I was standing in my kitchen on March 1, 2019 wondering how I was going to get through the writing of chapter three when Scott sent me a song that was just released. (Scott has an uncanny way of sending me the exact song I need, precisely when I need it.)
The song was called, ‘Mess,’ and this is what I heard:
“I'll move back home forever
I'll feed the dogs
And I'll put all my pieces back together
Where they belong, and I'll say
‘I'm a mess, I'm a mess, oh God, I'm a mess.’”
“I’m a mess” was exactly how I felt… how I so often feel… yet it never sounded so beautiful… so inspiring… so comforting.
As I listened to the song, tears filling my eyes, my uncertainty was replaced with resolve: I wanted someone to feel this kind of comfort – this unspoken acknowledgment that our messiest parts are not to be hidden, but instead, proclaimed because they are what connect us.
This song catapulted me over the mid-book hump, and I went on to finish the first draft of the book three months later.
When Noah’s tour came to our city in the fall, I knew I had to be there. What I wasn’t expecting was an invitation inspired by three lines from his song ‘Passenger.’
“I think I've found a way to keep myself whole
I write my fears on green notes
I swallow my doubts away and watch them grow old.”
In an Instagram post, Noah explained there would be a pad of green sticky notes at the merch table for each show. He wrote:
“I want each person who buys a ticket to feel like they are in a room of folks who understand them. I want each person to feel heard. I want to give you an opportunity to write down what you’re feeling, as that has been what’s saved me so many times in my life. I will be reading each one.”
As a truth-telling, music-loving, sticky-note addict, this invite made me incredibly happy. But would people do it? I wondered.
As soon as Scott and I arrived at the venue, I made a beeline for the merchandise table.
To my delight, there was the pad of green notes and a binder filled with pages and pages of sticky notes from every city across America.
As I added a note of gratitude to the sacred collection, I read a few. I read of struggles and fears around belonging, rejection, failure, loss, and despair.
I was instantly reminded of the index cards I’d collected from hundreds of young people when I started being invited into schools a few years ago.
“How did you get them to share so much?” I remember my daughter Natalie asking in disbelief as she read through the vulnerable messages from one of my first visits.
“I shared my own humanness,” I said with more certainty than I felt.
But now I know…
There is no greater invitation than the one that invites us to speak our pain, our hopes, our struggles, our dreams. We are all just waiting for someone to ask… and care.
Fast forward four months…
My daughter’s sadness was palpable the night she missed qualifying for state by less than one second in the 100-yard breaststroke event. That night, Natalie invited me to sit with her in sadness. I worried about how this disappointment would impact her outlook. Would she give up? I wondered.
The next day, she asked if I’d take her to Target to get a jar. She told me about Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin and the confidence jar she used throughout her career. In the jar, Missy would place small highlights and moments of success that were likely to get lost over a long season.
Natalie was especially inspired by the fact Missy would open the jar the night before a big meet and read through all of her little achievements. This strategy was highly effective at calming pre-race nerves and performance anxiety; it supplied the proof Missy’s mind needed to believe that her body was ready to succeed.
By sharing this doubt-busting strategy, Missy Franklin invited a 16-year-old to carry on during a time of doubt while preparing for the next opportunity.
I thought the confidence jar was a brilliant idea, but nothing could have prepared me for the emotional reaction I’d have to seeing it in use.
The very next day, I walked into Natalie’s room. There, on her desk, sat the jar with two hot pink slips of paper. In Natalie’s handwriting, small achievements were documented so they could be revisited the night before a big meet.
Through my teary eyes, I saw a pattern:
Write your fears on green notes.
Write your triumphs on pink slips.
We are just waiting to recognize how far we’ve come.
Fast forward four weeks…
I am sitting at the dining room table with an array of colorful Sharpies. I have 1000 pages to sign that will soon become books people will hold in their hands. The signed copies cost about $2 more than unsigned ones, but I know there are people like me who see value and sacredness in a handwritten message and will treasure their marked copy.
I stare at the stacks, wanting to write something special to these lovely souls.
The title of my book stares back at me—and for the 47th time in the past few months, I am reminded that it is not the title I chose for my book. It is not the title that was born from months of toil, writing over 200 possible titles until I came to the one that brought me to my knees in the swim center parking lot.
I can’t quite forget the publisher’s words: “We love the concept of the book, but the title needs work.”
