There was ocean all around me as far as my eyes could see. No land in sight, only a vast dark sea, with me in the middle of it treading water. While I was in the middle of these waters, I was also watching as an observer, a frequent experience of one in the midst of a nightmare. I could feel my heart pounding and my limbs tiring, and most of all, I could feel the weight of my newborn baby heavy in my arms. If only I could keep our heads above water, then maybe we would survive.
I woke from this now-familiar nightmare drenched by a combination of sweat and milk leaking from my swollen breasts. My hands reached out to my newborn baby girl stirring beside me in bed. Instinctively, I pulled her close and settled her at the breast; relief flooded the two of us as she nursed. As I watched her contented face, drawing nourishment and comfort from my own body, I wondered if she too had dreams. Just a few short weeks ago, she and I were one, sharing blood, oxygen and so much more as she grew from conception to birth, nestled in my womb. Though two separate persons, we were one for nine months. I wondered if she somehow shared my dreams — and if she did, could she see them now? I hoped my baby did not share this strange dream that in a few weeks had become a frequent nightmare.
I told myself that the nightmares were just part of postpartum hormonal adjustments. I had the mood swings of elation and despair in the midst of the normal adjustments of motherhood. Everything about this baby was different from her brother and two sisters before her. From the first moment I held her in my arms, right after delivery, I knew there was something wrong. Normally a very confident mother, I found myself asking my husband, my family and friends, even the doctors, if they had concerns about my baby Johanna. I got every answer from, “It’s your ‘advanced maternal age,’”, to “you’re just so busy with all those kids.” Still, my subconscious was giving rise to my fears as I slept and by day I kept hearing the same message, “You are a gifted mother. Trust your instincts.”
The night the doctors called us into the CAT scan reading area and showed us the massive fluid flooding the surface of Johanna’s brain, I began to understand. Frequently referred to as “water on the brain,” this fluid reminded me of the dark vast oceans in my dreams and now I knew the dreams were warnings sent from God to prepare me for what lie ahead.
The subject of dreams is a fascinating one. Explanations for dreams range from clinical manifestations of underlying psychological trauma or hormonal shifts or even food sensitivities. Others see dreams as signs to be interpreted, messages from the universe about our destiny or from our subconscious trying to bring something to our conscious awareness. I decided a long time ago, not to over-evaluate my dreams and from this simplicity, they have become for me, a treasured avenue of grace.
The Psalmist writes, “God gives to His beloved, even in sleep.” (Psalm 127:2) I like the thought of God taking care of details while I sleep. That works for me. Most of us have experienced the gift of a good night’s sleep; the refreshment and restoration of our bodies. Many of us can also recall solutions that came to mind as we slept or rather when we woke up from a restful night’s sleep. Some of us also have dreams that seem to bear a message or a reminder of someone we need to connect with or a situation that needs our attention. I believe these are all ways that God visits us in our sleep and gives us what we need to fulfill the plans and purposes that we were created to fulfill in our lives.
The scriptures are full of examples of dreams being a powerful way for God to speak to His people. In the Old Testament, God used the dreams of kings and prophets as warnings and foretelling of future events. Joseph (Genesis 37:1-11) was just a teenager when he shared his dreams with his brothers. The dreams indicated that Joseph would one day rule over his family and despite his brothers’ attempts to thwart them, these dreams came to fruition. In the New Testament, God used dreams to prepare the way for the Lord and promote the message of Salvation to all the world. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus had two significant dreams; one to explain Mary’s pregnancy (Matthew 1:20) and another to warn protect the Holy Family from the wrath of Herod (Matthew 2:13).
Sometimes I have crazy, nonsensical dreams that I readily ignore. Other times, I am acutely aware of the presence and voice of the Lord speaking to me in a dream. The water dreams were like that.
For at least the first five years of her life, I continued to have dreams about me being out in the ocean with Johanna. The dreams often preceded an event: a new hemorrhage in Johanna’s brain or a shunt malfunction that would send her back to operating room.
Sometimes it was the same as the original dream; a vast dark ocean with me holding Johanna and treading to keep both our heads above water. Other dreams began with a fun family day at the beach, but as we played at the water’s edge, a tsunami would ensue and huge tidal waves would pull our little family out to sea. In the dreams, my husband and I scrambled to save the children and ourselves and always, I held Johanna in my arms to keep her head above the water.
Then one night, when Johanna was about six years old, God spoke to me in the dream. As I saw myself out in the middle of the ocean holding my baby in my arms, I heard these words: “You can let go. You are in the ocean of My Mercy. As you let go, the ocean waters will rise over your heads and you will feel like you are drowning. Have no fear. I will teach you a new way to breathe underwater.”
For the first time, I felt immense peace in this dream and I woke knowing God was going to show us how to live that peace, even when it feels like we are drowning. The very next day, as if to confirm the God’s word in my dream, Johanna decided it was the first time to swim underwater, in our above ground pool. As she took a breath and swam beneath the water to my open arms, I took a breath, reminding myself that we live this life in the ocean of God’s merciful love.
Yes, I am convinced that God visits His beloved in sleep and speaks to us in our dreams.
With the Psalmist we pray:
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 121)
Eileen Benthal has a B.A. in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer, speaker and wellness coach at 40DaysToFocus.com and NOFO Wellness Center. She works with clients locally and around the U.S. who are excited about balancing their health in body, mind and spirit.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, 16-year-old Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org andfacebook.com/40DaysToFocus.