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On Healing and Time

Shorigin_2448288816e had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed. (Mark 5:27, 28 NLT)

This unnamed woman in Mark 5:25-34 is my soul sister.  As a lonely teenager, isolated and invisible, I took comfort in Jesus’ awareness of her: he picked her out in the mob pressing against him and honored her courageous act of faith and trust, an act as simple as touching the hem of Jesus’ robe.

Recently this woman’s story has grown in significance, as I not only relate to her loneliness but to her pain.  The story has become more meaningful…and more challenging.

Illness – stomach pain and unrelenting heartburn – attacked over two years ago.  Doctors disagreed on the diagnosis and argued over the best way to treat the illness.  Despite my best efforts to change my diet and sort through opposing medical opinions, my health deteriorated.  I lost too much weight, my skin took on a grayish quality, I couldn’t eat without feeling sick, and my body stopped making estrogen, a source of grief for me and my husband as we had been trying to conceive.  The stress of it all debilitated my spirit and my sense of self.

Mark shares few details about this woman; he does not even give her a name.  We know she hemorrhaged for twelve years before encountering Jesus; we know she suffered at the hands of many doctors, who drained her savings.  We may extrapolate that her unrelenting bleeding isolated her from community members who cared about ceremonial cleanness.  Likely she was told by religious leaders that her suffering was God’s judgment of her sin.  We also gather she was desperate enough to try something crazy, pushing through a large crowd in order to touch the garment of a well known healer, believing that touching Jesus would heal her.

This season of illness has allowed my imagination to wander through the gaps in this woman’s story.   I expect that her suffering at the hands of doctors was not only physical but emotional.  Countless times, I read about or was told by a doctor of a “silver bullet” treatment plan.  If I paid for an expensive blood test to identify food intolerances, I would see progress; if I would try the Paleo diet, my gut would heal; if I went for acupuncture weekly, I would experience relief; if I would simply take an acid reducer, or conversely, not take the acid reducer but instead supplements, I would be well.  Once I acknowledged that I had stomach issues, I encountered fellow sufferers, and I learned about surprising strategies that worked for others – aloe vera, acidophilus, yoga, even electro-shock therapy!  I never went as far as trying electro shock therapy, but I did try everything else, with no great improvement.  Whenever a new solution did not work as quickly as I hoped, my discouragement deepened.  After awhile, my hopes faded.

For this reason, I am astounded by the woman’s willingness, after twelve years of failed solutions, to garner enough hope to touch Jesus.  What made her confident that this audacious act would work?  It impresses me that she was willing to risk drawing negative attention to herself if touching Jesus did not work.  If she remained unhealed, she could have been blamed for making this popular rabbi unclean.

My heart rejoices that this crazy display of faith worked for the woman; after twelve long- suffering years, she finally experienced healing.  My heart also aches, because this has not been my story.  Many people have prayed for me over the past two years.  Some have laid hands on me and anointed me with oil.  Several months ago, I admitted to my spiritual director, “I feel like God is ignoring me.”  I have wanted a miraculous healing, defined by immediate, long lasting relief from pain.  I did not care at first whether God or diet or medication caused the healing.  I just wanted to be well.

Instead, healing comes slowly, at a tortoise pace.  I took a seven-month medical leave of absence and only recently returned to my work as an associate pastor in a large Presbyterian church.  I take six medications and several supplements every day and carry around pill-boxes like my older congregants.  I diligently guard my diet, my exercise, and times of rest.  If I fudge in my self-care, my body reacts immediately.  My resilience grows day by day, and I am encouraged by improvement.  My skin is no longer gray, I am slowly regaining weight, and I am less stressed and know myself better.  But, I am not well yet.

Rather than rooting myself in the outcome of this woman’s story – in her miraculous healing – I return to where I started as a teenager, with the conviction that Jesus notices my suffering and does not ignore me or leave me to face my pain and frustration alone.  God’s presence travels with me, in moments of clarity, in glimpses of healing, as well as in discouragement and doubt.  Through it all, I continue to come back to this soul sister, grateful for her trust and her courage.

Breastfeeding as Spiritual Practice

When my husband and I signed up for our labor and delivery classes at Meriter Hospital, I looked forward to these sessions with both excitement and trepidation. It was unfortunate that we missed the last class, which was on breastfeeding. I never really thought it would be a big deal. After all, my mother never had any problems, and I knew women had been doing this for ages. The thought of taking a class on a “natural” biological event seemed a bit strange.

When my infant son was born with a full head of hair and a round little face, the nurses plopped him on my breast as I was lying prone recovering from surgery. I didn’t know anything about latching him on, nor did he. He lay on top of me like a little papoose snuggling into me for warmth. As we waited and waited for my milk to come in Elias, my little baby, started to lose weight. In the meantime, I felt so helpless and was helpless to the helpless.

I was amazed that this tiny creature had to be taught how to eat, how to breastfeed. I thought of our Lord as an infant getting his own clenched fists in the way of his mouth and of his source of life. Who could imagine that the King of the Universe would have struggled like Elias did to learn his source of sustenance and succor? While Elias had his own struggles, his mother wondered about her ability to mother, especially without the powerful gift of strong feminine milk. The milk finally came in, but soon we were to learn that the mother/son pair just couldn’€™t find a great symbiotic rhythm.

After a couple of weeks of lots of trial and error, it was discovered that I did not produce enough milk to keep my son going. It was no wonder we started to pray the hours more than even a monastic community.  You see, every time Elias needed to eat we would set ourselves up in the breastfeeding chair. During those moments of desolation, that place became a place of prayer. A simple, “Please, Lord, help him get enough” was enough to keep the prayers going to God. Once I was put on medication to produce more breastmilk, my prayers changed in nature. Read more

This Month: Visual Art and Poetry

For this, our inaugural feature, we bring you two very different pieces, “On Women and Children and Poverty,” a visual piece by Suzanne Stovall Vinson, and “&,” a poem by MaryAnn McKibben Dana.

While the medium and focus of the two pieces differ from one another, each piece speaks to the particularity of women’s experience while touching on broader themes that unite many of us.

Are you a poet, fiction writer or visual artist? We want to hear from you! Please see our submission guidelines for more information.

And now, on to Christ & Creativity…

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