Sisters: Trembling

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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)

It’s strange, to be sick. Almost as if your personality becomes fractured along with the bones and the organs. Part of you wants to talk about what you’re dealing with all the time, never pausing to take a breath. The other part doesn’t want to say a word, for fear of others’ accusatory questions and curious stares.

Stranger still, you get used to the strangeness. As much as I would love to have more energy, stop passing out randomly, get rid of the constant pain in my side, stop taking a handful of pills each night, and never deal with nausea again, it’s…normal. We humans have quite the capacity to accept, adapt, and adjust, if we choose. I’ve reached a point where I don’t like what I face each day, but I’m in the routine of it.

Familiarity.

When others read this passage, they wonder why she was afraid to come forward. Her actions make perfect sense to me. She’d been desperate for healing. She pushed her way through a crowd of people just to graze her fingertips against the hem of Jesus’ robe. She broke cultural expectations and norms. She was brave. Daring. Radical.

Her mind probably swirled with questions.

Was it real? Had this truly happened? Would it last?

Would Jesus be mad at her? Would He rebuke her? What would everyone in the crowd think of her?

The deepest one of all: What was she supposed to do now?

Even if you’ve never been truly sick a day in your life, you know that the misery to which you are accustomed is less frightening than the freedom to which you are not. You might complain and grumble, and even loathe the rut that you travel in, but at least you know what to expect. When something changes, especially if that something is a Someone and He’s beckoning you to climb out of that rut and go run across a wild, untamed field with Him, you try to hide. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t initially react this way; fear is rooted in our nature.

Jesus doesn’t just want to know who touched Him. He doesn’t just want to discuss the physical restoration. Now that He has pieced together her brokenness, she has to live in the newness. She is responsible to do something with what she’s been given.

Scary. So scary.

Such a beautiful portrait of the Savior’s love.

The poor patient owns her case, and the benefit she had received: When she saw that she was not hid, she came, and fell down before Him… The consideration of this, that we cannot be hid from Christ, should engage us to pour out our hearts before Him, and to show before Him all our sin and all our trouble.

Matthew Henry

Throughout the Gospels we see that acts of physical healing are meant to point to the inauguration of God’s Kingdom and the forgiveness of sin. Yes, she was healed, and that was important, but her body would betray her again one day. As she stepped forward, trembling, she stepped into the embrace of Christ, the One who would not abandon her in the anxiety of newness nor in the eventual return to decay and dust. She stepped into the crowd that day in desperation. She then steps forward, casting herself at His feet, in awe.

Her emotions, I feel them. I can place myself in this scene. In fact, this moment plays out now, in my living room, in 2019, despite the lack of physical health. My body spins toward its end faster than I’d like, but my God, He is faithful. That is what she learned in this moment. He is good and perfect and pure and true.

Even when He says “no” to whispered pleas for physical relief.

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For all posts in the Sisters series, go here.

Sisters: He Knows

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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)

Isn’t it funny, the things we think about God? The things we assume about Him?

Like He doesn’t know. Doesn’t notice.

I find great comfort in knowing that He sees the tears that I cannot cry in front of others. This makes little sense to some. Wouldn’t it be better for Him to remove the source of the tears? How can I love a God who answers my prayers with “no?”

My friend Andrew is dying; a long, slow, painful death from pancreatic cancer. I don’t know why God has chosen not to heal him. I don’t know why he’s had to suffer such torture. As I’m sure I’ve said, probably more than once, in this series, the “why” isn’t always the point. Sometimes, it’s the “what.” In Andrew’s case, his faith burns brightly against the black backdrop of adversity, drawing all who come across his words to look and see. To marvel at such intense faith in the middle of such suffering.

He writes:

I believe that there is a purpose to this, that it is part of God’s plan. I can’t see it, and I don’t know what part I may be playing, but I choose to believe that there IS a reason for the ordeal.

And I’ll play my part. God will remember my name.

