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Love the Size of a Horse Chestnut

One of the many powerful healing tools I learned while engaging in the CHRIST Program through Hope’s Garden was how to create a self-soothing basket. Laura suggests that within this basket, we place collected items which can help to regulate our nervous system and bring us back to our balanced, Christ-centered mind. Included in this basket are tools to engage all our sensory needs. For example, we can include essential oils or scented candles for the sense of smell, tactile items such as Aaron’s Thinking Putty for touch, calming green tea mints for taste, and sacred items such as our favorite rosary. We can also include our innermost treasures, those items which hold deep personal meaning to us.

Within my self-soothing basket is a solitary, innocent-looking horse chestnut. To all outward appearances, it’s nothing more than that: a plain, ordinary horse chestnut. But to me, it’s a sacred object. It’s easy to feel unloved—and unlovable—when struggling through an abusive relationship. Victims are often told outright that that they’re unlovable, or the attack comes in different words, but with the same meaning.  Verbal abuse phrases such as “you’re stupid,” “you’re ugly,” “you’re selfish/cold/mean” etc. are all ways of being told we’re not cherished by our partner. That’s why—for the sake of our mental health and emotional well-being—a group of understanding, supportive loved ones is so crucial. There’s a reason the LORD God declares in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that man should be alone.” He created us as social beings, to live in a social world. Isolation is detrimental to health and healing.

And that’s where my horse chestnut comes in.

This precious object was given to me by my daughter, as a token of her love and thoughtfulness. One colorful autumn day in Maine, my daughter decided to embark upon a morning stroll (otherwise known as a “morning constitutional” to us New England—or England—folks). Along the way, as she strolled past the harbor and enjoyed the wheeling call of sea gulls, my daughter came across a delightful horse chestnut tree. This tree was in its generous season, dropping its fruits for all who may pass by, and she knew a single nut would bring me immense joy, since I’ve always loved the smooth, gentle hardness of horse chestnuts. Scooping it up, she carried it back home and lovingly presented it to me. I’d been having a rough time. She knew the details—she was a young adult, and she’d already witnessed too much in her lifetime. She wanted to bring me comfort and joy. And she did. Immense comfort. Tremendous joy. In one little horse chestnut.

Now, during times of stress or anxiety, sorrow or despondency, I hold that little nut in my hand. It represents love, and a sense of comfort returns each time I see it in my basket or enclose it in my palm. It represents my daughter’s devotion and, on a wider level, divine Love. “He showed me a little thing the size of a hazelnut, in the palm of my hand, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with my mind’s eye and I thought, ‘What can this be?’ And the answer came, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled that it could last, for I thought it might have crumbled to nothing, it was so small. And the answer came into my mind, ‘It lasts and ever shall because God loves it.’ And all things have being through the love of God.” (Julian of Norwich)

Knowing we’re loved in the midst of trauma can be the lifeboat taking us away from the chaos of emotional and mental turmoil, the shackles of the trauma bond, and the insecurity of contemplating whatever the future may hold.

The authentic love of others is a gift from God, and when we begin to emerge from the fog and ask our
Divine Bridegroom for the grace to see His love at work in the world, our vision truly does begin to clear. A kind word from someone at the grocery store, a hug from a neighbor, a squeeze on the shoulder from a supportive friend, empathy from family members. All these are kisses from the Bridegroom. And, above all, Jesus is always eager for us to feel His immense love for us: His love, His never-ending protection, His intimacy. We are loved. All of us. It’s so important to remind ourselves of that, often and throughout the day. “Let yourself be loved!” St. Elizabeth of the Trinity once wrote. “Let yourself be loved! The soul cannot live without love because love is the stuff she’s made of, and through love God has created her.” (St. Elizabeth of the Trinity and St. Catherine of Siena)

Copyright 2023 – Jenny duBay

As a domestic abuser survivor, advocate, and author, Jenny duBay knows what a huge impact intimate partner violence (IPV) has on an individual. She founded Create Soul Space to help cultivate awareness of domestic violence within a Catholic setting. Jenny is associated with Catholics for Family Peace and works with various organizations within the Catholic Church to spiritually support victims and survivors of domestic violence. Author of the Create Soul Space and Prodigal Parishioner blogs, Jenny also writes for Missio Dei along with various other Catholic publications. Her book, Don't Plant Your Seeds Among Thorns: A Catholic Guide to Recognizing and Healing from Domestic Abuse, is available on Amazon and through her website at https://www.createsoulspace.net.

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