I recently received a text message from a dear friend and fellow writer. Kellie was about to publish an article she knew would create friction. As both of her daughters embark on their paths of independence, Kellie wrote about the benefits of investing time, energy, and resources in family travel rather than sports throughout her children’s middle and high school careers. Kellie knew I’d be there for her in the face of pushback and criticism surrounding the article, but I suspected she didn’t know how much I’d been inspired by her family over the years.
Kellie's daughters babysat my children when they were young, which gave me the opportunity to really know them as individuals. Riley and Delaney are both exceptionally kind, responsible, independent, resourceful, assertive, happy, bright, and helpful. Even from a young age, they had an acute awareness of the world, adapted easily to new surroundings and unexpected challenges, and navigated life with curiosity, wonder, gratitude, and openness. I strongly suspected the journeying they did as a family contributed to the development of these attributes. I always hoped that when my daughters were old enough, I could overcome my fears and directional challenges so they, too, could gain a worldly education.
It came as no surprise that Kellie was the first person outside of my family that I told about the prospective African Road Learning Trip my daughter Natalie and I went on last summer.
Although Kellie and I no longer lived in the same state, I reached out to her knowing she would have wise words of guidance and encouragement. Kellie's immediate words were far from what I expected, but exactly what I needed.
“I will go with you,” she said without hesitation.
I was speechless. Kellie knew very little about the trip, only that I felt certain Natalie and I were supposed to go, but I was scared to go abroad. In the end, Kellie was not able to go along, yet those five words fueled me in ways I cannot explain.
When Kellie published her family travel article, I felt that, in a sense, she was saying to other families, ‘I will go with you.’ Having just written a book on the modern-day stressors and pressures impacting our kids, I knew many of Kellie's points would bring hope and direction to kids who had not found their “thing.”
But there was more…
I couldn't help but think about the kids who hadn’t found their “people.” During my book research on the top stressors facing our kids today, loneliness repeatedly surfaced because the need for social contact is not being met for many. I often thought about one of the most memorable responses I received when I posted a collection of photos from the Learning Trip to Africa. It was from a beautiful writer on the other side of the country. She’d sent me a private message saying she could actually feel the connection I’d experienced simply by looking at the photos. She admitted she’d been moved to tears because she was hungry for true, deep, and holy connection with other human beings.
“Was it really like that?” the woman asked. “I feel like I am supposed to go somewhere and connect to people as you did, but I don’t know if I can do it.”
I surprised my introverted self by asking the woman if we could talk on the phone. I’d been longing to tell someone about the three people with whom I’d made a special connection: Pastor Steven, Alice, and Annete. I’d been yearning to try and explain this nearly indescribable experience to someone who wouldn’t scoff, judge, or criticize how three people I’d only known for two weeks could feel like family now.
The lovely woman and I talked for over an hour, finding that we shared a similar pain. At the time of the call, I’d just completed my fourth year in my new state. I’d really hoped it would feel like home by then, but I still felt unconnected in a way I never had in the six states in which I’ve lived. In fact, self-critical thoughts began entering my head like: There must be something wrong with me …. I’m not trying hard enough … I need to change the way I _____. But through the meaningful connections I experienced in Rwanda, those debilitating thoughts were put to rest. In fact, for as long as I live, I will refer to the words of Annete, a young preschool teacher at the Togetherness Cooperative with whom I bonded.
One day Annete pulled me aside, looked deep into my eyes, and said, “Rachel, you are different.”
The way she said different made it sound like it was the most beautiful way to be.
My eyes instantly filled with tears. I felt myself exhale. Different— for the first time in my life – was not something to be ashamed of. Different was good and not only did she accept me the way I am, she also celebrated the way I am.
Over the past eleven months, I’ve clung to Annete’s words while cherishing weekly correspondences from Pastor Steven and Alice. Never did Natalie and I expect we’d have the opportunity to host one of our African friends here in America, but shortly after sharing the progress and dreams of his community at the African Road Gala Fundraiser in Portland in May, my family welcomed Steven to our home.
When I asked Steven what he wanted to do during his stay in our city, he said, “I’d like to do anything I have never experienced before.”
Although witnessing majestic beluga whales at the aquarium, watching a major league baseball game in a grand stadium, and experiencing his first dip in a pool brought Steven immense joy and wonder, the most meaningful aspect of the visit was being with my parents who I’d invited from Florida to join us.
Like many young people living in Rwanda today, Steven’s parents were killed when he was very young. Because of the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi, there are few living elders in Rwanda. It was incredibly moving to see the way Steven regarded my parents and sought their guidance and wisdom throughout our time together.
Steven would often turn to my father and say, “Dad, why do you think it is this way?” He would rush to help my mom down steps or cross streets. Not only was it beautiful to see the way my parents accepted Steven, but it was clear to see how special they felt to be regarded with such admiration, love, and respect, given our culture often undervalues and dismisses the senior population.
When Steven returned to Rwanda, he sent a beautiful note of thanks for “making him part of my family.” He shared that my dad had stopped by his room the morning Steven flew home. My dad provided his contact information so they could keep in touch and money to buy meals at the airports. Steven said it brings him tears of joy whenever he thinks about it. He called it, “Amazing love I have never experienced.”
Ironically, I’d said nearly the same thing on the final night of Steven’s visit when Avery sang her song JUST BE. When she finished, Steven said he felt compelled to pray for Avery and asked her if he could. Pastor Steven gave thanks for how peaceful her voice made him feel and prayed Avery’s talent would reach far and wide to help others experience peace and healing.
I fought back tears as Steven prayed for my child. He had no way of knowing that she was sleeping in a restrictive back brace in hopes it would stop the aggressive curve of her spine. And when I later told him of this situation, he and his entire community began to pray, as one does for family.