Andrew knows that God knows. He knows that God is right there, holding him tightly as the agony shakes his very bones. He knows that one day, sooner than he or the rest of us would like, he will look God in the face. He knows that what he endures now will suddenly become a distant memory, not worth thinking about when compared to the glory and peace of Eternity.

There’s nothing fatalistic or morbid in that.

There’s faith.

Andrew encourages and inspires me. His example helps me to remember that God is also with me. He knows. He sees. He understands.

So when I need to cry, when I just can’t handle the pain any longer, I do it in His presence. I know He won’t judge or reject me. I know He won’t try to offer me the latest medical treatment, science-based or otherwise. He simply sits with me, the essence of empathy, love, and truth. And those things are power, you know. It’s not just the miracle of Divine healing. It’s the miracle of faith anchored deep in the Person of Jesus. The miracle of a life transformed, bit by bit and certainly slowly, into one that pleases Him.

Do I hate God? Do I despite Him?

No.

I look at the scar on my belly and feel the swelling in my side, and I love Him more – because He felt the pain of a broken body. He felt the sting of torn skin. He felt the strangeness of malfunctioning organs. Whatever aches plague me, He felt them, too, as He hung on the cross for those long hours. His body, broken for me, whose body is broken.

There’s something wonderful in that.

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For all posts in the Sisters series, go here.

Sisters: The Better or the Bitter

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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)

Peter, I think, is all of us.

How could Jesus ask who touched Him? The crowd was thick. Nobody in the immediate vicinity was owning up to the act. They had places to go, people to see. I imagine Peter not exactly irritated, but definitely wondering why Jesus was wasting time with this question.

We wonder, too. Why does God do this? Why does He do that? Or why doesn’t He?

Because we don’t quite get it. We don’t quite understand that He is the One who sets the agenda.

Maybe that’s why there’s a tangible peace surrounding those saints who have walked with Jesus for many years. Their hair glitters, shot through with white threads. Their skin sags and wrinkles, evidence of laughter and tears. Their lives, filled with good and bad. The days long but the years so fast. The time they have left on earth winds down.

One such woman sits in my church’s second row every Sunday. Grandma Betty, we call her. She’s 90-something-years-old. She smiles brightly, a twinkle in her eye and mischief in her step. Loves to give hugs. Rocks out to the old hymns. She is utterly, completely herself, unapologetic and un-self conscious. Above all, Grandma Betty brings Jesus into the room with her. She is confident in His loving care.

I want to be like her.

Peter, traditionally thought to have been martyred around 64 A.D., didn’t live to a ripe old age, but he got to that place of tranquility. We see it begin by the lake, at breakfast time:

When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tied his outer clothing around him (for he had taken it off) and plunged into the sea. …

When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said to him, “You know that I love You.”

“Feed My lambs,” He told him. A second time He asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.”

“Shepherd my sheep,” He told him.

He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?”He said, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I love you.”

“Feed my sheep,” Jesus said.

– John 21:7, 15-17

Desperate was Peter to see Jesus again. Desperate, too, I think, to prove to his Master that the denials weren’t actually denials, as revealed in his grief. He got caught up in the fear of the moment, and he hated himself for that. He didn’t actually mean it. He really did love Jesus. He truly did want to follow and obey.

Brokenness comes between wondering why God does or doesn’t and being at peace. In the middle, when the pressure builds and the crowd presses in, we have a choice to make: the better or the bitter. His way or our way. Resting in the grace of mystery or reaching for a control that’s continually just beyond grasping.

Brokenness invites faith.

Peter is an example. He could have stayed lost in his shame. That’s what many of us choose to do. He could have remained stuck in his wondering. Many also choose this as well. Instead, he let Jesus change him. He took the Savior’s offered hand and allowed Him to rebuild, remold, reshape.

Isn’t the Bible beautiful? I’ve read this passage I don’t know how many times and I’ve never before considered Peter. But God, He doesn’t just impact one life. His work always touches the many. I don’t think it’s too far out there to believe that Peter thought back on this moment and shook his head, small smile playing across his face. Why did Jesus ask that question? Because it was part of her miracle, part of an interaction that Peter would never fully understand.

