“I ain’t made for a rivalry, I could never take the world alone
I know that in my weakness I am stronger
It’s your love that brings me home
Brother, let me be your shelter
I’ll never leave you all alone.”
As my daughters ran around the house excitedly looking for jean shorts and hairbands, I double-checked my purse, making sure I had four white papers tucked safely inside. I was absolutely certain this was my chance … my open window … my golden opportunity to leave an indelible recording in four impressionable young minds. Two of my daughters’ dearest friends from the state where we used to live were going to be spending the day with us. Recently, I’d felt a sense of urgency to tell these two sets of sisters something important; I refused to let time get the best of us.
The history of this special friendship was long and deep for their relatively short lives, but it was not complicated. Their connection began seven years ago with shared costumes and pretend tea. It evolved into sharing birthdays, church pews, daily rides to school, backyard forts, secrets, prayers, tears, and triumphs. Over the years, I’ve come to love them all, collectively and individually. I know their strengths. I know where they feel weak and vulnerable. I know what their faces look like when they are hurt, worried, or confused. I know when they are completely at ease. Most of all, I see the unique and important contribution each one makes in the world. I see their inner lights. And my greatest fear is that someone or something will snuff out their lights.
I worry these vibrant young people will be lead to believe they are not enough—that they need to be smarter, smaller, taller, wittier, quieter, faster, flashier, shinier, riskier, or bolder.
One of the four girls is embarking on her first year of middle school. Two of them are embarking into their 13th year of life. The youngest of the group hits double digits in a matter of days. Moments of uncertainty, exclusion, rejection, and insecurity are common during these delicate years, as they are with many stages of life. But right now these four young ladies are listening; they are open; they are receptive. And I was going to have them all to myself. I would not waste this opportunity to provide them with inner armor; I was determined to place an important message on their hearts and wrists before someone else dared to dispute it.
I sat at a picnic table while the girls perused the outdoor mall. When ominous clouds began to move in, I sent a text to my older daughter indicating they should make their way back to the restaurant where we planned to meet for lunch.
As the girls walked up, I had a second thought. “Let’s get in the car for a moment,” I said. “I want to give you something.”
The girls happily piled in, just like they did when they were in kindergarten, minus the booster seats. As we shut the doors, the rain started coming down. It felt safe and soothing, and they were all mine; I had a captivated audience. I felt like I’d cleverly outwitted time. The young ladies looked at me expectantly.
“This is an important school year for each of you,” I began. “One of you is going to middle school, two of you are entering seventh grade, and one is turning double digits in a few days!”
They all smiled at each other, happiness and excitement graced their fresh faces, along with freckle kisses from the summer sun.
“These are exciting and wonderful years, but they can also be years when there is a lot of wondering: Am I ok? Do I need to be more like that person? Do I belong? Someone can come along and say something that makes you doubt yourself. So today I want to give you something you can look at in those moments for reassurance and truth.”
The girls opened their burlap bags to find a metal cuff that said four of the most inclusive words in the English language: Come as you are.
I continued. “One of the first poems I wrote when I became an author was called, Come As You Are, but the words didn’t seem fitting for you. So yesterday I wrote a new version for people just starting out, people facing new beginnings—like you.”
This is what I read:
Come as you are.
Come with your quiet strength or shaky confidence.
Showing up either way takes bravery and practice.
Don’t let fear stop you from saying yes to life’s invitations.
Come as you are.
Come with your mistakes, your goofiness, your humanness.
People will love you more for it because then they can be real too.
Come as you are.
Come with what you love about yourself—whether it’s your hair, your handwriting, your smile, or the way you stand up for friends. Come with what you love about yourself even on days you can’t find anything. By showing up, you just might make that important discovery.
Come as you are.
Come with what you want to hide. Come with what makes you feel insecure.
I promise the person sitting next to you has insecurities too.
Together you can bring those hurts into the light of day where they can no longer hold you back.
Come as you are.
Come with your obnoxious laugh, your funny sneeze, your out-of-tune voice. Come with what makes you YOU. You might not realize it, but someone breathes a sigh of relief when you show up.
Come as you are.
Come with your decision to pay no mind to the haters. Refuse to let their jealousy or toxicity sabotage this moment in your life. Keep shining. Someday you’ll look back and be glad you didn’t let someone else dim your radiance.
Come as you are.
Come with your dreams, no matter how silly or outlandish. You are capable of those dreams. I’ve seen you in action—there is no limit to what you can do.
Come as you are, and offer the same acceptance to others.
