Imagine if you asked yourself for a minute,
What if I had your heart?
What if you wore my scars?
How would we break down?
What if you were me?
What if I were you?
-Five for Fighting, What If
“Did you see the girl with the big smile, Mama? I hope we’re friends someday,” my daughter said as we walked away from the lemonade stand just days after moving into our new neighborhood.
I saw her. Oh yes, I saw that beaming of ray of light. My heart did a summersault when my daughter was introduced to L. The girls were going into the same grade, and they both were new to the area.
Within a few weeks, the girls were inseparable. Their shared love of music instantly bonded them. For hours, they’d sing and dance in the basement—their voices more confident and assured together than alone.
The quickly developing bond between two friends was solidified on a painful bus ride home shortly after our move. I took note that fateful day, occurring exactly two years ago. I knew it was important to remember what I witnessed. So when my husband sent me a photo of the two girls on the football field the other night, I knew it was time to share their story and the photo.
Let me just say, this is more than a friendship, and it’s more than a photo. It is a goal … a model … an aspiration of what we could be if we collectively agree to take note.
This is their story …
When my daughter came off the school bus that hot September afternoon, it was obvious something was horribly wrong. With a weary heart, I suspected it was homesickness due to our recent move.
Once my daughter’s words came out, I would have paid anything for homesickness to be the problem.
A boy on the bus had said these vile words to her precious friend: “I hate black people.”
I began to shake with anger. “What did you do, honey?” I asked semi-calmly.
“I asked L if she was okay. She didn’t say anything, so I just scooted closer.” Wiping tears from her eyes, she admitted, “I didn’t know what to do, Mama, so I just hurt with her.”
I hurt with her.
It took me a moment to recover from that.
“You did the right thing,” I said once I found my voice. I then told her I must also do something. I asked if she would prefer I speak to the boy’s parents or the principal. She preferred the principal so I immediately notified her. Expressing deep concern, the principal assured both my daughter and myself that swift action would be taken and this would not happen again to her friend.
The next day, my daughter proudly reported that her teacher unexpectedly walked the girls onto the bus. With her arms protectively around my child and her friend, the long-time educator announced to the boy and those seated around him, “You mess with my girls, you mess with me.”
“L felt stronger and less worried after that,” my daughter said. “My teacher had our back.”
My daughter had said, “our back,” not L’s back.
I took note.
A few months later, my daughter had to get new eyeglasses. Just when she hoping her vision would magically correct itself, she required a new prescription.
“Can L go with us?” my daughter asked the day we were going to pick out new frames.
This struck me as an odd request. “Why?” I asked curiously.
“Because she always gives me truth. She won’t say what she thinks I want to hear; she’ll say what I need to hear. She’ll help me find the best pair for my face.”
Wow. Wouldn’t we all like to have a friend like that? I thought. Naturally, L went with us to the eye doctor. And just as my child predicted, her friend was a tremendous help. I sat back watching as L carefully selected frames that complimented my daughter’s circular face shape.
My daughter, still not keen on the fact she was getting a pair of glasses, looked half-heartedly at the frames her friend handed her.
On the tenth rejected pair, I saw my daughter losing hope. I was about to suggest we come back another day when I heard L’s voice get really excited. “Oh! Oh! You look so good in purple, Avery! Try these.” L handed her friend a pretty lavender pair.
The girls both peered into the mirror together; their smiles widened synchronously.
“Those are the ones,” L said with certainty. “You look beautiful in those.”
“You think so?” Avery asked timidly.
“Now would I lie to you?” L asked, placing her hands on her hips.
Avery laughed out loud.
But it wasn’t until L said, “I’m going to ask my mom if I can get some glasses too,” that my daughter’s look of worry completely dispelled.
Sure enough, L’s mom later reported her daughter came home begging for glasses.
“But you don’t need them,” her mom pointed out.
L knew this, but she wanted to stand with Avery in her time of discomfort and insecurity. She wanted to scoot closer. She wanted to cover their back.
I took note.
A month ago, our families visited the church of the girls’ guitar instructor. Miss Kaitlin was beginning her role as worship leader and we wanted to support her. Afterwards, the families took an unplanned stop at a famous donut shop featured on the Food Network. I was shocked when my daughter looked at the mouth-watering display and said she didn’t want one. I immediately felt her forehead. She must be sick. I thought.
