I Am the Woman With the Hemorrhage: Identifying With Biblical Healing Stories

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On June 29, 2017, I stood on the lawn of the US Capitol and spoke for approximately 15 minutes as part of a 24-hour interfaith vigil for healthcare.  Below are my remarks.

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I am the New Testament woman with the hemorrhage.

Over 13 years ago, I was diagnosed with endometriosis, a health issue of migrating tissue, imbalances of hormones, and pain.  While I dealt with pain for years prior to my diagnosis in 2003, much of the time I’ve dealt with the issue the best I can since sometimes it’s just an hour or two of rough pain with mild to moderate pain on and off during the other hours of the day.

But occasionally, the health issue will flare up like it did earlier this year.  I’ll try various methods to try to control it.  Physicians will say to me: Let’s try this pill.  How about another ultrasound?  What about trying birth control to manage the disease.  Maybe it’s time to have another minimally invasive procedure.

Over and over I’ve tried different medications and procedures to manage this disease.  More money spent here and there to see if this will be the magic formula to keep the disease at bay.   The time spent at the doctor’s office or waiting.  The costs of other health struggles that result from these issues – like low iron. 

When my endometriosis flared up this year, it was adhesions causing the extreme pain.  While many gynecologists treat it, only a few in our country know a special technique that will help the issue from coming back – at least for a number of years.  But I checked with the doctor, and they are out of network, so after insurance, the doctor’s bill alone would have been around $15,000.  I couldn’t go to the specialist who knew the special techniques of removing deeper tissue.  Fortunately, I do have insurance, so I was able to go to my own doctor, and she helped remove some of the tissue.   But even being on the top tier insurance, I still have nearly two thousand dollars I need to pay for deductibles and co-pays. 

I am the woman with the hemorrhage – the one who spent time, energy, money to heal.  But I’m not the only woman dealing with this issue.  Many other women with endometriosis do not have health insurance.  Even though my copays are costly, most of the costs are taken care of by insurance.  Others with endometriosis can’t afford the birth control pills to attempt to control the disease, or the IUD that is known to help, and with cuts to Planned Parenthood proposed as well they will have one less outlet to find the help they need with this health care issue.  They can’t afford surgeries.  And then there are the women who have insurance who are being denied hysterectomies and other procedures by their insurance company.  Some will take their funding issues into their own hands and create a Gofundme page.  

They too are the woman with the hemorrhage – spending all of the time and money that they have to find a cure for this disease.

This is just one illness in a sea of so many illnesses that our neighbors, family and friends face.  Each one of us at some point of our lives will find ourselves lacking in health and will need to see doctors about serious issues.  Most of us can identify with one or more of the people who Jesus healed or the people who advocated for them.

Some identify with the Syrophoenician women from Mark 7.  They will press with everything they have to make sure that they can afford treatments for their children.  They will call doctors offices and hospitals to negotiate prices.  They will contact their insurance company again and again to fight for a treatment to be covered.

Some identify with Peter concerned for his mother-in-law or the men who cut a hole in the ceiling so that they could lower their friend down in order to be healed.  It takes advocates like children of elderly parents making sure they can afford home health care or nursing home care for a parent who is not able to care for themselves.  It takes advocates like friends or family of people with severe mental or physical illnesses to ensure their loved one has exactly what they need.

Some identify with the child in Mark 9, then considered demon possessed but it sounded like he was having seizures.  How did the father in the story react?  He yelled “show us compassion!”  Don’t many here want to shout that out loud to the powers that be, the men and women who work at the building behind me?  Show us compassion.

When I read these stories, I think of so many of the people I know and have known with all sorts of health issues.  I think of all the people I know – the people in my congregation and hope they will always have the care they need.  I think about my dad.  He has Parkinson’s.  One of his medicines would cost him $19,000 per month if he didn’t have care.  I think of my mom who advocates for him, calling up companies to make sure that he is covered.  I think about both of them, hoping that laws don’t change and they will have to pay more for their medications.  

Just like I identify with the woman with the hemorrhage, other people might relate to other women and men who Jesus healed.

And yet Jesus had compassion on them.  He didn’t ask them over and over again to qualify themselves for care.  Even the one person who he did question – the woman from Syrophoenicia – he began to understand her through their common humanity.  He understood that he had no right to question the validity of healing her daughter.  And instead of criticizing the woman or her daughter any more, he went ahead and healed them.  

