This summer, I mailed my first package to Africa. I was repeatedly warned that it would not reach the recipient, but I had to try. My dear friend Alice, who I came to know and adore on an African Road Learning Trip, has trained a small community of young women to knit so they can market their wares and earn income. They call themselves Brave Girls, and their gatherings are about so much more than creating products; they are about creating hope. At first, women were afraid to come and attendance was spotty. But as they began to learn, they found joy in their capabilities… joy in their unity… joy in their goals and plans for the future, even when Alice is only able to pay them little or nothing for their work.
Alice is constantly searching for vendors and shops that will purchase the Brave Girls handmade washcloths, rugs, and scarves. The situation at the Uganda/Rwanda border is still strained, and although it is now open, it is not feasible for Alice do business in both places like she once did. This restriction has greatly impacted her ability to sell her jewelry and handcrafts, which is why she is trying to produce a new, unique product through knitting. Her courageous endeavor is what inspired me to mail my first package to Africa.
For many months, I’d thought about sending the Brave Girls an ample supply of good quality yarn. I knew Alice was using what little funds she had to buy supplies, and I felt this gift would encourage Alice and this special group of women. My sister-in-law, Stacie, who manages our online shop, helped with the complicated international mailing process and customs documents.
Between the cost of mailing the package to Africa and the discouraging feedback from the sales associate at the mailing office, I had little hope that the package would actually reach my friend. But despite the obstacles, I tucked in something of value at the last minute with faith that it would miraculously reach her.
About a month later, I woke up unexpectedly in the middle of the night. There was a message waiting for me from Alice. She had the most amazing news. The package had arrived safely! When she went down to retrieve it, the revenue officials told her they could tax her $60 for the package but had decided not to—their reason was this: “Because you are our mum… and we respect you.”
The officials did not know Alice, but they saw her for who she is—a hard-working woman who provides a loving home and education for children who have no families… a dedicated mentor who gathers young women without employment to train them to knit… a selfless friend who takes long bus rides with members of her church so they don’t have to bury their loved alone.
Alice stood before the officials heartfelt and hopeful, and they saw her brave participation in life and chose to honor it.
When Alice got home and opened the box, she found everything was intact, even the item of value had been left undisturbed. Alice gave thanks to God and cried because this was the encouragement she needed at that moment in time
Because of the colors and the quality of the yarn I sent, the Brave Girls used it to make a new item — baby booties. When Alice sent me a photo, I delightedly imagined the conversation and connective threads that were created among the women as they knitted those booties.
The photos Alice sends me of the Brave Girls gatherings fill me with such awe that I study each one intently. It is clear by the women’s facial expression that joy and peace are created through the sharing of their stories as their children play on the floor, cocooned in their unity.
“Our babies will eventually enroll in Brave Girls,” Alice once told me, and that beautiful notion has stuck with me as I honor the brave risks taken by my own children.
In fact, I thought of the Brave Girls on Tuesday night as I drove Avery to her first open mic night. After she’d finished performing at the animal shelter fundraiser a few weeks ago, the man who managed all the technology needs for the event approached her. He commended her on her performance and encouraged her to sing at his venue’s open mic night.
“I don’t know why, but I am not too nervous,” Avery said as we made the thirty-minute drive on Tuesday evening.
“I think it’s because you’re just going to be YOU when you stand on that stage. You are just going to sing YOUR song, and you already know it doesn’t have to be anything more than that to touch people’s hearts,” I said.
After two performers played their sets, Avery walked on stage and introduced herself.
“Hi. I’m Avery. I’m thirteen years old.”
You could hear the murmurs of awe in the all-adult audience as they settled into their seats to listen to the young musician.
Avery began to play, quickly realizing her capo was not on her guitar.
“Oops,” she said stopping to adjust her guitar as she smiled her crinkly-eyed smile.
The crowd’s response to her error put a lump in my throat.
“It’s ok!” … “Happens to the best of us!” … “You got this, Avery!” encouraging strangers called out.
When it came time to play her original song, JUST BE, the entire audience stopped talking. Dishes stopped clicking. Servers stood still. I knew Avery felt seen and heard because she giggled at one point during the song. She connected with the crowd by looking right into their faces, a beautiful gesture of appreciation for their gift of presence. Avery's performance wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t matter. She was there, her honest, heartfelt presence filling the stage with hope as weary souls took a collective exhale.
I suddenly remembered the hashtag a member of my online community created a few years ago for this musical girl:
I then thought of Alice and realized Avery is part of the Brave Girls Club too. By showing up with what she has and who she is, she exhibits a beautiful courage that inspires others to whole-heartedly participate in life.
