Once I reached fifth grade, I was allowed to walk home from school by myself. I could have waited for my dad to finish up at work, but I chose to walk two miles so I could be home sooner. I’d use my key to turn the door. The best feeling was shutting the door behind me. I’d actually lean against it and let out an enormous exhale. The world couldn’t touch me now. At school, I held my breath. Sucked in my stomach. Made sure I laughed only when appropriate and not too loudly. At home, I could breathe. My parents loved my sister and me “as is,” and it permeated the walls and floors of our home.
It didn’t surprise me that my mom was the first to notice my younger daughter’s dimming light when she was seven. Always being one to light up the world with her smile, the change in Avery had been evident to me too – but I’d come up with various reasons to account for the change, never looking at myself. After all, I’d stopped telling her to hurry all the time. I’d corralled my exasperated breaths and tapered the impatience in my voice. I’d deemed her a “Noticer” who paid attention to the most important details of life and people. Avery did things differently than me – than most – but I’d stopped fighting it. Instead, I tolerated it. But could I say I accepted it? Accepted her? No. And it was becoming impossible to deny the look of concern on her face as she left the house wondering if she was enough for the world.
I knew I had more work to do.
I designated the small room in the front of the house as the music room. It would be one of the few rooms painted a colorful hue – a soft, calming blue like the summer sky. It would be a place a refuge for my songbird. She excitedly set up her guitar, music stand, and microphone. She added notebooks and pencils for music writing. Each evening, donned in her favorite ratty old t-shirt with unbrushed hair, she’d go to the music room and play.
Yes, she was strumming and singing, but to me, it sounded like breathing.
It was her sigh of relief against the door.
“What did you write?” I’d ask, joining her after a few minutes.
She’d show me songs she’d written about being okay just as you are. Songs about God’s comfort and unfailing love. She’d sing the words to me, and I would marvel. It wasn’t long before she expressed her desire to play outside the music room to elderly people because “I just love old people,” she’d said smiling.
An invitation to a music therapy session at a local nursing home was our in. As Avery played along with the instructor, one resident was particularly happy and engaged. Her name was “Annie,” and she loved music above all else. Her favorite musician was Elvis. When we learned Annie hadn’t had a visitor in many years, Avery suggested we “adopt” her. She immediately began working on learning the song, “Fool’s Rush In.”
During our nursing home visits, Avery was unusually patient with Annie, pointing out birds and butterflies in the garden, asking thoughtful questions, and nodding with understanding to nonsensical responses. Sometimes when they painted, they giggled together.
Every once in awhile we’d arrive and Annie would be despondent or agitated. But never once did Avery suggest we leave or cut our visit short. She’d push Annie’s wheelchair outside where she loved to sit by the fountain. Avery would just sit with her and sing to her. It was as if to say, “It’s okay. I know you aren’t yourself today.”
One day, as we drove home from the retirement center, I said, “You are a delight, Avery.”
“I am?” she looked shocked.
“Yes,” I said immediately feeling sad I’d never mentioned it before. “You are delight-ful, and I love being with you.”
Her smile lasted for the rest of the day.
On our most recent visit to the nursing home, I was startled when I saw Annie. Her deterioration was quite evident; she was only a shell of her former self. I could not see any traces of the vibrant Annie from that initial music therapy session.
Annie was agitated and angry, and then she began to sob uncontrollably. That’s when Avery bent down, got close to Annie’s face, and began to sing softly.
And when she did, I heard the unmistakable sound of an exhale.
Annie had been holding her breath … but she was home now.
In my mind’s eye, I could see the door to my house – the one I’d lean against when I got home … the one I felt safe standing behind because it was where I was loved “as is.”
With Avery, Annie was home.
You are not yourself, but I accept you.
You are not feeling well, but I accept you.
You are difficult to handle, but I accept you.
Last Friday, I was invited to attend an award’s ceremony at Avery’s school. She was being recognized for the beautiful essay she entered in the county-wide “Honoring Our Heroes” writing program. Students were asked to recognize someone who has made a personal impact on the student’s life.
