What Does My Calendar Say About The Condition Of My Heart? (Jesus pt. 105)

I was talking with an acquaintance in ministry a few years ago.  A very high energy, dynamic leader with great capacity, a lot on his resume and at the time, a lot on his calendar and metaphorical “plate”.  He was ‘crushing’ it in ministry, with quite a few ‘trophies’ on the shelf to show for years of hardthat's just dumb and dedicated work.  I am confident that his desire was absolutely to do God’s will, to advance the kingdom, and to bless others. By any reasonable standard, he is a success at what he does.  Yet, in the course of our conversation, I heard him, while not in these words exactly, pray this idea, “Oh God, help me sustain an unsustainable pace.”

I was so sad.  And a little angry.  Because this prayer crystallized for me so much of what is wrong with us, with our ministries, with our spirituality, with our culture.  Busyness replacing relationship. The arrogance of thinking one is the exception to the limits we all have.  Basing one’s worth on the product produced, the effort offered, the “trophy” to show for it all. Falling into the comparison trap with others.  I know this from personal experience.  Our calendars offer a remarkable window into the condition of our hearts. Into our thoughts about who we think God is.  Into our thoughts about who we think we are. 

Years ago, I was trying to find a way to juggle the responsibilities of full time ministry while living overseas, being a wife, and a mother of 3 under the age of 8, with one of them under a year old.  I recognized the uniqueness of that particular season of life…and I was terrified of failing.  FYI – whenever you are afraid, pay attention, because often, fear is telling you something on the inside of you needs attention.  Another FYI – most of us do not operate from a place of freedom and security, in the knowledge that God’s grace is enough and we do not have to earn His approval.  Instead, we do the tasks in our lives because we are afraid of something: failing, the disapproval of others, not being enough, being alone, of being still and quiet, of empty time on the calendar, rejection, insignificance, etc.  My fear was/is failing.

So when I ended up at a conference with other women who were in the same field as me, I looked around for someone who was doing it well.  Balancing the demands of the work, faith and family, staying sane, both cultivating a spirituality and depth that was not only healthy, but looked like something I might want to emulate.  When I found her, (a very cool 50-something with a nose ring, by the way) I asked for a bit of time, to pick her brain about this: How can I do all that God has asked me to do? Because honestly, if I think about all the needs, all the possibilities, all the people out there who need Jesus and me…I’m a little overwhelmed.  I was looking for some type of strategy to help me manage it all.

You know, Jesus was asked the same question.  In Mark 12, a religious leader came to Him and asked, ““Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”.  Here was a teacher of the law, very aware that, in his paradigm of the faith, he had well over 600 laws to obey each and every day. Imagine! I’m actually tired and overwhelmed just thinking about what his life and religious practice must have looked like.  The guilt.  The fear of failure. Of comparison to others. Of not being good enough. I suspect his internal monologue and mine, bear a striking resemblance, emphasizing inadequacy and judgment. Because…while I don’t have a quantified list of 600+ things-to-do-today-to-make-Jesus-happy-with-me…I kind of do.

And then there is the phrase “most important”.  In Greek, it is the word “protos”, where we get our English word, “priority”. I think that part of what the teacher of the law is asking is, “Jesus, what I have to do is so much, I’m pretty sure I’m going to fail somewhere. So tell me, if I only get one or two things done, what is the most important? What should my “protos” be? What should get the first of my energy and effort, so that my priorities are not mis-ordered?”

Jesus answered Him with a surprisingly short to-do list.  In fact, Jesus pretty much said, “Oh busy one, you are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking about task, you should be asking about relationship.” Jesus answered with, “The most important one…is to love Me…”  Our protos, our most important task, above all others, that which should get the first and best of our time, energy and attention,  is to be in a healthy relationship with God. That’s pretty much it. He isn’t the one asking us to get a lot done for Him. We are.  His to-do list for us is a one item-er.  Healthy relationship.  With Him. And by extension, with others.

