Sisters: Someone Else

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Gentle Reader,

While He was going, the crowds were nearly crushing Him. A woman suffering from bleeding for twelve years, who had spent all she had on doctors and yet could not be healed by any, approached from behind and touched the end of His robe. Instantly her bleeding stopped.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are hemming You in and pressing against You.”

“Someone did touch Me,” said Jesus. “I know that power has gone out from Me.” When the woman saw that she was discovered, she came trembling and fell down before Him. In the presence of all the people, she declared the reason she had touched Him and how she was instantly healed. “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

– Luke 8:42b-48 (CSB, emphasis mine)

Jesus is on His way to save someone. A little girl, twelve years old. Her father begs Him to do it. The Savior is compassionate. Loving. He turns toward the house. His feet begin to take the path that will lead Him to her side.

Jesus is always on His way to save someone.

The saving doesn’t always look the same.

The question we all have: Why did so-and-so get healed but this other person didn’t? We don’t understand why one is snatched from cancer’s grip while another is crushed by it. Makes no sense. God hears our prayers, we are told. We believe it. So why, why, does He sometimes say “no?”

Why does He seemingly go out of His way to save her, to heal him, while others are left reaching for His robe?

I can’t answer that. Nobody can, and anyone who says otherwise is probably trying to sell you something.

This where we see life and death holding hands. This is where we are confronted by our lack of control, by our inability to place all experiences and people into neat and tidy boxes. This is where we learn to say, through gritted teeth, “…even if not, He is good.”

Is He? Is He really good as He walks toward the little girl? Is He really good in letting the woman follow? After all, He is God. Incarnate here, wrapped in frail flesh, but still God. He knows her. Knows her pain. Knows her deep loneliness. Why does He not stop and hep her first? Look her in the eyes? Hold her?

I did throw a glass across the kitchen once. To my annoyance, it bounced instead of breaking. I threw it again. That time, the crack, the splintering. Shards fell from the wall, scattering across the floor, throwing rainbows onto the ceiling as they caught the afternoon sunlight. A flash of beauty in brokenness.

And I thought, “I really understand very little.”

What if the God who is outside of time and therefore not bound by its strictures really does know everything, and better than us? What if “why?” is not the question, but “what?”

As Jesus walks, He opens up space for faith exercised in the midst of suffering. This weak woman, likely anemic after years of constant bleeding, is drawn to Him. Imagine her. She takes a breath. A deep one. Musters up the bit of energy she has and presses her way through the crowd. Weaving between the bodies. She crouches. Shaking hand reaches out, into the space He has left for her.

And it’s not about the healing, though that matters. Not about her body, though God cares for it.

It’s about her soul.

Not the “why?” of her suffering, but the “what?” of her faith. The Person.

What He will do.

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Sisters: We Few, We Not-Always-Happy Few, We Band of Sufferers

Along the Way Graphic Template

Gentle Reader,

Apologies to the Bard, to King Henry V, and to St. Crispin.

While He was going, the crowds were nearly crushing Him. A woman suffering from bleeding for twelve years, who had spent all she had on doctors and yet could not be healed by any, approached from behind and touched the end of His robe. Instantly her bleeding stopped.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are hemming You in and pressing against You.”

“Someone did touch Me,” said Jesus. “I know that power has gone out from Me.” When the woman saw that she was discovered, she came trembling and fell down before Him. In the presence of all the people, she declared the reason she had touched Him and how she was instantly healed. “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

– Luke 8:42b-48 (CSB, emphasis mine)

What is it like to be sick?, you wonder. I know you wonder, because some of you are brave enough to ask. The asking is not offensive. I’d rather an honest query than the silence of judgment or speculation. After all, the words “liver disease” automatically conjure up images of bottles, needles and pills (never mind that equal damage can be caused through poor diet). Surely I must have some awfully scandalous activity in my past.

Not that kind of scandalous. Plenty of rebellion, but no drugs. Plenty of late nights, but no drunkenness. (The few times I did set out to get hammered, I just got sick after a few drinks. And that, I recognize as Jesus, protecting me from my own stupidity, maybe shaking His head or rolling His eyes as He did so. Lovingly, of course). The breakdown of my body is, simply, the result of losing the genetic lottery in a world gone haywire. I am a walking, talking testimony to the truth of Genesis 3.

