This is not how I planned to return to this space after my annual July blogging break. If you are familiar with my blog, then you know that I consider it my ‘sacred space,’ where I share my most vulnerable thoughts and innermost discoveries with you, my companions on this journey.
But today, I feel compelled to share something I posted yesterday on social media.
In an effort to be transparent about who is behind my social media accounts, I shared a photo of myself and a brief story behind it. The overwhelming response took me by surprise. I still don't quite know what it was about these particular words that spoke to so many people, but I knew I needed to send them to you, too.
May you feel less alone while reading it…
This is me, Rachel, the human behind being this blog.
Some assume there’s a team of people here, but it’s me. I almost wrote *just* me, but no one’s presence is “just” anything.
I learned that during my 8th year of teaching special education. I’d moved to a new state and was assigned a group of students with behavior issues so severe that this classroom was their last chance.
At the end of the first day, I cried going home from work; the frustration and despair I felt that day continued and intensified. For the first time in my teaching career, I felt completely inept.
What’s the use? I remember asking myself after weeks of nonstop chaos and little progress. Why should I keep trying?
After one of the worst of the worst days, I scheduled a meeting with the associate principal of my school. I’d decided I was going to ask to be transferred.
I sat across from her early one morning, prepared to describe the hopelessness and distress of that position.
But before I opened my mouth, the administrator looked into my face with genuine compassion. She said, “Thank you for showing up here every day. I can’t know how hard it is, but I see you. I see you, and I thank you.”
Now, I am not going to tell you I didn’t say what I came to say… because I did. I told her every heart-wrenching detail about the impossible task I’d been assigned—but when I was finished, my heart indicated it was not time for me to move on. My heart indicated it was time to set aside the proposed “curriculum” and focus on “connection.”
Connection would be the goal of each minute of each harrowing day. I would not leave this position until I gave connection a chance.
Now, I am not going to tell you that after that everything was rainbows and butterflies… but I will tell you that someone with the words “unable to form attachments” written in his file held my hand when we walked to art class.
Someone who regularly tore apart the classroom started asking for time on the relaxation rug.
Someone who couldn’t be trusted around utensils made mashed potatoes for our class luncheon.
Someone who hated school all twelve years of her young life hugged me said, “I love our classroom.”
That school year, I learned the best way to overcome challenging circumstances, distrust, and deep, deep pain is by taking small, tangible steps bolstered with compassion and connection.
My students taught me that when someone’s world is crumbling down, it’s necessary to set aside the agenda and grasp for connection.
Authentic connection – even when it’s messy and awkward – has the power to bring us together and carry us through.
That truth is part of my inner fiber now, as a parent, partner, friend, educator, and author.
Perhaps you see it here in this photo taken by my daughter Natalie.
A few weeks ago, she asked me to take her senior photos.
“Don’t you want a professional photographer?” I asked.
“No… they will turn out much better if I am with someone that I feel comfortable with. And if you want, I can take your picture too,” she said.
So, I put on my favorite blush pink dress, and I sat on these lovely steps as Natalie positioned the camera.
I thought about what my talented friend Amy Paulson, who’s taken all my author photos, would tell me to do with my hands, my body, my eyes.
“Envision what you want people to FEEL when they read your words,” I could hear Amy say.
That’s the word I thought of, the image on my mind, when Natalie got this shot.
I want the person on the other side of this photo
this gap of uncertainty
to feel held
You are not *just* anyone; you are someone whose presence matters, and I am so glad you are here.
My hand in yours,
My friends, please accept a gift from me today. STARTING POINT is an easy-to-absorb, hope-filled guide I wrote for you this summer. As a former special education teacher, I always view the start of school as a Second New Year, a time to begin again. Yet, at this moment, the circumstances in our world are deeply unsettling and uncertain. You might be scared, exhausted, sad, angry, and confused. And when these feelings are present, it can feel difficult to move. This is where my short guide could be of real help to you and your family. The stories, journal prompts, and daily intentions found in this book have the potential to move you in the direction of peace and possibility, with authentic connection as your fuel. Click here to instantly download my new eBook.
Tomorrow night (8-17 at 7pm EST) I’ll be doing a conversational live teaching on the Art of Living’s Facebook page. The topic is “3 Practical Ways to Move from Surviving to Thriving” and is part of their special Wisdom Holders Series. I’d feel honored to have you there with me.
And lastly, I’m beyond grateful to know there will be a small group of loving human beings safely gathering for my Soul Shift Weekend Workshop in Boone, North Carolina on November 5-7. I welcome you to join us for this connective and restorative experience. Click here for all the details.
❤️ Be sure to join me on Facebook or Instagram for additional encouragement and support.
Rachel, this really resonated with an experience I had recently.
My son adores being part of an amazing kids-only musical theatre group – here in Auckland, New Zealand (National Youth Theatre).
Twice a year they put on a musical – and select the leads from within the 300+ cast. As you can imagine, it’s a major operation!
Because I love being part of it, I volunteer as part of the costume team. And, while a lot of effort goes on the costumes for the leads, I think of it as my special mission to look after the rest of the cast (the chorus).
At the most recent costume day – where we were finding and trialling costumes for the chorus – I asked one of our 12-year old girls what her role was. “I’m just in the chorus”, she said.
“No one is “just” in the chorus”, I replied. “If the chorus isn’t there, the show doesn’t go on. We are going to make you look *fabulous*!”
I worked with her to find costume pieces, which looked great on her, and were easy to move in – and helped her find her ‘identity’ as part of the crowd (she decided to be a ribbon-seller in the village scene).
On stage, during the public performance, I watched out for ‘my’ ribbon-seller – and was so proud to see her singing and dancing and moving with confidence – not ‘just’ part of the crowd, but an important individual part of the scene.
Rachel Stafford says
I love this story so much! Thank you for sharing!!!