“I’ll just have iced tea,” she said.
It wasn’t until we got home that she admitted the reason for passing on the donut. “I really wanted one, but they didn’t have a gluten-free donut for L. I decided if she had to go without, I would too.”
Again, I took note.
Next month, my daughter is trying out for a basketball team. L’s been coaching her and encouraging her at several camps and clinics they’ve recently attended together. Although L is much more advanced and ready for a more competitive team, she’s choosing to play in the less competitive league as well … for Avery.
Again and again, I take note of what these two friends have to teach me about loving each other.
And today, I pray the world will take note too.
What if we collectively responded to the injustices of our brothers and sisters with empathy rather than defensiveness or indifference?
What if we collectively looked into our brother and sisters eyes to acknowledge their pain rather than closing our eyes or looking away?
What if we collectively understood our privileges and blessings would be far greater if shared by our sisters and brothers?
What if we collectively agreed it is not “your back” or “my back,” but “our back,” if we are to create a unified and peaceful world for future generations?
What if we collectively remember, “I’ll hurt with you,” is something we can all do when we don’t know what to do?
I think we can all agree there is a lot on the line for our country right now. Unity, compassion, empathy, peace, understanding, and love are all on the line, and it’s not looking like they’re going to make the cut.
But then my husband sends me a photo. And what I see on the line at a local football game gives me hope.
The goal of this mighty little team is not to win … or have the most … or be the best.
The goal of this little team is to love … to love each other as they want to be loved.
The goal of this team is to have “our back.”
For they know they are stronger together than they are alone.
Let us take note.
There’s so much on the line.
But love can prevail.
My friends of the Hands Free Revolution, what are your hurts and what are your hopes today? We can learn so much about loving each other through our stories. I am so looking forward to looking into the eyes of my Tennessee friends in just two short weeks. On October 4th, I will be speaking at the Chattanooga Theater Centre as a fundraising event for the MCR Foundation for the Prevention of Eating Disorders. Click here for tickets. On October 6th, I will be speaking in Clarksville at the 6th annual Tickle Me Pink Breast Cancer Luncheon. Click here for tickets. If you plan to attend the events, feel free to bring copies of my books HANDS FREE MAMA or HANDS FREE LIFE, and I will be happy to sign them. There will also be books available for purchase. Thank you for walking beside me on this journey to choose love over distraction, perfection, productivity, and pressure. #onlylovetoday #teamlove
Kaitlin Curtice says
What a blessing to read on my birthday! I love these girls, and I love the miracle of finding someone new in your life that is so unexpected, that this deep love seems to appear out of nowhere and root itself deep inside. These girls have something beautiful together, and I’m SO SO happy I get to be a part of them.
Thank you, sister. Love you.
Rachel Stafford says
Oh you beat me to it! I was gonna post this on your wall with a loving happy birthday message! Well, I still have one surprise up my sleeve for today!
I am thankful for the role you play in ushering the light and divine gifts from the hearts of these two special little girls. You are an incredible role model and inspiration for love and acceptance and grace.
We love you so much!
Cathryn Lykes says
I know how your daughter learned to let her beautiful soul shine this way. It was from you! I’ll never forget the helping hand you sent my daughter and I one Christmas a few years ago.
Thank you for being a light in the world.
Rachel Stafford says
Oh beautiful Cathryn, what is GIFT it is to hear from you today. I feel like I just received the warmest hug. Thank you for taking the time to let me know you are here, walking beside me. Thank you for your lovely comment. Hugs to you and your precious girl.
Rachel – your words brought hopeful tears to my eyes. Thank you! Have you heard of the organization Preemptive Love? I think you would enjoy their message as it definitely aligns with yours today. May God bless your family and sweet children. http://www.preemptivelove.org/
I love your blog, I love your posts, I need your encouragement like water some days for my own selfish self…but this is my favorite story you’ve ever told. Have to go cry now, and call my friend. (and I’m 40…I hope we never stop loving each other like that) Thank you, girls, for the reminder.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. Your daughter and L are truly blessed to have each other. If only we could all be so.