To our neighbors who serve our country in the United States Senate and House of Representatives as well as the executive branch: we are humans with dreams often cut short because our health care system allows our bodies to fail.  We are humans wanting to live not just a long life, but a long AND healthy life.  We are humans who want to see our children grow in body, mind, and soul.  We are humans that want our elderly parents to decent care when they can no longer care for themselves.  We want our siblings to have mental health care because we do not want to lose one more person to suicide.  And we want you to look in our eyes and open yourselves to our stories.  We want you not only to read Jesus’ healing stories in the Bible but listen to the stories of the people who struggle with health insurance and their diseases.  Jesus listened to them, and if you are a follower of Jesus, we ask that you follow the life of Jesus and create a system of affordable healing.  Do not cut what is there; expand to ensure that all people have one less worry in their lives.

We are humans who don’t want to worry that if we lose a job or our jobs are cut to part time hours, we can still afford health insurance.  And if we find ourselves without insurance, we will find a way to get back on it again.  We don’t want to base our vocational choices on whether the job has insurance or not but rather base it on the question “is God calling me to this particular vocation”?  We don’t want to avoid doctors because being diagnosed with something gives us a preexisting condition, and we don’t want to avoid doctors because we can’t afford to go.  Prevention is the key to longer and healthier lives.  Many of the people in the building behind us profess to be pro-life, but are they willing to prioritize tax cuts for the few instead of affordable care and quality of life for the many?

Anything could happen to us at any point.  God wants us to make sure that when it’s our turn to get sick that we aren’t forgotten.  So now is the time for us to speak.  And call.  And write. 

All of this reminds me of when I was entering seminary: since I quit my full time job, I worked at getting health insurance.  There was only so much I could afford, but I was able to get on a plan.  I had to justify a couple of the health issues I had – one being my endometriosis.  And the only insurance I could afford was without maternity.  If I had gotten pregnant during this time, I would not have had maternity covered.  If I wanted to plan to have a baby, I would have to add maternity on one year before I got pregnant, or else it would be a preexisting condition.  

Maternity.A preexisting condition.

But so many of my other seminary friends were forced without it. Some couldn’t afford it at all.  Others were denied insurance for issues like allergies or being over or under weight.  Whether they had insurance or not, some got sick.  One had an appendicitis without insurance and another two hernia surgeries before they started a full-time call.  The costs were high.

I’m not sure of the number of seminary students who can now afford insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act.  But we ask that you don’t take this away from them.  Or our next door neighbors.  Or the part-time worker.  Or the single parent working three part-time jobs.  Or the person on disability.  Or the elderly person needing Medicaid to stay in long-term care.  Or the small business owner.

The Body of Christ is in pain because it can’t get the help it needs.  It must suffer with ailments.  It must put off medical tests.  It must deal with the fatigue of pain.  It’s time for the Body of Christ as well as our sisters and brothers of other faiths and who profess no faith to be well alongside of us. In order for that to happen, we need affordable health care for all. 

And just like the stories of the people who Jesus healed have been told, it’s time for us to claim our stories too, our health care struggles, our worries about being able to afford healthcare whether we are on insurance or not, whether we are well or not, whether we are working or not.  It’s time for our leaders to listen to our stories, to know that we are all broken and beautifully human, that we are made in the image of God.

The Lesson of the Visor

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When I was in eighth grade in 1987, we were given the assignment to design our own visors for the annual school parade and picnic.  I was excited at the prospect of designing my own visor and gave the task much thought, but couldn’t decide what to paint.

When the time came to draw the design onto the visor, I ended up painting too many objects on the front.  My grand project turned into a mess!  The design ended up looking cluttered, and I was distraught when looking at it.

I’m sure some tears were shed after looking at the item.  My hopes in having a beautiful visor to wear were dashed.  And then came one of our room moms: Mrs. Morgan.  She had been my Girl Scout leader for many years and was the mom of my middle school best friend.  Mrs. Morgan came up, assured me it was going to be ok, and then began to take my visor and paint over the busyness of the design.  She left my rainbow and Ziggy and took the attempts I had made at painting balloons and outlined each of them in silver paint.

When she was finished the artwork became something magnificent.  Instead of clutter were clouds.  The design flowed together.  I knew that I would be marching in the parade with a masterpiece on my head instead of the disaster I thought I would wear.

