There is a place near my home that I am drawn to on days when I am in need of respite. It is a place that feels sacred to me, hidden as it is in a sprawling neighborhood. The place does not belong to me. It belongs to someone else. There are rumors that the owner allows visitors, but no signs are posted specifying the rules. It feels risky to enter and explore. My story has taught me to brace for being unwelcome. I am unsure of my place, and so when I visit, I do so with a mild anxiety that I will be scolded.
I prefer the safety of knowing exactly how much space I am allowed to take up. This place refuses to spell it out for me and invites me into the vulnerability of naming myself welcome.
One day recently, I walked up to the white gate and squeezed my body through the gaps on either side. The pastures beyond are filled with green grass and wildflowers and gentle horses, brown and white and grey. As I walked down the gravel road, I came eventually to the river, steady and calm, and the old wooden bridge. I sat on the bridge with a journal and drank in the beauty and life all around me, the water and the horses and the green everywhere I looked.
Sitting on the bridge, I found that my heart felt particularly vigilant for signs of being unwanted. A pickup truck, driving up and down the gravel road, was coming nearer and nearer to me with each stop. The driver stopped several times to feed and water the horses, and fear was growing in me, imagining the moment of being discovered. Soon enough, the truck pulled up next to the bridge. I kept my eyes down hoping not to be noticed, but I felt the gaze of the man behind the wheel. My heart began beating faster as I braced for harsh words I knew were coming.
Instead, a gentle voice said, “That looks peaceful.”
I lifted my eyes. Politeness prompted me to smile and say, “Yes sir!”
“You know,” said the man, who I could now see was old and thin and smiling, “You are welcome to pet the horses and bring carrots for them. They love visitors. You just make yourself at home!”
He waved and drove away, and I sat on the bridge, tears welling up in my eyes. Kindness from a stranger had touched an ache in my heart and my story that was almost too deep for me to name. The ache was speaking to me about the hunger I hold as a single woman to be welcomed. As I grieve the absence of family, my longing for a home where I am welcomed and enjoyed is an ache that feels too heavy for me to bear most of the time. But on this day, a voice invited me to feel the ache of my deep longing in the safety of welcome.
You are home here, said the gentle voice. You are wanted. You are invited to come experience goodness and beauty. You are free to rest and to be enjoyed while coming alive in the fullness of who you are. You are safe. You are free to play and explore and do what feels good for your body. You are invited to take risks and make mistakes and take up space and to know that you are welcomed still.
I am wrestling still with this truth that seeks to touch the places of harm in my story. I am wrestling to believe in the yes that comes back to me when I ask the question that echoes so vulnerably in the achy and deep places of my heart: “Am I welcome?” The answer comes back quietly but persistently, “Yes, make yourself at home.”
Adair Swayze is a therapist in Atlanta, GA with Foundation Counseling. She lives with five roommates and a golden retriever named Annie who has much to teach about openly receiving love. Adair is learning to embrace not only her hospitality but also her desire for encounters with beauty and adventure.