“It's a beautiful life
Well, you won't always see it that way
When you're deep in a hole with nowhere to go
And you can't see it change
‘Cause it's just out of sight
It's a beautiful life.”
–James Morrison, A Beautiful Life
I walked out of the doctor’s office through the hospital corridor in a daze. While lost in thought over the pain of the examination, new options to try, and the mention of another surgery, I walked right past the elevator.
I found myself peering into an occupied hospital room. I could hear the lull of the television drifting from the doorway – Drew Carey was announcing the spectacular prizes in the Showcase Showdown. I could see the bump of feet beneath warm blankets. The food tray was pulled up snugly to the bedside so the patient could reach the ice water.
I stood frozen, overcome by the urge to crawl into that empty bed next to the window. I yearned to shut the door to the world, drink apple juice with tiny ice crystals, and have someone remind me to rest. Just rest. I longed to hear.
I blinked back tears of shame and sadness.
That’s when the inner bully pounced. What is wrong with you? Normal people dream of tropical getaways not hospital stays! What about your family at home that needs you? Get yourself together!
Only love today. Only love today. I repeated until Shame and Guilt stopped talking. I decided I would allow myself to feel what I felt. I wanted to be in that hospital room away from the heaviness of the world, free from expectations and demands, instructed to do nothing but rest. That is what my soul cried out for, and I would lean into that feeling and find out why.
But it would have to wait.
In thirty minutes the school bus drops off Avery. I reminded myself. I also had several work deadlines to meet. What in the world will I make for dinner? I’d forgotten to lay out the frozen meat. Stop and get a sympathy card. Pick up your newly prescribed medication. Prepare to speak to middle schoolers on Wednesday. Call your sister. Make a vet appointment for Banjo. And … and … and …
There was no time to pause and dream of hospital stays that would shelter me from the reality of the world.
I made my way to the parking garage ticket machine and rummaged around my purse for cash. That’s when I found the crumpled dollar bill wadded up so tightly it was barely recognizable. Suddenly the Summer of ’93 came into crystal clear focus – it was the summer I spent my days nurturing a classroom of precious three and four year olds with ebony skin and beaded braids that sounded like rain whenever they moved. At night, I partied with friends and strangers and searched for direction in all the wrong places.
My shift at the daycare ended at 3pm each day. That meant I had enough time to go home and nap before going out. A lovely woman with silver hair and boney hands approached me on the third day of the job. I recognized her from the kitchen where she prepared meals for the children and staff. She asked me if I could drop her off at home. She softly explained that the city bus didn’t come until 3:30, and it was too hot for her to walk. As much as I wanted to get home and crawl into bed, I knew I must say yes.
While in the car, Miss Faith shared a glimpse of her life – a lifelong educator, an avid knitter, and now a loving caretaker to her ailing mother. “But even when it’s bad, there’s still good,” she said cheerfully. “Each day I wake up and no matter how achy or tired I feel, I’m so grateful I get to put nourishing food into those babies’ bellies.”
Miss Faith pointed to a tiny dilapidated house with bars on the windows. “Here we are,” she said. Then she opened her purse and pulled out a crumpled dollar bill and handed it to me.
“Oh no,” I shook my head. “You don’t need to do that.”
“Yes. I insist. I know it’s not much, but I want you to know how much I appreciate you doing this for me. I’ve asked others, but quickly felt like I was an inconvenience.”
The next day I walked into the kitchen to find Miss Faith chopping carrots into sticks for small hands. I asked if she would like me to drop her off again today.
Her face brightened. “I sure would love that. Thank you, dear.”
“I will take you home every day until I have to go back to college,” I offered unexpectedly.
Miss Faith wasn’t able to give me a dollar every day that summer, but she gave me other things. She gave me stories of a good man who loved her well—a man who was no longer with her physically but spiritually. She gave me perspective to see the babies’ mamas and papas as people trying their best despite deep wounds from childhood and past drug addictions. Miss Faith gave me optimism. Never once did she complain … because even when it was bad, it was still good. Those words she’d said to me on the first day were words she lived by.