It sucks.

Yeah, I know. I’m supposed to suffer well. To be an example of courage, endurance, faith, and resilience.

I want to be courageous. I want to endure. I want to have faith. I want to be resilient.

But as I look at my arm, bruise growing darker because the good phlebotomist was off his game today but I had to get the tests done anyway, I want to throw a glass across the room. Watch it explode into pieces too small and jagged to reassemble. Then I want to throw another. And another. I want to hear the satisfying clangs and pings of destruction, a destruction that I cause, as a destruction that I do not cause, and have no control over, rages within.

What is it like to be sick? 

It’s tension. All the time, always. Wanting to take a deep breath unencumbered by the constant pain my side, the pain that trails up to my collar bone and down to my hip, the pain centered beneath my ribs. I hate my liver, if it’s possible to hate an organ. It’s piece of crap. I want a new one.

Except, I don’t. Even though I’ll probably have to get a new one someday. And that means more slicing and dicing, more long scars across my abdomen, and whole lot of pharmaceuticals.

It’s being old before my time. Sort of, because I will throw myself into whatever activities I can with as much energy as I possess until that’s no longer an option. But the white streak in my hair, the one that started with the shock of surgery, grows. Spreads. I don’t mind it, on an aesthetic level, because I can’t be bothered to stress out that much about my hair, which always does whatever it wants to do anyway, but on another level, it’s a reminder.

Along with the aching joints. And the constantly itching skin. And the eyes that betray my weariness, every time.

It’s that woman, so tired, so scared, sneaking up behind Jesus and brushing His robe with her fingers. In that action, it’s as if she says, “Don’t look at me. Don’t notice me. Nothing else has worked. I’m desperate. Maybe this will help. Maybe it won’t. I’ve heard about this Jesus guy. I don’t know what else to do. God, please let this work.”

I get her.

Separated by centuries and cultures, we are nevertheless sisters.

This passage is not a promise. It does not contain a magic formula. Faith in Christ does not equal an absence of trouble. I’ve told you this before, but I’ll keep telling you as long as I have breath, because, even those who intentionally battle against prosperity non-gospel ideas are influenced by them. We can’t make it compute in our minds that salvation of the soul, restoration of the mind, and renewal of the heart often, maybe even always, makes no change in our physical state.

Because the end is the same for us all.

What is this passage then? What is the point?

Sit with those questions for now.

Settle in with the discomfort of life and death joining hands.

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The Harm in That

Harm in That Cover

Gentle Reader,

The LORD upholds all who fall,
And raises up all who are bowed down.

– Psalm 145:14 (NKJV)

I hate pants.

Three abdominal surgeries have left me with very sensitive skin and internal organs that don’t function properly. Anything tight is a big no-no. It’s a good thing that my style leans in the casual, comfortable direction already; I can’t really wear anything that is the correct size.

I was reminded of this yesterday after foolishly wearing a belt. My outfit for church was, if I may say so, very cute. Floaty summer top and slim khakis. But the pants don’t fit right. So I slipped the belt through the loops and anchored it as loosely as I could while ensuring that my underwear did not make an unexpected appearance.

Cue the nausea.

Hannah Anderson tweeted this yesterday:

So now I’m sitting here thinking about link [between] conservatives’ approach to healthcare [conversation] & [G]nosticism prevalent in evangelical church…

Gnosticism is our modern term for various ideas and philosophies, originating in the Jewish world of the first and second centuries, the proponents of which sought to attain “higher” or “secret” spiritual knowledge. An inter-religious movement rather than a distinct belief system, gnostics tended toward asceticism, disdaining the body and physical world as corrupted and of lesser importance when compared to the spiritual. Highly influenced by Platonism and comfortable with syncretism, Gnosticism emphasized personal experience over systematic doctrine and liturgy.

How is Gnosticism present in American, evangelical Christian teaching today, specifically in the context of healthcare?