Flash forward to the women’s conference I was at, and the older woman’s response to my question, “How do I do it all?” She simply said, “I just figured out years ago, that what God wants me to do is almost always less than what I think it is.” She was gently telling me that I was asking the wrong question.  Rather than asking how I could get it all done, she said, “Why don’t you ask God what He wants you to do. And then ask Him how He wants you to do that.”

I left that conversation changed.   I’ve been attempting to purse better questions about my spiritual life ever since.  Jesus seems to love a really good question, by the way.  Right now, He and I are discussing this one:

What does my calendar say about the condition of my heart? 

(Or if I really wanted to get brave, I could ask my family what they think my calendar says about how I feel about them.)

Because, how we choose to use our time, energy and resources says an awful lot about what is going on inside of us.

 

It Can Be Just So Terribly Awful (Conversations About Cancer pt. 2)

(Part 2 in my series on what it is like to talk with people about pain and the awkward (pt 1 – click here), awful  (today) and awesome (up next) results.)

It was one of the many, many times I’ve been sitting in a hospital waiting room while Jeff was in a major surgery, and I was talking with one of the many, many people who have visited me during these times and tried to bring comfort. And while I was grateful for the effort, it went horribly, horribly off the rails.

As he sat down, he began talking. And talking. And talking. (Let me preface this by saying I’m a pretty good listener. A decent conversationalist, able and willing to do healthy give and take. This story isn’t about me wanting to monopolize a conversation but about what was appropriate considering the situation.) At first, given our context, I couldn’t believe he didn’t really ask me how I was doing or feeling, beyond just the obligatory greeting. So the first time he took a breath I decided to try and volunteer some of my story. If you know me or have ever read this blog in the past, then you know I am kind of honest about heart and spiritual stuff. I didn’t go all Job on him, lamenting from the darkest places of my soul, but I was describing something of my fear and weariness and grief – as I thought was appropriate for a hospital waiting room. I assumed he would be interested and able at least to let me say what I needed to say and at least, tell me, “I’m so sorry.”

Um, I was wrong. He looked at me, not with rejection, (thank goodness) but with confusion. Like an actor must on stage when a fellow actor deviates from the script. He had no idea where to go or what to do with what I had just said.

So he began doing what many… so many have done with me in conversation when the topic of my husband’s cancer and what it has done to our lives comes up. He continued talking. And talking. And talking.

After a few tries to join the conversation, I just stopped talking to see if he would notice. He didn’t. For well over 30 minutes. At first it was sort of comical. I thought I was having an out-of-body experience, wondering where the hidden camera was. And then it just started to hurt. Because I was having to listen to him when I should have been given the gift to talk. Because I actually needed my intellectual bandwidth to manage my own stuff and he was taking it from me. Because in a moment when I was supposed to be loved, I wasn’t. And it hurt.

My guess as to what he was doing? I have several theories. First, he could have been trying run out the clock on our conversation – and by not giving me space to talk, he was avoiding having to go to an uncomfortable place spiritually or relationally. Second, he may have been working with the good intention that keeping my mind busy, off my circumstance and a few moments of distraction would be helpful. (I’ve been surprised to realize that many pastoral visits seem to operate from this mindset.) Third, he may have thought that his words were actually helping, that in that moment what I really needed was more input to help me process my pain. Fourth, he could have just been terribly un-self-aware, not paying attention to how I was receiving him and clueless about what I might have been feeling or needing.

I suspect there is another, more-common-than-one-might-think reason as to why he so epically failed in the comforting category, however. And it is a reason I have experienced often as I move through conversations with people about my husband’s cancer and what it feels like for me. I think I scared him. Oh, not me directly, but my situation. Because if God loves me and I’ve been a relatively faithful servant of his for years now, and He could let this horrible thing happen in my life…then He just might let it happen to him too. Or to someone he loves. And that can be a very scary thought.  A paradigm-shifting, theology-busting thought that many aren’t ready to handle. A God who lets (and might even cause) bad things happen to those He loves.