But above all, Miss Faith gave me what I most needed; she gave me grace.
“You’re a wonderful young lady,” she complimented one day when I dropped her off. It was a dollar day and she was holding the crumpled cash out to me with arthritic hands.
“I don’t feel like it,” I accidentally admitted to my unusual friend. “I feel like I’m a mess … and I keep making bad choices … and I worry about the state of the world and what I’m doing with my life to help make it better.” The words spilled out before I could stop them, along with a few ridiculous tears.
Faith leaned into the open window. “You come to the daycare each morning at 7:30am to love on needy babies and you drive old an old lady home and you are kind. You are doing just fine.”
She doesn’t know about the other things I am. I thought to myself. But something told me that even if she did know my darkest secrets and greatest shames, it wouldn’t matter. She would still look at me and say, “Even when it’s bad, there’s still good.”
I wished I could hear her now as I pined for a hospital stay to give me a socially acceptable break from reality.
That night I snuggled in bed with my daughter Avery. Weighing heavily on my soul were the grim words of my new doctor and the relentless questioning of whether I am doing enough to help our shattered world heal.
That’s when Avery mentioned doing pull ups in P.E. and how difficult they were. “I wish pull ups were not done with arms but with eyebrows.”
She then began to demonstrate. With an overly dramatic strain in her voice, she began to count “1 … 2 … 3 …” as she struggled to raise her eyebrows.
I laughed so hard tears leaked from my eyes. “Keep doing it!” I managed to breath between bursts of laughter.
She was delighted to … Avery did 20 “brow lifts” and said, “Whew! I am exhausted!”
“Oh Avery, thank you!” I said wiping away tears. “Thank you!”
I could feel her in that moment, Miss Faith, smiling down on me from heaven. This is what you meant. Isn’t it? I silently asked my unusual friend.
Even when it’s bad, there is still good.
And the goodness is often right on under our nose.
The goodness is right there on our beloveds’ faces.
It’s in us, beneath the worry, the guilt, the anxiety, the poor choices, the irrational thoughts, and the accidental meltdowns.
Goodness is within arm’s reach if we look for it … and say yes to it.
It rides in our car. It curls up at our feet. It comes in handwritten notes and texts from friends. Goodness is in too much icing on the cupcakes. It’s in middle of the night prayers and flickering candles that smell divine. It’s in tears of release. It’s in the defense of people we don’t even know but care for deeply. It’s in orchestra concerts and our favorite pair of stretchy pants. It’s in songs and poetry we know by heart. It’s in donations to organizations doing holy work in the world. It’s in arthritic hands and crumpled dollar bills that take you back to a summer when you did lots of things wrong … but you did a few things right … and you may have not known if you hadn’t confessed your struggle and your pain.
You see, in order for the goodness to be felt, we must first acknowledge the pain … we must voice the uncertainty … we must confess the truth that things aren’t going so well. Because when we mask the pain, we mask the joy.
Dear ones, perhaps today finds you struggling … dreaming of escape … searching for a glimmer of hope … reaching for things to numb the pain that you know are only hurting you.
Please lean into that pain. Acknowledge it … don’t push it away. Voice it … put it out there where so it has a chance to land in a soft place.
Perhaps faith will speak to you like she did me, assuring you that although a lot of things are going wrong, there is so much right … there is still goodness … there is abundant hope.
It is in us.
It is all around us.
And every single day, dollar or no dollar, that goodness will carry us home.
My friends, thank you for allowing me to be real with my struggles and worries. I am struggling a bit today with two painful (but non-life-threatening) health issues and pressure to meet my publisher's goal on pre-order sales for my new book. But I am finding much goodness and comfort in our Hands Free Revolution community and the early readers of ONLY LOVE TODAY. Last week Patti K. wrote this on one of my Facebook posts: “I've been so blessed to have received an advance copy of #onlylovetoday to read and review. This is an amazing book, and I don't use that word lightly. Rachel's beautiful words pulled me in on day one, and every day I love this book even more. I just pre-ordered six more copies and keep telling everyone I know … RUN, do not walk, to order this book ASAP! It is truly a life changer as it has that rare quality to speak to the heart of anyone and everyone.”