Right there in the assumption that a Christian should be able to conquer her body.

If you would just eat this…. If you would just do that…. If you would drink this…. If you would take this herb/read this book/buy this flaxseed pillow…. If you would exercise harder…. If you would pray more….

The body is nothing. It is lesser. Mind over matter. Control.

Consider our Christian celebrity culture. What prominent pastor, teacher or author can any of us name who isn’t conventionally attractive? Who doesn’t have decent health? (Not perfect; we do love those who have beaten cancer). Joni Eareckson Tada, of course, but her teaching is really just for “those people,” right?

The ones that make us uncomfortable. The ones we shuffle off to the side.

No room for bodies that don’t conform.

I write very generally and I don’t seek to condemn. Not all Christians have these beliefs and assumptions. There is much compassion and acceptance among the people of God. But we struggle. It’s easy to comfort someone diagnosed with terminal illness. Even in our awkwardness, we know how to hold hands and shed tears and bake casseroles. This is good, necessary, gracious work.

When it comes to those whose pain has no expiration date, though, we don’t know how to respond. We don’t know what to do. Such suffering messes with our tidy theology. And so we let fear or discomfort cause us to release such people from the bonds of fellowship, never thinking to find creative ways to support and love them. Or, if we do think of it, we become terrified of doing it all wrong and stay away. Worse, we indulge in arrogance, taking health for granted and wondering, in some corner of our minds, if the chronically ill didn’t do something to bring on the illness.

Never mind that any one of us can be struck down, at any moment.

The next clear, painless breath is not guaranteed.

We don’t think about that.

We don’t dare.

So what do we do with verses like Psalm 145:14, which show us that God is intimately involved with the suffering? He holds up people who can’t take another step. He carries them. There is no hint of anger, no trace of, “well, if you had just….” What do we do with “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33, emphasis mine)? How can we fully embrace that Christ was “beaten, He was tortured” (Isaiah 53:7a, MSG)?

This is why I wrote The Harm in That: False Gospels, Alternative Medicine and Suffering. Not to scream at people who hold fast to essential oils. Not to shame those who don’t understand exactly what they buy into when they accept “health and wealth” teaching. Not to make anyone feel bad and myself feel superior. I wrote this book because we, Christians, people of God, have go to come to grips with suffering. We have to learn to accept it as part of life on this broken earth, even as the eternal part of us, the part that cries out to God and knows that this is not how things were meant to be, rebels.

I pitched this book to many agents and several publishing houses last summer and fall. Over and over again I was told that my writing was good and the topic was one that needs addressing, but nobody wanted to touch it with a ten-foot pole. Because it’s not a “happy, feel good” book. It’s not warm fuzzies and rah-rah time. It’s not a guaranteed best-seller. It steps on toes. Confronts some cherished beliefs. It’s messy. Unpretty. (It’s also not a “woman’s book,” but that’s an entirely separate issue, one that I could go off on for hours. I will spare you that).

So, convinced that this was something God would have me do, I self-published the thing back in January. No fanfare. No fuss. It’s sold a few copies. I’ve achieved starving artist status. Woohoo.

Really, making money isn’t my concern. This is a book that people need to read. Not because I’m amazing or the best author ever. I’m not. I simply believe that I have a perspective that is often lacking in Christian teaching. Again, not because I’m a genius. Rather, because the sick and suffering are marginalized, however unwittingly, by a church that doesn’t know how to respond, doesn’t have a clear understanding of how illness and faith can exist in the same body. Their voices are silenced in the face of a callousness that many probably don’t even know they possess.

Would I like you to buy my book? Of course. I got bills. But if you can’t afford the cost, I’ll send it to you. Free of charge. (No substitutions, exchanges or refunds, though). You can find my contact information on the “about” page. One thing I do beg of you: Please don’t take advantage of me. Like I said, I got bills.

Oh, if you do get the book, leave a review on Amazon. It’s painless and makes you an extra-awesome person. You don’t even have to leave a good review.

Okay, enough with the very uncomfortable self-promotion. Continue on with your regular activities.