I want to be like Peter. I want the pain I feel to drive me from the boat of comfortable complacency and into the water, beating against the waves that would keep me from Jesus. Yes, my dear, my faith is real. I don’t need “more” of it in order to be healed. I know that my healing, whether in this life or the next, is found in the arms of Jesus, the same Lord who restored and strengthened Peter that long ago day.

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For all posts in the Sisters series, go here.

Sisters: The Question

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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)

A garden, long ago. A place of beauty and tranquility. Lovingly crafted by the hands of God. Every detail bold and bright. Shimmering sunsets, gentle breezes, flora and fauna in abundance. Harmony. Peace.

A question. Did God really say? A bite. Another bite.

A direct line from that day to hers to ours. From that question to this question.

God is omniscient. He knows all. While Jesus chose to set aside His rightful place of honor and glory during the Incarnation, I don’t for second believe that He lost this omniscience. He knows very well who touched Him. After all, He’s the one who knitted her together in her mother’s womb. He’s the one who knows the number of hairs on her head.

He knows her. He knows her pain.

So why does He ask?

As believers have comfortable communion with Christ, so they have comfortable communications from Him incognito—secretly, meat to eat that the world knows not of, and joy that a stranger does not intermeddle with. Here is a discovery of this secret cure, to the glory both of the physician and the patient. Christ takes notice that there is a cure wrought… Those that have been healed by virtue derived from Christ must own it, for He knows it. He speaks of it here, not in a way of complaint, as if he were hereby either weakened or wronged, but in a way of complacency. It was His delight that virtue was gone out of Him to do any good, and He did not grudge it to the meanest; they were as welcome to it as to the light and heat of the sun. Nor had he the less virtue in Him for the going out of the virtue from Him for he is an overflowing fountain.

Matthew Henry (emphasis mine)

When God asks a question, it is not because He doesn’t know the answer. Rather, He is inviting the one questioned to step into relationship with Him, whether for the first time or as a move toward deeper intimacy. The questions are not about Him and His knowledge, but about us and ours. Do we truly believe? Do we really trust? Do we actually understand?

A question is a pause. Necessary contemplation follows the asking. (At least, it should; sometimes we choose to shoot off our mouths instead, and thus make situations worse). To hear the upward inflection at the end of a sentence, indicating the mark of inquiry, should move the listener to take a breath. To consider.

Just who was it that touched Christ?

She had a decision to make. Would she slink away, healed but continuing to operate out of a place of isolation and shame? Would she keep her eyes on the ground and mutter something incoherent about what had happened? Would she look the Savior full in the face and say, loud enough for all to hear, that her desperation had driven her to Him, and He had made her well?

He is beckoning to her, calling her to take a stand.

To take on a new, and true, identity.

It’s easy to be consumed by illness. Try as you might, many hours of many days are taken up by the attempt to care for the frail, faulty body. Those of us who battle chronic illness learn new terms and definitions. We speak in not quite the technical sentences of physicians, but in a sort of sub-language, related to pain and suffering. We rely on alarms to remind us what medications to take, and how much of each one.

But this is not who we are. Not who I am.

Illness is not me. It’s a part of me, but not the entire. Yes, I am tired. Yes, I’m in pain. But these facts fade and blend into shadow when compared with other, Divine labels: accepted, beautiful, beloved, called, chosen, gifted, purposed, redeemed. That’s who I am. That’s how Christ sees me.

I forget this, for many reasons, not all of them related to illness. So when God asks, “Who?,” I know that the question arises not from condemnation, but from love. He desires for me to operate out of my true identity, just as He did her. He invites me, and you, and her, to live in a place of freedom, whether we ever experience physical healing as she did. And yes, oh, yes, my friend; we can be free, even if we are trapped in beds or wheelchairs, for these bodies are temporary things, set to be remade when God says “go.” But our souls, they are not trapped. They can sing and soar.

“Who touched Me?”

I did, Lord. Me, Your child.

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For all posts in the Sisters series, go here.