Because the format of this book is different than any previous book I’ve written or read, I have been a little nervous about how it would be received. I wanted people to be able to open up this book to any page, at any time, during any season of life, and find solace, direction, and hope. Early readers are embracing the unique format and finding it works beautifully for them. On Facebook and Instagram you can type in #onlylovetoday and see what early readers are saying about the book. Please remember with any pre-order comes four beautifully designed bonus gifts highlighting my favorite quotes from Only Love Today. My talented book cover designer Juicebox Designs created them all, and they are truly stunning. Avery’s favorite bonus gifts are the adult coloring pages (see her masterpieces below). Just send your pre-order receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org to redeem your gifts. And if you have always wanted a signed copy, there are still some available at barnes&noble.com! (Same price as the regular book!) Thank you all so much for your incredible support & love! Every pre-order of Only Love Today lets my publisher know my work is valued and should continue.
I came back to this post because I was nudged by intuition to share this with you. I follow this person on Twitter, and his views are full of integrity, common sense and holistic wisdom. He is a healer who uses herbs and nature and simple lifestyle changes to address any health issue. Please do check him out: http://akinolokun.com/1on1/
I hope you will be able to heal without any more surgeries. Wishing you wellness, peace and ease always. Thanks for your light. Stay blessed.
Rachel Stafford says
I will follow him ASAP! I love this approach and will take any healing ideas my beautiful community has to offer.
Oona McOuat says
Yes, Rachel! I have total faith in your ability to achieve radiant health with ease. There are lots of good naturopathic doctors who can navigate traditional medical advice while supporting the healing process through holistic methods. My younger sister is taking this approach to healing her recently diagnosed breast cancer. Through supporting her I have been reminded of how our bodies are wise. They are always seeking balance and well-being. I believe in you!
Tammy B says
Be well Rachel. Pain can be so frustrating and lonely. Ask for help when you need it and take breaks from the everyday. I’m sure your family will understand why dinner might be scrambled eggs and toast one night! ? & ? to you.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, sweet Tammy! You have blessed me today!
Rachel, you have a way with words that always reaches out and grabs ahold of my soul! Today was no different — your words were exactly what I needed to hear. I nearly died in November after a challenging tonsillectomy, and since then I have struggled to push through my pain and fear to find the energy to face each day. I too deeply hunger for restorative rest. But your words today reminded me that I need to be actively looking for the joys in my life — and perhaps leaning in to the pain and fear I’m experiencing will allow me to move forward instead of simply standing still. What an incredibly wise daughter you have — Avery’s eyebrow lifts completely brightened my day and taught me that I need to seek for gratitude and joy when I’m struggling because just reading your post has left me feeling more rested than I have in days. Thanks so much for the uplifting and brightening you bring to my life. You are truly like your beautiful friend Faith! I pray that you will find the answers that alleviate your heavy challenges. But in the meantime, please know that sharing your suffering has helped at least one soul (and my whole family as a result). Much love, my friend.
Rachel Stafford says
This means absolutely everything!!! Thank you, Valena. I am so thankful you are alive and well … and now looking for gratitude and joy like treasures to spot and hold on to.
Praying for peace and healing for you. Thank you for continuing to share your story and your heart. Your words always come at the right time. Much love.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, dear one. This community is such a mighty anchor.
Amy Ferguson says
Dear Rachel- I worked with a Miss Faith as well… only her name was Susan. She didn’t know me well, but the Spirit of God she carried with her saw through my outer flaws and inside to the beauty waiting there for a chance to shine. She had lived a difficult life and had health issues which eventually forced her to retire; but while she was around, I looked forward to her uplifting words, beaming smile, and talking to her about God, how each of us had been blessed, and how my work had meaning in His eyes. It isn’t every day you receive such a gift of kind words… and they are most needed when they feel undeserved. I hope one day to pay them forward when someone else is in need. Great story!