On that day in 1987, Mrs. Morgan did more than redesign the image of my visor; she taught me a priceless lesson: when we have a project full of errors, this isn’t the completed design of our project. Our designs aren’t permanently ruined.  God gives us grace and wisdom to understand how to take the messiness in front of us and craft something beautiful.

I carry this lesson with me.  Whether I’m working on a piece of artwork or writing project, helping out one of the youth in my church with their project, or working on another assignment that may not be coming together smoothly, God is always infusing my work with grace and mercy, helping me understand that there is new life in messes.

May we each carry the grace-filled lesson of my visor into our churches, homes, workplaces, and communities.

A Post-Synod Prayer

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God who fits into the spaces that seem too small to exist,
The demon of exhaustion has embedded into my soul after the past week.
What a gathering of our denomination with its highs and lows!
Gathering information. And more information. Wrestling with your call, Dear Holy.
Knowing that we all have so much work to do.

Now we are home.
Now we resume everyday life.
Now we try to infuse the ideal into the normal,
To marry the theoretical and practical-
If that is possible.

God of all connections and spaces,
I miss my friends,
My support, my kin.
Like the disciples, we have scattered across the miles-
From California to Connecticut and beyond.

So here in the silence of everyday life,
I give thanks for the extraordinary days,
The exciting conversations,
The laughs that lasted for hours,
And the friendships that will last forever.
Amen.

An Extrovert in Hell

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“Why am I back to my room so early,” I asked myself. “I should be out socializing with someone. I wonder what everyone else is doing? Could it be I should have gone to the one mixer or another?”

It really wasn’t that early. Ten o’clock at night. Most people would be craving time to themselves at a later hour. But the extrovert finds their batteries charged when being around other people.

This is me tonight. Here I am- needing to get up at 7 and go all day tomorrow. I’ve been going over 10 hours today.  But this extrovert finds missing out on social occasions to be hell.

When it comes down to it, I’m tired. My body needs rest. Dear Michelle: it’s perfectly fine to miss a social event to spend quiet time with a book, blogging, or sleeping. It’s time to find balance to my day.

A prayer for the extrovert in hell:

God of the gaps and empty spaces, including the sabbath hours and silent seconds, quiet the hearts and minds of extroverts yearning for more time with people. Help us find strength in our alone moments as much as our social time. Give us peace when we are out of our element… like being solo and finding ourselves surrounded only by the sounds of humming air conditioners.

Amen.

A Prayer on the Summer Solstice

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Creator God, Divine Designer of the solar and lunar lights:

The day has arrived when the sun has reached its peak tenure. We rejoice under its light, its persistence in brightening our world. Day has delayed its departure.

For the long days and 9pm sunsets, we give gratitude, God.

Holy One who gifted us the Summer Solstice, create a desire in us to give this day our all and time to pause in the abiding daylight. Delay our time in the shadows.

The night will creep into the days demanding its mornings and evenings for itself.

We know that our uplifted moods of this Solstice will be quite different as the winter one rolls around.

So today we do what we can to grasp the fleeting daylight and delight under the sun, to celebrate your presence in our lives no matter the season, and to love one another on these long summer days.

Amen.

A Prayer for World Refugee Day

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God who encircles our earth in every moment,
Shine your light on our Holy Siblings who are refugees.
Whether they abide in Europe or the Middle East or Asia or Africa,
May they find stability and stamina in their storms,
Finding love as they seek basic care.
In their diaspora, may they reach the place where they can vision a new heaven and earth
And build a home in their exile, a dwelling of their new dreams.

Nudge us as we drift to sleep
 And neglect the stories of refugees-
The stories of abused, scared, famished ones made in your image.
Wake us when we forget that your son Jesus was a refugee-
An infant in the arms of his parents seeking safety.
Stir us when we forget that the Israelites were in the wilderness too
Escaping the powers-that-be that desired them dead.

We celebrate those who have gone before us whose resilience helped them find new life:
Our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles who were refugees
Lived only on a dream and carried great faith in the small bag packed for their trip-
A journey of an indefinite length to an unidentified city with strange people and scents and flavors.

May peace prevail across our world.
And when peace is lacking,
Let us open our doors to the many people who hurt
Delivering the hospitality of Christ to all God’s children.

Amen.

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Please check out these two links:

The Refugee

Azad’s Story

A World Oceans Day Prayer

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IMG_2016Swirling God, who at the dawn of creation swept over the face of the waters, hover over our oceans and all waterways with your blessed presence.

