It’s been an emotional summer.
As you’ve all read — ad nauseam — sending Sam off to college and into his new life has kept me a bit off balance. And on August 14, I chose — finally, and after many restless, heart-wrenching days and nights — to publicly write about pieces of my life that I’d never before shared with more than a handful of people.
But I’m getting ahead of myself…
When the six of us returned from the glorious summer vacation that left our bank account empty and our hearts overflowing, an advance reader’s copy of Rachel Macy Stafford‘s Hands Free Life: 9 Habits to Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, & Loving More — accompanied by a “Hands Free” bracelet and a gorgeous print — awaited me at home. I couldn’t wait to dive in, was eager to craft my compelling review long before Rachel’s September 8 publication date.
But as lives are wont to do after a vacation (and in general), mine quickly spiraled out of control with organizational changes at work, freelance needs, my own publisher’s deadlines, our college boy’s impending departure, and the start of the school year for the other three kiddos.
Rachel’s book sat on my desk day after day, waiting patiently for me to catch up… just like Rachel herself would do.
I could hear her sweet Southern drawl in my head, “It’s okay, my friend. You’ll read it when it’s time.”
She always knows.
This weekend, we hosted a Labor Day gathering of dear friends who are more like family. We ate and drank and swam and laughed and cooked and cleaned and hugged. And today, when our friends had to return to their lives and their own routines, I sat beside the pool with Rachel’s book, tired, satiated, grateful, weepy with that bittersweet mixture of happy and sad (so happy for the time we had together, so sad that it was already over).
Emotional, yet again.
As I dipped my feet in the still and silent water — the same water that 12 hours before had been churning with life and laughter — I thought… with my oldest off at college and our respective kids at such drastically different places in life, will Rachel’s words still resonate? Will I still be able to glean lessons from her storytelling wisdom? Will I be able to handle words that encourage me to be a better mother, a more patient presence in my kids’ lives… when my oldest just stepped out into his own life, when my other three are close on his heels?
And then I began reading.
Here’s the magic that is Rachel: She writes just for me. And she writes just for you. There is always — always — something in her words that speaks directly to a heart in need. I was reminded of this when I turned to page 50 and read — just 24 days after publicly sharing my most intimate and previously untold stories — “This type of vulnerable connection, born of a place of deep pain and authenticity, is the kind of connection that is strong enough to transform individuals, families, communities, cities, and worlds.”
You see, Rachel is the friend who read these most intimate stories long ago and said, “This is what you need to write. These are the stories you must share. This is what the world needs from you. This is what is going to save you… and so many others.” And it took my breath away that she would recognize my most important work wasn’t in writing fiction, but in sharing the most raw and vulnerable pieces of my own personal narrative.
When I published “Muscle Memory,” Rachel was the first one to respond. She said, “This piece of your soul that you are offering took months, years, decades to be here for us all to read and for that, I celebrate this day. This is a momentous day. The magnitude of this offering, of this single piece of writing, is not lost on me. This is the beginning. This is truly the beginning and all your beautiful scars are going to impact this world in ways we will never comprehend.”
Beautiful, quintessential, ever-supportive Rachel.
In Hands Free Life, Rachel describes her sweet Avery as “The Noticer” and tells poignant tales of how Avery reminds her to stop and really see the beauty of the world. Like Rachel’s violin-playing days, that lesson might have needed a little dusting off, but I truly believe that seeing — really seeing — is Rachel’s most profound gift.
She sees lessons in the every day, she sees stories in unspoken words, she sees beauty in the broken. And not only does she see it, but with the power of her words, she helps the rest of us see it, too. Sometimes the lessons are hard to look at, sometimes they’re not what we hoped they might be, but she illuminates them for us with grace and kindness and empathy.
She is the living, breathing embodiment of her own Habit 9: Change Someone’s Story. Without Rachel’s encouragement, without her belief in me, without her friendship and her gorgeous hand-written notes of love and support, my story would be vastly different.
If you’ve read many of Rachel’s words, I imagine you can’t help but agree… because she’s most likely changed your story as well. That’s her own special brand of magic.
On page 172, Rachel contemplates why she’s chosen a cemetery as her favorite new walking space. She writes, “I wanted to leave the earth better than it was before…”
Kudos, sweet friend, on a job well done. You have accomplished that and so much more. You have created a legacy of love, compassion, hope, and peace for your family, your friends, your readers. In your quest to discover it for yourself, you have changed the conversation around what matters for millions of people all over the world.
Your words are a gift to everyone lucky enough to find them.
Your heart is a gift to everyone lucky enough to share a corner of it.
And as September 7 slowly rolls into September 8 — the official publication date for Hands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, & Loving More — I celebrate both you and the millions of readers who get to experience this generous and life-altering gift from you.
Happy Pub Day, my friend. XO