The Night Watches

“He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” Psalm 121:3-4

Have you ever lost sleep over your child?

Let me guess…you just said DUH out loud.

Well, funny enough, I wasn’t expecting to have to deal with much of that.

When we first got our boys, they were 2 1/2 and 7 years old. I figured that since they weren’t babies, I’d have a pretty easy time of it.


Our 2-year old, nicknamed Nutkin, was learning to sleep in a big boy bed. Just about every night I would awake to the sound of a thud followed by a little muffled cry over the baby monitor and would go to comfort him. This happened once a night for maybe a couple of weeks. Sometimes he would have a nightmare. He needed to be snuggled in my arms for maybe fifteen minutes or so and then he went down for the rest of the night pretty easily.

The thought actually crossed my mind, Wow, this is easy!

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I had no idea that the greatest loss of sleep wouldn’t come from him at all.

Our oldest, who we affectionately refer to as “Pickle”, suffered severe trauma in his early years, much of which still remains unclear to us. Some things are in his file, while other things come up in conversation with him, rather nonchalantly at times.

During the first week or two of the boys settling into our home, Nutkin’s needs were the only ones expressed. Pickle was quiet, went to bed easily and didn’t seem to have anything bothering him at all. However, just as Nutkin was adjusting and needing me less at night, Pickle’s needs became so overwhelming and “in your face” that I felt like I was drowning.

I vaguely remember the first night it started (the episodes blended into each other quickly). Pickle was acting, I can only describe it as, odd. He was baring his teeth at us, smiling while lunging at us aggressively, saying that nothing was bothering him when we hadn’t even had the chance to ask him yet….just odd. We would soon come to recognize this as “normal” behavior for him when his emotions were needing to be organized.

I remember the first time he admitted that he missed his birth mom and my heart broke a little. I now recognize that I will never really be enough in his eyes, and even though I had been told that by some very knowledgeable people, I still had the fantasy that I could be.

What started as a soft conversation while rocking, and talking about her favorite color, favorite flower, happy memories of her (which were few then…and still are), became a dam breaking with emotion. First came the heaving sobs, followed by venomous anger at us, the judge, DHS and himself. He groped for someone to blame for his situation, but neither he, nor we DARED to place any of the blame with her. She was untouchable. After three years with us, he still is quick to blame himself for being removed from her care.

As the nights wore on, our bedtime routine often involved screaming, yelling, punching, kicking and the most skilled manipulation attempts that you can imagine. You hear about this kind of stuff on Lifetime Channel movies, but you think, That’s not for real. Well, I can assure you, it was very real. One night after he had punched Shane in the gut, I heard him whisper “He is dead and she is dead,” and I freaked out a little. We would try to comfort him, reason with him, ignore him…we were desperate. He would scream to lay on the couch, rather than in his own room with his little brother, so we would let him. Then, he would scream because we were leaving him alone in the dark. He would say he didn’t want to be read a story, but as soon as I left the room, he would demand that I read to him. When I would return to the room, he would shove me away and again, tell me he didn’t want to be read to. So I would leave again, and the screaming would start back up. And on and on and on it went. Different scenarios, same result. He was confused and we were confused. And exhausted.

At the time, Shane had a very demanding job schedule and could not be late or call in for fear of losing his job. We had no idea at the time that FMLA might have covered this sort of thing, and his workplace had very little understanding. The nights of putting the boys to bed at 9 PM but not actually getting Pickle to sleep until 2 AM were taking their toll. I clearly remember one night crawling into bed at around 1:30 utterly exhausted and just staring at the ceiling. When Shane entered the room, I asked, “Is it going to be like this forever?” Instead of, “No, honey,” which I desperately longed to hear, he flatly responded, “I have no idea.”

Thanks, Babe. Comforting.

Fast forward to today. I can’t tell you when it ended, because there wasn’t this magical day or event when it did. But, little by little, after hours of rocking, singing, crying, talking, praying, reading and more rocking, lots more rocking, hours of rocking, it is getting better. I still lose more sleep over our precious Pickle than either of our other kiddos. (We have fostered a beautiful baby girl off and on for the last two years.)

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We still have hard nights. There are entire months that are harder on him (and us) than others. Pickle still has “new” traumatic memories dredged up from time to time. He is extremely hyper-vigilant. He has nightmares that are severe, often violent and very vivid. He is in constant fear of peril because of these.  As part of his safety plan, (perhaps another story for another day), he has to have an alarm on his door. So, if the poor kid needs to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, I have to get up to let him out of his own room. Often, I am up with him once or twice each night…at least.

In light of all of the difficulties Pickle has at night, I feel sorry for him because he has to call on me.

Poor kid.

I am not a person who does well when my sleep is interrupted. At times I am cranky and nearly always I am incoherent. In fact, whereas some women are “morning glories” in the wee hours of the morning, Shane affectionately calls me his “snapdragon.”

In pondering the lesson that the Lord is trying to teach me in all of this, I am once again in awe of how my Heavenly Father uses my children to deliver the lesson.

The Bible says that our Father shall neither slumber nor sleep.

There have been times, regretfully, when my heart has longed for something other than Him, but He held me anyway. Often I have kicked and screamed (albeit emotionally) when I am frustrated with my circumstances, yet He patiently waits for me to calm down.  When I can’t turn my brain off and my thoughts stray, He listens. When I have a nightmare, He holds me in His warm embrace. When I am fearful, He assures me of His protection. When I am sick, He is with me in the night watches, and has healed me more times than I can count. When I wake in the middle of the night and need someone to talk to, He’s there when I call on His name. When I dread the day that lies before me, He gives me a song in the night to carry me through.

He has allowed me to wrestle Him until the break of day over something He called me to do that I struggled to yield to Him (yet another story for another day).

I’ve never heard Him say that He was too tired. He’s never asked me if we could talk about my concerns after He’s had His morning coffee. My needs have never, not once, interfered with His “down time,” because He doesn’t need it!

And though I do need down time, and like my caffeine, I’m beginning to recognize these quiet moments with my kiddos as opportunities to show them what the love of the Father should look like. This means I need to call on Him readily in the night watches.

So, the next time we need extra energy, patience, or love in those very night watches when our children need us most, we can confidently go to Him when we need Him most. And He will be there. As we hold our children, He will hold us. As we whisper words of peace to our kiddos, He will speak peace to our souls. As we lull them to sleep, He will give us that song in the night.

What a comfort to know that we can all safely rest in Him.

Do you have a story to share of what the Lord has taught you in the night watches? I’d love to hear from you!

Blessings and much love, 


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