“I hope you find the love that's true
So the morning light can shine on you
I hope you find what you're looking for
So your heart is warm for ever more.”
—Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Shine
When the kayak guide asked which of us would like to be in front of the boat, my 13-year-old daughter volunteered eagerly. This echoed my current experience – her stepping forth, taking the lead, looking back at me sometimes, sometimes not.
But within two minutes of sitting inside that kayak, I knew booking this excursion was one of the best decisions I ever made.
But it’s getting harder and harder to find quiet, holy places undisturbed and unmarred by noise, distraction, societal influence and pressure.
My husband and 10-year-old daughter were in one boat, my older daughter and I in another. As we glided out of the marina, the peace settling onto our faces was unmistakable. Life is heavy anyway, but especially in the midst of loss and grief.
On the water, life felt lighter.
“Mama, look over there,” my brown-eyed teenager pointed excitedly to a flock of herons.
She called me Mama, I noted. Somewhere along the line, I’d become more maturely addressed as ‘Mom.’ I cherish the occasional “Mama” that slips out.
My daughter and I worked together to maneuver the kayak. We laughed when we steered incorrectly and began going backwards. Once we got in a rhythm, she described what she’d learned in science about bird migration and coastal ecosystems. I rejoiced in her unusual chatter.
When she suddenly got quiet, I studied the back of her head. Two almost-even braids she’d done herself rested against her life jacket. Unlike when she curls her hair in waves, the braids revealed my baby was still there – her youth emphasized by the bright yellow vest hugging her petite body.
Oh, how I want to keep her safe, I thought.
My eyes spotted beautiful homes backed up to the marsh. What were their worries? I wondered of the people who lived there. Were they free of Wifi? Did they shop for bathing suits with their daughters and wonder why they had so little fabric? Did they worry of their kids texting explicit pictures and having them Airdropped to the world? Did they struggle with homework that kept young brains up past midnight increasing risk of depression and risky behavior?
Stop. Just stop. I told my brain that never quits.
Moments like this are rare jewels, I reminded myself. I had her full attention, she had mine.
But if I could live anywhere, it would be here, I thought – a salt marsh in South Carolina where you can hear the wind blow through the cord grass and the oysters spit.
I didn’t want to live here so much for me, but for my daughter … and her little sister … and their friends and all the kids that have the world at their apt fingertips – their view of themselves and life skewed by information, images, opinions, and pressures on a glowing screen.
I want to keep them safe.
That was my final wish as I turned my attention to the setting sun, reciting prayers of gratitude for this moment in time and hopes for divine guidance as I steer my children through life.
Regrettably, we had to return to land. Our legs shaky from boating, we laughed again. We hopped on our bikes to head back to our vacation rental, quickly realizing the bike path was not well lit.
“I have an idea,” my husband said.
He turned on the flashlight of his phone and put it in the bicycle basket, creating a headlight. He had me do the same with my phone.
Our family biked back to our rental – him in the lead, me in the back, our phone lights illuminating the path and our most precious gifts in between.
I want to keep them safe.
It was a common theme that week of spring vacation. I never imagined that what we were doing was keeping them safe.
It was several weeks later that my 10-year-old was writing a persuasive essay about why she needed a phone. I knew it was not time and not necessary for her to have one, but I was interested in hearing her reasoning.
Reason #5 gave me chills – “I could use my phone as a light like daddy did if I am ever in trouble, lost, kidnapped, or without power. The phone could light my way home.”
That experience riding home in the dark had been more than just a bike ride; it was a survival tip imprinted on her brain. It made her wiser, more apt to survive when she found herself in darkness. I found it no coincidence that her sister came to me about wanting to watch the controversial show 13 Reasons Why. We had discussed the show a few days prior, and I told her my concerns. I agreed with the concerns in this article, and we had talked about them. She listened to my reasoning, but didn’t quite seem convinced.
“You were right,” she said in the follow-up conversation. “I talked to my friend and she said the same things you did. She watched the first episode and turned it off. It messed with her mind. I don’t want to watch it after all.”
And before she turned to go, she said, “I’d come to you before I’d ever hurt myself.”
And with those comforting words, came an ah-ha moment. As parents, we desperately want to protect our children’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing – but maybe it’s not about keeping them safe; maybe it’s about loving them safe.
