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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Any Time at All

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Gentle Reader,

Interrupting what is apparently going to be a series on the sisterhood of suffering (I often don’t know exactly what will develop when I begin writing something) to share some thoughts on motherhood.

What?, you think. She knows she doesn’t have kids, right?

Jen Wilkin writes:

Just as my biological children needed me to train them in self-control, industriousness, and obedience, so also do young believers in the church need those who are more mature to train them in godliness. Every believing woman who grows to maturity becomes, in her time, a spiritual mother to those following behind, whether she ever becomes a mom in physical terms. She fulfills that most basic calling of motherhood: nurturing the helpless and weak to maturity and strength. She helps the young believer to nurse on the pure milk of the Word, faithfully teaching basic doctrine and modeling the fruit of the Spirit. She sacrificially makes herself available, like the mother of a newborn infant, allowing her schedule and personal needs to be inconvenienced for the sake of caring for the spiritually young and vulnerable. And she understands the work to be not a trial but a sacred duty, finding deep delight in wobbly first steps of faithfulness and stuttered first words of truth. (emphasis mine)

My beloved youths chose to participate in 30 hours of fasting over the weekend, a fact that led to me being awake for 36-plus hours. For someone who loves sleep as much as I do, that was the real sacrifice. Not the logging off of all social media and leaving my phone in my backpack. Not the shunning of food (though I did come to realize how much I love coffee…and Nutella…and cheese [which I shouldn’t eat]…and all carbs). Keeping my bleary eyes open to make sure they were safe, not fainting, or fighting with each other – so hard. Part of me wanted to say, “Do whatever you want. Just don’t burn the church down,” and then find some quiet spot for a long nap.

But I’d do it again. No question.

There are not sufficient words to describe how lovely it is to watch them begin to process big concepts like compassion and justice. So many despise teenagers, find them annoying and basically useless. That many couldn’t be more wrong.

They got up very early on Saturday morning and (mostly) cheerfully served breakfast – that they would not eat – to homeless people. They want to go back and do it again.

They walked around a downtown section of our city, choosing to be bold and brave enough to approach strangers, to ask them for a bit of their stories and to offer prayer. Most of them were rejected. A few experienced the elation of being received. They want to go back and do it again.

They really had no idea that they go to school with people who don’t have food at home, or even a home at all. They want to do something about that.

They sat in silence on the beach for over half an hour, reading their Bibles, journaling, or contemplating nature. The majority said this was their favorite activity; they never have time for quiet. Some of them heard the Spirit’s whisper for the first time. The wonder on their faces…

They got hangry, like really hangry, but banded together and encouraged each other to see it through to the end, even as they made dinner together, a dinner that they would not taste-test (but turned out pretty dang good).

They served each other Communion.

…a motherless church is as tragic as a motherless home. Guiding the spiritually young to maturity is not solely the job of the vocational pastor, the elder, or the Sunday school teacher. The church needs mothers to care for the family of God. We must rise to our responsibility, eagerly searching for whom the Lord would have us nurture. There is no barrenness among believing women. Through the gospel, all become mothers in their maturity. And unlike biological motherhood, spiritual motherhood holds the potential for hundreds, even thousands of descendants. Older women in the faith, do you recognize the vital importance of your influence and example? Whom could you make room for in your life to guide toward maturity? Who needs the hard-earned wisdom you hold? Spiritual babies need help to open God’s Word, to live at peace with God and others, to be lights in dark places. Babies need mothers. (emphasis mine)

They really are “my beloved youths.” The affection that pounds in my heart is deep and real. I am their Cougar, their Sexy Grandma, their Second Momma. (Nope, I won’t explain the first two, because you definitely had to be there). I love listening to them, joking with them, being around them. I can hardly contain myself as they take those wobbly steps of faith.

So will I stay up all night, holding a young lady as she sobs?

Any time at all.

None of us needs ever to question our usefulness in the household of God. We have only to draw the next searching fledgling under our wing.

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Five Minute Friday: Practice

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Gentle Reader,

I’m actually writing this on time. And I even got to pop in and chat for just a second. Wild.

Onward, before the benadryl kicks in. So much sinus pressure. Stupid allergies.

Kate says: practice.

Go.

I drop to my knees, grateful for the thick yoga mat beneath me. Sweat drips from my brow, dotting my forearms. Again I wonder why I am awake earlier than I want to be. Why I am putting my body through the torture of physical activity. A disgustingly chipper voice encourages me to get back into plank position. With a heavy breath, I plant my hands on the mat and press my toes onto the slides.

Pull legs into a crouching position. Push out into a straight line. Use abdominal muscles to make the movement. Press down on the slides, legs out into a v-shape. Back into a line. In again.

Arms shake. Core tight. Legs ache. Lips tremble.

They say that fitness is a journey, not a destination. It’s all about the practice. About being better than you were yesterday. One more rep, a little heavier weight.

So, too, I think with our faith.

The Kingdom is then, in eternity, a place for us to look forward to with hope. But it’s also now. Right here. Inside you and me. We are called to a different way of living. Different ethics, different perspective. We get to participate in the beautiful, difficult work of sanctification. We get to show the world what it is to live for and with Jesus.

We don’t always get it right. Sometimes we fall to the mat and wonder why we even try.

In those moments, in the sweat, in the pain, in the weariness, the Spirit says: Get back up.

Stop.

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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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