11 o’clock is about the time of night Daniel and I head to bed. When it’s finally time for us to lock up the house, turn out the lights and rest our heads on our pillows, I start to get nervous, because I know what’s coming. For Daniel, sleep is easy; his biggest issue is what I’m going to randomly do in the middle of the night that will stir him from sleep.
Sometimes we pray before we call it a night and sometimes we are so tired that both of us are asleep before we can do anything else.
A strange shift happens in between 12:30 and 1 a.m. each night. Something in my mind goes from reality to a different world, that looks similar to what the real world is… except for the things that weren’t there when I fell asleep.
I’ll open my eyes and see things I can’t describe to you most of the time, because they are indescribable and unmistakably evil. Sometimes I’m petrified still, and other times I jump up out of bed in an attempt to escape the room from the freak show that’s after me. After what feels like forever, but what is probably only forty five seconds time, I come to, either by realizing that the images aren’t actually there or by being shaken by Daniel. My reaction once I’m coherent differs depending on the severity, but it often ends in me crying.
I suffer from night terrors.
I know there’s a lot of curiosity and intrigue surrounding night terrors, and I know that they happen to people all over the world. The difference between a nightmare and a night terror is that generally, a nightmare is a bad dream that happens while you are sleeping and your eyes are closed. But night terrors happen when your eyes are open; it’s similar to hallucination. It wasn’t something I became familiar with until about 3 years ago, after I started sexual abuse counseling. When I was a child, I experienced pretty extreme sleep walking, and as a teen/young adult I encountered many demons in my dreams. I thought those dreams were the worst night time issues one could experience, until I started having night terrors. I never thought I’d say this, but I’d take the physical battles I had with evil spirits in my dreams any day over the horror that overtakes my vision in the middle of the night now. At least in the dreams, I was asleep and could wake up to reality.
The previous bout of them before this current season lasted about a year…? Or maybe it was longer; I don’t remember. Back then, the terrors had one thing in common: Daniel wasn’t my actual husband, and he was giving me over to the darkness. That overall theme manifested itself in many different terrifying images. It wasn’t until I was at my wits end one night that Daniel asked me what all of them had in common that I was able to figure it out- and boy was it a hard night. The truth kinda just spilled out of my mouth.
The only other important man in my life wasn’t who he said he was. He was a liar and a monster. If my dad wasn’t who he said he was, then how can I believe you are who you say you are?
I cried so hard into Daniel’s shoulder that night. So, so hard. But it was worth it, because I didn’t have another night terror for I think a year and a half.
And then last October came. Daniel was doing a favor for his previous employer and working sound for a festival. It was a late night and he wasn’t going to get in until the wee hours of the morning. I’m not able to sleep when he isn’t home, so it was well after 1 in the morning before I started to doze off. Between 2 and 2:30 a.m., I was abruptly shaken out of sleep by a loud knock on the door. I naturally assumed it was Daniel needing me to let him in because he forgot his key. When I stepped out into the living room, I saw blue and red lights shining through the dining room window, and my stomach sank into my knees and my heart started to pound wildly. The walk from the living room to the front door is about 12 feet, but I felt myself walk forever. When I opened the door, two police officers were looking at me, and I swear it felt like an eternity before they spoke. In that eternity, my eyes welled up with tears as I braced myself to hear that my husband had been in an accident on his way home. I even got light headed. The male police officer finally spoke, and asked me if I drove the silver volvo that was parked in our driveway. Confused, I said yes, and he proceeded to tell me it was broken into.
I don’t know if there has ever been a more audible sigh of relief than the one that came out of me. I had to hold onto the door frame while I gathered my faculties and told them how happy I was to hear that my car was broken into. Naturally, they looked at me like I was a crazy person, and I told them that my husband was on his way home from work and I thought they were here to tell me he had died.
We filed a police report and I went back to bed. Daniel got home around 3:30, and everyone was asleep and safe in our house. The End.
The last 8 months I have spent many hours praying and crying, trying to figure out what it was about that night that started something in me, because shortly after that was when the night terrors started again. At first I figured I needed to grieve those few moments I thought I had lost my husband forever. I described it and sobbed and thanked God that what I thought was happening didn’t turn out to be reality for me. That should have been it, right?