And so I find myself periodically confronted with people who hurt me with their words, who shut me out of the conversation about my situation (ironic) because they are afraid of where things might go. These people refuse to let me communicate honestly about how I am doing and feeling by saying things like, “Let’s just focus on the positive.” (meaning, let’s not talk about the negative possibilities) Or, “I know God will heal Jeff.” (which shuts down whole streams of conversation ) Or, “It will all work out for good.” (again meaning, let’s not talk about the negative possibilities) While I appreciate and value faith-filled positive folks, what I’m talking about are the times some are unable or unwilling to participate in conversations that don’t follow a specific script. They seem unable or unwilling to believe God might just defy their expectations in this situation and break someone’s heart. And that He would still be loving in that moment of profound pain and disappointment.

Then there are the people who want to talk about things like God’s glory and what a gift it can be to  suffer for Him. (They are almost always young folk, without any real suffering or significant life experience behind them.) They quote lots of verses or a book they’ve read – and often go into preaching mode instead of conversation mode. (Which works in the pulpit…in the hospital waiting room or coffee shop? Not so much.)  In their head-lead desire to be theologically accurate, they end up being heart-less, rejecting the very Biblical imperative of being human and compassionate. (For the record, I know God is good. I know most circumstances have the potential to bring about some good. But there are days I don’t feel very good about it all. If theology can’t meet me here, if it can’t allow God to be sovereign and me to be human at the same time, it is lacking.) They hide behind an impressive theology because they are afraid of a God they can’t understand or put in a box. And they are afraid of those who challenge their paradigm.

I am learning compassion for those I meet whom I scare – and I am learning to be patient with the multitude of words that come forth from their mouths, unchecked by their brains and uninformed by their hearts. I know they are trying to help and do what they know to do. But sometimes, I just need to get out of the way because a conversation with them in the wrong place at the wrong time, like a hospital waiting room, can be just terribly awful.

Pr. 10:19 When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

Job 6:26  Do you think that you can reprove words, when the speech of a despairing man is wind?

The Value of Sitting, Being Present, Being Still and Listening (Jesus pt. 88)

It was early one morning and I was sitting with my Jesus, trying to be present, trying to be still, trying to listen. The moment wasn’t about communication with words. It was about being where He was. About making a physical statement that I wasn’t trying to move away.  About opening my heart rather than trying to fix it on my own. About getting quiet enough to see what would happen and how He would lead our time together.

Mug from our honeymoon. Bible. Journal. Jesus.

And parts of the experience were so frustrating.

I would start to form words to talk with Him when I sensed I just needed to sit, to be present, to be still, to listen. My mind would begin to wander to things I tried to convince myself were important… that were important… and I’d sense the need to sit, to be present, to be still and to listen. To park them in the proverbial parking lot so He and I could get to them later while we did this other, more pressing work in our relationship. Eventually, my thoughts slowed down and the mental distractions diminished.

Then my heart began to weigh in. Emotions unexpectedly emerged. As Jesus asked me to sit there in my office that morning, it was representative of how it has felt as He’s asked me to sit here during this prolonged season of life. Where the most exciting thing He’s asked of me some days is to sit, to be present, to be still, to listen. I found myself feeling so unvalued. So unloved. And by extension, so unvalue-able and so unloved-able.  I had recently watched many near me get really great, fun and exciting assignments…opportunities that have taken them to really great, fun and exciting places to serve Him, to love His people and those who are on their way to becoming His people. I couldn’t help but feel that my assignment during the same time must indicate something of how He feels about me. That my greatest contribution must be getting out of other people’s and His way.

By sitting with my Jesus, by being present, by being still and listening, I was putting myself in a position for important but hidden things in my heart to emerge. To hear Him speak to me about those things. And oh, how I needed to hear Him speak to me! One thing I’ve learned about walking with Jesus over the years…while He may not always change my external circumstances…when He speaks, He always changes my internal condition. He always changes something in me. He always changes me.

