I danced for 15 years, practically my entire childhood. When I was 17 I was an assistant teacher at the dance studio I grew up in, and for the recital that year I learned (and taught) dozens of dances. I remember someone asking me how in the world I could remember all those dances, didn’t I get them all mixed up? I tried to explain that I didn’t know those dance steps, my body knew them. The steps for those dances were stored in the muscles in my arms and legs. I didn’t have to think about the next step, because the movements were impressed upon my muscles and they knew what to do even without me thinking about it.
Since then, I’ve noticed this same principle of body memory popping up in other areas of life. Moments when my body reacts to certain triggers in ways that are surprising and beyond my control. As if my body has memories that my mind doesn’t know about.
And I recently have noticed that Gabriel has some body memories of his own; heart wounds that run so deep that neither of us can really begin to understand them. This sweet boy of mine was only two when I made my journey down the stony path of Pearl’s pregnancy and birth. He was only two, and he was separated from me for weeks. He would come to visit me in all of his bubbling-over, toddler exuberance. I was so weary that I couldn’t even be glad to see him. It made me tired and incredibly sorrowful to have him in the room–to see this joyful boy that was desperate for his mama, but whose mama couldn’t be there for him.
This trauma left its scars etched into my heart, like stretch marks on a heart that is swollen full to bursting with grief. But Gabriel’s heart has its own marks. And they have been bleeding tenderly lately.
Identifying these heart wounds is tricky business. It’s not realistic to expect my four-year-old to name the wounds he received when he was only two. These impressions on his heart are not the explicit kind that can easily be defined, examined, categorized, and then hung all tidy on a peg. These are the implicit memories–the ones that our bodies hold on to without our knowledge. They never show their faces, they never step into the light, but they hang around the shadows of our hearts and they make their presence known in all sorts of awkward ways.
Gabriel has made it clear to me lately in many different ways, some obvious and some not so obvious, that he doesn’t feel safe and he doesn’t trust me. His wounds have become my grief, and I struggle to know how to even begin helping him to heal.
This past weekend we had our first-of-the-year camping trip planned. The Sweetie Pie and I had made preparations for weeks, making tweaks on the camper, making campground reservations, gathering supplies. I spent all day Friday preparing GAPS-legal camping food for me, and packing up “normal” food for everyone else. I packed some clothes and my knitting. The Sweetie Pie would be home in an hour and all that was left was helping the kiddos pack their bags.
Then Gabriel threw up. Everywhere. On the rug, on the sheets, on the comforter, on the books. And I took one look at him and cried. I called the Sweetie Pie and sobbed into the phone that I needed help. As we cleaned up the mess together, we tried to revise our plans to salvage what we could of the camping trip. It was decided that he would take the older kids camping, and I’d stay home with the little kids.
As it turned out, I truly believe that this past weekend was intended to begin healing Gabriel’s wounded heart. We had two whole days together in which he got to eat whatever sounded good to him whenever he wanted it, he got to pick all of the movies, and he always got to snuggle next to me on the couch. Once he was feeling a little better, we spent all afternoon playing with play-doh, we planted the green bean teepee in the garden, and then we made brownies to surprise the Sweetie Pie for Father’s Day. In short, we got to do all of the things that he enjoys doing with me most.
Don’t get me wrong, there were still plenty of things to not enjoy about last weekend–starting with five loads of barf-y sheets and towels. But they were superficial and unimportant. The important work, the heart work, was a joy to engage.
I don’t pretend that this time we shared last weekend has healed his heart. That will be a long process. And besides, I alone am not able to heal anything. Healing hearts is spirit work and must be done by the Spirit. Haven’t I learned already that I am not anyone’s Holy Spirit?
But I can tend the soil of his heart. I can offer what I have–love and cuddles and tenderness and patience. I continue to pray for opportunities to offer these to him. And I know that God is faithful, though not always in the ways I expect. Sometimes His grace shines brilliantly through vomiting children and spoiled camping trips. May I always have the eyes to see it.