“What you need, I need too
What you are, I am too
'cause we're all the same
under a different name.”
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.
“I’m going on a long walk,” I hollered out to my husband from the kitchen one humid July morning. Temperatures were already in the 90’s and it was only 10am.
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.
I love this idea! Spread kindness!!!
Also love your bracelets where do you get them??
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Jenny! All the beautiful metal cuffs I am wearing in the post are in the Hands Free Mama shop! Thank you for asking! Here’s the link: http://shop.handsfreemama.com
JoAnn Maio says
I’ve missed you! Your posts refresh my soul and give me hope. The month has gone by so quickly!
I am trying to slow down and see the good things, and you are amazingly helpful with that.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you so much, JoAnn! I appreciate this loving feedback about my writing. I will use it as writing fuel today!
You’re a blessing to all. Thank you. 🙂
Rachel Stafford says
After taking a long break from writing & posting, it always feels a little scary to put my words and truths out there again. But then here you are, with the most loving words I could possibly read. And you have put my anxieties at ease. Thank you, Joe. Your comment is a gift.
Rachel this was a lovely blog post. I needed to read something positive like this right now, thank you. Nothing feels better than performing a random act of kindness. It brought me back to the wonderful time I had a couple years ago. A month before I turned 50 I was reading a book called 29 gifts, it inspired me to perform a few random acts of kindness, then I came up with the idea to do 50 random acts of kindness before my 50th birthday. What an amazing time I had. Thanks for bring that feeling back. Cindy
This was a lightbulb sentence for me: “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.”
I have been so busy lately, trying to expose the lies, to fight back against the darkness, that I’ve been feeling as though I had forgotten my original purpose. I always look to help those who are different, but I needed the second half of that sentence to truly empower the first. Boy oh boy was this timely. Many thanks!
Wow! Missed your regular emails. I am very different from you but you never cease to motivate me. Best wishes!
So inspring! It’s the small actions of each individual that will change the world.
This is so beautiful! “I was thirsty, so I thought you might be too.” We are so consistently reminded that we are all different, that it is easy to overlook our similarities. Thank you for this reminder- that we can all find common ground- even in something as simple as sharing a cool drink.
Jenn R says
Love this kindness project my friend. Thank you for your beautiful words and reminder to find ways to show kindness to others no matter how different we may seem.
Julie R says
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post!! Thanking you through teary eyes…
Rachel, I absolutely love all your posts. I connect with your struggles and rejoice with you in your joys and discoveries. You are a marvel – not only in your thoughts, but that you always find a way to act and make the world better, more welcoming, warmer (and has nothing to do with climate change!). I believe in the love and embracing arms of a great and loving God – and while I understand your health struggles, perhaps they are pushing you forward to more and more freely express the love and care He enwraps you with so you go forward and express more and more love, care, and amazingly positive outlook.
You ARE a blessing and an inspiration in more ways than you can know.
Kelly Smith says
I love your posts. They always come at the right time and fill me with joy. Keep doing what you are doing. I think it is great.
Every…Single….Time! You grab my heartstrings every single time I read your posts! Thank you! Your words are always so timely and make me do a genuine reflection of myself and what more I could be doing to better my life with my family or for others. I really appreciate your gift!
Agree! Every time I am inspired to be a better person.
Your messages are so inspiring, I truly feel that the world would be a better place if every person heard just one of your messages. thanks for continuing to write.
I would like to appreciate you for posting these kind words in your blog. You can not imagine how amazing I feel after reading every single one of your posts..with Love from Iran :^)
There are angels on this earth and you are one of them! Thanks for reminding us that a small step, can be a huge one, in healing our own hopelessness.
Bonnie Jean says
This reminded me of a time when I went to visit my son at a college in the northeast. It was late November and cold. I was with my husband and two sons who are all about 6 ft. tall and look like football players… tackles or linebackers… you know what I mean… a young man was sitting outside one of the places we were walking by and I just said to him… Aren’t you freezing ??? (I had a parka on)… he said … No … it is not really cold yet for up here… He smiled a big smile and said to me … You must be from the south with that big parka on… I smiled back and just said that I am always cold below 70 degrees and we both laughed.
My husband and sons were cautiously laughing with us but when we walked away… they were like … why do you talk to everyone ??? You will get yourself killed. I just said… when God inspires me to talk, I talk… and I am a lot less likely to be killed by someone who is laughing with me.
