“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.