The Stuff of Nightmares

The first identifiable bad dream.

It happened during the day, a shrill cry slicing through the peace of afternoon nap time, sending me rushing to the bedside. Out of the catalog of cries, the ones that erupt out of slumber are the most alarming.

He was sitting up in his crib, chubby legs curled uncomfortably beneath his rear. "A whale!" he said through his pacifier, tears falling. "A whale!"

"Ooooh, did you have a bad dream?" I asked, hoisting him out of the crib and into the rocking chair. "There are no whales here, baby. It wasn't real."

My thoughts immediately turned to possible whale exposures he has had. Pinocchio? Because that is the scariest whale I've ever seen in my whole life. Nope. He hasn't seen that. Later on, I asked his big sister if there had been any whales in that mermaid show she likes to watch. Nope. When would this kid have ever even seen a whale? And why would it have been traumatic? I was racking my brain. All I could think of was our alphabet book...

Not exactly nightmare material.

I shushed him and blanketed him and stuffed animaled him and cuddled him. He rested his little head on my chest and within seconds returned to the land of nod, safe from the terror of the inexplicable whale invasion.

Little ones don't understand about dreams. It's so easy to tell them they aren't real, but the only thing my baby knew was that there was a whale. And he was frightened.

Then it came to me. We went to Panama City few weeks ago, and dotted along the strip are these lovely, attractive storefronts everywhere, one of which was right near our condo...

That's it! I found the culprit. That thing is most definitely the stuff of nightmares. To those of us who are mature, it's just a tourist gimmick. Walk through the whale's mouth and get your tacky T-shirts for $9.99! But to a toddler buckled into his car seat, riding past this monstrosity in the minivan, it must have been quite upsetting to see for the first time. And how would that jive with everybody else in the family exclaiming, "Oooo! Look at the WHALE!" His little subconscious was trying to figure it out.

I have the wisdom. I have the understanding. I see the big picture. But he can't. He's little. He's limited and immature. The power to soothe is an awesome power to wield, to know that I can wrap a little person up in my arms and he trusts me enough to give up the tangled emotions, whatever they may be, and be comforted - simply because I am there.

Pictures in the natural world often reflect deeper, spiritual truths. The changing of the seasons outside and the changing of the seasons of life. The union of Christ and the church pictured in a wedding ceremony. The way that days of calm follow days of storms. And everyone can understand about upset children because either we have comforted them...or we have been one ourselves. God set it up that way so that we can relate to what He's trying to say.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest," Jesus says in Matthew 11:28. And then this one - "Oh Jerusalem..." he says, probably with deep emotion in Matthew 23:37, "How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." He could not be clearer about His position on the matter. He has the tender heart of a parent, compassionate and strong. And His understanding of the bigger picture is infinite.

The open-mouthed whales of bad dreams are huge and scary, but gigantic real world problems have big teeth, too. Sometimes they threaten to swallow us. In my arms, though, the cement whale was rendered powerless. Mommy trumped the whale. When we allow ourselves to cuddle up in God's arms, to stop thrashing about like an upset toddler and instead are willing to be a chick under His wing, he shushes us. He blankets us and pacifies us.

Because no matter how big the cement whale is, He's bigger. The whale swims away. The waters are still. And peace comes.

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