In a recent television interview, I was given forty-five seconds to share my story. When I shared the video clip with my online community, I was struck by the comment of a dear reader who had recently attended one of my speaking events. She wrote:
“I wish you’d been given more time to share. It hurt a little that you had to rush your story. They don’t know it was Avery who kissed your palm, that you left the knife on top of the peanut butter jar as you went to sit with her (a detail that has always been important to me). You did a masterful job of succinctly sharing your message in the time you had, but had they given you more time, asked more questions, they could have heard a symphony and not just a few stanzas.”
“A detail that has always been important to me…”
“A symphony and not just a few stanzas…”
Those two lines stuck out to me.
This reader, a self-professed Noticer, knows there’s great hope in the little details.
But the world we live in doesn’t have time for them. It pushes us forward, weighs us down, cuts us off, forces our eyes down and away from one another.
No wonder we so often feel hopeless, depleted, and alone.
The other night, I noticed a tiny, divine detail and also spoke of one. My husband, Scott, was standing in our living room lovingly surrounded by his work team of twenty-two. He began explaining their atypical gift this year.
“As I was deciding what to gift to each of you,” Scott said, “my daughter Natalie had just written a letter inviting friends and family to donate to a special celebration honoring 20 years of service and unity for a special community in Rwanda that she came to love on her Learning Trip last summer.”
Sensing he was leaving out important details, Scott gave me the floor. I immediately described this important detail to his colleagues:
“I was in the middle of folding Natalie’s letters at one of her swim meets when Scott said, ‘Maybe instead of gifting each of my team members individually, I could consolidate that money and put it toward the Togetherness celebration. Knowing my team, this is exactly what they would want to do.’”
I told the attentive room of team members that in that moment, I had to blink back my tears. I sensed that effort, inspired by their team spirit, would be the start of a ripple that would become an outpouring.
“Well, I’m delighted to report that last weekend, this joyous Togetherness celebration happened!” I told the team. “For so long, it had merely been a dream of Steven Turkinunkiko, founder of the Togetherness Youth Cooperative for orphans of the Genocide. For exactly twenty years, these young people have been working as one to heal, unify, and progress. At last, they were recognized for it… and your team started this ripple of possibility.”
Whatever worries and stresses the team members were carrying on their shoulders when they arrived, were forgotten in that moment.
Hope was found in the divine details of life, strengthening the fabric of humanity capable of blanketing us all.
After complimenting his team on their focus on helping others and working as one, Scott became emotional while talking about the impact of the trip to Rwanda on his daughter.
The display of emotion was subtle, but I saw it, and it was an important detail.
Later than night, I went to Natalie’s room. She was studying for finals—books splayed out, notes highlighted, dark circles formed under her eyes.
As I told her what I saw when her dad spoke of her, I saw weight lift from her shoulders. Suddenly, pressure gave way to hope. And this girl who is not a fan of physical affection, got up and hugged me for a long time.
The divine details have the power to push back the pressure, the expectation, and the noise of the world so we can reach each other.
So here we are, nearing the end of 2018, and I’m writing my final message to you. What shall I give you? The answer is simple. I give you ten divine, little details, surrounding the most impactful event of my life, to unwrap. May you find YOUR hope in one of them:
Divine Detail 1: ‘I Am With You’ Socks
Leaving my younger daughter Avery behind when I went to Africa last summer was difficult for me. In her bag packed for Grammy’s house, I tucked a pair of I AM WITH YOU socks and filled a songbird note card with all the things I’d want Avery to know if I was not able to tell her.
On a very hard day of visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial and learning my dear friend John had passed away, my phone unexpectedly rang at the precise moment I needed a lifeline. It was Avery, calling me from Indiana all the way to Africa. Her voice, bubbling with excitement about water skiing with her Grammy released pent up tears and restored my hope.
“Talk some more,” I said laughing, grateful for this divine connection reaching over 7000 miles.
“I have on my socks,” Avery said.
Divine Detail 2: Thirty-Two Seconds
I was hesitant to record video during the welcome ceremony at the Togetherness Youth Cooperative, but I felt compelled to capture a tiny bit of one particular song. I knew I’d never be able to adequately describe the feeling it produced, and I wanted to remember that feeling forever.
I leaned over to my new friend Alice for permission, and then I recorded for 32 seconds.
Although the Internet connection in the cultural center where we stayed was weak, I stood over the modem for ten minutes later that night to send the video to a dear friend. I had no idea she was facing the trial of her life.
A month later, she said, “Your trip to Africa helped me, Rach.”
Shocked, I said, “It did?”
“It was the video you sent me of the children. One day, at my lowest point, I watched it over and over, and I thought about all that they have overcome and continue to overcome. I could feel their joy and their hope, and it reached me and pulled me up.”
Divine Detail 3: No One Came to Help
Because of my friend’s response to the video, I felt compelled to share it with The Hands Free Revolution community. The next day, I received this message from a member:.
