Florida fall has ushered in a refreshing chill, a welcome reprieve from the dense summer air. As I meander through my neighborhood on Sunday morning, I’m captured by the beauty of a line of queen palms swaying in the breeze. Returning home, my one-year-old’s small body feels warm from a seasonal cold and her eyes are sleepy. I decide to stay home from church so that I can put her down for a much-needed nap.
As I nurse her to sleep, my breath deepens and my body relaxes. I tune into the reverberations of her tiny stuffy nose, as she inhales and drowsily savors the warm sweetness of my milk. My body has become a place nurture for her, offering consolation in sickness and uncertainty. Home is wherever mommy is, my husband often says.
I quietly close the door on my daughter and notice my chest tightening, my breath becoming more shallow. The empty house presents many choices. I feel a nudge to tackle my closet, a task that’s summoned me for months. The floor is barely visible beneath a pile of maternity clothes, post-partum attire, and recent purchases still in shopping bags.
Scurrying around the house will silence a question that quietly nags: am I worthy of nurture, rest, and pleasure? Yet, simultaneously, my body is nudging me back to the warmth of my bed.
Listening to my body often feels like war.
Perhaps like mine, your body has faced the trauma of medical emergencies, sexual violation, or bearing the daily weight of the news stories on social media. I’ve spent most of my years living outside of the body war, attempting to avoid the discomfort and pain.
But recently, I’ve felt God invite me back to my body through the little girl who still lives within me.
I think about how children live embodied lives. They move freely in their world oblivious to social expectations, trusting and noticing their needs. They have no shame in expressing their emotions, preferences, or desires. I am aware that my little girl seems to be asking my almost 40-year-old self, Do you love me?
I am reminded of how psychiatrist Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk writes,
Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe in their own bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become experts at ignoring their gut feelings.
As I stand in my closet, wrestling with how to spend my free time, I catch a glimpse of my little girl Rachel. She is wondering if I will acknowledge her desire or instead spend the next hour placing clothes in garbage bags. As I look at my younger self in the mirror, I feel a nervous excitement brew in my belly at the possibility of spending time with her.
I decide to prepare a steamy cup of dark roast and my favorite concoction of natural peanut butter melted with 85% dark chocolate. I head into my bedroom with this bowl of gooey bliss and open the windows, allowing the sunlight and crisp autumn air to enter. I place a few drops of cedar wood essential oil on my pillow, conjuring the comforting memory of a dear friend’s mother, whose sweaters smelled of an old cedar closet.
I crawl under my fluffy down comforter and imagine my brown-eyed, little-girl-self next to me. She enjoys the warmth of my body, giggling about the cool weather, while a big glob of chocolate lingers at the corner of her mouth. Thank you, Jesus, I whisper, as I notice my body fill with pleasure. I take a moment to acknowledge the dark chapters of my own story that I’ve faced over the past two years. I breathe deeply and hold these shadows in tension with the bright goodness of being present in this moment.
As I recounted this story later to my counselor, she reminded me of a Jesus who loves to have parties for those coming home. I realized that my Sunday morning had felt like a homecoming feast of sorts. I am like the prodigal every time I look for safety and unconditional love in a place where it can’t be found, and Jesus delights in seeing me come home and rest in his true love. To live in my body is to recognize the darkness of my story, but also to trust that God offers me consolation, belonging, and restoration.
The queen palms standing firm but swaying gracefully come to mind. Stirred by that Sunday morning encounter with my younger self, I’m dreaming of a more embodied life, where I delight in the loving touch of my husband, soak in the generous compliments of others, and extend rest to my tired body instead of living in constant dutifulness.
I dream of a life where God’s love for me extends beyond the church pew and the hope of heaven. I dream of a life where I find rest in my own body, just as my daughters do.
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.