The last line of Avery’s essay read:
“My mom is my hero because she accepted me for who I am, and she inspired acceptance to spread in the world through her writing.”
I had to sit down for that.
This child’s statement was monumental – not just for me, but for anyone who wanted to know how to truly love another human being.
I’d nearly settled for giving Avery what she needed to get by: tolerance.
But her dimming light indicated tolerance was not enough.
So I gave her acceptance – a place to breathe … to be herself … to cultivate her gifts.
As a result, she was able to give acceptance to someone else – someone who just happens to be at the end of her life.
Is there any greater way to end a life than with acceptance?
Is there any greater way to begin a life than with acceptance?
I don’t think so.
I used to think listening was the most important action parents can do to build up their children … now I think acceptance is key.
To be the one who doesn’t try to change them.
To be the one who sees all that is good in them.
To be the one who identifies their unique contributions to the world and encourages them.
To be the one who delights in them and tells them so.
Of all the things you can give your loved ones today, try acceptance. Be the door to home they can lean against and exhale.
Who knows? Someday you might surprisingly be called a hero – not the kind you see on fancy awards shows or on the news for triumphant acts of bravery. I’m talking about the hero who quietly, behind the scenes, on a day-to-day basis holds out their arms and offers refuge from the world – the one who holds out their arms because they see something worth saving.
You might have not started out that way.
That’s okay, me neither.
But a very special little girl taught me it’s never too late to do what you wish you would’ve done yesterday.
And she really has this whole ‘life’ thing figured out.
Today is the day, my friends!!! ONLY LOVE TODAY releases into the world! Through my most honest writing yet, I reveal my own struggles to hold onto what's most important, and make what’s most lasting the top priority in my everyday life. Designed for busy individuals, one short reading is enough to inspire a powerful perspective shift with lasting impact. Early readers are experiencing profound transformation in their hearts and homes simply by reading a few pages each day. Here are just a few of the beautiful things people are saying about ONLY LOVE TODAY:
- That’s what Rachel Stafford, in her newest book Only Love Today, has given to us: Help. Drawing on her experience as a writer, a teacher, a mother, she dedicates herself to helping readers overcome distraction and perfection to live better and love more. Stafford uses an engaging storytelling style, but she doesn’t just write her stories… she hits them close to home like a batter hits a ball out of the park. She paints her memories in such vivid colors that I can see them too. She writes encouragement so tangible that I can almost touch it. –Laura Jane
- I have followed Rachel’s blog for years now, and in her, I have found a cyber big sister/neighbor/dear friend. That is the magic of Rachel Macy Stafford. Her heart and her presence are in her words. The image is the reality. You can trust her. As I was talking about this book to my parents the other night and reading them some of the underlined, starred, and tear-stained passages, these four words summed it all up, “She has changed me.” –Beth Blake
- The author reminds us that the antidote for aching regret is love. Love for the people we let down, and love for our imperfect selves. That’s what is so beautiful about Rachel’s message, Only Love Today. It reminds me that love, like everything else of value in my life- sobriety, parenting, faith, creativity- is a practice. A verb. And every day, every moment of every day, is an opportunity to love better. Laura Perry Parrott
- When Rachel writes about slowing down and stopping, about listening and curating moments for the sake of spending time with the people who matter most to us, she’s writing about you and me. She’s writing about our relationships, about our humanity. But she’s also writing about the things going on inside our own skin, our own tendencies to not listen to ourselves, to neglect the parts of us that may be asking to be heard. –Kaitlin Curtice
ONLY LOVE TODAY is now available at Target stores, Amazon, Barnes & Noble. There are still some signed copies left here. Friends, if I may be so bold and tell you that release week is THE most important week for authors. With every purchase, I get closer to the possibility of being able to continue writing stories and books that help others for years to come. I am grateful to those who support my life's work by purchasing my books. Thank you for being part of The Hands Free Revolution. I'd be grateful if you tell someone else about ONLY LOVE TODAY.