“Rachel, I wanted to tell you how the video you shared was a blessing. I have some dear friends who are survivors of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. We go to church together, and their sons are friends of my son. Their entire families were killed during that time. This couple was not married at the time, but suffered the same loss. They are such beautiful people. I honestly have never met anyone who exhibits more joy than they do.
My husband and I went for a walk tonight, and we ran into them. I shared how you and your daughter went there this summer. They were so blessed because when the Genocide was happening, no one came to help. They said the only help that came was machetes that the French government handed out to individuals. They shared how many survivors are now facing severe PTSD. I showed them your video and they understood the language. They were so touched by the love you shared with their people. I have included a picture of them. Your love was felt in Sacramento, California tonight!”
Divine Detail 4: A Dream Gets Wings
Our plane had just lifted off the ground in Kigali, Rwanda. My emotional reserved daughter who rarely cries put her head on my shoulder and began to weep uncontrollably. Though her words were barely audible, Natalie expressed a deep longing to stay in Rwanda. She was adamant that her new friends needed to feel her love for them, even from 7,000 miles away. Four months later, this desire inspired Natalie to ask: What will my friends do for the holidays? That is when she learned of Steven’s detailed dream for a community celebration honoring the 20-year existence of this resilient and faithful youth cooperative. At a cost of $3,000, it was an impossible dream… until Natalie gave it wings.
This girl who shies away from the limelight and keeps her innermost feelings to herself, poured her heart into a letter mailed out to hundreds of friends and family.
“Mom, will you post my letter on your blog, in case others want to help?” Natalie said to me. So I did.
Divine Detail 5: Many Small Ripples Create Big Impact
“I do not have much to give, but Natalie said a little can make a difference,” one donor wrote. Donations averaging between $5-35 poured in to raise an astonishing $20,000.
The goal was $3,000 for a Togetherness community celebration; the result was $20,000 for lasting Togetherness community impact, including:
- Two acres of land for community building and expansion was paid off
- A planner was employed to draft a site plan for the new land which is required by the government
- Regulation-quality balls were replaced so the Togetherness team could compete in the championship tournament
- A sturdy, used vehicle was leased that will serve many and is large enough to accommodate Steven’s beautiful family, including the 14 orphaned children who he and his wife Providance have folded into their family home
- Togetherness planned to host 400 people to celebrate their 20thanniversary – by the time the party day arrived, 700 guests attended and enjoyed the remarkable celebration!
Divine Detail 6: Skies Clear
On the morning of the celebration, December 8th, it was raining heavily in Rwanda. Steven prayed for clearing. At 10am, the rain stopped and the sun miraculously began to peek out of the clouds for the 2pm celebration.
Clementina, an original Togetherness member for 20 years said this about the party:
“To work together for 20 years is not always easy so this Celebration shows that we have stayed strong in unity. We want to keep showing that spirit of Togetherness for building the youngest and up to even the oldest in our society to continue this better future for our community.”
Clever, age 14, said this:
“I like the music and today I enjoyed dancing. When you are sure there is enough food for you, you have energy to show your talent.”
Divine Detail 7: Hard Dates Made Easier
On the other side of the world, our family awoke to a hard date. December 8th is my father-in-law’s birthday. Ben would have been 69 years old. Last year, on his birthday, GB made it snow in the South. This year, he brought the sun to Rwanda. As Scott put twinkle lights on his father’s little tree in our front yard, the rain cloud over our house lifted. Our family smiled through tears as we received notice from Steven that truckloads of Fanta soda were being delivered to the rural hillside. Ben always did like a good party with refreshing beverages for all!
Divine Detail 8: Zoom In
Natalie’s fundraising efforts covered the cost of hiring an incredibly gifted Rwandan photographer named Jacques Nkinzingabo to capture the celebration. (Grateful to have many of his photos featured in this post.)
When the photos came, Natalie poured over them, looking carefully at every detail in each photo. What is she looking for, I wondered? I watched her expand the digital photo with her fingers, zooming in on two of her special friends. She compared it to one of her favorite photos from the trip in July.
“Yep. That’s them. Always together. Always smiling. Always loving,” she said. “I bet they know I haven’t forgotten them.”
Divine Detail 8: The Moon
The night before Natalie and I traveled to Africa, fear seized my directionally-challenged, introverted heart that prefers to stay in familiar territory. What have I done? I quietly cried into my pillow. Afraid I might wake Scott, I got up and found solace in the light of the full moon.
Months later, I learned Natalie also laid in bed afraid.
“How did you get past the fear?” I inquired.
“I told myself: If you can do this, you can do anything. And I just kept reciting this hopeful quote: ‘I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.'” (Mary Anne Radmacher)
Divine Detail 9: Together There is Hope
In a rare moment, I noticed Steven alone on the soccer field during our summer visit. You should go talk to him, my heart said. That special conversation gave me a glimpse into the heart of a man who feels his purpose is to “make things better for other people” and sparked a meaningful friendship.
During that talk, Steven offered profound wisdom. In his gentle, soft-spoken voice, he relayed what he says to survivors of trauma and hardship:
“Don’t say, what do I need? Say, what do I have? And then let's take what we have and come together. We have so much more together than we have alone.”
