Five Minute (Saturday): Culture

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Gentle Reader,

2:20 p.m. on a Saturday and I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open. Haven’t slept well this past week. Thursday saw me knocked down with a wicked migraine, which is bad enough on its own, but some delightful panic attacks at 10:30 p.m., 12:18 a.m., and 3:05 a.m. made the pain so much worse. Why the panic?, you wonder. Down to faulty brain wiring. I flung the blankets off of me each time and fairly jumped from the bed, awakened by internal alarm bells tripped for no reason, ready to fight.

But yesterday was busy, full of things like volunteering and having lunch with a new friend, so I dragged myself away from the cocoon, despite still feeling tempted to rip my right eye from its socket. It’s the blind one, anyway. I don’t need it.

Kate says: culture.

Go.

[Caroline Bingley, addressing the giving of the label “accomplished” to a woman] “…A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, all the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.”

“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

“I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women.  [Elizabeth said]. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”

– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth Bennett. Josephine March. Anne Shirley. Laura Ingalls. All literary heroines of mine. All women who dared to swim against the culture’s current, in one way or another.

Interesting, isn’t it, for one who has been fairly determined to remain the flower on the wall, to be attracted to characters who were not afraid to stand out?

There’s an eshet chayil, a woman of valor, somewhere inside me. One who isn’t afraid to be noticed. One who is unbothered by the opinions of others. One who can be bold and brave, but also gentle and tender. She’s always been there, for this is who God created His daughters to be. It’s me who has squashed her. Tried to fit myself inside some mold of acceptability and accomplishment.

There’s something stirring now. Rather, Someone. Calling me out of that mold, that trap. And it feels very much like being broken into tiny pieces. There is real pain in letting go of what is comfortable and known. Real ache in squeezing one’s eyes shut and taking the leap of faith.

But I know, somehow, that God’s hand is there to stop the falling.

Stop.

Related to the above: I will no longer be sending out a weekly newsletter. One, I suck at it. A newsletter is not something I ever wanted to do, but tried because it’s part of “brand building.” (Ew. Gross. Ugh). Two, life is busy, and about to get busier, and a newsletter is not a priority. Thanks to those who subscribed!

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Sisters: Don’t Notice Me

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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)

This about breaks my heart.

There is such shame associated with illness. Logically, you know that it isn’t your fault. You didn’t ask to be sick. (Who would ask to be sick)? You didn’t seek it out. You’re doing what you can, what you know to do, to treat it. To try and live as normal a life as possible. You put on your brave face and smile. You don’t want anyone to know how it really is, what it really feels like.

You don’t want anyone to notice.

Is that what she was feeling that day? Usually, when I read this passage, I pick up on her desperation. And it’s there, surely. All she wanted was to be made well. But she didn’t ask Jesus to heal her. She didn’t look Him in the face and beg for grace. No, in her shame and suffering, she squeezed her way through the crowd and reached out what I imagine was a trembling hand. Please, don’t notice me. 

Because the fact is, a lot of the time, when people know about your illness, they get weird. They don’t know what to do or say, so they don’t do or say anything. They fade from your life like a grass stain lifted out of denim. Or they don’t know what to do or say, so they get bizarrely hostile, attempting to convince you to try this or that remedy, stubbornly refusing to let the topic go. Me, I’m not sure which option is more stressful for the suffering person to deal with, but I do know that both are equally painful.

I often go around in stealth mode, hoping that my face doesn’t betray the pain I feel, hoping that I can get through a sentence without the slurred speech of nausea giving me away. People ask me how I’m doing and I say, “Fine,” even when I’m the furthest from fine, because there just isn’t a lot of space to be candid, to be real. Who really wants to know that my big belly scar can actually predict the weather, because the skin and scar tissue is sensitive to pressure changes, and sometimes it all gets so tight and knotted up that all I want to do is cry? Who really wants to know that sometimes my head hurts so badly that I can’t remember what was just said to me?

And that’s the thing: The church should want to know. The Body of Christ should understand that when one suffers, all suffer. We’re family, and family is meant to stick together, through thick, thin, and all states between.

But we’re not good at that.

And so I often metaphorically approach others from behind. I want the connection, I want the relationship, but I know that my presence makes things messy and uncomfortable. I seek to operate on the periphery, not drawing too much attention to myself because I don’t want to be noticed, but at the same time hoping that someone will notice. The noticing I hope for is of the compassionate, genuine sort; the kind that neither fades nor tries to fix.

You know, the noticing involved in real friendship.

This woman may not have had a single true friend in the crowd that day. She may have feared that Jesus would respond to her as the others did. Isn’t that awful? Imagine her, struggling to make her way through the throngs of people. Nobody to help her. Just the desire for healing pushing her on, but not a loud desire. Quiet, desperate.

Know that there are those around you who are just like her.

Ask God to open your eyes to their presence. Ask Him to flood your heart with love for us.

