Just before 4 p.m. each day she would turn the gold-beveled knob to Channel 12 on her 1980s wood-framed Mitsubishi television. At age eight, the girl with deep brown eyes had already known great shame and sadness, but for an hour a day she was captured and enthralled by a world that seemed too good to be true: Walnut Grove.
Little House on the Prairie was one of the most consistent parts of her world that was often shaken by fury, a place where she could fantasize about tipping back her bonnet and breathing in the beauty and smell of wildflowers. This was a place where Pa affectionately referred to Laura as “Half Pint” and she proclaimed, “Home is the nicest word there is.”
As the little girl watched, she longed for a home that was similarly warm and tender, where there was a sense of togetherness in even the worst of tragedies. With each episode, the tears flowed freely, whether for the typhus outbreak that nearly took Mr. Edwards’s life, the scarlet fever that stole Mary’s vision, or the beauty of the family’s enduring affection and commitment during every hardship that hit their prairie life.
The eight-year-old dreamed of being one of the Ingalls. Though she had known considerable pain, her heart was yet soft and hopeful. She was not afraid to dream.
“Though Eden is lost
remains in the heart
and the imagination.”
Thirty years later, a woman with brown eyes is meeting with the business director of a large ob/gyn practice who is dressed in a fashionable green suit. I’m trying to make sense of why they are suddenly denying my insurance, having previously accepted it.
I am expressing my disappointment with some level of assertiveness, as my 19-month old and four-year-old open drawers in the director’s large executive desk and play with the cords on her mini-blinds. I scramble for a fruit snack or sippy cup to try to diffuse the chaos, and attempt to find the words to express my desire to have the same midwife who delivered our last child for our next birth.
“She is like an artist when it comes to bringing babies in the world,” I plead, realizing that my language feels out of sync in a conversation about deductibles and global billing. The tears start to flow.
I begin sliding into an abyss of shame, feeling awkward, weak, overly emotional. My words seem to lack credibility and professionalism. “You’re way too sensitive,” I hear from a familiar childhood recording.
As my embarrassment over feeling clumsy and undone are mounting, my tears seem to turn the conversation. My earlier assertiveness evaporates. Suddenly, the cool, calm, and collected woman sitting across from me has the upper hand, and I feel vulnerable to harm.
Rationally, I know she is simply communicating office policies. She has even offered my children Nutter Butter cookies to help ease their restlessness and offered to work with me through a payment plan.
As I struggle with feelings of helplessness and weakness, I am aware that this is much more than just a battle with insurance.
Like for many, my disdain of weakness is a hard-wired response, to fend off attacks. We would prefer to keep our hearts a bit distant and aloof rather than face the possibility of contempt or rejection.
Several days after the appointment, as I am recalling the encounter, an image of a little brown haired girl dressed in a Christmas nightcap and nightgown pops into my head—the Little House on the Prairie viewer whose heart was tender and whose deep brown eyes were filled with the hope of heroic protection and fierce, tenacious love.
“Tend to her,” I hear, as if God is beckoning me to engage with this younger part of myself. I look at the soft lines on her face and put my hands on her rosy cheeks.
“Forgive me little one, for shaming your precious tears, dishonoring your weakness, and mocking your hope for many, many years,” I whisper.
The problem with walling off our soft, childlike hearts to keep them from harm is that it also shields our ability to receive love. I find it breathtaking when I’m in conversations with a dear friend or a counseling client, and I catch a glimpse of a small vulnerable child in their eyes. It can be in a moment of acknowledged insecurity or uncertainty, a courageous plea for help, or a timid and risky expression of hope or longing.
Such innocence and vulnerability is beautiful, pointing to the love of Jesus, who came as an infant, a foster child in the borrowed womb of a teenage virgin. He would be rejected and beaten, enduring contempt to the point of death in the name of His perfect love, humiliated on our behalf to bestow His innocence on us.
Again, I picture the little girl and affirm her childhood dream that a bigger love exists, that there is a place her softness and innocence can rest, play, and receive. I tell her that there is a Pa who tenderly loves her, and a Home that is the nicest place there is.
Rachel Blackston loves all things beautiful…rich conversations over a hot cup of lemon ginger tea, watching her two little girls twirl around in tutus, and Florida sunrises on her morning walks. She resides in Orlando with her lanky, marathon running husband and her precious daughters, priceless gifts after several years of infertility. Rachel and her husband Michael cofounded Redeemer Counseling. As a therapist, Rachel considers it an honor to walk with women in their stories of harm, beauty and redemption.