Sitting, being present, being still and listening are doors to relationship with Him. Microphones that allow me to hear His voice when normal life might drown Him out. Hammers that bust up the box I try to put Him in. Tender embraces where He holds me close and with great affection.

Life ebbs and flows in seasons. Some appearing busier than others to the untrained eye. Some falling into different categories by the world’s method of categorizing things – like usefulness, value, love. God’s cycle of seasons can look very different than our preferences, His categories defying our natural predilections. What appears to some as dormant on the outside can be bustling with activity on the inside. Healing from the past. Preparation for the future. Special gifts in the present that would go unnoticed if life were busier. What I think may be a statement of low worth and lack of love can actually be a powerful indicator of great worth and deep love. God is surprising and mysterious that way.

What I thought that morning was the pinnacle of passivity became a most powerful and active demonstration of His love in my life.  And it was open to me because I was willing to learn to sit, to be present, to be still and to listen.

A Long, Slow Fall Down A Winding Spiral Staircase

When people ask me, “So, how are you doing?”, if it is a safe person and they are really asking, I tell them, “It has been a long slow fall down a winding spiral staircase.”

Although I am describing something of what my last few weeks have looked like with Jeff so sick in the hospital, I am also talking about our last 2 years. That word picture encompasses not only the emotion of the quick decline of Jeff’s health and how it has affected our family, but of our disappointment at not returning overseas, of the sad realization that our lives will look different than we had ever planned, of a difficult move to a new place that was not anywhere on our radar a few years ago, of the grief of several years of loss demanding expression and of my resulting depression.

A long, slow fall down a winding spiral staircase.

Just when I thought we had surely reached bottom, oh no…we weren’t even close. It has just kept going on and on and I have just kept tumbling down and down. The promised end has continued to stretch further and further out of reach until one day, weeks in to our recent experiences, I woke up and thought to myself, “How on earth did we get here?” And tangentially, “Where did all these bruises come from?”

I suspect many personal crises play out in a similar way.

Something happens. Reaction. Survival mode. Denial. Awakening to reality. Periodic gut-wrenching sobs accompanied by bouts of nausea. Asking, “What the heck just happened?”

At least that has been my experience.

In light of all this, a spiritual/theological question is rolling around in my heart these days…(and let me preface this with the full realization that many others have encountered much steeper, much longer and more painful falls than I)

Why the fall?

Sometimes life takes these odd twisting descents that lead us to places we never imagined we would have to go. Sometimes there is quite fall. And sometimes it takes a long time to get the ground back under us.

I say “sometimes”, but if you’ve walked in this world long enough, then I’m sure you have had a season where the road has disappeared. You’ve fallen. And I bet it all took longer than you hoped it would or thought it should. And I bet the sheer distance of the fall not only took your breath away, but it probably left some pretty decent bruises. Probably in some awkward and private places.

Is. 40:4 says, “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” The idea of God leveling out the rough ground is common imagery in scripture. (Ps. 26:12, Ps. 143: 10, Is. 26:7, Is. 45:2, Heb. 12:13) And no doubt, Jesus shows up and smiles on each of us with kind mercies, making our way sweeter and more joyful than it could be. He sometimes, but not always, buffers and takes the edge off. But honestly, my experience with God seems to involve quite a bit of rough ground. Leveling? Well, my perspective will be different in a few months, but right now? Not so much.

Because I live in a world where sin and its destructive power have roughed up just about every corner of creation. And Jesus doesn’t always fix things. Not right now, anyway. Not always in the way we had hoped.

The pathway to more of Jesus is often a descent. It can involve a fall through our direst fears, past our greatest weaknesses, filled with loss of the things we were sure we could never live without. It can be bruising. Yet…He goes with us. Making sure we are never alone. Accompanying us as we tumble. Showing us that it isn’t the fall that will kill us. It is a life without Him.  A life ruled by our fears, defined by our weaknesses and filled with shallow imitations of what our hearts truly long for is far more dangerous than anything we might encounter on the way down.