Rachel Stafford says
I love to hear this story, dear Amy. So beautiful.
ammie bury says
thank you Rachel, and eyebrow-Avery, and Faith. I need this today, when fighting over dollars left by my late dad is causing old tensions to resurface. I need to remember the good even when it’s bad. thanks for the reminder 🙂 and BLESSINGS for your own health.
Oh my goodness Rachel thank you for this post today! It brought tears of joy to my eyes. I love you blog and don’t always comment. But truly, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for this.
Kathryn D says
Rachel, your words and stories bless me every time I sit down to read them. Whatever pain you’re struggling with right now, I hope you know that it’s ok to take a break, to ask for help, to relax, to just savor the moment while you search for the good all around you. Because sometimes, that’s the only way we can make it through. I call it my gratitude minute. When I just need some time to reflect on all that is good, in order to make it through the hard stuff.
Your little Avery sounds so much like my daughter, I think they are two kindred spirits meant to spread sunshine and love everywhere they go. I loved the eyebrow lifts! And I totally agree, why do pull-ups have to be so hard?!
I will lift you up in prayer today that whatever you are facing, that it will be made easier and that the right direction will be made clear. Thank you for being so transparent and authentic, it gives the rest of us the courage we need to do the same. Bless you!
Leigh Ann says
Thank you, Rachel, for the reminder that there’s always good, even when it’s bad. And sometimes, what looks bad at first actually can turn out to be quite good, a gift. I pray that my eyes would be open to see the good. I can’t wait to read Only Love Today. I ordered it months ago when I first heard about it. Only Love today has become a meditation of my heart. Love for myself and love for others, especially those who seem unlovable to me. Thank you for the encouragement.
Laura Jane says
Rachel… thank you for another beautiful reminder to stop and notice the beauty, right where we are! It’s such a hard truth that, like you said, “when we mask the pain, we mask the joy.” Thank you for your always lovely, always encouraging words. Miss Faith and you remind me of what Grace really looks like, really feels like. Hugs and blessings (and prayers for health) to you.
Beautiful. Just, beautiful.
I know this feeling! Just two nights ago, after 1 a.m. and fighting a fever, I came up to my bed and burst into tears, telling my husband, “Over the last few days, I wished I had to be hospitalized so I could take a break!” I’ve had a really hard project and work, and along with my three kids and everything else, it was all just TOO MUCH. Fortunately, my husband said, “What you need is to go to sleep,” in his kind and sweet way, and he was right. Things were better in the morning.
Thanks for sharing your story. It brought tears to my eyes as I read it waiting to pick up my daughter from safety patrol duty.
“…the relentless questioning of whether I am doing enough to help our shattered world heal.” By doing what you do best, you are doing exactly that. Over and over, the comments here show that you are helping people see that they are not alone in their struggles. That all by itself can be enough. Your simple act of writing these posts does more to alleviate pain and suffering than you can imagine, and they help people go on when they feel they can’t. Believe this, for it’s true! 🙂
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you! That assurance is pure balm to my weary soul this morning!
Catherine @ Ten Thousand Hour Mama says
What a lovely story. I, too, struggle with the worry that I don’t do enough, especially as I am overwhelmed with the horrifying changes the US government is undertaking. I push myself to do as much as I can—but this post is a reminder that even when it’s bad, there’s still much good in the world. And seeing that good will energize me to improve the bad.
Heather Legge says
You know what Rachel? I have longed for hospital stays as well…just to rest. And then when I end up really sick in the hospital I feel incredibly guilty for wishing that on myself….like what is wrong with me?! But it is somewhat of a break from reality and it certainly brings into focus what is most important. But here’s to finding rest at home.
I will keep you in my prayers Rachel. I cried when I read this (at the library! Thanks Rachel – tee! hee!) and I laughed at Avery’s eye brow lifts. That is hysterical. Take care, be well and know that you are loved.
Once again, your words seem like they come straight from my own head/thoughts. Praying for restored health for you. Please know you are doing so much to make this world a better place through your encouraging words!
Thank you so much for your words that always seem to come at exactly the right time. Thank you for bravely sharing your heart.