I have always been on a quest for the perfect niche--a space just big enough for me to hide, think, spy on the world, imagine. One of my favorite spots as a little girl was in a mammoth evergreen tree that was directly across the street from our house in the neighbors' front yard. It had long, arching branches that hung just low enough for a nimble eight year-old to chin-up and swing onto. It wasn't a pokey kind of evergreen. It's bark was smooth and reddish in color. I spent hours there, sometimes alone; often perched on the lowest branch with other barefoot and sunburned children like so many baby birds. If I close my eyes, I can still feel the smoothness of the worn wood, breathe in the tangy scent of the sap that left dark sticky patterns on my hands by the end of the day. The tree would sway in the wind and seemed pleased to be hosting small children in its branches. I felt important in the tree. I felt strong.
In those days, I used to have vivid nightmares. The common theme was a monster of some kind that was intent on catching me and I was unable to run. I would wake up, heart pounding, sweating, convinced the dream was real. In one boost of adrenaline, I'd be off my bed, down the hall, and into my parents' bed where I would worm my way between them and burrow under my dad's arm. Sometimes, I would throw an arm or a leg over one of them just to make sure they stayed put. If I squinted in the darkness, I could barely make out the form of my dad's .22 rifle in the corner by the dresser. I knew no boogie men or bad guys could touch me here. I felt safe.
Years later, an older version of me discovers a brand-new hiding place. It is my fifteenth summer and I am following my boyfriend, Ron, up the ladder into the hay loft of his dad's barn. I am terribly smitten with this boy whose head is a mass of curls the color of ripe wheat, his sky-blue eyes brilliant in a face tanned from hours of fieldwork. He has something to show me and he moves off toward one wall, selectively pushing heavy bales of hay aside as he goes. I stand in the shaft of light from the trapdoor, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness. Outside, it is sweltering and the June bugs are singing their tinny songs. Below us, calves sleep, piled against one another, ears twitching to keep the flies away. A tiny window at the top of the loft lets white light stream down to the hay covered floor and dust motes dance in its path. Ron motions me over, smiling. I crawl over bales and look where he points. Five newborn kittens snuggle in a cave of straw with their mother in the safety of the darkness. Ron hands me a tiger-striped kitten whose eyes aren't even open yet. Her tiny red mouth mews at me. I stroke her velvet fur and hand her back. The mother cat purrs and blinks at us with half-opened eyes. What an ideal place to hide something so perfect and defenseless!
One of my favorite verses of scripture is from Psalm 91. I absolutely love the imagery: (1) "He who lives in the secret place of the Most High will find rest in the Shadow of the Almighty. (4) He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection."
There are days in adulthood when nightmares aren't my imagination, when I feel as defenseless as a blind kitten. How many times do I still long for that safe place--a lap big enough for me to sit in, a cozy bed hemmed in on either side by someone Bigger and Wiser and Stronger? Somewhere I can go and just breathe. Just be. Just rest. God promises to be that place for me. The secret place of the Most High--covered with his shadow, his wings, his protection. Who can harm me? What evil can touch me here in this secret place? Here, I find peace as he whispers his faithful promises to me. And I am able to say, "It is well, it is well with my soul."