“Mom, the clouds are dark. I think there’s going to be a tornado.”
“No, Sam. There’s no tornado.”
“I think the sky is turning green,” he said, his pitch rising, and eyes frantically searching the sky for clues. “I’m afraid there’s going to be a tornado!”
“Samuel. Look at my eyes,” I said quietly. “There is NO tornado.”
Later that evening, we drove to my parents’ house to spend the night. After the kids were in bed, we heard the storm hit. The wind and rain pounded against the house as lightning flashed outside. A clap of thunder startled us and I heard the anticipated wail from the boys’ room. Sam’s hands reached out and grabbed me as I sat on the bed. “There’s a tornado outside!!!” he cried. Ben whined about the noise his brothers were making as he tossed in his bed, trying to go to sleep. More lightning. More thunder. The cries got louder.
Moving Sam to my bed in the guest room, I got him settled in with his new Star Wars weighted blanket his Gran had made for him. But nothing was good enough to calm his nerves from the storm raging outside – and within. He fears tornadoes as badly as I fear heights and roller coasters. That’s a lot. His mind was already racing with the facts he knows about tornadoes: there is wind. There is rain. They are loud. The sky gets dark. Nevermind that it was already nighttime, and darkness only worsens the fears.
My dad had told me that it was moving through pretty quickly and would be gone within 20 minutes. But right then, we were right in the middle of the storm. The sky continued to thunder and the lightning lit up the room through the window. With each thunder clap and lightning strike, Sam jolted even more. His breath came in short, fast bursts. He was crying, but it quickly turned to wailing. He threw his head from side to side, clutching his blanket with white knuckles. I saw that his eyes were glazed over and they were filled with sheer terror. I climbed directly on top of him, on top of all his covers, and wrapped both of my arms under and around his small body. I held him as tightly as I possibly could. My head rested on the pillow next to his, and I began to whisper into his ear. “It’s okay. Thunder can’t hurt you. It’s only noise. Jesus will keep us safe.” I knew logic wouldn’t do any good, but I tried it anyway. “Lightning can’t hurt you in here. You’re safe. Mommy’s got you. The storm is leaving. It will be gone soon.”
“How much longer?” he whimpered.
“Just a few more minutes, sweetheart. Just a few more minutes. You’re safe. It’s okay.”
His fear turned to anger as he demanded to know why God let the storm happen. “I already know He’s powerful. Why does He keep showing me? God just wants me to be scared.”
“No, Sam. God doesn’t want you to be scared. He loves you very much. Let’s pray and ask Him to help you not to be afraid and to keep you safe.”
Nodding his head and tears still sliding down his cheeks, he repeated my words as I prayed for peace in the midst of the storm. His voice began to calm down and his body began to relax as he prayed. He sounded urgent in his prayers, but calm. The storm moved farther away and after we were done praying, we just lay there together. I silently continued praying for Sam. The storm of autism had taken over his mind and body and I knew it would be hard not to think about the storm outside even after it was gone. I knew he would have lots of questions about it, and would likely be fearful of it coming back. I prayed for sleep to overcome him. For peace to flood his mind and soul. For understanding and the ability to reason to overcome his fears.
“See? The storm is moving away now. It’s leaving. It’s not as loud anymore. It’s not lightning as much. Everything is okay,” I softly reminded him as I stroked his hair. His breathing had slowed and was more steady. He stared out the bedroom door into the lit hallway. His fingers moved back and forth across the fabric of his well-loved red blanket.
“I love you,” I whispered into his ear. Without looking back at me, he replied, “I love you too.” He turned briefly to kiss me and then returned to staring into the hall, his eyes heavy as he slipped into a peaceful sleep.
The storms were over.