The terrors kept coming, and I kept searching for the reason why.
Last Saturday was a wonderful. Daniel and I went to the beach with some of our friends, and we called it #nokidbeachday. Ya’ll, I love my children…. but it was a long and hellishly hot summer, and this mom needed some recess. I got my relaxation, and had that awesome beach fatigue when it was time for bed. I didn’t even have my usual nervousness before bed because I was so exhausted. Right as I felt like I was dozing, something didn’t feel right. I asked Daniel to pray, and he did, but I kept falling asleep. A few minutes later, a voice snapped me awake. It wasn’t my voice and it definitely wasn’t Daniels, so I knew something was starting. I don’t like to admit this, but I was just so tired from the day and from the last 8 months of this nonsense, that I mentally said “whatever” and gave in to sleep without prayerfully attempting to fight what was about to happen. I gave up.
What followed was one of the worst night terrors I’ve ever had. Daniel wasn’t my husband, but a people-seller, and when I opened my eyes, I saw babies in cages and dark creatures controlling and buying them. IN MY ROOM. This was one of the most vivid and memorable ones I’ve had; usually they are so abstract that I can’t describe them afterwards, or days later. But this- it was just so awful what I was seeing that I remember my mouth dropping open. But something happened a little differently this time. I didn’t snap out of it and it was gone like usual. I realized what was happening wasn’t real, but the images didn’t go away, so I started to pray out loud in my room. Very firmly, I told whatever was doing this to me was going to leave in the name of Jesus, and I repeated it over and over. The room cleared and it was just Daniel and myself, but I was not okay. The feeling of something very dark was lingering, and I woke Daniel up and asked him to pray.
He started to pray for me and our house, and as he commanded things to leave, I felt increasingly uncomfortable. He kept praying, and the feeling that overwhelmed me was one I’ve not felt in so long and one I hope to never feel again.
I felt abandoned by God. Like, He was just gone. No where to be found. It was like my soul was trembling and radiating out to the tips of my fingers, and fear completely overtook me. I was panicking and wordless and honestly terrified I wouldn’t make it through the night, and then something quiet happened: I started to pray like David did in the Psalms.
I’ve read through the Psalms many times, but I’ve never memorized any of it. So it came as a shock when all of a sudden I was saying words that sounded strikingly similar to what David moaned to God when he felt despairing and abandoned. I even thought to myself as I was praying, “how am I praying this right now?”
And then I remembered what the Holy Spirit does. He intercedes for us when we have no words. He knows the aches and groans that are so deep and painful that our minds can’t interpret them into words ourselves. He stepped in at the right time and reminded me that He hasn’t left. He’s there, but I’ve just squashed his voice with the loudest lies ever believed.
Lies always seem to be much louder than the truth. Or maybe my ears aren’t fine tuned enough yet to hear the truth over the lies.
I was able to finally calm down enough to talk soberly with Daniel. I was at a desperate point to figure this out- I’ve been there the entire month of August. Desperate to stop being a lost boy, desperate to stop hating my body (we’ll save that for the next blog post), desperate to… to not have these damned night terrors anymore. But what was the lie?
Sin is birthed from a lie. A temptation to buy into anything else besides trusting the Creator of the Universe.
I started to beg Daniel to tell me what was wrong with me. Just help me see because I can’t do this myself, clearly. He plainly stated that the theme of these terrors seem to be an altered state that God isn’t a part of. You live in this reality all day long, but at night, reality turns into a world where God is absent. And then he said the thing- HE SAID THE THING I’D BEEN WAITING TO HEAR- and it crushed me and gave me the sweet relief I’d been anticipating for 8 months:
You don’t believe God is who He says He is. You can’t just accept that He’s delivered you from a life of chaos. Your guard was down for a while, and then that night in October happened and you put it back up.
So much relief mixed with a heaping spoonful of conviction took over as I spilled out words of confession, realizing things as they were coming out of my mouth. It’s so crazy when that happens, isn’t it? When things fall out so easily that it’s shocking that you didn’t see any of it before.