Kim Gaster says
Love these precious girls! True friendship lives with them. They are lucky to have each other!! Hope to come to another recital soon! 🙂
This is so heartening–it should be required reading for everyone before they start their day!!! Thank you for taking the time to put this out into the world.
NICE…and too rare. I’m a high school teacher at an unusual public high school that truly embraces diversity. Our peer leader groups, our student body, our athletic teams, our staff, our special ed department, are emblems not of tolerance but genuine appreciation and valuing of every individual and what they bring to our school. There is one race: the human race. We are blessed to have each other; we need to recognize that! Relationships like your daughter and “L” cannot be forced or faked. They CAN be fostered. We are the models; sometimes we are the benefactors of our kids’ modeling right and righteous behaviors. Thanks for the inspiration here…I just passed this on to our Peer Leaders coordinator.
Wow! This blew me away and hit me hard! I would have to say that they have a Jesus kind of love for each other. The world would be a better place if everyone acted like this – especially adults. As adults we get tainted and take everything personally. What a light these 2 are shining!
I absolutely love this ❤️
Melissa Woods says
Thank you for sharing their story. The current state of our country is troubling. Our pride takes precedence over our empathy. It seems that we have forgotten how to “hurt with” others.
absolutely beautiful! tears in my eyes over here. thank you for the reminder today that we are all one. 🙂
Heather Lemon says
I read this story through blurry tear filled eyes. You must know that you are doing good in the world by raising such empathetic, kind and brave little humans. I try every day to do the same with my own.
Jennifer Mercado says
Immensely beautiful and powerful, bright tears to my heart! Thank you for sharing the light of your beautiful spirit and of your experiences, especially with your daughter. Children are the purest examples of love and peace in this world. ?❤
Amy Canby says
“I hurt with her.” What an incredibly sensitive child you have. That’s one of the most touching things I’ve ever heard of a child doing and a few tears were shed, while reading, as I thought of all the children who so desperately need a friend like this. I’m glad she and L. have found each other. Thank you for this beautiful story and your exquisite way of sharing it with us.
It’s often difficult to look around at what’s going on in our world today & to not feel utterly defeated. The news is filled with stories that fuel anxiety & depression. There’s so much of the bad stuff on prominent display.
Thank you so much for sharing the story of these 2 beautiful, compassionate, loving young ladies & their relationship. It’s humanity at its finest & it gives me hope.
Laura Jane says
What a beautiful story, Rachel! I’m inspired by Avery’s heart for the hurting/lonely. And isn’t it funny that empathy is such a simple thing, but so powerful? Thank you, as always, for sharing. Your posts are like the hug of encouragement I need at the end of a long week:) Blessings to you!
Gretchen Matthews says
What a beautiful post. I love it when our kids show us the way – time and time again. Thank you so much for sharing this uplifting friendship with all of us!
Thank you, not only for sharing this view into your daughter’s life, but for taking note in the first place. By pointing that out, you remind me to not only see the beauty in my children’s souls, but to remember.
Margaret Ann Mayfield says
Home run Rach. Made me cry. Wish our children could teach us adults to grow up to be who God wants us to be.
Rachael- as ALWAYS. You’ve got our back! Showing us individually, collectively, and from the heart what being a decent human being it. You are doing an incredible of raising the thoughts and consciousness of a nation while you so beautifully and lovingly raise your children. God bless you!
This is the best thing I have read in a long time. It should be on the cover of every newspaper in America. Full of love.
Debra Lindegren says
In our “Me-Centric” world, these girls are role models for what can happen when we live and work together in love. Too often we live isolated in our own little caverns, unable to fully care for others because we’re languishing in our own hurts and injustices. It seems to me that these precious girls are reminding us that when we’re feeling sorry for ourselves (or bitter or resentful) that the best medicine is to reach out and touch someone else. BRAVO girls!
Rachel, that was an incredible story. Empathy and Love are what we all need. Your blog inspires me every day. What a true friend your daughter is!
Jennifer Mercado says
Have to add one more thing….after reading this this morning, something so simple my son said to me today made me cry. I haven’t experienced this in a long time. He simply thanked me for his snack. I have been going through an immense disconnect, feeling too distracted for too long. Your lovely words and the inspiration if these two girls have opened a door to my heart that had been shut off for a long time. And really about building faith in humanity, human goodness. So incredibly thankful for this!!!