When my friend Alice heard of the news of Avery’s back she reportedly got on her knees and wept. I was comforted beyond words by Alice’s love and concern. And when she told me of her beloved sister’s death, I did the same for her.
It’s difficult to explain how I felt when a reader of my blog messaged my sister-in-law who manages our online shop to complain about the time it took for Alice’s necklace to arrive after placing her order. Although I could understand how the customer may have missed the note about the delay in delivery from Africa, I could not understand her hurtful accusation. She accused us of making up Alice to make money.
It took some time and introspection, but I came to the understanding that perhaps this person could not believe in Alice, her remarkable story, and our divinely orchestrated friendship because it is something this person has never known.
Experiencing a deep connection with someone that leads to a special friendship and business partnership is quite unique, but it is a hopeful possibility that needs to be talked about despite the skepticism and judgement that may come with it. I’ll admit, I had a hard time putting this entire experience into words until a high school friend posted the following statement on her Facebook page:
“The more I explore by travel or meeting new people, the more I realize I am living in the wrong place. My ‘people’ are somewhere else.”
Along with a timeline for leaving, my friend wrote: “changes will be happening soon.” My heart leapt with excitement—not just for my friend, but for myself and for every young person who feels disconnected and out of place.
Just imagine how their inner dialogue might change if they were to realize: IT’S NOT ME—it’s where I’m planted that’s the problem!
And just in case someone needs this encouragement today, let’s take that promising realization a little further…
Just because you haven’t connected with someone where you are now doesn’t mean you will not connect with someone elsewhere.
Just because local circles haven’t opened for you does not mean the global community will not embrace you.
Just because no one in your vicinity shares your interests does not mean you aren’t an interesting person and your passion is not worth pursuing.
Just because no one ‘gets’ you where you are now doesn’t mean you’ll go through life being misunderstood.
Your place of peace may not be within walking distance, but BELIEVE it exists.
Your community of people may not reside inside county lines, but BELIEVE they exist.
Your path of purpose and peace may not yet be forged, but BELIEVE it exists.
And when it is time, go…
Go, where the wind calls.
Go, where your heart leads.
Go, where unexpected connection brings unbelievable hope.
Whether you uproot yourself for a brief spell or a permanent move, it will require effort, sacrifice, courage, creativity, and faith—but just one ‘you are different in the most beautiful way’ is worth it all.
It was during a car ride with the most precious cargo that I got to see why…
My family had just picked up Pastor Steven from the airport for his visit to our home. I could sense Natalie was eager to ask him something. After talking politely for a few minutes, she pulled out her phone and zoomed in on the photo of very special young friend who lived in the village that bordered the Togetherness Cooperative.
“How is Emmanuel?” Natalie asked Steven eagerly.
Steven took the image into his hands and held it for a long time. He smiled, as if looking his own son.
“You still have this?” he asked in awe.
Natalie simply nodded. While some might have concluded her silence meant she had nothing to say, I knew all too well it was the kind of silence that comes when it’s impossible to put a divine connection into words.
What Natalie couldn’t say is that she looks at that photo every day to experience a sense of peace and comfort few could understand. What can never be wiped away is the feeling of a small, dusty finger drawing on her palm—that was Emmanuel’s way of communicating he wanted to sit by Natalie on the hillside and draw pictures together.
Over the past year, when rejection stings in the many ways that impact young people today, Natalie is able to refer to this experience of acceptance and draw strength from it.
“I will go with you,” she hears when she looks at her hand.
My friends, imagine if an isolated soul were to realize: IT’S NOT ME—it’s where I’m planted… and in time, I can uproot myself to a place where I can thrive.
Just imagine the hope that would be ignited within.
We have the power to open doors to acceptance, discovery, purpose, peace, and connection that our beloveds cannot find just anywhere. We can do it with the five words my friend said to me:
I will go with you.
Those five words fuel a heart in ways that are impossible to explain. What a life-changing gift to have someone by your side who understands.
EXCITING OPPORTUNITY: In exactly one year, a journey of the heart is happening, and I encourage you to consider being part of the Only Love & Togetherness, African Road Learning Trip. My daughters and I will be joining the team selected by African Road to immerse ourselves in the culture of East Africa, specifically the Togetherness Youth Cooperative founded by Pastor Steven for children orphaned in the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi. Specific details about the trip are coming in mid-August with an application available in October, but if you are interested, you can get an idea of what to expect by clicking on the FAQ (Trip Packet) and Learning Trip application on the African Road website. The team will be no larger than 14. Though this means that not all who apply will be able to travel, there will be a variety of possibilities allowing everyone to participate in this incredible connection of love in some way. Minimum age is 15 due to mature topics related to genocide and sexual violence. In a few singular cases, exceptions to this age may be considered. Be sure and follow African Road’s Facebook page and subscribe to my newsletter so you do not miss upcoming announcements about this very special opportunity taking place July 7-21, 2020.
For those looking for an opportunity to experience deep, authentic, lasting connection a bit closer to home, there are still spots available at the Soul Shift weekend retreat that I will be leading at 1440 Multiversity in the redwoods of California on October 18-20. In addition, All About Cats Rescue and Adoption is hosting me for a speaking event in Johns Creek, Georgia on August 25 from 2-5pm with all proceeds going to their incredible organization. For the first-time ever, Avery will be joining me on stage to play some of her original tunes, including JUST BE. We would be honored and delighted to share that momentous afternoon with you. Click here for tickets.
If you are part of the Hands Free Revolution Facebook or Instagram community, you may have already heard that all 13 of the hand-lettered prints containing the pressure-relieving mantras and soul-building pledges I used to change my life have been drastically reduced to $5 in the Hands Free Shop. Use YAYSUMMER promo code for free domestic shipping while supplies last!
Thank you for being here for it all. You are my people.