Stinging words curl through the grapevine like searing smoke, and I gasp, suffocating. I am distracted by a black storm, by the flicking tongue of a squint-eyed snake bent on spreading its own dark poison. The deception threatens the fixing of my eyes. Except. Except that God is my Father. And He hasn’t left me here defenseless. I am your shield, He whispers, so close I can feel Him next to me, despite the thick smoke—the bruised cloud—obscuring my clear view. Look.at.me, He says, and I feel His mighty hands against my cheeks, His forehead transcendentally pressed.
I do that too, use my own body as a shield.
I look up from where I’m prayer-bent and watch Adam whirl wordlessly around his sister, floating like an orbiting satellite while she reads her Bible, while she counts gifts, while she works intently on first things. Every few moments, he taps a few fingers against his calculators–three of varying size, 1 green, 2 white, spread out in a neat, mathematical row on the countertop. He hums something I don’t quite recognize. He hardly looks in Riley’s direction, but I know that when she gets up to go upstairs—maybe, to make her bed—he’ll follow without the loss of a single step. Right now, in the ease of a home-wrapped afternoon, his careful focus on whatever is lovely comes easily.
I watch the two of them, brother and sister content just to be near each other, and I smile. That’s a gift I’ll treasure up, the sight of them breathing without fear, the sight of them comfortable, understood–at least–by each other. This is a far cry from those blue-lit white-tiled mornings when we file bulky into the hospital lab for routine bloodwork and they snap a rubber strip in a fat knot above Adam’s elbow, and he shrieks at the thickness of the needle and Riley cries, because I just-I just don’t like it when Adam gets upset. Zoe always asks to go first, because listening to Adam scream will only make her more afraid. Raw fear spreads, like our selfish negativity. I tell my son not to look at the needle, not to watch the blood pooling in the vial. I tell him to look at me, to hear me, but he shrieks like they’re stealing his soul and he can’t seem to tear his eyes away from the horror of it. And he always seems so surprised by the offense, even though we do this at least once a year, even though this too works into a greater good.
So I use my body like a shield and lay my hands flat on the sides of my son’s face, firm-talking, but soft, so he has to listen. I press my forehead against his and I make a cave for just the two of us with my hands, and I say, Adam. Adam, Look.at.me. Look.at.me, son. You’re going to be okay. It’s going to be okay. And he thrashes just a little in my grip because he can feel the phlebotomists touching his arm and he wants to see what he doesn’t want to see. And then, in a breath, the feel of my hands and the sound of my voice overwhelm the violation against him. He sags into me, holding my eyes with his own, and he whispers, It’s time to go home.
Whereever life rips, I feel that keenly too, that longing for home-wrapped comfort, for contentedly just loving and understanding each other. At home, it’s enough just to be together. And so I tell my Father again and again and just now, folding myself into Him.
Look.at.me, He gently reminds, making a cave for just the two of us with His hands. But I thrash a little beneath His touch, wanting to see what I don’t want to see.
But—I argue, in prayer—I can imagine the biting tones, the bitter looks. I know what they said. And it hurts. That they would say—that they would think—something about me so opposite from the truth of what I actually feel. I press a hand into my chest so hard my knuckles blanch, as though He needs the emphasis.
He can see right through me. He knows. He knows I want to defend myself, to make a name for myself. He knows how I idolize affirmation. He knows how hard it is for me to accept dislike for its own sake. He knows my fingers tremble with the temptation to take the horrid thing up, to do something. He knows that despite what I know about Christ-following, I’m still surprised by the slice of sin, the way we cut into each other. Today, someone’s words hurt me. Yesterday or the day before, my own words hurt someone else.
His words are firm-spoken, but soft, so I have to listen. Look.at.me, daughter, He says. You’re going to be okay.
And then the feel of His hands and the sound of His voice overwhelm the violation.
I believe in His promises.
And because I know this pain too is part of sharing in Him–evidence enough to rejoice; Because I know He loves me and I know He knows me, I let go, sagging into Him.
You are my shield. And that’s enough.