What a beautiful piece. I have a hard job accepting my husband and children just as they are. And yet, the reason I fell in love with my husband was that he loved me just as I was, no need to hide my dorky side or pretend to be someone I wasn’t. Your writing always reminds me that we get a lot of second chances, especially when our children are at a young, forgiving age. Maybe I should remember that “no funny noises” (which I pretend, to my three-year-old, that my Only Love Today bracelet says) applies to me – a bit less of the exasperated sighs…
Your book isn’t released in the UK for a few more weeks but I am really looking forward to having some bite-sized Handsfree Mama wisdom on my bedside table.
Tracie Brown says
You always make my heart smile. Thank you for inspiring me to make changes in my life. I have to say, the napkin notes have been the best for us. My oldest daughter has actually been saving a few of them. I ran across them last night in her room. I almost started crying!
Thank you again for all you do for us Mom’s out here running around trying to live our busy and distracted lives. You make me take a moment to slow down and reflect. Just like the Lord to David, you make me rest, and refresh my soul. Bless you!
Amy Canby says
You and your lovely daughter are changing the world, word by word and kind deed by kind deed. ?
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, dear one. That is so kind.
Thank you. Beautiful words presenting a powerful lesson, acceptance. I pray I embrace acceptance in my daughter and husband’s lives. I pray I practice acceptance in the lives of all those I love. What a gift I can give.
Laura Jane says
Rachel, I love this story! Just reading what you have to say about Accepting our loved ones as they are makes my heart ache, in a good way. And it sounds like you’ve not only accepted differences — you’ve celebrated them. I’m also honored that you would share a bit of my recommendation here! But I hope you know… it was easy to write. Only Love Today is a gift, and so are you! Hugs and blessings, and congratulations today!
Ellie Hieronymus says
Congratulations Rachel! I received my pre-ordered copy yesterday and immediately started reading. Your words give me just what I need to parent my two young children. Love to this post too. Please give Avery a hug from my family! I’m so happy for you!!! I know this book will be a huge success. Don’t forget to breathe and take care of yourself this week too. You deserve it!!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you so much for the love and support, Ellie!
Melissa K says
Love this post and it came at the right time! My favorite line is: “you are not yourself, but I accept you.” So profound and I need to tattoo it onto my heart and brain, so in those moments of wanting to tell my children to change, I will remember that they need my acceptance and love. Your smiles in the last photo are almost audible…they scream happiness, pride, joy, love & pure acceptance. I quickly ordered two books from BN, one for me, the other as a gift. I can not wait to have it on my night stand! Sending you big hugs, love and support.
Yasmine @ Mommy Cries Too says
Once again your words have hit home. My husband and I have been struggling with our first born; he’s such a determined little one and he likes everything just so. I try to remind myself that he reacts to things differently than I do because he’s not me. He is his own person, with his own personality and I need to accept him for who he is.
Thank you for all of your beautiful words. I always look to your blog when I’m having a difficult time and you remind me that my family and the kindness we show others is what’s most important.
I’ll certainly be sharing this post. 🙂
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you so much, Yasmine. I am touched by your response. Sending love your family’s way.
Granny P says
This story is so beautiful! It brought tears to my eyes. My elderly years are staring me in the face, and if my health deteriorates, I may be in a similar situation as Annie. If so, I certainly hope “a delight,” like Avery, is in my life. God bless you and Avery.
The story of Annie and Avery really melted my heart. It’s so amazing to see children become who they are meant to be and who they want to be. I already told myself that I will accept my daughter for whatever she is. I will accept her wholeheartedly including her strengths, weaknesses, flaws and merits. I know how it feels to become someone you are not and I don’t want my daughter to feel confined, restricted and limited to the point that it is almost emotionally, mentally and even physically suffocating. I want her to be as free and as special as your Avery.
After reading what you were written, I felt coming change in me. Thank you sharing.