“Thank you for helping me get here,” Avery said repeatedly on the drive home.
I wasn’t sure if she meant getting her to the open mic night or to this place in her life where she could share her musical gift with the world. It didn’t matter really; what mattered is that we were here, at this place together. There was a time in my life when I wondered if my love could reach my girl given the divide I’d created between us early on. But I’d decided to try—and the love had reached her.
We can all be part of The Brave Club, I thought hopefully, as we made our way home.
The other day, I received a message from a woman who’d lost hope. She was messaging me from inside her closet. She described the pain and shame of regret over the way she reactively responds to her children and feared they are now lost to her. Sometimes when I receive messages like this, I am not sure what to say. Am I even qualified to give advice? I wonder. This time I knew.
You are here—and that is incredibly significant. It is brave of you to share these difficult truths. It is brave of you to reach out for support. It is brave of you to want to learn to love your children in ways that make them thrive. It would be much easier to deny the pain and keep the damaging cycle in motion, but today you decided NO MORE. Thank you for showing up. I see you, and I celebrate your courage. You have the awareness and the motivation to make positive change, now you just need the tools. I can help you with that. My hand in yours.
As I prepared a welcome message for the Soul Shift participants that begin their journey on Monday, I imagined us sitting around, much like Alice and the Brave Girls, weaving connective threads between us. I imagined what we might create together that could then be carried into our homes and communities, serving as a warm wrap around the shoulders of those we love.
I thought again about the hurting soul who messaged me from her closet; I prayed that as she shows up honestly and hopefully, her loved ones see her for who she is and respond to her bravery the way the officials responded to Alice.
We will not tax you… punish you… guilt you; you are our mum… you are here.
YOU ARE HERE is the Brave Phrase I repeated almost daily last spring as I wrote the most challenging book of my career and supported my daughter through the most trying health issues of her life.
I still repeat the empowering phrase to myself whenever I need to do something difficult. YOU ARE HERE helps me stop overthinking things and just show up. It reminds me that I’m not responsible what happens once I get there or how I am received; my only job is to show up as my authentic self and offer my gift to world. That is where true connection forms.
I saw it on Tuesday night when Avery performed JUST BE. Her willingness to show up, stand before the crowd, and sing her song was enough to bring people to tears. Because she was honest and heartfelt in her presentation, the execution and outcome didn’t matter. Her courageous presence outshone all other factors.
To put it simply:
Participation = Bravery.
And when you believe that, you’re able to reach people and places others deem impossible to reach.
And when you believe that, you’re able to focus on what is and not derail yourself with the what ifs.
And when you believe that, you’re able to own your life’s anthem—and inspire others to own theirs.
And when you believe that, you’re able to engage with life in ways that bring indescribable peace and joy to yourself and others.
My friends, if you should witness someone bravely participating in life as Alice and Avery do, offer encouragement… stop and listen in reverence… waive the fees…. ignore the off-key notes… open your arms… acknowledge them as they step into their light.
Say, “You are here, you brave, beautiful soul.”
Then say it to yourself.
Say it to your babies.
Say it to your friends.
Say it to strangers.
We are all part of the Brave Club, and we cannot be reminded enough.
Dear Friends of the Hands Free Revolution … three things:
1. By purchasing Alice’s necklaces, you are partnering with Alice in the remarkable work she is going for her family, the Brave Girls, and her community. Alice sings and prays as she makes each unique necklace, making them particularly meaningful gifts for birthdays and holidays. There is currently no limit on how many necklaces you can purchase. For the next few days, the free shipping promo code BRAVEGIRL can be applied to any order in the HFM Shop. (There are currenty eight hand-letter prints on sale for $5 or less.)
2. Plans for my first-ever Soul Shift weekend retreat at 1440 Multiversity are shaping up beautifully! I am inspired by the number of individuals who are coming without knowing a soul. I’m certain that we are going to make meaningful connections and life-changing discoveries together! The date of the retreat is Oct. 18-20, and there are still spots available! Please come as you are! I will welcome you with open arms. Click here for details & reservations.
3. I will be a bit less active on social media in October as I lead another transformative round of Soul Shift, begin working with my publisher on a marketing plan for my new book, and start planning with African Road for the Only Love & Togetherness African Road Learning Trip happening in July! There are many exciting opportunities for members of this community to make the meaningful connections, and I can’t wait to experience them with you. If you are not an email friend, please take a moment to subscribe to my blog/newsletter. That is the first place I extend all invitations and make special announcements. My publisher confirmed that there will be a launch team for my forthcoming book! Thanks to all who have expressed interest. I will announce sign-ups on my blog when it is time.
Thank you for your consistent support, presence, and love. I cherish you with all my heart.