I've been thinking a lot about protection lately. I've been considering all the ways we have come to be protected in our little lives on this planet.
When we are young and fragile and naïve, our parents protect us; they shield us from illnesses by bundling us up in the winter time and always having cough medicine on hand; they hold us as we cross streets, reminding us gently, but firmly, that we are to look both ways before crossing; they teach us to not speak to strangers or take candy from unfamiliar faces; they are supposed to be the barriers between us and a world that doesn't stop to consider what our age is before it attempts to wreck us.
As teenagers we go through classes of varying topics to maintain safety; we must take a written test to obtain our driving permit to ensure we understand traffic laws; we are required to drive with an instructor and our parents so they can correct mismanagement of the wheel; we're asked to complete a driving test, then, to make sure we absorbed said laws before we are given the keys to a machine on wheels. Depending on where you go to school at, you go through sex-ed classes to enlighten you on safe practices; you are forced to succumb to vivid photographs and videos of sexually transmitted diseases, what a labor looks like, and then all the wear and tear that comes with those consequences of intercourse too soon; we are educated in a way that might deter our desire to participate in certain activities. You can either be protected by abstaining or you will learn about protection that can be purchased with consideration.
There is protection blanketing nearly ever facet of our lives this side of heaven. We aren't supposed to drink until we're 21 because, hopefully, we are wise enough to make better choices at this age. Tobacco cannot be purchased if you are under 18 - because perhaps you've had the misfortune of watching someone become ill as a result of tobacco consumption. If you wish to serve our country, you must be trained, and trained well, before you are handed the tools you need.
Vaccinations and medications and prayer groups are integral parts of our lives to add layers of protection to our mortality on this planet.
Daily, I go before my Father and pray for protection over my family and friends. I ask Him to blanket Goutham in safety, in whatever he is doing, in Hyderabad. Losing someone you love deeply at 15 will surely guarantee you are acutely aware of the fallibility of our flesh and pumping organs.
Most of our lives we see protection as something that is soft and affectionate. It doesn't hurt, it comforts. Protection ensures our safety and well-being - it is the cool side of your favorite pillow right before you slip into sleep.
But what happens when protection goes from feeling warm and succulent to cutting and jagged? Just how are we supposed to react when it is the protection that stings and that which we are being protected from seems welcoming?
I have written here often about my struggle with God's timing in my singleness. I will not bear false witness and try to make you believe that it is something I am thriving in and excited about. Certainly, it has served me well because it has brought me closer to Jesus; it has allowed me to say yes to things that having a partner may have deterred me from. But I do not consistently like this season. And there is freedom in being honest with your King about that, guys. I'd like to believe when I start getting fired up in my prayers and get angry with Him, He sits back and thinks, "there she is -- there's the sass I laced in her veins in 1987."
So in the midst of this season - that has felt long and dry and drawn out - I am finding protection to be much less of the down comforter variety and much more like the searing tip of a hot fire poker.
I'm realizing slowly (sometimes I'm a slow learner) that this single gig - it's much less about me and significantly more about what He is doing IN me. There is a very good chance I will connect with someone in a way that I truly didn't believe was possible only to find myself wondering where he went when a week goes by and I've not heard from him.
You can love someone very deeply and care for their well-being and they are so unquestioningly wrong for you, but you can't see it - so they'll start ignoring you. Or they'll be really hateful to you. Or they will do something so gut wrenching you'll wonder how you'll rise up from the cramps of pain.
And that's protection.
You'll have a friend that you've watched and wondered about for years; he will move away and finally come back home the week you've gone to India to have your life forever changed.
That right there, that's protection.
And sometimes it has nothing to do with falling in love or finding the person of your prayers and dreams. Sometimes it's the two people who made Dayton feel like home being called to Mexico and you realizing that you can't follow them because you're not being called to Mexico. You're being called to stay.
The call to stay is protection.
See sometimes protection is the stop to something that felt good so that catastrophe doesn't follow closely behind. Sometimes protection looks like the only One who knows your soul and all its idiosyncrasies building a wall so high around your heart that it will take someone extraordinary to scale and conquer it. And sometimes protection is just learning that you can do things, be in places, stay and show up for people even if they're not five minutes up the road from you anymore. Protection, for me in the last year, looks like learning how to show up for myself just as much as I am for my people.
I have a feeling 2016 will be another year of big lessons and hard truths - and I'm coming to be okay with that because I love how it all tends to feel on the other side of the heat. I'm realizing that these new forms of protection that can cut and bruise, scar and tear, and hurt before they become pleasant dawnings of thankfulness, are just as integral to my little life as the protection my parents afforded me when they offered their much larger hand for my small one all those years ago at the crosswalk.
I'm learning the best things often come after many tears, ragged breath, and the whispered admittance that I simply cannot savor any sweetness without chewing on the bitter first.