They may never get it but then… maybe one day they will. Keep on sharing the cold drinks… smiles… kindness… conversation that lets others know you see them or what they do matters… hey it is a lifesaver for all of us !!! And most of these things are free… (or at least on sale at Costco 🙂 )
Welcome back, Rachel!! I have certainly missed your posts, and am glad to hear it was a positive break for you. This month I have been struggling with trying to come to terms with my 17 month old nursling who refuses to stop nursing, or to nap anywhere other than in my arms. Wish I had a triumph or something positive to report, but maybe next month. Looking forward to hearing more about your new book- I could certainly use the inspiration!
Laura Silverman says
I hear you, I was in the same place about two years ago and it feels so endless. Now the little guy is 3, very opinionated and looking to drop his naps (gasp!) I also have to ask for good night kisses and hugs cos he is a big boy now! Wish I could have him fall asleep in my arms just one more time…
It’s hard, every stage of this great adventure of parenting, and you are not alone.
I love this. So simple an action but so powerful. Thank you. <3
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller says
LOVE! Welcome back to sharing your writings after what sounds like a powerful and refreshing month. I love the simplicity and power in sharing water and our unifying need of thirst. A great reminder that we have all we need to bring a smile to someone’s day. Peace.
Stacey Fernandez says
Thank you Rachel for inspiring me! My young boys and I are going to do sonething similar. I am always looking for ways to teach my boys kindness and compassion and your idea is perfect. Thank you❤️
Welcome back Rachel. I’ve missed you. What you wrote about today brought tears to my eyes. Bless you. Oh, and congratulations on your book too!
Karen Clark says
This was such a good article to read today, Rachel! For the past year, I have driven past an older man at the freeway exit on my way to church. On Sunday and Tuesday mornings (when I lead a women’s Bible study), he has been somewhere on the overpass. Sometimes, he is just on the corner, waving, and giving everyone a “thumbs up.” Sometimes, he is sweeping up trash, and putting it in a wastebasket. A few months ago, I noticed a yellow safety vest on this gentleman. Someone must have given it to him, I thought. My heart went out to this man, who faithfully cleans the overpass, sweeping up other people’s trash and road dirt. About a month ago, one a hot Sunday morning, I asked my husband to stop when we saw him, so we could give him a cold bottle of water, and thank him for his work to clean the overpass. His toothless grin, and “thank you – and God bless you,” touched our hearts. I find myself, while getting ready for church or Bible study, looking for a cold bottle of water to give him. Sometimes, I have to backtrack across the overpass in order to find this man. But, each trip, my heart is warmed by his “thank you, ma’am, and have a blessed day.” I’m not sure if this is enough, but I wanted to “give a glass of water in Jesus’ name” and to thank this man for keeping his corner of our world clean.
Melissa c says
I LOVE AND AM INSPIRED ABOUT EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS POST ! Don’t stop writing- I’m becoming entangled and its glorious!
Love trumps hate
Such a beautiful way to connect with people as humans all just trying to make their way in this world. Thank you for sharing, and for being an angel here on earth!
“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.” Just love!! And so true~
Claire Gerrard says
Rachel you are an inspiration. Thanks for sharing your life with us all.
Thank you for this. I feel ashamed to admit that I can’t ever think of what I could do as a random act of kindness when this is so easy. So simple. I can do this and I will walk with you beside me and in my heart. You are an inspiration to me. I missed your posts and this one is a powerful message for your return. Thank you. Thank you.
Your beautiful story reminded me of the great simple Mormon hymn called Scatter Sunshine:
In a world where sorrow
Ever will be known,
Where are found the needy
And the sad and lone,
How much joy and comfort
You can all bestow,
If you scatter sunshine
Ev’rywhere you go.
Scatter the smiles and sunshine all along over your way.
Cheer and bless and brighten
Ev’ry passing day.
2. Slightest actions often
Meet the sorest needs,
For the world wants daily
Little kindly deeds.
Oh, what care and sorrow
You may help remove,
With your songs and courage,
Sympathy and love.
3. When the days are gloomy,
Sing some happy song;
Meet the world’s repining
With a courage strong.
Go with faith undaunted
Thru the ills of life;
Scatter smiles and sunshine
O’er its toil and strife.
