“We know that we are adopted by God when we are embraced by our brothers and sisters.” My mind (which may have been wandering on that Sunday morning after a late night the night before) snapped to attention at the words our pastor had just spoken. I quickly jotted down the sentence, knowing there was something there I wanted to pay attention to. I know how much I enjoy being embraced – and embracing others, but I hadn’t ever thought of an embrace as bestowing a sense of identity.

I’ve been working through my story in a different way recently, and one of the most consistent themes that has come up is that of connection. There are moments of connection that deeply imprinted on my heart a feeling that I was loved – even if only in that moment. There are also many more moments where my longing for connection was so deep that I was willing to suffer just to get even a bit of connection. As I began to think about those moments of connection, I realized how many of them included an embrace.

Embraces are so powerful in their simplicity – at once conveying love, belonging, worth, care, comfort, and even identity.

One of the phrases I have said often to my husband, Chris, when I am feeling sad or overwhelmed or disconnected from him is this: “I just need a hug, that’s all! You don’t have to figure anything out, just hold me.” What feels simple about that request for me, at times feels difficult for him, because moving close enough to embrace me means he is at risk of being “hit” by the swirl of charged emotions that accompanies my most needy moments.

My words and body don’t always convey an invitation, even when my heart is longing for connection and his embrace. Alongside my longing is the voice of shame urging me to protect myself, because my childhood experiences tell me my sensitivity and deep feeling are cause for humiliation and rejection. It is in those moments, the ones where I am sure I will be rejected, that his embrace most powerfully communicates how much I am loved – and in so doing, is one more piece of evidence for my identity as a deeply loved daughter of God.

Another one of those pieces of evidence for me came in an embrace from my Grandma. My Grandma was a place of safety for me growing up, someone whose love I never questioned. After getting married, Chris and I moved away from Michigan, leaving behind family for both of us. When we moved back in 1999, I was eager to visit my grandma again. Moving across the country had been really good for both of us, helping with the whole “leaving and cleaving” process as we began our life together apart from our families of origin. Moving had also been really hard, each time having to start all over making friends, only to leave again about the time those friendships felt steady and real. Our last home had been in a town where outsiders were not warmly welcomed, and where our church was the most painfully unfriendly place of all. My heart was aching with the longing to be known and loved somewhere, and my heart also held long ago memories of being known and loved by my grandma as a little girl growing up in Michigan.

I can still remember walking into her room at the nursing home that day, realizing how much she had aged. And yet, her eyes that sparkled as she looked into mine, her long, slender fingers that held my face in her hands were the same ones I remembered from childhood. “I missed you so much, Grandma!” I told her as I knelt to embrace her. And she embraced me back, holding me tightly before firing back, “Well you were the one who moved away!” She was right, I had. And while there was something so important that day for me in my grandmother’s embrace that connected me to a sense of family and home and being known, her words spoke an equally important reality: I left. I wasn’t the same little girl or even young woman that had so needed her grandma’s embrace. In the years since I had left, I had experienced more embraces, more moments of naming and connection that left me with a much bigger and clearer picture of what it means to love and be loved. Where before her embrace had been one of the few that spoke love to me, now I carried the memory of many – enough to begin believing that I could, in fact, be loved.

connected by love 2

I found this picture of one of those precious visits with my grandma – she is holding our daughter Katie, whose middle name is Rose, my grandmother’s name. To me it is a picture of what my heart, that so values connection, holds as true. I have been embraced and deeply loved…by my grandmother, my husband, dear friends…and in those embraces I have received an overflow of love, which then passes on to others as I in turn embrace them. Embraced and embracing, connected by love.


IMG_6966

Janet Stark is a woman learning to embrace her depth and sensitivity.  Inspired by Mary pondering things in her heart, Janet writes about her experiences here. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband of 26 years, as well as her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. She is a life-long lover of words and looks forward to reading and sharing at Red Tent Living.