Keenan Davis says
This type of trust, respect, and empathy is what it’s all about. Apples don’t fall too far from the tree. I would like to extend a tremendous amount of appreciation and thanks to parents on both sides for teaching and providing their children with a license to be free. Thank you for sharing this story.
The world needs more love like this.
Beautiful story! The “what if” is the only way we can change things.We ALL have to get involved! Your issue becomes my issue!Your problem is my problem.When our outlook changes,we can change the outcome!
I don’t usually comment on blog posts, but have to say, this is just so moving. So what we need to hear with what’s going on in our nation these past months.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Angela. I am grateful to know my daughter & her friend’s story brought touched your heart.
Yes, what if … ? Thank you for this beautiful message of love.
At her young age, your daughter knows more about what being a true friend is than many adults. What a blessing!
This is so beautiful! Thank you so very much for sharing this sweet vision of hope!
Thank you for this beautiful message. It is very needed and appreciated.
Caroline McGraw says
Beautiful! What a wonderful story of what it means to be a true friend. Thank you for writing this, Rachel. xo
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, sweet friend. It is so nice to see your face. I have been thinking of you and wondering how you are after your Aug. adventure. I hope we can catch up soon. And if you have written about it, please send it my way.
Beautiful story. I wish I had more words but the tears are still falling. Thank you.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, beautiful Natasha. That means so much.
This is one of your best yet! I loved every bit of it. We all need to scoot a little closer together and hurt and heal together.
This is beautiful. I have no other way to say it.
Genealogy Jen says
Thank you for stating so eloquently one of the reasons my heart has felt so heavy lately. When we ignore another person’s truth, or fail to acknowledge the pain of their experience, we devalue them. Empathy is one of our most important and underused attributes.
My daughter and her friend made up a word to describe themselves together ,”our chothers” kind of like each other but used to evoke “our backs” they have been best friends since they were toddlers,both in college now.thanks for writing.
I really, really needed to read this today. Thank you so much.
What an ABSOLUTE beautiful story! This is one I hope and pray I can be privileged to watch before my very eyes. You see, in just 3 short weeks we will be moving into our very own house in a whole new town. My 11 year old Autistic daughter has been with the same kids for 6 years now, but she still struggles to find friends. I hope in our new town with kids in almost every house she can find her own happy story just like this one! Thank you for your encouraging story!
Beautiful girls! Gives me hope for the future of our country.
Debby Bradley says
Your sharing shows the innocence of children that gets lost too quickly and altered by the adults around them. This is powerful and – hopefully – occurring more often than we know. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing this story. It definitely gives me hope. My 7 year old daughter has recently had to deal with issues regarding race and unfortunately her story didn’t go as well as L’s. She unfortunately lost what she thought were friends due to it but has recovered from it amazingly. She doesn’t hold any hard feeling’s toward the girl who colored on her because “she’s black and people will laugh at her” nor the “friend who sat back and laughed rather than defend or even hurt with her as your daughter did” but she had to cry for a while because she sincerely didn’t understand why girls she thought were her friends would treat her like this and other things that followed. After a long talk and much encouragement she’s moved on and is back to being her bright bubbly self. This story gives me hope. Though I have always taught my children not to look at color or race but at the person’s heart, I’ve had to sit down and talk with them when situations like this arise. Thank you for how you are raising your daughter and thank you for sharing.
Amberlii Victoria says
Lovely friendship, I commend the parents of both girls. God bless your families.
Melissa K. says
I hurt WITH her! What a beautiful response. May their friendship grow stronger!!! Thank you for “taking note” of the beautiful unconditional love between friends and sharing it. May we all take the time to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to stop and remember that we all are human beings and we all want to be loved and accepted. Please let Avery and “L” know how much love and beauty they have given to our Hands Free Community!
This is so powerful Rachel. I hope your message reaches far and wide. God knows we need it.
This is such a beautiful story and lesson! Thank you.?
Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, such a Blessing.