Come with one kind thing to say, especially when people are staring at someone and talk is cruel. Come with kindness, and it will come back to you in ways unimaginable.
Come as you are, just as you are.
Resist the pressure to conform.
Resist the pressure to be like someone else.
Be your beautiful, radiant, one-of-a kind self.
There is nothing more freeing than loving yourself “as is.”
Come as you are, you don’t need to change a thing—not today, not ever.
Come as you are; let your inner light invite someone else to come forth “as is.”
Come as you are, a living beacon of hope.
During the reading, the girls were quiet except for a few lines—one line brought laughter, one garnered head nods, and one line produced a fierce muscle flex. And when I was finished, the girls thanked me profusely and quickly slipped the cuffs on their wrists.
“Let’s go eat!” I exclaimed, noticing the rain had magically stopped and the sun was peaking out.
As the foursome walked toward the restaurant, one of the young ladies wrapped her arm around her friend. The next one followed suit, and then the next one, until they fell in line shoulder to shoulder.
It was subtle, but the message was clear, “I love you for who you are. I’ve got your back, sister. I’ve got your back.”
The Armor of Acceptance
Together we are stronger than we are alone.
For a fleeting moment, I thought, my work here is done.
But I know it’s not.
My work is far from over.
I will continue to encourage and affirm these sisters every chance I get, as well as other sisters and brothers—those who I’ve met and have yet to meet, those who I love and who are hard to love.
Because don’t we all, at some point or another, wonder if we are okay … if we need changing … if we belong? What might happen if we were to start looking for those in fragile periods of uncertainty, times when they’re most open and hungry for words of acceptance and assurance? What if we were to provide a moment of shelter from conformity’s damaging forces? What if we allowed our sisters and brothers to be themselves in our presence? What if we frequently reminded them, “You are perfect just as you are?”
The Armor of Acceptance … it’s a beautiful thing.
One size fits all.
Quantities are unlimited.
Breathing room is included.
The Armor of Acceptance … it's a beautiful thing.
I have it to give.
You have it to give.
And by giving it to others, we inadvertently give it to ourselves.
Come as you are, just as you are … and I will too. Because when I invite you, I invite myself.
Shoulder to shoulder, scar to scar, heart to heart, we are stronger together than we are alone.
Dear friends of the Hands Free Revolution, I leave you with two important notes:
1) As many young people head into new school years and new territories, please consider gifting them with the “come as you are” cuff (comes in copper or aluminum) and feel free to use any words I have written above to communicate your unconditional love and acceptance. There is free domestic shipping on all items in the Hands Free Shop from today until August 19th. Simply use the code LOVESCHOOL to receive that discount at checkout. The ‘see flowers not weeds’ metal cuff is back in stock.
2) Bay Area friends, tickets for my September 13th speaking event in Diablo go on sale tomorrow (Wednesday, August 10) on the event page here. The coordinators of the event indicate the event will sell out very quickly so please click their event page for that ticket link posting on 8/10. If you don’t have a Facebook account, you can contact Community Presbyterian Church who is hosting the event. Thanks to everyone who have let me know they are coming! It makes me feel so loved! I am also looking forward to seeing my friends in Chattanooga, Clarksville, and Mandan this fall. See my speaking event page for dates and ticket information. (Please note, the date of the event in Clarksville was changed to Thursday, October 6th.)
Thank you for being part of The Hands Free Revolution. Join me on Instagram for additional messages, images, and invitations to come as you are. I cherish each one of you.
Tammy Marzano says
This will be my welcome message to the new freshman class that I teach. Thank you for providing the beautiful words.
Rachel Stafford says
Ahhh … this is music to my soul! Thank you, Tammy, for bringing my words to life by sharing them with your precious students. I am so grateful for that and for your presence in this world. You are making a difference!
Melanie P says
Rachel, thank you for this. I remember my mother was NOT this way. Instead of uplifting me in periods of doubt or uncertainty, I felt I was never ‘good enough’. Or, at least, I was only good enough if I was quiet enough, skinny enough, wore what she wanted me to wear, etc. I now have a daughter of my own and I am learning to show her that she is good enough just as she is. She is young and it is up to me to help scaffold her learning so she feels that she has something valuable to contribute- and she does! 🙂 Thank you Rachel. I always look forward to your posts.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for breaking the damaging cycle, Melanie! Thank you for offering the gift of unconditional love & acceptance to your daughter! And thank you for sharing your story so others may be inspired.
