Take shelter

Have you ever thought about the purpose of a blanket fort? You’ve probably made one before: blankets strewn across chairs and pillows on the floor, like a sheik’s tent nestled by a desert oasis. From an adult’s perspective, it looks like blankets that will have to be refolded and throw pillows not designed for sitting upon and chairs which have been dragged to new locations, leaving scuff marks on the hardwood floor. But to kids it’s a shelter. A warm, shadowed place for them to feel cozy and safe.


Our family recently attended a funeral for a dear friend. As the six of us lined up and walked down a church pew, our youngest son was the last of the group to be seated. Not overly pleased to be in “Big Church” on a Thursday, he plopped down with the tall end of the church pew on his left and me on his right. In spite of the loving, celebratory tone for the memorial service, I noticed our son scooting in to the protection of my side. I rested my arm behind him on the back of the pew, and he leaned in. The solid wood on his left and the warmth of his mom on his right was comforting and protective. It was a safe shelter in a stormy place where fathers pass away and people around him cry through several tissues.


The Book of Psalms is full of language describing a desire to feel that kind of protection and shelter in moments of sadness and fear.


“Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Psalm 17 (NIV)


“For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.” Psalm 27 (NIV)


“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4 (NIV)


“I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” Psalm 61 (NIV)


With 2017 coming to an end, the general consensus is that it’s been a tumultuous year. Floods and fires and fighting in Washington has made me yearn for a safe and protective place. I want the shelter a baby bird feels as he draws in to the soft feathers of his mother, when she pulls her child in close and rests her wing on top of him.


I crave the dark, muffled stillness of a blanket fort. Heavy blankets draped across chairs and me cuddled beneath.


But most of all, I desire the same thing the Psalmist David did so many thousands of years ago. I crave a refuge, a warm safety, a shelter.

Be Still

Since he was four years old, my son has suffered from migraine headaches. When he has an episode, the sequence of events is usually the same: He comes into our room around 3:00 a.m. He sidles up to my side of the bed and tells me his head hurts. I try to shake the fuzziness from my sleepy brain and focus on his dark silhouette and whispered words. After a minute, I get up and walk him to the kitchen where I dispense a dose of Motrin despite the fact that he will vomit it and everything else an hour or so later.


Early on, we took him to specialists. He was tested and scanned and given a clean bill of health. Nothing to worry about but nothing much we can do for him.


His headaches have decreased in the last year, and for this we are grateful. But when he does get one, my number one priority—in fact my only purpose for being awake in the wee hours of the morning—is to help him sleep. I know if I can only get him to fall asleep he will feel better. Two hours of uninterrupted, shut-eye is the best medicine for his headache to go from a pulsing, puking nightmare to a dull thud.


So I make his room as dark as possible. I adjust his ceiling fan and blankets to be sure he’s not too hot and not too cold. I try to create the most relaxing environment possible but, in the end, he has to will himself to sleep. He must choose to breathe deeply, stop grinding his teeth, and relax his scrunched up eyes and clenched fists. I can’t do it for him.


His distress reminds me of my own misery. Mine isn’t usually the physical kind, but it often involves fist-clenching and teeth-grinding, and if it goes on too long, some eye-twitching. My affliction is stress. I take on too much and bottle it up, owning the deadlines and commitments and failures until they wind me up like a tightly coiled spring—until they own me.


But I have a Heavenly Father who sits alongside me as I stew over my to-do list (and my shouldn’t-do list and my what-if list and my do-better list). He brushes the stray hairs from my face and rubs his thumb along my wrinkled forehead. Then he whispers, “Be still. I’m God, not you. I’m your ever-present help in times of trouble. Even if the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, I’ll still be here. So just be still.”


When I finally listen, I can feel his presence. My playlist of “Self-Reproach and Impending Disaster: Volume 101” stops repeating in my head. Well, let’s be honest, the words are still there but they move (maybe temporarily) into the background. Then I breathe deeply of His Spirit, and I unclench my fists so my hands are ready to accept His offerings of peace. I relax my scrunched up eyes so I can rest, so I can at last be still.