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Sisters: Twelve Years

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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)

I had to miss out on an ice skating field trip when I was twelve-years-old. (To this day, I have never been ice skating and now it’s one of the things that I’m not supposed to do, because a fall could cause great damage; the non-cautious side of me would like to try it anyway). I remember laying on the couch, all the blinds closed, my brother at school and parents at work, feeling pretty sorry for myself. And mad, because why did I have to get sick right then? Why couldn’t it have hit me a week later?

It was a mysterious illness that plagued me. Might’ve been the flu. Might’ve been something else. I ran very high fevers, hurt all over and couldn’t keep food down. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

One morning during the week-plus torture, I got out of bed and stumbled down the hallway, feeling oh-so-joyful to greet the day. I don’t remember what happened next. My parents tell me I did a sort of spin and drove my face into the wall, then slid down into a heap. My dad carried me back to bed. My mom forced some orange juice down my throat. Eventually, I came to, very disoriented and wondering why my nose hurt so bad.

And thus began the saga: Marie Faints at Random and Has No Idea When It’s Coming. Brain scans, heart monitors, and blood tests all revealed nothing, except that I’m definitely a medical mystery. (A friend recently said that doctors should be paying me, since I’m so weird and maybe my blood cures cancer. I doubt the curing cancer part, but I could get into a paycheck coming my way after each visit).

I’m resigned about the act of fainting. I know enough to keep my blood sugar steady throughout the day. I don’t drive if I’m feeling dizzy. Beyond that, there’s nothing else I can do. If you find me passed out somewhere, just pick me up, move me out of the way, and get some juice in me. I’ll wake up sooner or later.

I wonder if the unnamed woman in this passage ever reached the resigned point.

Twelve years of bleeding. One day with a period is bad enough. Years? Awful. She must have been anemic. She would have been lethargic, weak, and prone to fainting. Her clothing probably had some tell-tale, too-set-in-to-remove stains. She would have carried a certain smell with her wherever she went.

An isolating experience in an accepting culture. Loneliness in the extreme, given her Jewish context.

I wonder if she ever lay in a darkened room, tears sliding down her cheeks, asking God why He did not answer her prayers. Why she had to miss out on life. Why she had to be alone. Why He didn’t seem to love her as He loved others.

As a totality, twelve years might go by in a flash. One minute you’re entering elementary school, the next you’re trying on your cap and gown. But the days? We all know how the days can and do drag. We’ve sensed the slowing of the clock. I wonder if she ever marveled at how the decade and then some had faded into nothingness, all while each day was drawn out in agony.

Time makes little sense when you’re suffering. You measure less by minutes and hours and more by events. The ones you miss. The ones you had just enough energy to participate in. The ones that amplified the pain. The ones that lessened it. In the middle of the calendar pages flipping, somehow both too fast and too slowly, you do your best to hold onto what is good.

But resignation, it’s there. And just behind resignation, hopelessness.

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Five Minute Friday: Promise

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Gentle Reader,

I fell asleep around 6:30 p.m. last night. Woke up at 8:15, feeling confused but also deeply at one with the blanket. And I wasn’t the only one; my dog, traumatized by his visit to the groomer’s earlier in the week, snored loudly.

Kate says: promise.

Go.

I’m not a runner. I’ll do just about any other kind of physical activity. Hiking, Pilates, kickboxing, weight lifting, dancing, swimming. Hardly the best at any of these, but I’ll do them. Running, though? If nobody is chasing me, what’s the point? (And if somebody was chasing me, good chance I’d go all “deer in the headlights,” anyway). I’m just not competitive enough, with myself or others.

And yet I am a runner.

Youth ministry crashed into my life like a tornado a few months ago, almost as if God said, “Yeah, so, you’re going to stop avoiding this now.” Why He plopped these beautiful people in my lap, I’ll never know for sure, because nobody thinks “youth leader” when they look at me. Too anxious. Too reserved. Too studious. Too always trying to hide a highly sensitive heart behind an analytical, detached exterior.

Ah, but He who began the good work in me sees it through (Philippians 1:6).

That’s a promise to which we can hold. God’s ways are not our ways. His plans are not our plans. He sees things in us that we don’t see in ourselves. When we stop running, and give ourselves over to Him, we experience the strange combination of energy and rest. Passion to do what He made us to do. Peace in knowing that we do not do it in our own strength.

Why this and why me? I have no idea. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s enough for me to just say “yes” and love these people. And I do love them, fiercely. Like the proverbial mama bear, I watch as they take faltering steps to truly form community, to truly engage with the Gospel, and I know that I cannot and will not allow anything to mess with that or them, even if that means I have to access my not-so-gentle side and come out swinging.

They have my heart.

And I realize that them having it means that God has it, perhaps in a way He never has before, because i have not allowed Him to pull and stretch me like this. I have held onto the false promises of low expectations and safety.

Now?

I cling to the promise of life, rich and full, found in Him.

Stop.

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