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We went camping over Labor Day weekend. It was perfect: pies made of white bread and goopy pie filling crisped in a fire, explorations on rocky Maine beaches, tin camp plates, dirty children calling each other made up American Indian names, no cell phones, computers, nor lights, and barely any showers.
Sleeping, however, with three children in one tent: not perfect. Thankfully we purchased a large tent years ago hoping we would need the room one day. Stupidly, or not stupidly (the jury is still out), we decided not to bring the pack and play for our almost two year old daughter. Instead, we brought her a bed roll and her very-own-sized-pink-cozy-warm sleeping bag. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? It didn’t to her. She cried every night when we all went to bed together. It’s not like we left her alone in the tent! We were all there, yet she cried in hysterics.
By night two I figured out what she needed. She would finally settle down in her sleeping bag (may I add, it was right next to mine) if I laid my hand upon her. Anytime in the night when my hand fell off her sweet body she would cry out for me. She didn’t need to sleep with me. She needed to know I was still there in the dark of the tent. She needed to feel my weight, the heaviness of my hand on her small body.
My friend has a fabulously personalitied dog that barks too much when people enter her house. She learned online about a weighted vest you could purchase for dogs. Who knew? Anytime she expects company, she tightly wraps her dog in this vest. The result: he never barks. He feels secure like a new born all swaddled up.
I remember watching a 60 Minutes story about an autistic woman who discovered an ingenious therapeutic treatment for autistic children. If my memory serves me correctly, she grew up on a ranch. When the cattle needed to be branded on the ranch they would be driven into a soft padded like vise. This large vise would tightly squeeze around the cattle, keeping them still in a way that successfully calmed them. As a child growing up, this woman would sneak into the cattle vise and close it in on herself, reveling in the feeling of security and calm. She helped create similar tightly compressed spaces for schools to use with autistic children.
Is my friend’s dog autistic? Does it matter? The weight of my hand enabled my daughter to feel secure in an unfamiliar tent. A tight vest allows my friend’s dog to feel calm when unknown guests arrive in his house. A padded cattle vise helped an undiagnosed autistic child feel safe on a ranch.
What’s your vest or vise or mother’s hand? What weighty thing do you need wrapped around you to feel safe?
The hand I need to reach out to me in a dark tent, the swaddling vest, the tight, padded vise, is God. Some days I can feel God’s tender weight upon me like a mother’s hand in the night. Other days I feel God’s presence enfold me. And other days I crave a place to crawl into so that I might feel the tight padded vise of God, assured in the midst of the world’s chaos that God’s unrelenting love remains.
And finally, if I am to be honest, some days I wonder where God is.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.