Text: Lanta Wilson Smith
Music: Edwin O. Excell, 1851-1921
Laura Jane says
Rachel, it is so good to hear that you took some much-needed and well-deserved time off! I’m sure it blessed your daughters as well as yourself! But it’s also good to hear that you’re back at it… I was so glad to see this post in my inbox this morning:) Thank you for sharing the journey you’ve been on… I especially love how you said, “I refused to let fear dictate my actions. I would let love lead me.” That’s so beautiful, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about too, with my parenting… thank you for putting words to the worries and the hopes in my heart. I also love the way you wrote this story: I felt like I was right there on a walk with you! Sending hugs and prayers as you keep on spreading kindness!
This is exactly what my pastor spoke of. If you want to make a difference take action. The world of social media gives us a faulse sense of being connected. Its so easy to leave a comment or hit like and feel we are supporting a cause when we in fact are doing nothing. What an amazingly easy way to make a difference in the world, handing out cold drinks to thirsty people.
Rachel your words are balm for the soul and reprieve for sad hearts! Your words need to reach as many people as possible. This is what matters in life, this is why we’re here! To become all love, to spread it whenever we can. You are leading the way. Hugs.
Rachel, I remembered how you mentioned you were taking the month of July off , but still anxiously waited for your return. Glad you recharged and quenched my thirst for a heartfelt, loving post :0) Great to have you back!
My father in law is battling with lung cancer. It is in the latter stages, the doctors keep changing his treatments in the hope that one will work. But I can see it in his eyes and hear it in his words and his behavior that he feels defeated. Yesterday, I wrote him some inspirational and loving words to try to encourage him to keep fighting and not give up, since he had battled with cancer two other times in his life and won! While I haven’t spoken with him yet today, I pray that my loving and inspirational words are able to quench his thirst for healing and renew his quest to win a third time!
Thank you for your wonderful posts!
Wonderful. Such a simple, basic statement of kindness. If only the world would treat each other with the same respect and dignity. Loved this.
Have you ever heard the Natalie Grant song “Be One”? You are absolutely doing what she sings about and being a difference maker. Amazing!
Jenny Johnston says
Rachel, you are always an inspiration. It is so hot here where I live, too…and I love walking, I would love to join you in spreading kindness. So simple, but so profound. I am thankful for your presence in my inbox again. Although I love when you take time to yourself, I always love when you come back!
MJ Taylor says
Thanks for the reminder what a little change in perspective can do, what slowing down can do for other & for yourself! Thanks for sharing
Melissa K says
I missed your posts, yet was proud to read you were declaring a break, you inspired me to have my family go 5 days no screens….we did it and enjoyed quality time and talks. When I saw your post I was giddy to read your inspiring words and you came back with Loving Kindness, my absolute favorite!!! I love random acts of kindness. We leave quarters in gum ball machines, gifted flowers to strangers and have purchased a meal for a couple at a restaurant. I have not done water on hot days, I love it!!! Thanks for having the courage to post your writings online! I have missed them, yet I do pray you are feeling healthy physically and in your heart and soul! Big Hugs!
We have a food pantry at a church two blocks down from my house, to the left. We have a bus stop two blocks down from my house, to the right. Last Thursday was an especially hot day, and one where the food pantry was open. I put a cooler on the front lawn filled with ice packs and drinks with a sign saying, “Thirsty? Help yourself!” My daughter and I watched as many different people stopped to grab drinks. Walking from the church to the bus stop is up hill. We saw a mother and her young teen daughter pushing and then pulling their folding shopping cart full of food past our house. The mother saw the sign and remarked to her daughter how surprised by it she was and just how kind it was. My 9 year old daughter and I encouraged her from our front door to please help herself. She then took a few-day-old bouquet of flowers out of her cart of food and had her daughter give it to me. I tried not to take it but she said that good people do good things for other good people. I gave her daughter a hug and that mom took hold of her cart with her shoulders back, and a hop in her step knowing, I’m sure, that she did as much for me that day as I did for her. What’s even better? Here we were, two mothers with different skin colors doing what we both knew was right and beautiful, with our daughters watching. Our love that day transcended so much, and it all began because someone was thirsty. Thank you for sharing your idea. <3
Rachel Stafford says
I love you, Karen. Thank you for sharing, loving, and shining so brightly.
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