Connie Tendler says
And this dear Rachel, is your greatest gift. Inclusion, causing me to believe that I fit and that you see me. I have known it for awhile now and have not quite been able to put words to it. You are able to share parenting truths and ideas that I also believe and through it all show me that I am not alone. May you write and share your journey forever. Your truth blessed and inspires my walk.
Pam DePalma says
Rachel-This poem is beautiful! We recently opened Not Your Typical Deli in Gilbert, Arizona, hiring people with developmental disabilities – primarily autism. The outpouring of support from our community has been amazing – mostly because we see each individual for who they are, their gifts and their uniqueness – not their “label”. Can I print this to hang on our wall for all to read and be inspired? And if you’re ever Arizona way…please come visit us! I have enjoyed reading and sharing your posts for the past several years! Thank you for your writing gifts!
Rachel Stafford says
Hi Pam! Aren’t you a beacon of hope in this world??? Thank you for being YOU and giving others a chance to come as they are!! I love what you are doing in AZ! I hope I get to visit someday! Thank you for asking my permission to post my poem. I would be honored! If you could just note me as the author, that would help me protect my work. Thank you for spreading the message of love & acceptance. Thank you for living the message!!!
Pamela DePalma says
Most definitely! I’ll send you a picture once we get it up on the wall! We have a very active facebook page – please follow us @ Not Your Typical Deli! And thank you for your kind words! Pam
My dear rachel,
I am a teacher, not a job, but a calling. I love to touch their hearts, souls and brains and showing them new doors to peep in, to investigate, to enter, to walk way pass them. I am very grateful cause they love my classes and feel very connected to me. And i know it,s mainly because they feel “seen”, really seen, respected, accepted, fully loved. I see the little prints i help to leave as they grow year after year. I see the big smile of a former student greeting me as she holds hands with what looks like her first love. She smiles so proud and wide, she,s happy she can ” share” this moment with me. it even takes me by surprise cause i taught her 3 years ago and briefly. The point here is not to show off but to “have your back” on this quest of yours, also mine. These beautiful spirits need healthy guiding adults to help, encourage, believe, trust, love them. What you did and are doing is beautiful and meaningful, thank you for living so conscious in a world full of unconsciousness. I,m in spain and, with your permission, i will share your poem with my students, i,m thinking of it as the “welcome back to School” gift. Far away but walking along you, handfree 🙂
This is one of your best posts, if not the best, in my opinion. My girls are young but I try to instill this mentality in them daily. I’ll be printing your poem “Come as you are” to hang in their room and keeping this post for future reference and conversation. Again, what an awesome post! You are truly gifted. Thank you for sharing your heart and mind with us!!
Anne H says
Absolutely beautiful, thank you!
Any trips to Houston in the pipeline? Would love to hear you speak. There is something about the way you write that makes me connect instantly. Thank you
Laura Ozuna says
Thanks so much for this. I am a middle school teacher thinking about heading back to school as well and you shared so many good messages to give my students on that first day and all through the year. And even to my oldest son who is just starting kindergarten. Continuing to share these messages, we can all create beacons of hope.
Ashley Peeler says
A much needed read as I move to another chapter in my career and personal life, full of fear and fear of failure. The pressure from society and digital devices to do more and more and more is brutal and wearing, so I appreciate your sage words.
Cally Brown says
” a new version for people just starting out, people facing new beginnings—like you.” Every day I start out again, everyday is a new beginning. This post is the first since I ordered 2 cuffs from you: ‘come as you are’ and ‘see flowers not weeds’ – so a very special and appropriate post! Every day of my life I struggle with the effects of a childhood filled with criticism intended to teach me how I could do, and be, better, and from being taught, by both words and example, that emotions are bad things. I have not been the best of parents to my now grown sons, but I have been far more unkind to myself. I looked at your cuffs and wanted them all, but in the end chose the two messages that I most need to truly absorb. I am buying them as a birthday present to myself – I will be 65 in five weeks time. I live with the hope and determination that it is never too late to start out, never too late for a new beginning. Thank you.
Lisa Franz says
I love this!! I am going to buy these bracelets for my twin 13 yr old daughters and their group of friends. Also, for my 15 yr old and a couple of her friends. I grew up with an incredibly judgmental Dad. Loving, but judgmental. My husband and I actually talked about this today at lunch, as he can tell a difference in me after I’ve spent time with my Dad. And I’m in my 50s!! I am determined to love my girls, and not be judgmental. Thank you for putting this so beautifully in words.