A jarring tumble can be quite eye-opening, showing us things we just cannot see when blinded by good times. And a significant fall can crack open our hearts in a most beautiful way, making room for Him to join us in the dark places inside of us we may not even know are there.

And…I am learning to open myself up to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, He levels a different type of ground than what I expect or prefer. Maybe He isn’t always talking about the ground that makes my shoes so dirty.

Maybe, the level ground He is talking about involves the terrain of the heart. I know He makes the ground my heart walks on very stable indeed, regardless of what is under my feet. How else to describe how people endure horrible, devastating external circumstances, but manage to eventually recover and thrive? Just how DID Paul write so much of the New Testament from prison? How did Corrie Ten Boom survive years in concentration camps and come out loving Jesus even more than before? How do believers today walk with Jesus in some pretty dark places and still sing in worship and gratitude?

Jesus did something amazing in their hearts, that’s how. He healed what was broken. He filled up the holes. He smoothed rough ground. He was with them through the worst seasons of life. And He was enough. Even with the fall. Even with the resulting bruising.

And while I write about those who are much more deeply in love with Jesus, who bear His image so much clearer than I, He has also done this for me.

He has allowed me to glimpse something of how sweet it is to know Him in the midst of the fall.

(Update on Jeff’s condition: Jeff has made an amazing turnaround. He left the ICU this past weekend and is now walking around, eating solid food, smiling and chatting with his family and should come home hopefully this weekend. And for a while there, we weren’t sure he would. The best part of all this? I get more of Jesus…and I get my husband back too. We are so very grateful for the prayers lifted up on his behalf around the world. More of our story to come…please stay tuned!)

The Text Message That Saved Me (Let My Blog-Processing of Jeff’s Surgery Begin…)

Tuesday night I was sitting in the waiting room of Kennestone Hospital, well…waiting…to hear how my husband was, how his surgery went, what the verdict was and what was next for him and our family. I was doing what I do in moments like this – writing, thinking, praying. And not necessarily in that order. The three intricately weave together in the working out of my faith in ways even I don’t fully understand. It was into this complicated moment, where my faith was intersecting my fear that I got a text message.

“Are you alone?”

I stopped what I was doing as I suddenly realized that “yes”, I was alone. Of course, the Sunday School answer is that Jesus was with me and I am never really alone…but please…we all know what the question was asking. “Is there someone with skin on them, who knows and loves you, sharing the same physical and emotional space with you right now? Is there someone there who can hug you and listen to you and go get a coke for you if you need it?”

And the answer was no. There wasn’t anyone with me. I was all by myself.

I wasn’t really surprised that I was alone. Since we are relatively new in our area, our ‘old’ friends were far away and our ‘new friends’ were still a bit too new to feel comfortable in calling. Family members were taking care of the kids so I could be where I was. I didn’t think there was anyone to call.

In my defense, I am a natural introvert who easily disappears into my inner world, often for long periods of time before coming up for daylight. I am fully capable of being alone without being lonely. Much of my last year was spent holed up in solitary and I guess it has become something of my “normal”. Historically, in difficult circumstances, my family of origin would also circle the wagons, so I was just following my internal programming. And in a moment like this, not being sure of how I was going to react or what exactly the news was going to be, I sort of wanted to be by myself.

What startled me wasn’t that I was sitting alone in a hospital waiting room. It was that I hadn’t even noticed.  The room was half full while I was there and as I looked around, I saw that everyone else was rather noisily sitting in their groups. Couples. Families. Crazy cousins. Grandkids. Friends. Church folk. And me in the corner. Alone.

What does this say about me? In a moment where most people reach out to others, I shut down. I found an emotional cave and was setting up camp. Once I was aware, even I realized that what I was in the process of doing wasn’t healthy.

