“I know you are all about telling the truth—but are you sure you want readers know the burden writing caused you during that time?” my friend asked after reviewing a difficult passage from the book I am currently writing.
Yes, I was sure… because I wasn’t writing to “readers;” I was writing to one desolate heart yearning to be seen.
I’d looked into too many desolate young faces over the past few years to NOT write it.
I began writing my fourth book on February 3rd. I knew the topic I was tackling was not going to be easy, which is why I avoided writing it for almost a year. It wasn’t until the words started forming in my dreams, begging to be written, refusing to be ignored, that I knew what I must do.
My past history with book writing paints a dismal, unhealthy, depressing picture, but I felt certain my first three books had been sort of a warm up for this one—and despite the fact I’d have to dig deeper and stretch farther than I ever had before, I felt certain I would not slip below the surface where oxygen is limited.
Once I mentally committed to writing this book that felt divinely placed on my heart, I made a writing calendar as I have with my previous books. Breaking down a daunting project into small, manageable chunks makes the impossible feel possible; it allows me to see exactly what needs to be done by what date in order to meet the publisher’s deadline. Four months—that is how much time I had. And If I could deliver a 65,000-word manuscript in four months, it meant the book would release in the spring. Although the details around HOW I was going to execute this project were fuzzy, the WHEN was certain. I felt sure the book needed to become available during the time of year when our young people experience the highest levels of stress… when success is so narrowly defined that it leaves many feeling like failures… when our kids feel they must hide their true colors in order to be accepted… and when the adults who love them grapple with how to reach, support, connect, and encourage at a time when the stakes feel higher than ever.
“I wrote you a book,” I could say. “Turn to page 57. You are not alone; there is hope.”
I imagined that moment, that person, that page a lot during the first two months of the writing process when I felt especially raw, vulnerable, uncertain, and exposed. Fear of being misunderstood… of receiving negative reviews… of gaping holes in the manuscript… of saying too much began to surface in dreams. My solace was found on the floor of my bedroom, kneeling, praying, and surrendering, as the moonlight bathed me and my cat purring softly beside me.
“Are you sure you want your readers to know what a burden writing was to you that time?” my friend asked a second time, not knowing I was currently living the burden of writing.
As I considered her feedback, some questions—that felt a lot like answers—surfaced:
What if the burden is integral to the story … to the meaning of the words … to the connective power of the message?
What if knowing the struggle behind the syntax is more important than the words themselves?
What if the existence of a mere sentence, born from a place of pain, becomes someone's lifeline to hold on?
What if I have come to a place in my life where the truth is the only thing that makes sense?
And with that, I continued writing honestly… kneeling expectantly… and envisioning hopefully for the day someone would read page 57… 82… or 199, folding down the page with a sense of relief that comes from feeling seen and understood by another soul.
At the mid-way point of the manuscript, my 12-year-old daughter received two pieces of challenging health information within weeks of each other. Selfishly, I was angry. I wondered how was I supposed to help Avery deal with these tough issues, take her to the necessary medical appointments, participate in therapeutic exercises, AND write a book. The question was answered after a troubling medical appointment which spiraled into a discussion about a friendship issue.
As I sat in the car with Avery, facing something we’d never faced, I felt eerily prepared for this conversation. The research I’d just cited in my book on building resiliency, fostering capableness, and overcoming hardships like peer rejection was fresh in my mind. I knew what to say… what tools to offer… and when to just be quiet and listen.
In that moment, everything I’d written to help adults support young people as they navigate today’s top stressors served as my anchor. I suddenly saw the timing of Avery’s challenges in a whole new light. Although I had no idea how things were going to turn out, I felt seen and unalone—and that gave me indescribable hope.
As Avery’s world turned upside down, we leaned heavily into connective daily rituals and the sanctuary of her music which, thank God, was not hindered by what was going on in her body.
Avery’s guitar school happens to be located near a beautiful river where I have walked over the past eight months during her hour-long lesson. But this time, I saw a new path. How I’d walked by it for eight months without seeing it both perplexed me and encouraged me. I felt certain it was there for me now because I needed it now.
I walked for about ten minutes feeling my excitement grow as I imagined what I might find. The path led to a swing – but not just any swing – a beautiful wooden bench swing positioned right smack dab next to the river. Swings and water had always given me peace, and here they were, together. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I sat down and felt the wood beneath my hands. It wasn’t a dream; it was real. I was loved, and this gift was for me. I cried and cried. This was hard – all of this was hard – but to feel seen, cared for, understood, and unalone provided pure oxygen to my weary heart.
I practically lived for my weekly visits to the river swing during the writing process. Somehow they always landed on days when my doubts and worries were at their peak. As one chapter of my book closed, a new one opened for Avery… and the swing resuscitated me through it all.
On the night I finished writing the last chapter in my book, I woke with a start. But instead of my heart racing with panic over something going terribly wrong, I was overcome with the most peaceful assurance. Feeling as though I’d just had the most wonderful dream, I woke up Scott to tell him about it. But when I tried to explain, I couldn’t find the words, so I simply said, “Everything I worried about wasn’t real… it was all a dream.”
