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The best gift I received in a long time is a car stopper.
It’s a little target on the garage floor that lets me know when it’s time to brake, so I don’t hit the wall.
‘Geez… do you actually run into the garage wall? What kind of person are you?’
It’s ok if that’s what you’re thinking.
Yes, I am a Wall Bumper… been one for several decades. We’ve lived in five houses over the past eighteen years – all of them have tiny Rachel Dents in the garage.
‘Is it really that hard to leave some space?’ You may be wondering.
Yes. For me, it is that hard.
Well… until now.
Because now I have a little help.
Five months ago, Scott installed an inexpensive gadget on the floor of the garage, and I haven’t hit the wall since.
It’s ok to need help.
It’s ok if it takes decades to realize help is needed.
Because when you are ready to accept it, you often see that your problem isn’t just about the obvious thing; it applies to other areas of your life too.
My Wall-Hitting Tendency realization occurred to me while in the process of writing Book #5. I was also supporting a loved one through a traumatic event with a long road to healing. Throw in a global pandemic, and I found myself struggling to focus for extended periods of time.
Since writing a book pretty much requires prolonged focusing, I feared I wouldn’t meet my publisher’s deadline. Yet past experience indicated that if I PUSHED myself when every fiber in my body screamed not to, I’d hit a wall and cause irreparable damage.
That’s what the little apparatus in the garage was teaching me each day, so I applied it to the book writing process.
On the days I could not string together coherent sentences, I used colorful construction paper, sticky notes, and vibrant markers to document ideas, organize thoughts, and plan out pages.
Spread across the family ping pong table, these colorful signs served as my Stoppers. They said, “Don’t hit a wall; plant a pause; give it space to flourish and grow.”
This response was so different than the way I previously treated myself when working under a deadline.
‘You are so unmotivated.’
‘What is wrong with you?’
‘You’ve got to keep pushing.’
‘If this doesn’t get done today, it will never get done.’
For the first time in my authorship, I did not engage in self-sabotaging dialogue. So, when the ability to focus and form sentences was present, I was able to confidently pick up a colorful stack, fit the pieces together, and complete a small section of the book.
Slowly but surely, this process helped me overcome big hurdles and create a highly engaging experience for those who would one day interact with my book.
When I was 10,000 words shy of required word count and two weeks away from deadline, I received a text from my 15-year-old daughter at school.
Steeling myself to help her through a moment of anxiety or pain, I read her message while holding my breath.
What I read made me exhale instantly:
“I know this is really short notice, but could we go see Grandpa and Grandpa and visit the ocean during Winter Break?”
This human being, who has been hurting like so many of our children over the past two years, was asking me to accompany her to a place of peace.
And for the first time in my Work-Before-Play programmed brain, I considered that looming deadline and that incomplete word count, and I knew what to do. I placed a sticky note on my calendar that said, “BRB (be right back). There’s something very important I need to tend to right now.”
When I checked with my parents about a last-minute visit, they were very excited but warned of the major construction currently going on at their retirement home.
“Many areas are partitioned off, and the banging starts early, but we would love for you to come,” they said enthusiastically.
So, we did.
For three glorious days, we rested our weary bones and lulled our tired brains; we deposited our stress into the sand and pummeled our worries into pool beach ball.
On the day of departure, I took a walk around the courtyard, stopping at the butterfly garden for my dad. The last time I visited, there were no butterflies, and that felt a bit unsettling. Yet now, with the garden surrounded by blue tarps and heavy machinery, my hopes of seeing butterfly activity were not high.
Much to my surprise, Miss Monarch was there, flittering high above the construction walls. She literally could not be contained, dancing from flowering bushes to blades of grass to the highest spray of the fountain. She was definitely putting on a show, so I sat down on the bench and marveled.
While sitting at the edge of the garden, I recalled one of my recent lowest of lows. I’d been in my car, sitting in the dark, rainy Target parking lot, pouring out my pain to my friend Shannon who graciously took my call.
“I don’t know what to do,” I cried, as I faced a decision of epic proportions.
“Yes, you do, Rachel. It’s inside you… but you have to make time and space to hear the answer.”
Shannon spoke with so much confidence and clarity that I believed what she was saying and promised I’d follow her guidance.
Before we hung up, I told her about a conversation I had with Avery.
“I think there is a key in there somewhere,” I said with hope.
And my friend, who is the most intuitive person I know, gasped with joy. “Rachel, I have chills all over my body,” she exclaimed. “As you were speaking, I saw a garden of bright, colorful flowers, popping up, one by one…. pop pop pop pop.”
For the first time, I saw it too, right in front my eyes, right there in the middle of a construction zone.
Space had brought me here.
And the butterfly showed me it is possible to rise, even when everything you know is being torn down.
Perhaps it’s to build something better.
My friends, if today finds you up against a wall, perhaps it’s because there has been no space to think… to feel… to listen… to flourish.
Perhaps life has been one crisis after another
Change colliding with another change
Battle upon battle
Blow after blow.
But life cannot be lived against the wall.
We must leave space between.
That question is a start.
Let’s carry it with us as we try to be more like the butterfly
who defies the walls
and claims her space
so that we might flourish
against all odds.
October 27–29, 2023
Join New York Times bestselling author, teacher, and speaker Rachel Macy Stafford for a soul-shifting journey into lasting transformation.