Chronicles of Sadie

Sleepytime Terrors and Adrenaline-Filled Fathers

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They say sleep is the key to parental sanity. Correction—that’s what we say.

By about five weeks into this crazy process, Sadie Bell began sleeping through the night, which meant that Mommy and Daddy did as well. I don’t know about you, but being tired transforms me into a totally different person complete with fangs, venom, and sometimes the willingness to maim innocent bystanders. Funny thing is, I’m a fairly genteel individual with a love for all things peaceful. Get me sleepy, though, and all that flies out the door leaving me armed and dangerous.

That’s one of the main reasons I do so few “lock-ins” these days. In my early days of youth ministry, I can remember one particular lock-in that we did every year that was located about an hour from the church at a go-cart/arcade/lazer tag joint. After a night of mindless running around, picking off middle-schoolers with laser guns, and trying to get kicked out by continually breaking the rules and bumping each other’s go-carts on the track, we would load the van and begin the hour-long drive back to the church to meet the parents and send everyone home.

That hour was always always one of the worst hours of my life. The morning sun would peak over the distant horizon and taunt my weighty eyelids with the realization that my circadian rhythm had lost its beat and I had cheated the night of its right to provide me rest. I would be repaid with certain drowsiness, crankiness, and possibly even delusions. And of course, I always had that one youth leader who “promised” to stay awake and talk to me to protect me from falling asleep. Without fail, I would look over only to see them hunched over in their seat sawing logs somewhere in distant La La Land. But I could always count on one middle schooler (a different one each time) sitting on the very front seat and creepily staring at me the entire time, which made me want to close my eyes and go to sleep even more, if nothing else but to get away from the piercing stare of awkward adolescence.

So when Sadie began sleeping through the night, the whole house settled into a much more restful existence. Even our dog, Brutus, seemed to feel better. Laura and I learned that although our days of staying out late had been culled down to just a few every once and a while, the regularity of Sadie’s sleep schedule provided quite the nightlife for us at home. These usually included late-night desserts and DVR episodes of Man vs. Wild, Heroes, Chuck, Iron Chef America, or Chopped—or several other Food Network shows. Are you catching a theme here about food? It’s no wonder new parents often put on the weight.

After spending some time together watching television or talking, cleaning up the toys in the living room, loading up the mountain of Sadie’s dishes, and starting a load or two of Sadie’s clothes, Laura and I (along with Brutus) would usually turn in for a restful night of sweet sleep. However, when Sadie was almost a year old, we had a nocturnal experience I will never forget.

Out of a dead slumber, Laura and I were roused by the sounds of screaming coming from Sadie’s room—and I mean an absolute toe-curling, blood-curdling cry of tortuous despair. I don’t remember stopping to think, but I found myself sprinting through the house in my underwear fully expecting by the sounds of her wailing to find an intruder trying to snatch her or a wild animal climbing up her bed rails to snack on her sweetness. Adrenaline pumping through every artery and vein of my body, I was ready to take on Goliath, the mafia, and Al Queda all at once. I was like an older, less-attractive, weaker, slower, and half-naked version of brave little David and his slingshot—except I had no actual weapon save the shock value of my near nudity.

When I flung open the door, there was no intruder and no rabid animal. There was only Sadie still screaming at full force. Laura was close behind me and we snatched Sadie up to immediately begin taking off her clothes. We thought she had possibly been being bitten by an insect or something. Thankfully, we never found a thing wrong with her.

We concluded she must have had a night terror—a dream so real she could not distinguish it from reality. Terror was my reality that night as well! I can’t even begin to describe the autopilot responses that kicked into gear when my brain thought something might be wrong with my little darling. Some call it “fight or flight.” Call it whatever you wish, but some seemingly dormant caveman in me was ready to do some clubbing to protect what was mine!

After quite some time of rocking and soothing, I stopped shaking and Sadie rejoined her friends in the land of Sleepy Time. Sidebar, I always wonder what little ones really dream about. I always ask Sadie if she dreamt of puppies, princesses, ponies, and penguins—it just seems right, though she can’t actually tell me yet. At least I get to alliterate.

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And I’m back. That night of adrenaline caused me to reflect upon a fact easily lost in the muddled culture we live in: we are made in God’s image. In his likeness. Sharing raw semblances of his traits. I think our “autopilot” moments reveal our eternal roots and bring out the pre-programmed basics buried somewhere deep within our Twenty-First Century spirits. If this is true and if I feel an innate and incredibly powerful auto-response mechanism kick in for my child when I sense danger, my bet is that God feels similar emotions too. I probably inherited that trait from him.

Sure, God does have the advantage of knowing exactly what is going on without having to run to find out, but the instinctive paternal reactions within this little father’s heart are God-designed and God-installed. I could only use one or two verses to drive home my point, but I want to leave you with the ultimate Father’s adrenaline-soaked reaction to the troubled agonizing screams of his treasured child.

Psalm 18: 6-19 (NLT) paints the picture of David’s waking night terror in the midst of life’s harsh circumstances. When you read through it below at the end of this reflection, take note the sequence: David cried out (vs 6), God heard (vs. 6), God showed up in an impressive array of power and glory that made my little underwear run seem even more comical (vs. 7-15), God reached down, rescued him, and led him to a place of safety simply because he delighted in his child (vs. 16-19).

That’s some protective parent we’ve got listening through the baby monitor of the heavenlies! See, we Mommies and Daddies come by it honestly. Here’s the kicker: unlike yours truly, our heavenly Father doesn’t get tired or cranky. He is consistently the same in grace and strength. So do not be afraid to cry out; he is not afraid to run to your defense. May you find rest in that realization today and may you and your little ones sleep peacefully.

Psalm 18: 6-19 (NLT)

6 But in my distress I cried out to the Lord;
yes, I prayed to my God for help.
He heard me from his sanctuary;
my cry to him reached his ears.

7 Then the earth quaked and trembled.
The foundations of the mountains shook;
they quaked because of his anger.
8 Smoke poured from his nostrils;
fierce flames leaped from his mouth.
Glowing coals blazed forth from him.
9 He opened the heavens and came down;
dark storm clouds were beneath his feet.
10 Mounted on a mighty angelic being,he flew,
soaring on the wings of the wind.
11 He shrouded himself in darkness,
veiling his approach with dark rain clouds.
12 Thick clouds shielded the brightness around him
and rained down hail and burning coals.
13 The Lord thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded
amid the hail and burning coals.
14 He shot his arrows and scattered his enemies;
his lightning flashed, and they were greatly confused.
15 Then at your command, O Lord,
at the blast of your breath,
the bottom of the sea could be seen,
and the foundations of the earth were laid bare.

16 He reached down from heaven and rescued me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemies,
from those who hated me and were too strong for me.
18 They attacked me at a moment when I was in distress,
but the Lord supported me.
19 He led me to a place of safety;
he rescued me because he delights in me. 

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