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.

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Sisters: Instantly

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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 wonder what she felt in that moment.

Twelve years of bleeding. Men, my brothers, I love you, but you don’t understand. You have no idea what that would be like to live with. Women, we know. We grasp the full horror of unrelenting cramping, back pain, bloating, fluctuations in skin tone and texture, lack of energy, and moodiness. We read her story and we know that she was unclean, not just on a ceremonial or cultural level, but genuinely, physically unclean, no matter the precautions she took, no matter how many times she washed herself.

And then…it’s done. Gone.

Did she snatch her hand back from the hem of His robe as if she’d been bitten by a snake? Or did she let it linger? Did she remain rooted to the spot, crouched down, half-hidden by the crowd? Or did she stand and try to melt away? Did she understand what had happened? Or was she too afraid to accept the impossible until she could get home and see for herself?

The Holy Spirit inspired and guided the authors of Scripture to record everything necessary for us to come into right relationship with God. Instructions, if you will, that tell us how to unwrap the gifts of holiness, life, and salvation. I think He also guided them to leave out certain details. Maddening, at times, because I have so many questions, but He is always wise. Clever, too, because, without these details, we have just enough room to insert ourselves into the scene. Not to alter the meaning or setting of the text, mind you (never, ever do that or I’ll find you and force you to sit through a really long lecture on exegesis and hermeneutics), but so that we can grapple with what the lesson involved means for us.

And this lesson hurts. I admit it. Because, you see, I have not received healing, either through sudden Divine intervention or through God’s work through medicine. There is no “instantly.” Just a continued long slog through muddy, sticky bogs that will eventually consume me.

Saw the doctor to discuss my blood test results. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight the last few months, weight I didn’t need to lose. He’s not overly concerned right now, but a few more pounds shed won’t be good. I’m definitely verging on the “too thin” look. Posted some pictures on Instagram following a weekend barbecue and thought, “Gosh, my legs look twiggy.” But somehow my cholesterol has gone up? Explain that one to me when I mostly eat rabbit food in bird-sized portions? (If I eat too much or too fast, it reappears in an unpleasant fashion). And while my liver function remains in the “crappy, but good for you because you’re a weirdo” category, my thyroid function is sliding toward abnormal, except it’s the abnormal end that usually has weight gain associated with it.

Marie Louise, Medical Mystery.

Awesome. (I wish there was a sarcasm font).

As I drove away from the office, shaking my head, the Holy Spirit said the words He’s said many times throughout this four-and-a-half year long journey: You can freak out or you can trust Me. And I know that freaking out is pointless. I know that all I can do is exercise, enjoy my limited diet, sleep as much as I need to, and continue to trust that He’s holding me close.

But I won’t lie.

I’d like that instant healing.

Tears sting my eyes. Not for me, not really, but for her. I am grateful that this woman, this sister of mine, got to experience the release. I hope I encounter her one day, when Christ returns and Earth and Heaven are made one. I want to know what she did with the rest of her life. I want to know how she used her new freedom. I want to hear the rest of the story.

As for me, right now, I keep my hand tucked in His, knowing that He is here, always and instantly.

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For all posts in the Sisters series, go here.

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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For all posts in the Sisters series, go here.