11:15 p.m. The rain has quietly begun to fall as we prepare for bed. We wonder if recent roof repairs will keep out the drips. The air is cool and damp; spring fog making everything strange and still. The streetlamp illuminates individual water droplets weaving their way through the lace curtains. Sensing the storm moving near, we wonder when the first loud thunder clap will wake our sleeping children. As I brush my teeth, we have our answer. A distant Crack!—then Ba-BOOM! And Carson, our 2 1/2 year old, is startled and disoriented. His sobs are genuinely fearful and loud, and Suzanne rushes in to him, holding him close, whispering in his ears, stroking his cornsilk hair. It’s alright, Sweetie, everything’s okay.
We tag team, and I lie down and hold our little boy, trying to calm his nerves. Tonight he seems more vulnerable than during other tearful night wakings. Usually, a drink of water and the recovery of Bear from the floor is all he needs to settle back in. Tonight, his senses have been awakened. He is raw and edgy. Desperate almost. Each crack of thunder brings fresh, clenched fear. I try to tell him we’re just in the next room, but that isn’t good enough. I foolishly try to explain that thunder is just noise and can’t hurt him. But my words are like rain running off the roof. The crunchy sounds are scary, he says. Explanations are useless. He wants me to stay close. Each time I try to get up, thinking he might be close to sleep, he flings his body around and clings to me. What can I do? I lie back down and try to get comfortable. Pull his blanket over my bare legs.
11:55 p.m. I must have dozed. I try to leave again, but he is still restless. Again, I try to explain that the storm has mostly passed, that the thunder we hear now is distant and moving on. He just holds me tighter. I can’t help but think of the many nights this year that I’ve tossed and turned, sleepless and fretting over how slow business has been, worrying how I would provide for my family, where I would find new work. I would lie there trying to hear my Father’s voice, trying to believe Him when He tells me that the storm will pass, that He will provide for us. Like my own little boy tonight, during my own night fears I am not looking for rational explanations of how we’ll be okay; the mechanics bring little consolation. All I want is to be held by my Father, reassured that He’ll take care of us. That it’s all right and everything will be okay.
12:30 a.m. After several attempts, I give up and take Carson into our room, into our bed. We’ve not done this before, and for him it is all very exciting. Maybe this is why we haven’t encouraged it. My wife comments that she never once climbed into her parents’ bed. It just wasn’t done. I remember running into my parents’ room after nightmares or during bad storms. I see myself wearing the same pajamas, the same impish smile I see on Carson’s face right now as he burrows in. It never occurred to me that my parents my not be experiencing this adventure with quite the same enthusiasm. He is flipping around, switching from nuzzling into one of us, then the other. We are getting a little annoyed and cranky. We tell him to stop talking—it is late and time for sleep. We manage to settle him down after a little while, and he seems to have drifted off.
1:20 a.m. This just isn’t working. It is hard to get any good sleep with a little boy wedged in between us, especially such a light sleeper as Carson. I carefully try to lift him up and carry him to his own bed. I lay him down, hoping it will stick. But just as I’m climbing back under my own blankets, another wave of the storm seems to be nearing. Fresh booms and crashes are closing in. They don’t need to get very loud before he is up again. The crunchy sounds! Frustrated, I grab my pillow and head back into the room he shares with his 5-year-old sister. Fortunately, she is fine, sleeping through everything, unafraid when it gets loud. I whip back his blankets and climb in with him again.
I am frustrated and, well, angry with him. Yes, angry at a 30-pound toddler afraid of a storm. He is standing in the way of my sleep. But when he puts those skinny arms around my neck and pulls in close, his ragged breathing begins to smooth out. He is finding comfort in his father’s arms—and here I am, angry that he is messing up my eight hours of peace. I give up, realizing that this is what tonight is about. This is what fathers do. I watch him, study his face. Each lightning bolt illuminates his eyelids fluttering nervously, his pale skin flashing strobe light-like, blue to white and back to blue. I stroke his shoulder through thin cotton pajamas. His frame, his collarbone, his ribs so fragile.
2:10 a.m. Love overcomes anger; tenderness surpasses frustration. Of course this must be how my Father feels about me during my night fears. Though He doesn’t have my selfish motives that need to be suppressed, I wonder how often He lies there with me, listening to my mind’s endless monologue of worries and doubts, wanting me to simply rest and trust Him? How will I provide for my family? Where will I find new clients? Do I need to find a new job? Can I really do this? Am I a failure? The Israelites in the wilderness continually saw God’s hand lead and provide for them, yet they continually doubted and wondered if it would again. If God would come through this time.
Maybe this is just my nature. I am weak and fragile, not unlike this little boy, only able to find rest in his father’s arms. No intellectual understanding, simple as it might be, can bring him peace. Rest will not come for him by learning the facts about thunder and lighting. Only my presence will do this. Tonight, can I abandon my personal desire for sleep and keep vigil? Can I embrace my role as protector and provider of this precious fearful child? Can I accept my own frailty, stop fretting about the mechanics of my life’s demands and responsibilities, and simply rest in my Father’s tender embrace?
[When he is not occupied running his design studio, Steven Slaughter enjoys playing with his wife and small children, reading, writing essays and children’s stories, organic gardening, making music, various church leadership roles. He lives near the beach in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood.]
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