Protecting them from the dangers and pressures of the outside world does not come from something you wrap them in or fasten to their shoulders; it comes from experiencing life together … from being in the boat with them … available to listen, figure out how to get straight after taking wrong turns, and sharing some laughter and sunsets along the way.
In other words, our children’s future protection is instilled through the loving actions of today.
Confirmation of this belief came in a powerful article written by licensed psychotherapist Heather DiDomenico. Greeting me in big, bold letters when I clicked on the link was this sentence:
“The more you show love to your children, the bigger their brains grow.”
Just like in the kayak, I instantly breathed easier; life’s heaviness eased.
The article further explained, “The truth is that the more you show love to your children with a hug, a kiss, a smile, unconditional positive regard, by including them, being interested in them, through family based play, and so much more of the nurturing type of communication, the bigger their brains grow.
Beyond the basic human needs of food, water and housing, love and nurturing not only builds the pathway for our children’s future happiness, but also survival … the brain’s ability to grow in response to love can be seen as a way to keep humans banded together against danger and intruders.”
I immediately created a mnemonic device to help me remember what specific loving practices could protect my children’s overall wellbeing:
P – Positive feedback and touch
R – Responsiveness
O – Open-ended questions
T – Time
E – Empathy
C – Connection
T – Tune in
I – Independence
O – Opportunities
N – Notice and nurture
Last night, my 10-year-old practiced the protective components of “opportunities” and “independence” by packing her lunch. She went to the little bag of ONLY LOVE TODAY lunch notes and looked through them. Although I designed them thinking someone would choose a card to give someone else, I stayed silent as she selected one for herself. Out of all 25 cards, Avery picked up the card that said: I learn a lot from you.
Interestingly, she was the inspiration behind that phrase when I designed the cards many months ago.
“Can I put this one in my lunch box?” she asked.
“Yes, absolutely,” I said suddenly feeling emotional.
Her brain knew that message was for her. I’ve said it to her many times. She knew this inherently, and I believe it’s why she reached for that card.
Avery placed the card inside the lunchbox, put it in the fridge, and set her backpack by the door.
“I’m ready to face the world tomorrow!” she said confidently.
And although we were not floating in a secluded marsh tucked safely away from the world, life felt lighter; the future looked less scary.
“You are ready,” I agreed and opened my arms knowing this simple action held great power.
Love has a way of reminding us what we know deep down, and that is what will help us survive in this tricky world.
I am learning.
She is learning.
But we are in the boat together.
And love will grow our brains, along with our hearts, propelling us safely forward towards the light of hope.
- I am only 61 pages in to ONLY LOVE TODAY, and I feel like you wrote this to me. I just bought another 5 books to gift. Thank you for saving me. Thank you for saving my daughter.
- Rachel is the mother I wish I'd had. She is also the mother I wish I had been. She is the mother I try to be now, even when my youngest ‘child' is 26. I'm not good at it, but I keep trying. Even though her writing is centered around children, it is about attitude, about how we can choose to think, what we can strive to be.
- The best thing about Only Love Today, aside from the life changing words, is the layout. I can literally sneak away from a wild 5 and 2 year old and manage to read a section before they even find me! I never feel unfinished, I never feel confused. Those little sections leave me complete, renewed, and ready for those wild ones to find me! When they do, I tackle them with so much love and laughter instead of meeting them with frustration. I have a copy in my bedroom, a copy in the living room, and a copy in my bag – makes it much easier to pick up depending where my hiding place is! Rachel is supporting me in this season of young children, wife life, working, and navigating the coming of the next season. ONLY LOVE TODAY is priceless, no matter your age, your circumstance.
I am so pleased and honored that ONLY LOVE TODAY has been selected as a $2.99 eBook special for the month of May! Click here to begin living a life of love for $2.99. Thanks to all who are requesting the gorgeous hardcover version for their Mother’s Day gift and using it to gift others.
The vibrant Lunch Notes, watercolor note cards, and Reminder Signs contain my favorite quotes from the book and would make beautiful end-of-school, graduation, or special occasion gifts. Please enjoy FREE SHIPPING to any U.S. address from now until May 19 with the code: SPRINGSHIPPING. Please note international shipping is also available and the lunch notes take a little extra time to process.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me. I cherish your presence and encouragement!