As I sat on the edge of the bed weeping with relief, Scott patted my back. There were no questions; no words; it was as if he knew this episode was not for him to make sense of, but to simply trust that it was part of the process.
The next morning, Avery reported she’d slept in her scoliosis brace until 4:30am, the longest she slept in it since she began the nightly routine in late May.
Thinking of all the recent struggles we’d had that caused me to wonder how Avery would ever be able to endure bracing for two years, I asked, “What do you think made the difference?”
Avery did not hesitate.
“Being in the water.”
Around sunset the night before, we’d gone to the neighborhood pool to swim, stretch, float, and talk.
Because Avery felt certain that the water made the difference, we have not missed a visit since. For the past six days, we’ve gone to the neighborhood pool each morning and sometimes again at night. But the other day, it occurred to me that there's something Avery does before she begins her routine. She swims to the corners of the pool and rescues the bugs floating on top of the water. Many are no longer alive, but she scoops them up anyway, sets them gently on the cement, and watches intently for a sign of life.
After rescuing three bugs, I watched as Avery swam into the deepest waters where she could not touch. With her head barely above the water, she transported a bug in her open hand while propelling herself forward with her free hand and strong legs.
As if sensing me watching she called out, “It’s a little heart, but it’s a heart… and we should do everything we can to keep it beating.”
Yes, my own heart emphatically agreed.
I marveled for a moment at what human beings are empowered to do when they set their sights on easing the pain of another soul.
“We should do everything we can to keep it beating…”
Even if it means experiencing personal pain during our efforts
Even if means being vulnerable and exposing ourselves to ridicule, criticism, and rejection
Even if it means navigating territories that we have previously avoided in fear
Even if the outcome is not what we had hoped for
Because as we reach for that one beating heart, we also reach for our own. While we watch expectantly for signs of life, we temporarily forget our own worries—the twists we cannot control… the deadlines that seem impossible… the criticisms we do not deserve… the excruciatingly long waits to fill holes of uncertainty.
Yet, as we make our way from the deep end to the wall of refuge, one hand propelling us forward and the other holding hope for someone else, we gain momentum, information, and experience. That hope we are creating for another soul suddenly becomes ours too.
During one of our swimming sessions, Avery voiced a conclusion she recently came to: “Having scoliosis is nothing to be ashamed of. Maybe someday I’ll talk about how hard it was and what helped me through it. I will definitely be singing about it, although putting it into words that are relatable may be hard,” she speculated.
And just as I was about to offer some advice, Avery said, “But I know I’ll find a way.”
Yes, my child; I have no doubt you will.
My friends, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: we all have stories; we all have songs. And each day, new lines and lyrics are being written; new chapters and choruses are beginning and ending. And today, this is my anthem, carried back from the deep end to the wall of refuge. May it revive your weary heart today:
Anthem from the Deep End
It is good to envision a positive outcome at the end of your trial,
But don’t forget to take it one calendar box at a time.
It is good to keep propelling yourself forward,
But don’t forget to stop to float… marvel… notice… and breathe.
It is good to be open to the messages of your heart, mind, and dreams,
But don’t forget fear diminishes in moonlight, soft fur, and jumbled prayers.
It is good to reach for one beating heart,
But when a loving hand swoops into the deep end,
Stop treading water,
and rest in the hands of love.
Such respite is not too good to be true,
That is just how much you are loved.
© Rachel Macy Stafford 2019
Dear friends of the Hands Free Revolution, a few weeks ago, I quietly announced in my Soul Shift groups and email newsletter that Avery & her guitar will be joining me for a speaking event where all proceeds will benefit a cat rescue and adoption center near Atlanta, Georgia. The event hosts from All About Cats were delighted to see people from all over the country purchasing tickets to attend this special event on Sunday, August 25. To see what this community SHOWING UP for our family and a cause that is near & dear to our hearts means so much to us! I will be posting the event details on my social media channels very soon so please secure your tickets as soon as possible because seating is limited. I have a feeling this event will be more like a family reunion & would love for you to take part. Click here for tickets.
My beloved sister-in-law, Stacie, who manages our online shop, is getting things in order for the fall. Stacie has reduced prices on many items that we have decided to discontinue including: all the reminder bands (now $3), The Presence Pledge (now $5), XOXO Before You Go Print (now $5), SEE FLOWERS NOT WEEDS copper bracelet (now $12), and more. If you have had your eye on anything in the shop, now would be a great time to purchase! For free domestic shipping on your entire order, use the promo code: YAYSUMMER. Click here to shop.
Friends, many of you have come to know and love Alice, the creator of the exquisite paper bead necklaces made in Rwanda, and prayed for her sister Joyce when you learned of her illness. Joyce passed away last week, and I know Alice would appreciate prayers and loving energy as she navigates this incredibly difficult time. She is heartened by the photos many of you have sent me wearing her treasures. There are still some of her one-of-a-kind necklaces available for purchase.
Thank you for loving our family, our friends, and each other. Your presence and encouragement over the past few months have been my lifeline. I cannot wait to offer you my ‘work of heart’ when it is ready for you next spring. I am incredibly grateful to be in the homestretch of writing this book. Thank you for never leaving my side. I love you.