“Because don’t we all, at some point or another, wonder if we are okay … if we need changing … if we belong? What might happen if we were to start looking for those in fragile periods of uncertainty, times when they’re most open and hungry for words of acceptance and assurance? What if we were to provide a moment of shelter from conformity’s damaging forces? What if we allowed our sisters and brothers to be themselves in our presence? What if we frequently reminded them, ‘You are perfect just as you are?’ ”
Yes, we all wonder, especially when you’re 14. If only one person besides my husband and I would tell my 14 year old daughter that she is perfect the way she is. If only one student at school would allow her to be her and not shun her. If only one other 14 year old offered her words of acceptance and assurance. She’s beautiful, smart, funny, tender hearted and the most kind and loyal friend anyone could ask for. But if someone wants to pick on a kid, they will always find her. And then others find it funny. I’m tired of her being hurt. I’m tired of praying as I have since the moment I knew we would be blessed with a child, to only feel like God has ignored those prayers.
Please moms, teach your daughters to be kind. To look for that girl that has no one. Teach them to befriend and not exclude.
My daughters are headed to college this year and this is just the thing they need to be reminded of. Even though they are ‘grown up’ now, they are still just as vulnerable (if not more so) now than they were 6 or so years ago. Then they were still naive to certain life expectations, and now there is an almost urgent expectation to engage in the same risky behaviors. Too many of our young adults are falling prey to addiction, for whatever reasons, in their later years of high school and early college years. And maybe, just maybe, if they continue to hear these words through this transition as well, they will make different choices in life. I showed my daughter this poem tonight and she commented “This is something that needs to be shared for everyone to see.” Thank you for posting this!
Melissa K says
Once again your writing leaves me breathless, teary eyed, hope and love filled!!! I will be the shelter for others to come as they are, so I too can live my life in the same way…thank you for this inspiring post! My inner teenage girl needed to read it too! Big hugs and love!!!
Laura Jane says
This is so beautiful! I love how you took their special visit as an opportunity to do something we parents often feel too rushed and hurried to do… to just talk. Oh, how hard those years can be… but I truly believe one encouraging friend can make the difference! Thank you for being that encouraging friend, and for sharing your kind words with us, for equipping us with a language to speak with our girls in their often-scary in-between years. I’ll be coming back to this poem soon, I’m sure! Hugs:)
Katherine Coronel says
Need one for boys, leather band – etched in leather or silver plate on and/or woven it… Girls and boys would probably like that as well…. My son needs this message just as much as your girls… Challenging times for our precious warriors every time they walk out our front doors, I mean our castle doors 😉 Praying UP
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Katherine! I had several readers ask for a more masculine looking reminder band yesterday and so those are being placed today by my awesome sister in law Stacie who helps me manage the HF Shop. The phrase will be “come as you are.” You can email Stacie at email@example.com and ask her to let you know when they are available. If you prefer to have a dark leather band with a different inscription as you described, feel free to order directly from the artists that we work with on the beautiful leather wrist wraps. https://www.etsy.com/shop/Cjohannesen Love, RMS
I lived in Danville for 6 years and atrended Community Presbyterian Church. Last summer we moved our family back to Pennsyvania to care for our aging parents (a painful move – we loved living in Danville). When I learned that you were going to speak at Diablo Country Club I couldn’t believe it. When I told my husband how bummed I was that I’d miss that event he suggested I go visit friends and go to the event! So I am! And I can’t wait. You’ve been a source of inspiration to me through raising my boys (ages 19, 16 and 13), several moves, learning to accept myself and loving others well as I seek to serve them. Thank you and I can’t wait to see you in Danville.
Rachel Stafford says
Oh LeighAnn!!! My eyes are filled with teats! I am so touched & blessed by this! Thank you for going to such effort to see me. I pray that your travels go smoothly and that you are blessed by old friendships while you are there. I cannot WAIT to meet you!!! See you soon!
Paige Teel says
Your words are exactly what I needed to read this morning!! I’ve had your email for over a week now and just took the time to read….God knew it was the right time. My daughters start school tomorrow and I’ve been searching for the perfect words as inspiration for a new school year….and I just found them! I love every statement and pray I can teach them to ‘come as they are’!
Thanks for all you do to encourage, support, and bring goodness to our world!!
Your words are like a soothing balm to my slightly anxious heart as we ready our 4 year old for school on Monday. He’s kind and confident, funny and quirky and I’ve seen the pain on his face when someone rejects him or tells him something in an unkind way. We encourage him to “be your own person” and will take a moment to chat to him about being comfortable with seeing himself and others as they are
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