I found them gathered on the back deck. PJ pants, hoodies, and hot cups of coffee in hand, my four daughters were circled up and telling stories to one another. The seventeen years that separates them is starting to feel less difficult to close, especially today as the topic at hand is their bodies.
The older two have plenty of memories of my tightness, born of my own shame and how I had been taught to manage it.
“Good girls should…”
“Good girls don’t…”
“Good girls remember…”
“Good girls know…”
I hear it as the conversation turns to bathing suits. “Two pieces were not allowed, and bikinis were an absolute no. I wouldn’t even have thought to ask Mom to buy one for me.”
The younger two haven’t known that same tightness. Their drawers are filled with two-piece bathing suits, including bikinis.
I listen and remember the tightness inside of me.
The conversation moves on and leaves the realm of clothing, carefully drifting into space about embodied sexuality. Each of my girls now have first kiss stories along with experiences that have come with dating, long-term relationships, and, for my oldest, marriage.
The tightness feels like a knot in my gut. As a mom, this space has felt like jumping out of the boat in the middle of an ocean with the threat of storms on the horizon. The boat makes great sense—stay in it. Better yet, sail to shore and get off the water. Seek shelter, preferably a brick building with an iron door.
I am reminded how Katy and Allison were shaped by purity culture. There were places where I told them I didn’t agree with all that was being taught, but I also participated in ways I grieve today. My desire to protect them and to teach them how to protect themselves gave way to controlling words as they grew, fueled by my fear of what I knew could happen.
I was afraid of my own untamed self, so much of her exiled within me. She felt dangerous and unacceptable. Her exiling was the result of good girl messaging coupled with sexual harm that I had blamed on myself.
It is impossible to raise embodied, alive, wild, and free women from a place of exile.
There remains some dissonance inside of me still, after much work on my own story and an ongoing welcoming of my exiled parts. As I sit with clients, my words flow more freely, my questions playfully wise, my energy beckoning them to consider who God made them to be and what it looks like to live in the wild beauty of their bodies. And as I sit with my own girls, the weight of responsibility, years of unhelpful teaching, and fear of failing again in some way to do or be a good, godly mother causes those same words to catch in my throat.
I am out on the sea, in uncharted territory, offering to my daughters what was not offered to me, and not offered to my mother or hers.
This is a space where it has been helpful to imagine Wild Jesus walking across the sea to my storm-tossed boat. He climbs in and sits across from me. He doesn’t still the waves, and he doesn’t tame the wind. Instead, He winks and says, “Isn’t this storm wildly awesome! The rocking of the boat feels better than that roller coaster you love at Six Flags, right?!”
He reminds me that the sea is doing exactly what it was designed to do—the waves and the wind don’t mean something is wrong; they simply remind us that God is wild and powerful, and His creation shows off that glory. He invites me to enjoy the ride and hands me a two-ounce pour of Eagle Rare bourbon.
Out on my back deck, Wild Jesus is evidenced in the four girls, separated by seventeen years. More wild and more free than their mother because twenty years ago I said yes to trusting Wild Jesus and my body.
A Blessing for the Wild Ones
May you know the wild beauty of your body.
May you taste the goodness of luscious food and enjoy every bite.
May you feel the strength in your legs and know you can stand on your own two feet.
May you feel the joy of wide-open arms and all they can hold and welcome.
May you experience arousal and delight and sense the smile of God over you.
May you have the face of a wise, kind, generous mother joining you often and cheering you always.
May you know wild rides on storm-tossed seas and find Wild Jesus coming to you across the waves.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories, a reluctant dreamer, and the founder of Red Tent Living. Married for over 35 years, she is mother to five kids, two son in laws and is a pastor’s wife. She loves quiet mornings with hot coffee, rich conversations, and slowly savored meals at her favorite restaurants. She is awed that God chose her to mother four girls having grown up with no sisters. She writes about her life and her work here.