Tropical Storm Cindy blew through the United States last week, and I watched as Atticus excitedly followed her path. With great anticipation, he awaited the arrival of the storm’s lingering effects in our area of the globe. The rain was to arrive around midnight, and he had every intention of staying up late to greet her arrival. The forecast called for twenty-seven hours of rain, with a few storms and high winds in the mix. He was eager to experience the change in weather and hone his weather reporting skills. The excitement oozing from his body was unbelievable to watch as this hasn’t always been his reaction to threatening weather.
When Atticus was six years old, he developed a fascination for “extreme weather.” The more extreme the event, the more it appealed to him – as long as it stayed safely inside the pages of a book or locked inside the television and computer monitors.
He had two favorite books he studied regularly – one was about extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and floods, and the other was dedicated to tornadoes. He loved to relay information about the “complete and total devastation” those brutal beasts left in their paths. He spent hours online researching hurricanes – memorizing the names, locations, categories, and statistics of the ones that interested him most. His downtime was spent making handwritten lists of all the random weather events he had memorized, listing each storm from most extreme to least.
Learning about those events captivated his time and energy. Unfortunately, in the midst of his love affair with hurricanes and tornadoes, he quickly developed a fear of storms that over-ruled all rational thinking. When faced with weather events in his own backyard, panic and meltdowns ensued. With a simple cloudy day, or the slightest chance of rain, Atticus deemed it impossible to leave the house. In his mind, the end of the world was near, and he couldn’t be away from home when it all went down.
A couple of years ago, I took him to his first amusement park. The ninety degree heat, with the hot, blazing sun beating down on us, was miserable to withstand, but we persevered and made our way toward a water ride. While waiting in line, clouds rolled in, and his meltdown began.
Atticus quickly informed us that we had to leave RIGHT NOW! He said we had to go back home, a two hour drive away, and out run this storm. It wasn’t even raining at this point, nor did the clouds look threatening, but in Atticus’ mind, there was no way we could stay and survive.
I continued to assure him that they were just clouds and it wasn’t going to rain – then it rained. He tried to run away at one point, but I restrained him by grabbing his arm and making him stay in place. The woman in line in front of us was great. She tried to help by reassuring him and trying to take his mind off of the situation, without much success. As it turned out, she baby sat an autistic child, so she understood what was happening in that moment. Everyone around Atticus tried to assure him that the gentle, but firm, rain fall was nothing to be afraid of, but in moments like this, he can’t be convinced. The rain, thankfully, ended after a handful of minutes, and Atticus was fine again – until he wasn’t.
A couple of hours later, storm clouds rolled in – looming over us like an invasion from another world. We quickly found shelter in a yogurt shop. The winds picked up, and rain began to pour from the sky — thunder, lightning, and Atticus lost all control.
I had been through this scenario many times in private, and I have never been able to make him rationalize the situation. Now, here we were in a very public arena, and he was freaking out. He was crying and screaming that “we’re all going to die!” He kept telling us that we had to go to the car, that a car is the safest place during a storm, and that we had to go home. You couldn’t reason with him.
The manager, and an employee named Brittany, saw what was happening (how could you not?). They came over to us and gave Atticus a stuffed animal and told him to squeeze it. The plush animal helped a little, but Atticus wouldn’t stop screaming. After a few minutes, the manager came back to us and asked “Is it a visual thing?” Then he suggested we relocate Atticus. He took us over to a corner, at the end of the counter, where Brittany was waiting for us. We now had walls on three sides of us, and a crowd of people forming a fourth wall that shielded his view from the threat outside.
Brittany began talking with Atticus and asked him about his day. He told her he needed to go home. She asked him where he lived and Atticus told her, “We live far away. 141 miles away.” She continued to ask questions. Atticus continued to answer, while intermittently telling her that “God needs to stop this storm.” As Brittany continued to ask questions, Atticus abruptly stopped her and said, “I can’t answer that. I have to pray.” Everyone said, “OK.” Then Atticus bowed his head, folded his hands, asked his Heavenly Father to help him be calm as the storm rolled through, and to make the storm end quickly. Amen.
Brittany then asked Atticus what his favorite Bible story is. He said, “The whole new testament.” She told him her favorite story is Jonah. She asked him if he thinks Jonah was afraid inside the fish. He said, “Yes.” She asked Atticus what he thought Jonah did to make himself feel better. Atticus said, “He prayed.” Brittany asked him how long Jonah was inside the fish, and he told her three days and three nights. She said, “That’s a very long time. This storm isn’t going to last three days and three nights. It might last an hour – if it’s a really long storm.” Then she told Atticus, “You can be brave for an hour.” At that point, Atticus told her that he wanted to tell her the story of Jonah, and he began: “God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh, but Jonah disobeyed God…”
Soon, the thunder ceased, the winds calmed and there was only a light sprinkle falling on the ground outside. When we told Atticus the storm had passed, he said again, “I need to pray.” Then he bowed his head, folded his hands, prayed to the one true God, and thanked Him for answering his prayer.
God not only answered Atticus’ prayer that day – he answered mine. I was helpless in that moment. After dealing with similar situations in private, I still had no idea how to help Atticus deal with it emotionally. On that day, God showed me how to handle this situation by using two strangers in a yogurt shop.
Since that day, I’ve discussed Atticus’ fears with his intervention team and they have helped him learn coping skills to deal with his fear when the gray skies arrive. He’s now able to handle a cloudy day without any problems. He loves to stand in a mild rain, feel the drops roll down his face, and jump in puddles. He’s still frightened of tornadoes, but he gets by during warnings and watches by wearing a bike helmet and keeping a radio and flashlight handy. Now, he willingly stands outside, in the pouring rain, to “report” on a storm. He says he wants to be a meteorologist when he grows up – he wants to be the next Jim Cantore. I think he’s on his way.
As I watched my little boy anticipate the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy last week, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the many times God has shown up in the moments when Atticus needed Him most. I’m thankful for His presence in this sweet boy’s life and grateful for another answered prayer.
Psalm 91:1-2 He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.