Around 2:30 AM, if the night sky is clear enough, the moonlight streams through my window and cascades across my quilt. I say my quilt, it’s my mothers, a gift from her grandmother. It’s worn and torn and stained. Its patchwork has become threadbare. But the crisscrossing pattern made from my mother’s childhood clothing has always been a comfort to me. So, when I start having trouble sleeping, I will often hunt down this quilt and lay it out on my bed. Even at 19 years old, when I’m stressed or having bad dreams, I just want to hide under my mother’s quilt.
I know that the moonlight finds its way to my side of the house at about 2:30 AM because recently I have been up till then. Not in a night-owl-Netflix-binge kind of way. More like a desperately-need-to-sleep-but-my-mind-won’t-be-still kind of way.
My attitude towards the resurfacing of my insomnia varies, given how sleep deprived I am. Sometimes, I think that were Insomnia a person, I’d like very much to sucker-punch them. Then other times, I sit up in bed after too many failed attempts to shut down my mind and take a slow, deep breath. I listen to worship music. I pray. I talk to Jesus. I write, as I am now. Sometimes there is a peace that settles over my soul. An acceptance that I will rise in the morning void of energy, completely dependent on my 4th cup of coffee around mid-afternoon to get me through the day. Other nights, not so much. I often can’t sleep because of dreams. Dreams or memories. Sometimes they become so intertwined it’s hard to say which. On such nights I become overwhelmed. I’m not sure I can adequately describe what those nights are like in a way that does justice to the ache it causes in my soul. You know when you almost have a wreck? You slam on the brakes or swerve into the other lane, narrowly avoiding a vehicular disaster. In a flash, you can see the possibilities of how that scenario could have unfolded. Your heart skips and your seatbelt locks. For a few moments after, your heart rate remains elevated as you remain shaken, and your seat belt remains locked. That is how those late nights sometimes feel. It feels like my seatbelt is locked. I move, shifting my shoulders back and forth, but it only serves to crush my chest more. The more I fight, the longer it stays locked, and the longer it stays locked, the more my instinct to fight grows.
Most of us here in the Bible Belt of the south are familiar with Psalm 23.
The Lord is my Shepard.
I shall not want.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are with me.
I’ve known the Psalm by heart for what seems like forever. I learned it to song the same way I learned my ABCs.
Repetition does not often breed fondness. A song replayed 10,000 times eventually becomes mind-numbing. I’ve read, sang, heard, and recited that Psalm so often that its words are lost on me. But a portion of that Psalm was recently sent to me to encourage me in my restlessness. Despite knowing the Psalm by heart, I pulled out my Bible, with all its markings and sermon notes, and opened to Psalm 23. It was highlighted in bright green and purple, and I traced the markings with my finger by the light of the moon. I don’t remember highlighting it. But I have a habit of flipping through to commonly known verses and highlighting them as soon as I get a new Bible. I was given this Bible almost a year ago, so no doubt it’s been highlighted for at least that long.
I love the Psalms. If ever there were a book in the Bible that speaks to my soul, it would be Psalms. I was created with a heart that leaps at poetry.
At agony turned beautiful.
At anguish turned song.
A valley of death being so surely defied by the refusal of fear, as the Psalmist so boldly proclaims that The LORD is with them. A weary soul restored. A cup overflown. A Shepherd, leading His Beloved into green pastures. A table, so lovingly laid out in bountiful feast. A declaration of the promise of eternal dwelling in the house of The LORD.
I changed my mind about Psalm 23. I no longer find its familiarity boring. I’m thankful that I can recall it by memory. Because on those dark nights, when it feels like only the moon sees me, I can whisper it. I can pray it. I can sing it. I can ponder the Psalmist. I can allow the imagery of a pastures of peace and calming waters to fill my mind. I can picture the writer, perhaps on a dark night like this one, praying for the peace of his Shepherd to restore his soul. And sometimes, not every time, but sometimes, the seatbelt unlocks. Or at the very least it loosens, allowing me to breathe more deeply.
I wish that I could tell you that reciting scripture is a cure-all for those nights where sleep abandons me. I wish I could say the calming words of Psalm 23 lull me to sleep. That’s not always the case though. But it does loosen the seatbelt. And it reminds me I am not alone. I never have been.
Neither are you.