The moment my maroon Toyota Sienna pulls into our garage, my two-year-old Charlotte runs toward me with a face of unabashed desire.
“Mommy milk,” she says, exuberantly.
The warmth of my body provides a sense of returning, a safe place where she knows she’s loved before she’s off to her 2-year-old work of exploring and conquering new challenges. At times, I feel envious of the way she expresses her needs so effortlessly. She is aware when she’s cold, when she’s thirsty, when she wants snuggles or when she’s bored. She squeals “all done” when we are in the midst of tackling a wooden puzzle without fear of hurting my feelings. I hope one day I can be more like Charlotte and shamelessly announce my particular needs to the people in my life who love me.
I marvel at the superpower of many mothers who seem to have the uncanny ability to tune into their children’s needs and bodies at any given moment. It doesn’t take long at a child’s birthday party to hear phrases like, “It must be nap time for her,” or “The hangries must be setting in,” or “I think the overstimulation of the party is too much for him.”
I have a deep longing for someone to look at me with those same eyes of awareness and care. I wonder what would happen if we, as mothers, took a kind and curious look at our own bodies and ask the question: What do I desire or need today? Rest? Light? Stimulation? Touch? Warmth? Movement? Connection?
One of my coping mechanisms in life has been turning to food to soothe my emotional needs. As an Enneagram 3, my deepest fear is that I have no value or worth in this world apart from what I can tackle or produce in a day. I’ve found that a square of dark chocolate or a whiff of a mocha offers a sweet respite from the gnawing feeling that I don’t matter.
However, emotional eating fails to address my deeper needs. I have used food to anesthetize difficult emotions and to communicate to my body that it doesn’t deserve substantial care. I still remember getting off the bus in middle school, dreaming of stuffing myself with a bag of Utz potato chips. Every salty crunch could push down the shame over my changing body and confusion over navigating the world of female friendships. For the last several years, I have tried to welcome the comfort of food but also stay curious about my underlying needs.
This past December, I had a significant healing experience. I asked my husband if I could go on a half-day silent retreat. During the first hour, I felt frantic and restless, noticing my compulsion to tend to my endless to-do list and simultaneously numb my anxiety with food.
At one point, I realized I was cold and decided to wrap myself tightly with a large comforter creating a womb-like atmosphere. The blanket was soft and warm and offered a sense of containment. Slowly I began to feel more deeply at rest and within a few minutes, I felt the sensation of being surrounded by warm amniotic fluid. I’m not sure how long I stayed there rocking, but I know that God spoke, “I loved you before I made you.”
At that moment, I recalled all three of my pregnancies and the deep love I held for my daughters long before I knew their gifts, talents, personalities or appearance. I loved them before they could do chores or produce anything for the world. Here, at 40 years old, I had an experience of God’s love within my own body that was real and transformative. Something shifted in me that day, almost as if I had been in the womb of God Himself.
Yesterday afternoon, I felt some of the fruit of that healing. I noticed a boredom and restlessness in my body. My cortisol levels were taking an afternoon dip. My two youngest daughters were zoned out in front of screens, and I was mindlessly perusing my facebook feed. I considered buckling them into 5-point harnesses and making a Starbucks run.
Instead, much to my own surprise, I spontaneously began speaking to my middle daughter, Norah, in an English accent. To my delight, my peculiar behavior roused her out of her screen-time stupor. She giggled and then spoke back to me, nailing the accent herself! We went back and forth, the accent morphing with every sentence. The younger one joined in by running to the playroom to bring us a sombrero and a cowgirl hat to wear. I noticed their faces, their bodies, and their creativity. This small interaction felt like a victory in my awareness that my deeper needs were for connection and play instead of a shot of espresso.
God delights in me just as I am and I am learning to delight in myself too. I’m thankful to God for providing delicious savory food and warm comforters to soothe our bodies and bring us warmth. However, may we also consider when our bodies and hearts need to return to faces of delight from those who loves us, our children, our spouse, our friends or the One who made us. It is here, we will experience the love of God, so that we can go forth living freely out of our bodies to love ourselves and our families more fully.
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Featured image courtesy of Hill Smiley Photography
Rachel Blackston loves a good story, deep connection with others, a savory piece of dark chocolate and a steamy mug of high octane coffee. She resides in Orlando with her lanky, marathon running husband and her three precious daughters, priceless gifts after several years of infertility. Rachel and her husband Michael cofounded Redeemer Counseling. As a therapist and coach for 15 years, Rachel considers it an honor to walk with women in their stories of harm, beauty, and redemption. She specializes in working with women with a history of trauma and abuse as well as those struggling with infertility and sexual betrayal. She writes regularly for the blog Red Tent Living and enjoys speaking in the community on topics such as the Knowing your Story, Calling, the Enneagram, Sexuality, and Attachment. To contact Rachel, check out www.rachelblackston.com or blackstonrachel on instagram.