But that’s the thing about the lies we believe. They harpoon themselves into our hearts, and after a while, they become so much a part of who you are that you don’t know you’re living your life through the filter of those lies, and identifying them feels nearly impossible because they’ve meshed themselves into your existence.
Here’s the crazy thing, the wild thing about the God that loves me: He would allow me to endure 8 months of terror-filled nights to get me to a place where I can freaking dig down to that lie and rip it bloody out. I know this sounds insane, but THAT is a God worth trusting. I was believing that God didn’t really love me, that He would eventually abandon my family to destruction and not protect me from myself, and I would ultimately be separated from Him. I WAS BELIEVING THAT, even though during the day I thank Him for loving me and helping me and saving me. At night the lies manifested itself by showing me what life is without God- and it’s hell. It’s HELL.
I’ve been two nights terror-free. I’d like to tell you it’s been great, and it has, but I think my body has experienced such a sleep deficit that now that I’m able to sleep, my body never wants to get up. It just wants to hibernate for a week or maybe a month and catch up on all of the lost rest.
But I gotta tell ya- all of this lie purging… it’s really worth it. Two weeks ago I talked about my security blanket and let that go, and last week I uncovered an 18-year-old lie about my body. August 2016 is definitely going down in the books as some kind of spiritual circus, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want September to be cool down time.
We’ve been going through peacemaking at Church on the Way, and I think there’s a correlation between that and all of this soul work. The more God works on me, the more grace, understanding and forgiveness I have towards others. Beyond that, I’m starting to, dare I say it, fall in love with people. I’ve always “loved” people in theory, and I can be very passionate about bringing people together, but to actually LOVE you, like… be a die hard advocate for you? That’s difficult. We bump into each other and sometimes it hurts and I don’t like that. But discovering who I REALLY AM is showing me exactly what God has saved me from, and I can’t help but feel that pull to wave my white flag at love. Just fall right into it, even if you’re prickly and may poke me. I’m prickly too. It’s funny- we are all distinctly unique in our creation, yet we are all so much the same in our hearts.
It seems like the more honest I am, the harder it is to come up with some put-together conclusion. I just wanna share the stuff I’m experiencing in hopes that you’ll step a little closer to the God that loves us. He really is good; you’ll never be able to talk me out of it
We were living at my grandmother’s house; my father’s mother. I was 5, and plenty had already happened to me.
Someone rented this movie called Hook, probably my dad. My parents both had night shifts at Anthony’s pizza. I don’t remember my Grandma Shirley building me a sheet tent any other time, but she did on this night. I laid on my stomach, disappearing into that magical place that sheet tents provide for a kid. There were chocolate chip cookies and a movie I’d never heard of being put on.
Peter Panning was old; grumpy and boring, and completely disconnected. But then Julia Roberts entered the scene, and my heart began to drift into another world, as she led Peter and myself past the clock, through the clouds and into the morning light.
I’ll probably never forget that night.
I loved Disney’s version of Peter Pan, but Hook… it made this fantasy feel more tangible. More real. Something I could achieve, at least in my heart. The sad thing I missed as a child was that Hook was a story of family reconciliation. It encouraged coming back to reality, not leaving it.
But I wanted to leave.
A few weeks ago, several people (including my husband) messaged me within a few hours of each other telling me to listen to this song called Lost Boy by Ruth B. I’m not sure why, but I ignored the first several suggestions. But after the 4th person asked me if I had listened to it, I caved. I laid down on my bed with ear buds, which is unusual for me to do when listening to a suggested song. But there was a prickle inside me to really hear it. It started, and I don’t think I even got through the first chorus and I was already sobbing.
“I am a lost boy from Neverland, usually hanging out with Peter Pan and when we’re bored we play in the woods, always on the run from Captain Hook. “Run, run, lost boy, ” they say to me. Away from all of reality.”
Someone wrote a song about me.
How did she know? How could she have known what happened in my heart all of those years ago in that sheet tent?
Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Wendy Darling, even Captain Hook, you are my perfect story book…
I felt out of place as a child. It’s difficult to describe, but it was like I was living and watching the world happen around me like it was a sequence of images that I wasn’t a part of, but could stick my hand in and walk around. I felt weird and different, and often rejected. I became familiar with loneliness when I was 3. I remember feeling it in my loft- yes, I had a loft, with stairs that led up to it and everything. An extra room in our townhouse just for me, filled with stuffed animals and toys… and loneliness.
I love my siblings deeply, but having them only further solidified that distance and rejection I felt on a regular basis. My parents were just trying to survive, and no one ever seemed to know how to live well or fix all of the broken. Everyone was just surviving with painted smiles on their faces, and I saw it from the beginning. I remember realizing I needed this man called Jesus when I was 3, but even knowing he was there-ish, there wasn’t a clinging-to with Him, because I didn’t know how to even do that.
Along came Peter Pan. I remember closing my eyes late at night and imagining Tinker Bell pattering on my window until I let her in; flying above my head and sprinkling a sparkly fix that would lift me into the air and take me away.
…”As we soared above the town that never loved me, I realized I finally had a family, Soon enough we reached Neverland, peacefully my feet hit the sand and ever since that day…”
…it’s had a decent amount of my heart. You’ve heard me talk about Peter Pan over the years; it’s why so many people sent me the song saying “this reminds me so much of you!”
It wasn’t until I listened to it that I realized that it’s not a good thing that Ruth B’s song reminds you of me.
For a massive portion of my life on earth so far, I’ve allowed a fantasy to be my family. I’ve been in community with a fairy tale. As I type this, a sick feeling rises in my stomach and my skin feels awkward and tingly. My flesh is completely uncomfortable with sharing this with you because it wants to keep it to itself, like an invisible security blanket. I’ll walk outside, and participate with others, and laugh and cry and experience life… with my secret blanky.
Writing this is like leaving my blanky on the bed and stepping out into the world without it.
You know what just came to my mind as I typed that last sentence? Oh my gosh, I totally forgot about this.
In a Charlie Brown Christmas, after Charlie Brown gets that pathetic tree and everyone is pissed at him, he yells “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus proceeds to share the story of Jesus birth, and when he says, “and the angel said unto them, ‘fear not…'” he drops his blanket, and proceeds to tell the rest of the story. What a subtle yet massive example of the power Christ has over fear.
Even though I claim to be a child of God, I’ve still been holding onto my lost boy identity. I succumbed to it when I was 5 and I’m almost 30, and it’s still in there.
I can’t be both.
I’m not a lost boy.
I’m a marvel made from dirt by the hands of the Beginning and the End, the Creator of the universe, a universe that holds worlds much more magnificent than Neverland. I belong to the 3-in-1, which puts even the best of fantasies to shame and the thing science will never be able to explain.
You know why that song feels like someone figured out a way to get into my heart and then write a tune about how I feel?
Because everyone feels this way, at some point. I’m not special. We all walk around each other, lost boys with nerve endings on the outside, recoiling at the slightest blow of the wind. We have all felt weird and out of place and rejected.
It’s why stories like Peter Pan, Harry Potter, The Grinch, and many others are so wildly adored. They are stories of outcasts who finally find what they are looking for- a place to belong.
I’m coming to realize that so much of our reactions come out of that desperate place of wanting to be loved and accepted and known. That breaks my heart. IT BREAKS MY HEART THAT WE ARE THIS WAY. That someone, anyone, millions of people, right now in this moment, are feeling left out, abandoned, and forgotten.
The truth is, God wants YOU, and He welcomes you in, exactly the way you are, lost and all. He’s not gonna let you stay a lost boy though. If you walk towards Him, He’s going to spend the entirety of your life getting into that beat up heart of yours and pull all of the yuck out. All of those lies you’ve ever believed and all of the things you cling to. He wants you found and free, not lost. He’s gonna give you family that transcends earthly blood, and redeems all of the broken bits and pieces that have left you terrified of people and vulnerability. He’s gonna do it through celebrations, and sufferings, and conflict and reconciliation, and it’s all gonna produce a joy in you that can’t be explained. You’ll be known, and you’ll belong, and there won’t be anything anyone or you can do to change that.
You don’t have to be a lost boy, and I don’t have to be either.