The Mystery of Desire

Why do we go back for our small selves? It is enough, is it not, to survive into adulthood? To go back means the risk of awakening desire. And desire is a powerfully dangerous thing. To desire is to be alive. 

I read a story over Christmas break, a novel written by a private investigator. If that sounds like kind of an intense beginning, it was. The book, The Child Finder, by Rene Denfeld should have trigger warnings.

The investigator in the story is uncanny in her ability to find children who have gone missing. The reason is, she too was once a missing child. At the end (spoiler alert), she says to the little girl she found, “you asked me to come find you. I thought that I had failed. But I didn’t. I left enough memories behind to find the threads of my own past. And now I will be brave like you.”  And she goes out, the ending suggests, to find her own little girl, who had been asking to be found.

I resonate with the story on so many levels. I do understand, sadly, the terror that comes at night. And I also understand the expanse of blank spaces that are placeholders for memory. Desire is a powerful thing. And underneath all of the research and strong discoveries we are making in the field of neurobiology, there is a common thread. Memories live in the cells. They are imprinted there by the catecholamines released during times of raw intensity, including trauma. The sensory markers that surround them are sight, smell, touch, taste, sound. But the piece that often has not been talked about in the literature is that of desire. 

Memories had begun to stir in my body 23 years ago, brought to the surface by my births. As a birth-keeper, then a nurse, I knew that the impressions I carried from those two birthing days did not match the narrative of my birth stories.  But I was afraid to connect the dots. And so I went forward, continuing to teach about physiologic birth in my childbirth classes. The curious thing was, in the pre-and post evaluations, the class participants had more fear of birth after my class than before.  Not a good thing to put on your resume. I would get called in to the administrator’s office, and the midwife would ask me what exactly I was teaching. A very good question, indeed. Finally, I stopped teaching; frustrated by this phenomenon that was so far from my desire.

Body memories began to come near the surface, but I kept them at bay by the strength of my will. It wasn’t until one night, 20 years ago, that I told Jesus, “I want to know…” and the answers began to come in a flood of remembering.

Truth always comes, by invitation.  It never pushes past, or forces its way into a space.

It is gentle, it is fierce, it waits for desire. To desire is to want to be alive. Perhaps that’s why intimacy is so risky, and also so healing. It involves this mystical thing called desire.

I don’t know where the invitation is for you. But I do know that there is always an invitation. Not necessarily back into the past, although we weren’t born into adulthood. Often times there is a child who needs to be found, and welcomed into the here and now. 

Like Hansel and Gretel of long ago, where the children drop breadcrumbs along the path, our child within leaves a trail. This is the imagery of the story I read. And like the fairytale, sometimes the birds eat the crumbs, and it appears that all hope is lost.

But therein lies the mystery of desire. Truth loves to come to those who invite it. The work of healing is lifelong. It is like peeling back the layers of an onion, perhaps including the tears.  And so I am risking starting with a new counselor in a new town, because there will be new invitations to deeper healing still. “Farther in and farther up” comes the refrain in my spirit, a quote from the old Narnia book, The Last Battle.

Red Tent Living is a community of women who don’t settle for the status quo. There is an invitation here to go deeper.  As I sit with you at the end of the advent season, I am reminded of a poem that was shared with me on Christmas by a woman who fights for justice in the most broken places.  May it be our prayer as we stand as women who have gone back for our little girls, the ones who left threads and cried out to be found. I know we stand, hand-in-hand with our small selves, and fight for justice. Because truth wins. That’s the spoiler, that’s the end of the story.


Joanna Wilder is a lover of truth. She is a birthkeeper and a professor. She is a mom of six, and married to one bold man. She is a desert girl transplanted to the Pacific Northwest for a season of change.