Let No One Tell You What is Worth Saving

by Rachel Macy Stafford


“One life, one love
One voice
And that is enough,
One heartbeat, two hands to give
I got one shot and one life to live
One life to live.”
-Switchfoot, Live It Well

I confess: I don’t kill spiders, and I save drowning bugs in pools. Ever since I could walk, I’ve had a heart for animals, insects, and creatures of all kinds. I was quiet about my animal rescue missions until I heard my older daughter talking to her friends a couple years ago.

“My mom doesn’t kill spiders,” Natalie said after I heard screams from the basement. “It’s just a Daddy Long Legs. I can get it,” she said calmly.

From my hidden position in the stairwell, I heard the door open and shut. The spider was free. My heart felt free too. Maybe saving spiders is nothing to hide. I thought to myself.

I knew exactly where my apprehension to share my empathy for animals derived from – I was five years old, and I was watching television with my dad. A heart-wrenching ad came on the screen about abused and mistreated animals. Images of starving dogs with pleading eyes and terrified cats with matted fur flashed before my innocent eyes. As my heart broke wide open, my dad scoffed at the T.V.

“Save the animals? Let’s save the starving and abused children first,” he retorted.

I quickly composed myself before he could see the emotional reaction I was having to the disturbing images on the screen. I was old enough to understand the reason for my father’s words. After serving in the Peace Corps, he became a social worker. His life’s work was dedicated to equipping college students to lift the marginalized and equip the disadvantaged. My dad was passionate about the empowerment and liberation of humankind, not animalkind.

I would soon follow in his footsteps.

I became a special education teacher. Advocating for beautifully unique and often undervalued children (as well as their parents) was a fulfilling calling, but it didn’t produce the same peace I had when I was saving animals. So behind the scenes of my teaching mission, I continued my animal rescue mission—freeing trapped lizards in garages and lanais, lifting stuck turtles to safety, retrieving puppies tossed in trash bins, and feeding starving cats along my walking route. My animal-loving heart radar was always up, spotting creatures to help on a daily basis.

While teaching special education students was my obvious mission, saving animals was my quiet mission – and I honestly don’t think either approach was any less effective or any less worthy; extending love, care, and support to a living, breathing being is always worthy.

To save a life is to save a life

To ease pain is to ease pain

To speak for the voiceless is to speak for the voiceless 

And one is enough …  

One saved, comforted, or positively impacted is enough.

As I watch my growing daughters cultivate their own heart-led passions, I’m glad I’ve experienced both approaches to saving because there is a vast difference in the way my daughters advocate. Natalie writes letters to Priscilla, the unsmiling child she selected out of an array of much cheerier children in need of a Compassion sponsor.

“I want to give her a reason to smile,” explained then seven-year-old Natalie when she picked up Priscilla’s card that others had quickly looked over. Natalie eventually taught herself Swahili so she could communicate in Priscilla’s native language. When I pointed out Priscilla has a translator, Natalie’s response was: “I know, but I don’t want the words to come from someone else; I want them to come from me.”

When a friend is going through a tough time, Natalie is the first to write an encouraging note. She sends valentines to recently widowed friends of my mom. She is not afraid to walk up to homeless people on the street and hand them money from her pocketbook. Yes, she wants love to come from directly her, one to one, and she wants to do it quietly without recognition, fanfare, and fuss. At age thirteen, she already knows she is called to reach one at a time … that one is enough … and that no one needs to know except that one.

My younger daughter, who had no issue taking the stage at age four to captivate an audience with “Amazing Grace” on her tiny ukulele shares her passions outwardly. Last Spring, she officially declared herself an advocate for the Noticers of the world. With sidewalk chalk she wrote in big, bold letters: “I Am a Noticer! Noticing is GOOD!”

She has since made a point to do everything she can to encourage people who feel more, see more, and hear more—to support those who respond compassionately to sadness and pain because of their heightened awareness to the world around them. Avery doesn’t want Noticers to hide their gift just because they might seem a little different from rest.

Avery recently had the chance to film a short video about being a Noticer that would reach a wide audience. When I told her someone could play her role in this video if she didn’t feel comfortable, her response was this: “I want to do it. I was born to do it.”

I’m quite certain we are all born to do something. We all have a tug on our heart towards certain issues, groups of people, ideals and causes. Lately I’ve noticed more and more people being vocal about what matters to them. I have watched people I know and love speak out on really tough topics, only to be met with silence or condemnation.

I stood in the hallway of my home with one such advocate. Because of her ancestry, this woman’s heart is full of passion and pain for her Native American brothers and sisters. Although vocally addressing the issues her people face puts her in a vulnerable position, exposed to criticism and rejection, she does it anyway.

When I told her how proud I was of her, she began to cry.

I understood her reaction. When we are fighting for the things that break our hearts wide open, we often grow weary … our skin hurts from the pushback … our soul is bruised from being exposed to harsh elements.

But like Avery said, we are born to do this. And whenever I read my friend’s words, I’m certain she’s born to advocate for her people and bring awareness to government officials, fellow citizens, and the entire world.

What I said to this beautiful activist the day we stood in my foyer may also be helpful to you. So just in case you’re feeling a pull on your heart to fight for something worth saving, here is my encouragement to you:

Let no one tell you who or what is worth saving.

Let no one tell you your way is the wrong way to advocate.  

Let no one tell you you’re in over your head, out of your mind, or living in a dream world.

Let no one tell you to move on, be quiet, or accept this is ‘just the way it’s going be.’

Let no one tell you it won’t make any difference.

They are wrong.

They are dead wrong.

To save a life is to save a life

To ease pain is to ease pain

To speak for the voiceless is to speak for the voiceless

And if you touch one life through your loving hands or shaky voice, one is enough.

Dear ones, listen closely to what your heart is telling you is worth saving. Don’t listen to naysayers—save your energy for those you are fighting for. Keep walking in your purpose and let love fall at the feet of those who’ve been waiting to hear your voice.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.  

It’s time to speak – whether it’s in a letter, a bullhorn, a one-on-one conversation, or whispered in a furry, tattered ear.

Your heart cracked wide open is the sound

Rachel Macy Stafford is a certi ed special education teacher with a Master’s Degree in education and ten years of experience working with parents and children. In December 2010, this life-long writer felt compelled to share her journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters by creating the blog “Hands Free Mama.” Using her skills as a writer, teacher, and encourager, Rachel provides readers with simple, non-intimidating, and motivating methods to let go of distraction and connect with their loved ones. Rachel’s work has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Global News, USA Today, TIME.com, MSN.com, The Huf ngton Post, and Reader’s Digest. Her blog currently averages one million visitors a month. Rachel’s new book, HANDS FREE MAMA, is a New York Times Bestseller.