And as I probed a little deeper, I realized that several dangerous lies had begun covertly swirling around the edges, whispering to me just under my consciousness. “Asking for help will only confirm to you how little you matter and how little they care.” “Surely others are too busy for me.” And, “I can do this on my own.”

Pressure on the outside has a profound way of surfacing what is on the inside.

And not being aware…not slowing down long enough to realize what is happening around and inside of me…I could have gone to a very dangerous place very quickly. That text message saved me.

It was a wake-up call to awareness. Of where I was. Of how I was. Of where I was heading.

I was vividly reminded of why I need friends who know and love me, who can draw my attention to what I cannot see on my own. Especially in the midst of a season where my attention is occupied.

As soon as I named those lies however, I started feeling profoundly lonely…and sad…and a host of other things that began making their way up out of my inner places, asking for some of my time. Naming and becoming aware of those emotions prompted me to do a few things. The next morning, I made some phone calls. I asked my friend to come and be with me. I connected via email with some important-to-me-but-not-nearby people. And I took note of where a few land mines are located in my heart. Because I’m not exactly looking down at my feet right now while I’m walking this particular path.

Permission To Come Undone (Being Human pt. 6)

I was talking with a friend of mine recently and she is one of ‘those’ kinds of friends. You know the type. She knows how to ask the right question, how to listen intently and wait as long as it takes to get the real answer, the right answer and to make you feel safe enough that if you wanted to…you could cry with her. And it would totally be ok.

Unfortunately, those sorts of people are few and far between.

At the start of our conversation I decided to throw out a test question, to see if I had read her correctly and if she was indeed as safe as I thought. I asked it with some context that isn’t important here and also in a genuinely light-hearted manner, so it wasn’t quite as awkward as it will seem. “So… if I come undone today during our time together, that’s ok, right?” Without batting an eye,  with a smile and gentle chuckle even, she replied, “You have complete permission to come undone.”

As I reflected on our conversation that day, I wondered why her words stuck with me. Could it have been her comfort with whatever form of emotion I chose to express? Her invitation for me to be as real or as vulnerable as I wanted? Maybe it was how she managed to create a safe place for us to talk and exchange more than just information. And I thought about how few places there are in my life where I have permission to come undone.

I found it sort of sad that somehow our emotions aren’t always as welcome into a conversation as our intellect or humor. What does it say about my normal conversational style and rhythms that I felt I needed permission from another person to express how I felt? Aren’t my emotions a valid and important part of who I am? And why is it that I am not always comfortable with this part of me or this part of others when it is their turn to come undone?

Jesus meets us in our humanity. This is the main thesis of the series entitled Being Human. There are things in our most fleshly, most earthly, most human parts that Jesus loves to inhabit, to speak to, to heal, to change, to redeem, to restore, to love. Jesus made us humans and He made us human. This includes our tears.

There are times we come undone and it is very much ok. Natural. Healthy. Those times when emotion bubbles and pours out of us. And while I can’t fully explain it, sometimes part of the undoing process must involve others – being with those who know how to guide us into and out of our undoing. Then we learn, when it is our turn, to walk others into and out of their undoing. While there is certainly a time for crying alone, I’m not sure that is how God planned it. It seems to me that when we learn to weep together, and this part of our humanity becomes ok in community, something powerful happens.

We connect. We learn to trust someone else with our pain. Shame dissipates. We humble ourselves with each other, cracking the door to greater relational depth. We learn to open our hearts in the presence of others, making peace with who God has made us to be, even when it is a bit messy. Or a lot messy. Jesus shows up and inhabits those moments, using us in each others lives to begin the process of ‘undoing’ what sin has done – and to begin the process of ‘re-doing’ us in His image.

So I’ve been wondering, when people are talking with me, am I a safe person? Am I comfortable enough in my own skin and with my own emotional health to invite others to be as real as they choose, to express whatever they feel with no fear of rejection or shame? Am I a good enough conversationalist that I can lead and/or follow people to talk about things that are important enough, where we get beyond just the head and maybe, just maybe, delve into the arena of the heart?

