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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For all posts in the Sisters series, go here.

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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For all posts in the Sisters series, go here.

Sisters: Be Her Barnabas

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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)

Who decides to make a doctor’s appointment for 7:00 a.m.?

Me.

I throw back the blanket angrily and force myself to stand. As you do, I misjudge the distance between the bed and the wall and hit the windowsill. Stupid non-functioning eye. Stupid right side of the world that does not exist for me. Going to be a good bruise, just above my hip there.

I don’t even shower. I had planned to get up early enough to get Pilates out of the way and put on some real clothes. Definitely did not do that. My doctor, he’s known me since I was 12-years-old, so he’s seen it all. Sweatpants, messy bun, and a hat. Is what it is.

There are some awful doctors out there. I’ve heard the horror stories and I don’t doubt them. But I’ve been blessed to have excellent physicians, with a few exceptions. They take me seriously when I say that something doesn’t feel right. This could be partly because I’m a medical mystery; my ailments belong in the body of someone much older who has lived much harder, and they are very intrigued by this. I like to think it’s because they actually care, though.

Do you know that this is an uncommon experience for women?

Women are less likely to be taken seriously when it comes to medical issues, especially gynecological complaints. Old biases die hard, and there is often an assumption that pain is, at least partially, all in our heads. Or that we are being dramatic about it. Very odd to me, because I’ve only known a small handful of true hypochondriacs in my life, women who are convinced that they have every disease known to humanity and/or get a thrill when receiving medical attention. Most go to the doctor only begrudgingly, even if they do have a high and favorable view of modern medicine. It is neither entertaining nor fun to sit in a cold exam room, your most intimate parts covered only by a large paper napkin.

Imagine living in ancient times.

A woman suffering.

My heart aches for her, this unnamed sister. I know what it is to walk in her shoes. To feel the pressing and the pressure. To do what you are told to do and find no relief. To watch those who know better and more shake their heads and shrug their shoulders. To feel your soul sink as yet another bill appears in the mail.

I wait for fifteen minutes, because even this early in the morning, the doctor is running late. There is one patient before me. Something unexpected probably came up in his appointment. I’m not surprised, but I am irritated, even though this is not a new experience. I sit in the room, curled up in a chair because why get up on the bed when you don’t have to, the fourth chapter of Acts open on my Bible app:

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus by birth, the one the apostles called Barnabas (which is translated Son of Encouragement)…

– vs. 36 (CSB)

I am thankful for the recent appearance of a Barnabas in my own life. Because when you’re a woman suffering, a woman who cannot count on any day to be free of pain or trouble, you need someone who thinks to check in. You doing okay? You need anything? How can I pray? Or even, You need to complain? Come, sit by me.

That matters, my friend. That really matters. No, you can’t fix it. You can’t make her better. (Unless you’re a research scientist with access to cutting-edge technology or a magic elixir or something). What you can do is be there. Create space for her to flourish in the ways God leads. Also allow space for her to be fragile and small, to need the comfort of a gentle squeeze of the hand every now and then, to walk on the curbside of life so she can breathe easier, let her guard down in the knowledge that someone is willing to take on the protective role. Be watchful for her, so that she might lay her head on your shoulder and close her eyes, for just a moment.

Because it’s exhausting, to be a woman who suffers.

We need people who know, who see – and who help us to keep going.

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For all posts in the Sisters series, go here.

She Can be Your Hero

Gentle Reader,

Ah, the internet. Where the hottest of hot takes thrive.

Came across this piece over the weekend. A sampling:

I do not blame Marvel for inserting the trending feminist agenda into its universe. Where else can this lucrative ideology — which contrasts so unapologetically with reality — go to be sustained, if not to an alternative universe? Verse after verse, story after story, fact after fact, study after study, example after example dispels the myth of sameness between the sexes. The alternative universe where an accident infuses the heroine with superhuman powers, however, seems to stand as a reasonable apologetic for the feminist agenda.

What?

I’m reminded of similar complaints about the character Rey in the new Star Wars movies. And the same complaints about Wonder Woman. Any time a woman steps into the hero’s role, someone feels offended. The radical feminist agenda! Look at Hollywood, working to tear the family apart! These man-hating liberals!

A woman performing heroic deeds does not, in any way, detract from or diminish a man performing heroic deeds. The desire to control and dominate the opposite sex is rooted in sin, and it’s something we need to battle. We aren’t in competition with each other. The flourishing of men and women alike is directly tied to us seeing each other as equal partners, bringing unique perspectives and skills into every situation.

