville, and Mandan, I am coming to you this fall. Check my speaking events page for event details as they come available. Friends who are not in these areas, I welcome you to pass my name along to schools, churches, or organizations in your community who are seeking speakers. I would love to meet as many of you as possible! You inspire me in ways I cannot explain in words. Please tell me what revelations, struggles, and triumphs you have experienced over the past month. I cherish every word, spoken and unspoken, you offer me.