And am I willing to go first when appropriate?

Women, Dignity, Choice and Jesus (Jesus pt. 25)

When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Mark 5:27-28  

(Jesus asked) “Who touched my clothes?”  “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ “But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.”  Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mr. 5:30b – 34

In Mark chapter 5, we find a powerful story of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, how she meets Jesus and how He heals her. It is one of my most favorites in all of scripture. Perhaps because it involves a woman at her most vulnerable, with the life literally flowing out of her –  and Jesus at His most compassionate, with life literally flowing out of Him. Perhaps because it is about a woman, dealing with very womanly things – and a man who chose not to play the stereotypical man card and excuse Himself from the situation.

Recently I was teaching at a university student retreat on this particular story to an audience of both young men and women. And that evening, I had one of the most eye-opening, most heart-breaking experiences I’ve ever had as a Bible teacher. I was commenting on how awkward this story is – a bleeding woman. Is there anything more gender separating than this? As I said something like, “You men just cannot understand how this must have felt for the woman…”, a young man piped up and said, “Amen!” Everyone giggled. Ha ha. But this only proved my point.

At that moment, that young man unknowingly did something very destructive, very emotionally damaging. He introduced shame into the room. While trying to get a chuckle, to prove his masculinity, he actually told more than half of the room that it wasn’t ok to be a woman. That the things that give shape to our femininity are not ok.

Yes, I know all about what we mention in polite conversation. Yes, I know all about cultural and social mores and norms. But this story is in the Bible. Jesus wasn’t embarrassed by it. And if Mark, the author was, he still included it in the scriptures.

The passage tells us that she had suffered for twelve years from a debilitating disease with no medical cure. No man could ever understand what this type of vulnerability, wired into a woman’s very body, feels like. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met the man secure enough in his masculinity to even try. And I have to wonder if she was afraid of the men who guarded access to Jesus. I’ve seen men actually take pride in how little they know about women – as if who we are and how we were created is shameful or less than a man. Was this part of the reason why she hid and kept her distance? Is it possible this still happens in our churches today?

She experienced deep shame. The narrative tells us that she came up behind Jesus in a large crowd and touched His cloak. She wanted to “remain unnoticed”. (Luke 8:47) Surely her condition, her gender, her fear, her uncleanness, her helplessness, her poverty-both financially and emotionally, led her to hide, as it does for many of us today. Who among us hasn’t wanted to deal with our issues quietly, hoping no one else has to know?

Into this situation, Jesus does something unexpected. He is busy and actually on His way to perform a miracle for someone else – a respected religious leader who, on the surface, was everything this woman wasn’t. Yet, when He knows power has gone out from Him He stops, asks who it was who touched Him, and refuses to move on until that person reveals themselves. We all know that He wasn’t asking this question because He didn’t know the answer. Of course He knew who it was. He knew her name. Her story. The depth of her pain and desperation. He wasn’t seeking information. He was seeking her.

And He didn’t call her out. He asked for her – then He waited till she was ready to engage Him. He let her choose how she approached Him. He gave her dignity.

As a woman in a male-dominated culture, as a victim of a shame-inducing medical condition of which she had no control, as a non-person according to the culture around her, He gave her a voice. A choice. And choice, or lack thereof is almost always linked to dignity. He chose to wait on her, when we all know He should never have to wait on anyone.

I can see that in my relationship with Jesus today, 2000 years later…even though He still holds all the power, even though my relationship with Him is started and sustained by His grace and not my efforts, even though He knows all about me, my name, where and how I am, even though there are many reasons I could give for hiding or giving in to hopelessness…He asks for me. He waits for me. He doesn’t want me to hide. And He gives me choice in how far I go with Him, in the depth of relationship He and I will have. He gives me dignity. He gives me Himself. As much of Him as I choose.