Divine Detail 10: The Blanket
At a very young age, Natalie began asking me to tell her about the hardships of the world at bedtime. As I gave her small bits of truth in words she could understand, she’d pull her pink, daisy blanket to her chin.
“I am not afraid,” Natalie would say, so I would keep going.
Over the past ten years, every detail offered became a thread that created an all-encompassing desire within Natalie to see the world and find her purpose in it.
Over the past six months, Natalie’s blanket has doubled in size… more connective threads … more divine details… more intricate patterns. It is stronger, warmer, and more encompassing than it has ever been. My friends, you are now a part of that blanket.
Carry it with you this holiday season.
Pull it to your chin when fear tries to derail you.
Drape it across your shoulders when you feel alone.
Hold it over your head when the rain won’t clear.
Spread it out and gather on it when the world hurries you along.
“Pole Pole” (slowly, slowly), you will say with brave determination.
For it is only when we stop the world that we can truly reach each other.
That is when:
A few stanzas become symphonies…
A lone candle becomes a constellation…
A ripple of possibility becomes a tidal wave of hope…
A hurting heart becomes a community of life.
The tiny, divine details…
Take them in this holiday;
And let everything else go.
That is where you will find peace.
Dear friends of the Hands Free Revolution, my daughters and I will be making a trip to Portland, OR in May to attend the 6th Annual African Road Gala Fundraiser. I invite you to join us for this very special celebration! It is a beautiful opportunity to hear the stories of inspiring East African leaders and Changemakers like Steven while supporting African Road! Sponsorship makes this event possible. If you, or someone else you know, would like to become a sponsor, or host a table of 8 guests, click here for more information.
A HUGE thank you to all who bought one of Alice’s beautiful paper bead necklaces when I shared her incredible story a few weeks ago! When I informed Alice that her masterpieces sold out in two hours, she said she danced around her home, rejoicing and crying. Because Alice wants everyone who wants one of her necklaces to have one, we are taking preorders for Alice necklaces and bracelets until January 12. Click here to preorder a necklace. Click here to preorder a bracelet. They will be arriving from Rwanda in April.
My precious friends, thank you for faithfully walking this Hands Free journey with me. I look forward to connecting with many of you on a deeper level during the January session of Soul Shift which begins January 21. Click here to be notified when Soul Shift opens for registration at the early-bird pricing. Together, there is GREAT hope in 2019.
*My free holiday eBook is available for two more days: FINISHING WELL: A Year-End Guide to Turning Pain Into Purpose & Heartache into Hope.
I love you with all my heart,
John S Green says
Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!
I taught a haiku class in the Academy for Life Long Leaning at Western Washington University this month. One of the key terms was, How to become a Noticer, which I learning from Hands Free Life, and you, Rachel. It also equates to, Taking Snapshots of Life. A Noticer sees small moments that are precious—significant—to life. Writing haiku is the recording of those moments. Living a haiku life is to become a Noticer.
Peace to you and yours,
Rachel Stafford says
This is incredible, John. You have put a huge smile on my face. Your faithful encouragement is one of my greatest gifts. Thank you for sticking with me all these years. Blessings and love to you
This is a message of divine beauty and connection and I think it’s one of your best. I also think the “coincidences” of a seemingly inconsequential thing having greater meaning than is apparent at first, or a little impulsive action becoming just the uplifting gift that was needed for someone else, or that two people unknowingly had the exact same fears or worries at the same time… well, it simply illustrates how interconnected everything is and that there is no separation whatsoever. I look at it as a cosmic wink that shows us the folly of trying to pretend otherwise. We are increasingly wakening, with great joy, to how much we have in common with one another, and may 2019 bring many *many* more such deepening moments to all!
Rachel Stafford says
What a beautiful commentary and contribution! Thank you for this gift… and also for your loving support. It means a great deal to me.
Why does my heart feel as though it could burst? Why do I want to dance with joy? Why do I feel the urge to hide? Why are my tears flowing uncontrollably? Why do I feel free and terrified at the same time? Why does hope keep tapping ever harder on my shoulder? I’m not sure, not sure at all. But, I feel at peace when I acknowledge the answers to my questions are in the Divine Details. Your wise angel, Natalie probably knows the answers to all of my questions. Such peace her loving and generous heart brings to this world. Many thanks for your beautiful gifts, I’m ever grateful. My gift to you is so small, but bearing love and hope. The words of a lovely man who dedicated his life to children. He was a wonderful, compassionate man of faith, the principal of my children’s elementary school, so many years ago. At the end of every family potluck dinner, school performance or parent meeting when it was time to clean up and put our space back in order, this dear man would stand and say, “Many hands make our work lighter.”
Those words have grown ever more meaningful each passing year. I hope they are pleasing to you.
Wishing you love, peace and amazing joy in the coming new year.
Rachel Stafford says
Your comment is a masterpiece of divine threads. I have shared it with the founder of African Road, my dear friend Kelly. Your questions & your story sound like someone who is part of this remarkable family would share. Thank you for being part of our family. The blanket is so expansive and warm.