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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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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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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