The title that encompassed the message of hope contained inside the book was rejected. Rejected. It is a harsh word, but it is the truth.
Suddenly, it comes to me; I will take the most powerful word of my rejected three-word title and I will write it on every blank slate in front of me.
Through tears of determination, I see a pattern:
Write your fear on green notes.
Write your triumphs on pink slips.
Write your rejections on blank slates.
We are just waiting to embrace what the world tells us is not enough.
Fast-forward to four days ago….
I wasn’t sure how to conclude this post. I sat with it for a few days and then one of my favorite author’s shared a recent experience she had after getting on the Tube at Leicester Square. When Jen Pastiloff saw a woman crying, she felt the urge to give her something, yet all she had in her backpack was a tiny pencil with a big heart eraser on it.
I leaned across the aisle & handed the crying lady the miniature heart pencil.Jen Pastiloff
‘Here,’ I said.
She said, ‘Thank you,’ & it was like a million thanks yous.
The best million thank yous I have ever heard- and then she started crying more.
Maybe it's like when you're sad and someone hugs you & you just wail in their arms; you've avoided their arms up until then because you knew what they what would do to you.
They would open you up and make you sob like a baby.
Like “here is someone.” “Here is someone in the world who cares.”
It was the kind of beauty that struck me immediately in my beauty pursuit as the kind that was beautiful but also sad.
Beautiful in that this woman was having her singular experience of pain on the train and how none of us knew what that was, and yet we ALL understood it, having been there at some point or another, but almost no one was willing to make eye contact with the Very Sad Lady except me.
We had our exchange almost wordlessly.
I gave her my kid heart pencil and she locked eyes with me as if to memorize the moment.
And that lady, maybe she stopped crying & went home and wrote a story with that pencil. A story of why she was crying, of who made her cry, of what broke inside of her there at Leicester Square?
So many times beauty and sadness are interchangeable.
Here. Take this. Here. A tiny pencil with which you can draw your life. Given to you from a stranger on the tube.
My friends, do you know what question I asked young people at the end of my classroom talks as I passed out blank index cards?
If you could give the world one message, what would it be?
I wasn’t expecting all the kids to participate, but they did. Every single one of them did, some of them even filling up both sides of the card.
It was as if they were just waiting for someone to ask.
And now I know….
We are all just waiting for someone to notice—notice our pain… notice our fears… notice our hopes… notice our dreams… and then say:
“Tell me about it, dear one. Here’s a green note… a pink slip… a tiny pencil, and an index card. Take your pick and tell me about it.”
And when we look down and see what is written, we see ourselves in a new, accepting, comforting light.
Thank God, we’re a mess, because that is what connects us and catapults us, so we can carry on.
I see the pattern… do you?
Let's never look at ourselves…or the person across the aisle…. ever the same again.
I love you.
My friends, the index cards I collected over the years were the inspiration for my forthcoming book LIVE LOVE NOW. I put them into categories based on the students’ fears, worries, needs, hopes, and dreams. Those became my chapters, and they contain universal stressors we are all experiencing living in our modern world… but there is hope. I felt that hope so strongly this week while sitting in a tiny recording booth creating the audio for this book. The producer spoke encouragingly into my headset indicating that ALL of me was welcome to show up to deliver this critical message. He said things like… “beautiful emotion, keep going” …. “you’ve drawn me in, Rachel” … “your waters run deep” … “this is going to be an incredibly rewarding experience for the listener” … “you are a natural.”
Thank you for being in the booth with me this week—I have never been so excited to share something I’ve created with you. Your early support of this book has encouraged me greatly. Please remember that when you pre-order 2 books, it qualifies you for my LIVE LOVE NOW 21-Day Self Care Audio Series. So, if you have pre-ordered a print copy and decide you want the audio book or a signed copy, then you can redeem all of your pre-order bonuses and start listening to my self-care audio series today! Click here to pre-order from your choice of retailers & and/or redeem your gifts. LIVE LOVE NOW comes into the world exactly 2 months from today!
Atlanta, GA! COME JOIN US! Avery and I will be speaking/performing at the KNOWN and LOVED: A Path to Freedom Charity Event on Sunday, March 8 from 4-6pm at the Rooftop at Ponce City Market. Tickets are $15 and proceeds go to the International Justice Mission, a global organization partnering with local justice systems to end violence against people living in poverty. You can learn more about this special event & grab your tickets by clicking here.