Oh my heart is so filled reading this… that Avery, she is pure light. Those words, “I hurt with her” just floored me. That’s something most grown ups don’t understand. That’s what the world needs. More people to hurt with one another. Love, accept, stand up for, hold up. Love your beautiful words and those beautiful girls.
Loved and shared this beautifully written story. So timely and relevant for our nation these days.
I really enjoyed your story. My heart cries for the separation of human beings. I say this because it hurts my heart to see the injustice that is being servered because of race, economic backgrounds and social status. If we as human beings would follow the commandments of God and “Love our neighbor as we love ourself ” perhaps there would not be so much hate and injustice in this world. I applaud you for taking note and sharing your inspirational story. Thank you, thank you.
Keri McCue says
Oh my goodness. These words, this post just gives me warm fuzzies all over. And it also challenges me to do better and be better. Their character says a lot about their parents character 🙂 What a beautiful picture of true friendship and love!!
“What if we collectively responded to the injustices of our brothers and sisters with empathy rather than defensiveness or indifference?” If only we ALL did this!! Thank you for sharing your daughter’s story!
I was fighting back tears the entire read. This was beautiful. I hope we all took notes on how selflessly these two girls love one another. Great post!
Regina @ A Journaled Life says
Love the shot of the two of them sitting on the field. Even looking at the difference in their hair but seeing their connection, powerful.
Tonya Badenhorst says
Rachel, your mom has forwarded a number of your blogs to me and they are wonderful. Thank you for sharing your gifting as an insightful writer as well as sharing your parents, Tonya (Florida PT)
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Tonya! So nice to “meet” you! Thank you for helping my parents in such a profound way!
Mollie Mulberry says
Thank you for this. Your words are speaking to my heart two-fold. My son is only 3 1/2 and black and has the most beautiful, empathetic soul. My hope is that they world will see him as I do, through your daughter’s eyes. Second, I just lost this kind of friend to metastatic breast cancer ; I truly think these are once in a lifetime realationships.
Rachel Stafford says
I am so sorry for your loss, dear Mollie. Sending my love and prayers.
Sharon Moorer says
Thank you for sharing this beautiful example of true friendship, compassion and outstanding parenting. It’s the hope I needed today. My heart has been heavy as of late because so many people I know, love and have respected (friends, neighbors, family members and fellow Christians) enthusiastically support a well documented bigot and racist (among other dubious distinctions) for President. Their rabid support of him mirrors the hate and disingenuousness in their own hearts. It’s been a painful revelation, but I’m always seeking truth, and now I know that these people don’t give a flying flip about me or my family no matter how much they smile in my face.
Rachel; I have to say I am proud for your daughter. It is so wonderful to hear how she did exactly what her friend needed from her at that moment on the bus. She sat quietly with her and bare the pain with her dear friend. We all need someone to do this at times.
Many of us have never experienced what it is like to have someone sit quietly with us, understanding our pain and hurting with us. Empathy is just a word in the dictionary these days.
I am a 50 year old man and have never felt or experienced empathy from another. Everyone looks at men and boys and just expect that they should be strong and never feel hurt or emotional pain. “Real men don’t cry”!
After 50 years of rejection and emotional pain, I now understand why so many men die at an early age.
If only boys and men had someone to sit quietly hurting with them, showing empathy toward them, the life span of men might become longer.
Love, Respect, Trust, these are all choices. But the world says NO! Love, Respect, Trust must be earned!
I guess God got it wrong! God chose to Love, Respect, and Trust us to the point he died for us. We did not earn his Love, Respect or Trust. Christ chose to sit quietly and hurt with us.
Hurt with others and give them a reason for hope!
Liz Violet Newell says
What a beautiful story! I believe that LOVE IS THE ANSWER. Thank you so much for sharing a real inspiration. I just discovered your blog today and look forward to reading more!
Rachel Stafford says
Welcome, Liz! I am so glad you are here. Your comment blessed me immensely today.
[…] “I Hurt With Her,” She Said & I Took Note, Hands Free Mama. Pay no attention to me sobbing in a bodega reading this. […]
[…] An article on learning racial empathy from a child.Podcasts of The Witness – a place to listen to black Christian voices.Podcast “Truth’s Table” – a place to listen to female black Christian voices. […]