May each droplet of mist and sea be clean and fresh for all life who come in contact with these holy streams.

Bless each cell and molecule of life below the surface of the waters who trust in you and us to create a prosperous world.

Continually nudge us to nurture creation, joining together with humans all over this planet to covenant with one another and celebrate the gifts of water, air, fire, and land that you have given us.

Amen.

A “Repeat Day” Prayer

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fractal-1128622_960_720God of all eras and places,
Of all dittos, agains, redoes, duplicates, and echoes,
We want to celebrate the best of times over and over.

From the richest pieces of chocolate cake,
To the extravagant vacations we’ve been on,
And from the times we’ve fallen in love or to the liveliest parties we’ve attended,
We want to relive the greatest moments of our lives.

Sadly, those moments are often once in a lifetime-
Encapsulated within a fleeting moment.

On the other side of the coin are the moments which we hope to forget…
The breakups in which our hearts feel like they will collapse,
Or the illnesses that take days or months or years to subside.  Maybe.
Or the acts of violence that plague our world again.  And again.
And again.

We hope those never happen once.
But they often reoccur.

Another surgery.  Another funeral.

The news reports one more bombing across the world,
And we hear another stabbing or fatal gunshot injury.
We wonder why the terror keeps repeating
But the good times are few and far between.

On this repeat day, God,
While we won’t relive our day like Phil Conners in Groundhog Day,
We do find out that good times are sweetly rare,
That tragedy can happen at any moment,
That we cannot have a mulligan for our day.
But through your grace,
Trauma flashbacks will fade,
And maybe we can move into tomorrow with a spirit of hope.

Amen.

“Leave the Office Early Day” Prayer

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God of all times and spaces, as this day wears on, give us the opportunity to leave the office early.

Divine one, this isn’t our chance to slack off or ditch work. We work hard in our off hours and through lunch breaks.

But give us a few extra minutes to trade in time at the office for laughs with our friends or hugs with our loved ones.

This hour is one for us to remember the sabbath, rest, chill out, take extra breaths, and practice a well-balanced life.

(And God, since it’s also National Donut Day, we’re going to enjoy some jelly-filled donut goodness today too.)

Amen.

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I’m experimenting with praying through the National Day Calendar. While some of the prayers will be fun, others will be much more serious. Is there a specific prayer you would like to see? Note below. Thanks!

A Communion Liturgy for Pentecost

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Service of Communion

Invitation

One: Come to this table
Where bread and cup are transformed by the Spirit of God
Into a meal of love and grace
A supper of visions and dreams
A table where all souls are welcome.

Prayer of Communion

Loving God
Whose Divine Lungs exhaled the Spirit into our World
Your breath continues to transform our world
From the still to the stirring.

Before the earth was formed
The Spirit of God swirled through voids and shadows.

As humans were created
The air of God filled the lungs of Adam
And the soul of Eve.

This Divine Air
Continues to fill us up
When our bones are dry and spirits are sluggish.

On this day of Pentecost
When we celebrate the breath of the Spirit coming upon the disciples
We invite the Spirit to come upon these elements.

God of winds, pour out your Spirit to make the elements come alive for us.
Make this meal awaken our sleepy hearts and stagnant souls.

May this time of eating and drinking be one
where we stir from our sadness and rise from our hopelessness.

May we begin to celebrate visions
And animate the dreams that have only been alive in our minds.

As we share this meal,
Let us remember our siblings in faith who came to this table

In decades and centuries past
And our children who will surround this table in the future.
Each generation uniquely celebrates your presence, Spirit of Life.

The night before Jesus died was a solemn time around the table.
Breaking bread.  Drinking from the cup.
Jesus asking to remember him in our eating and drinking.

There was a time to mourn followed by a time to dance.

After the day of resurrection
The disciples ate on the beach with the risen Christ
Celebrating new life, new hope, new vitality.

On this Pentecost, as we come to the table,
let us celebrate the Spirit of Resurrection
And the promise of a needed second-wind in our own lives.

Let us partake of this celebratory meal together.

Distribution of Elements

Unison Prayer of Thanksgiving

Spirit of God, who fed the multitudes, provided the manna in the wilderness, and blessed the elements, we give great thanks for the meal eaten and the company surrounding us.

Inspire us as we move forward this day and encourage us to transform our dreams into reality.  Amen.