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What’s Goin’ On

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Sometimes the need to write is strong but the desire to tell the story that comes, seemingly unbidden through the fingers, is lacking. Need, but no want.

If I could explain that better, I would. One of those weird writer things, I suppose.

I left this blog just before Christmas, creeping back, unannounced, a few weeks ago. The sabbatical was necessary. Last Fall – I bit off more than I could chew. I got burned out. Still am burned out, in many ways.

With no pretense at a smooth segue, here’s what’s been going on the last four months:

  1. I’m back in therapy. After a five-ish year absence, I have returned to the cozy office and comfortable couch of the wise, godly woman who walked with me through some of the darkest days I’ve ever experienced. Again I can taste the dirt and feel the bruises that come from falling, suddenly, into the ravine. I’m on a low dose of Zoloft, the only antidepressant I can take given my liver problems, which tackles my brain’s habit of flooding itself with “fight or flight” chemicals for no dang good reason. Stops the hands from shaking and the sweat from trickling down my neck so that, with great effort, I can focus on what’s actually bothering me – not something I plan on sharing at this time.
  2. My health is very unsteady. December 2016 was golden. Great. I made it to work every day. Exercised every morning. Few aches and pains. Limited nausea. I got this little taste of what it might be like to feel “normal,” or at least as normal as it would be possible for me to feel. Then, crash. Bang. Boom. Thud. Increased migraines. Liver swelling and all the discomfort that comes with it. Insomnia. Exhaustion. Eczema that won’t go away. Yay.
  3. I have doubted my ability and calling to write. Not looking for you to soothe my ego here. I’ve been doing this for nine years. I failed, miserably, at getting a book traditionally published. A huge part of me wonders if I’m making any difference when there seems to be no progress or measurable impact…
  4. …but then I see all the straight-up bad “teaching” out there. And I feel compelled.
  5. Still, I find myself with big questions. What does God want of me? What is my purpose?
  6. That book nobody wanted? I published it myself. It’s titled The Harm in That: False Gospels, Alternative Medicine and Suffering. (You can click on the image to the right of this post and check it out over on Amazon. No pressure to buy). This book isn’t a long rant against people who are into alternative medicine. I know and love many who are. Disagree with them, but love them. Rather, this book tackles the question, “What does the Bible actually say about medicine, illness and suffering?” Not a medical textbook. Not expert testimony. It is a very broad commentary laced with snippets of my own experience.
  7. In continuing writing, I must come to terms with the fact that I don’t “do it” in a way that is readily embraced by today’s celebrity-obsessed and often-shallow Christian culture. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Church. I love Christians. But how many Amish fiction series do we need? How many books about the Nahum diet? (That doesn’t exist).
  8. Cleaning up my online life. Oh, the things I “liked” and “tweeted” years ago. Embarrassing.
  9. Small group drawing to a close. Normally, I am against groups taking a break for the summer. It’s so easy to fall out of good study habits. This year…did I mention that I’m burned out? We’ve been meeting for two years. I love these people. But I need a nap. A long one.
  10. Church changes. Our pastor left in October. As one who thrives in routine, the resulting shifts have been interesting some days, highly difficult others. Things have smoothed out recently.
  11. Drawing away from social media. I’m all for fun. For memes. For photos. Right now, I simply have a desire to share only what’s worthwhile and participate in conversations that mean something.
  12. Near-paranoia regarding Bible teachers. I am the last person who’s going to claim perfection. I don’t know everything. I want to learn from solid, wise, orthodox, godly people. But, boy, the amount of concerning statements and associations lately… My innate cynicism and suspicion has, to use a culturally favored pair of words, been triggered.
  13. Miscellaneous. Afternoon coffee. Avocados. New study Bible. Snoring dogs who look so handsome after going to the beauty shop. Trying recipes from The Great British Bake-Off.

So, there’s your wide-lens view of this blogger’s life. Still seeking to slay the dragons of anxiety and depression. Still sarcastic. Still longing to know and love the Lord better each day.

Now with 50% less dog fur covering her shirts.

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Photo credit: Beata Ratuszniak