This article highlights the problems of complementarianism. There is, of course, a spectrum of thought and practice here. I know that many who ascribe to this particular framework were annoyed by the piece, and expressed their annoyance. And I don’t for a second believe that everyone who thinks that a woman shouldn’t preach would turn around and advocate for the squashing or outright abuse of women. That is as ridiculous as those who accuse egalitarians like myself of being blind to differences between the sexes.

But.

When complementarianism becomes rigid, utterly focused on who is doing what and when and how, an article like this is the inevitable result. A woman must always be/do this, a man must always be/do that. And this, my friend, is harmful to everyone.

Am I nitpicking? It is a movie after all. I wish it were. Instead of engaging the movie’s ideology as mere fiction, a fun escape to another world, we have allowed it to bear deadly fruit on earth. Along with Disney, we abandon the traditional princess vibe, and seek to empower little girls everywhere to be strong like men. Cinderella trades her glass slipper for combat boots; Belle, her books for a bazooka. Does the insanity bother us anymore?

What is the “traditional princess vibe?”

Is it Elizabeth Tudor, locked in the Tower of London during the reign of her sister, Mary I? Confronted by Bishop Stephen Gardiner, Elizabeth denied any knowledge of Wyatt’s Rebellion, which sought to overthrow the Catholic Mary and place the Protestant princess of the throne. Day after day she answered questions, her quick thinking and ability to play politics keeping her head securely on her shoulders for another hour. When she ascended to the throne, her name would be splashed across an age of exploration and cultural revival, one of the highlights of which would be her speech to the troops at Tillbury:

I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

Or is it Mary Tudor, commonly called “bloody,” who was wrenched from the arms of her mother, Catherine of Aragon, when her father, Henry VIII, decided he was going to marry Anne Boelyn with or without the blessing of the church? Mary endured the indignity of having her royal rank stripped away, her household and income drastically slashed, and even served as her new half-sister’s lady-in-waiting for a time. She clung to the Catholic way of faith at risk of her life. When the reign of half-brother Edward VI ended, it was Mary herself who climbed into the saddle and rode toward London, gathering an army of supporters as she went, ready to take her place as the rightful queen.

Or is it Catherine of Aragon, schooled in the art of statecraft by her parents, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, the first monarchs to unite the country? She traveled to England to marry Arthur Tudor, who died just five months later. For eight years she existed in limbo, unable to return home but lacking any clear position in England itself. Then, in 1507, she was named her father’s ambassador, the first woman in European history to hold a diplomatic position. After marrying Henry VIII, Catherine served as regent for six months while he was away fighting a pointless war in France, during which the Battle of Flodden, the largest battle between England and Scotland, was fought, with England emerging as the victor. In the midst of all this, she found time to commission a book, The Education of a Christian Woman, written by Juan Luis Vives, which argues that women have the right to be educated just as men are.

Or is it Elizabeth of York, beautiful daughter of Edward V and Elizabeth Woodville, who stepped into marriage with a man she’d hardly spent any time with in order to bring the civil wars that had ravaged her country to an end?

Or is it Margaret Tudor, heiress to an enormous fortune, who bravely bore marriage to a man in his twenties and being shipped off to a castle in the Wales, where, at age 13, she gave birth to her son, Henry, an experience so traumatic and damaging that she was never able to have another child?

Or is it Margaret of Anjou, wife to the mentally ill and and politically deficient Henry VI, who, upon being driven from England, mounted an invasion force in order to restore her husband and ensure the rights of her son?

Or, even further back, is it Matilda, whose father Henry I made his courtiers swear an oath of loyalty to her and her successors, thus setting the stage for the first queen regnant in England? Who then had to fight her cousin, Stephen, after he stole her crown?

These are all examples from English history, particularly the time of the Tudors, because that story is endlessly fascinating to me. These women endured arranged marriages, the constant threat of death in childbirth, long hours spent in the saddle, and the unending pull of various factions vying for influence. They were not mere lovely ornaments, decorating the arms of their powerful husbands or living as meek servants to their family interests. They were movers and shakers in their own right. They had real power, real authority.

We could, of course, get into an even longer list, detailing the exploits of biblical lady heroes. Rahab. Jael. Ruth. Abigail. The unnamed woman in 2 Samuel 20. The woman praised in Proverbs 31. Esther. Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary Magdalene. Martha. Priscilla. Lydia. Junia. Phoebe.

I have more thoughts about this article and topic, but we’ll end here for now: In the Kingdom of God, there is a completely different agenda and way of living. That agenda and way does not include obsessing over what women “should” do. The point is to follow Jesus as He leads, empowering and encouraging others in the freedom of the Gospel, wherever we go.

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