Turtle Tea Time
By Kelsey Henderson
Donatello. That was the name of my date for tea that day. He was an unusual fellow, stood about 3 feet tall, wore a purple mask, and was quite the snuggler. His giant turtle shell never seemed to bother me, though he was certainly a head-turner when out in public. I was six years old. I can remember hours spent in joyful play. My sisters and I would arrange our room in such a way that would make for ultimate jump-a-thons, slumber parties, and yes, tea time with our life-size ninja turtles that our Nonie had gifted us the Christmas prior. I remember playing.
I’ve heard that traumatic experiences can stifle memory and that children between the ages of five and eight are exceptionally vulnerable to trauma. In fact, some researchers refer to these years as the “trauma years”. While I do not necessarily believe I have memory loss per se, I would say that the experience of my parent’s divorce expedited my childhood. My sense of play dwindled and I grew more serious. My ability to “self-monitor”, behave, and be responsible eventually became the only me I knew, and in many ways, the only me that most others knew. It was not until my adult years that I was able to name what became a part of my regular function; Anxiety. Anxiety had replaced my joy, my sense of play and wonder. Somehow in the swirl of my anxiety, I had forgotten how to play and developed a deep sense of loneliness in the over-functioning rhythms I had established.
About a year ago I started waking up every night at about 3:00 am with these anxiety attacks. Tossing and turning, I would find myself sweaty and panicked. I’d pray, invite God to be with me, and still struggle to settle into His peaceful presence. One early morning I was prompted to turn on lullabies as I struggled through my anxiety. I played a JJ Heller lullaby album. To be honest, I felt silly listening to songs for infants and tots as a 32-year-old woman. However, it was only a matter of time before I could hear God’s invitation for me to settle into the posture of a child, His child, and soak in such comforting and nurturing lyrics; “My love is a light, driving away all of your fears. So, don’t be afraid, remember I made a promise to keep you safe” (you can listen HERE). It was as though God Himself was pulling me near to His very own chest, drawing me close to His heart, calming my striving struggles, and encouraging my soul to find rest in His presence. I continued listening to lullaby’s early in the mornings for about six months. It was around this time that I also began reading children’s books… and not just to my kids. I was drawn to the original novel of Peter Pan (which I learned is actually not that appropriate for young children), Narnia, and even some of the picture books I read to my Sunday school kids. I even bought myself a Captain Marvel Barbie to have my very own toy for when I would play barbies with my daughter. In this season I was also drawn to a stuffed hedgehog named Aida, which I later learned means “helper” “comforter” or “happy one”. This was unusual for me as I have not personally owned a toy throughout my adult life! (and now you all know my secret!) There was this childlike curiosity that was craving adventure, play, and comfort.
It was through these moments that seemed so silly that God met me and revealed to me my inner child who was starved to be nurtured and desired to experience the joyful play I had once known. In many ways, I felt as though anxiety had robbed me from indulging in these very basic blessings God gifts us, as children and even as adults. I welcomed new awareness into my own story and began a new journey of going back to go forward.
While putting my kids to sleep tonight I played JJ’s Lullaby album while snuggling my littles. Once my daughter fell asleep my son pulled my arms so close that they wrapped completely around him. I could sense that he felt safe and secure in my arms. Within a matter of moments, he was peacefully asleep. As I walked out of their room I was reminded of the importance of returning to both that 6-year-old child that has tea parties with Donatello and the little girl who needs to be nurtured to find rest. Somehow… somehow, it is in these moments of awareness that the transformative and healing love of Christ is growing me up in a different way; one that is less anxious and more joyful.
So friends, in a season that has placed such high demands on our “adulting” and has increased our anxieties, I encourage you to ask yourself, “When was the last time I played? Where am I experiencing Joy?” And examine the places where anxiety has pushed against the nurturing love of the Father. I wonder just how many of us would benefit greatly from a tea party with Donatello… I love that turtles are famous for slowing down the hare.