…And there was a woman who had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:25-34
When I was in my mid-twenties I was a graduate school student, working toward a music degree. I was fortunate to spend part of the summer of 1997 in Spain, England, and Wales; I traveled around attending concerts, touring museums, and visiting historic sites. The trip would have been near-perfect if it weren’t for a nagging discomfort that persisted in my abdomen, much like a “stitch” in my side—only I hadn’t been running. For four weeks while I toured Europe, the pain increased, until I was aware of its presence every waking moment. I finally cut my travels short and flew home to Virginia two weeks early to seek medical care.
In Virginia, I underwent exploratory surgery and was then diagnosed with severe endometriosis. The only definitive way to diagnose endometriosis is with surgery—for the surgeon to visually identify the blood which should be inside the uterus, outside the uterus. While I was concerned about what this might mean for my lifestyle and my future, I had to admit that the diagnosis was, deep-down, no surprise to me: I already had spent a lot of money consulting many physicians and swallowing various medications. This was because, for the past ten years, I stayed in bed, in pain, for several days every month. I tried to sleep away the pain but when it occurred, it was so severe it often kept me awake. Doctors did not believe I experienced the type of pain I described to them. I cried out to God for help, I prayed for relief, I rested as often as I could. Doctors offered me hormone pills, over-the-counter pain relievers, and suggested I rest even more.
But you just can’t take time off to rest when you’re a graduate student. I had other responsibilities on top of my own studies. I was teaching class piano to non-music majors. I also taught piano lessons to elementary school students in an after-care program three days a week. My comprehensive exams, the extensive written and oral tests that I had to pass to graduate, loomed ever nearer, and students generally began studying and preparing for their “comps” about 4-5 months ahead of their expected test date. I was way too busy to have a disabling disease.
After the operation, I took men’s hormones to stop any endometriosis from regrowing. I felt well for about three months. Then gradually, I began to question the little nudges of pain I felt—I was uncertain and that uncertainty made me feel a little crazy. The doctor had promised I would have complete relief! I had had my surgery at a nationally recognized teaching hospital! I could not believe that I was having intense pain again, so soon. I was forced to make excuses to professors for late papers and projects. I had to find student peers with free time who could substitute teach my piano class for me. I lost income because I often rescheduled or canceled piano lessons. I vacillated between feeling depressed and discouraged, to feeling outraged and even furious toward the surgeon.
By June 1998, just ten months after my first surgery, I was convinced that enough endometriosis had grown back to warrant a second surgery. My surgeon was incredulous. But after several physical exams, he finally agreed to operate again. He was surprised to find that the disease had returned along with significant scarring. I was not surprised. I knew that the pain I had been experiencing had to have a source, and I felt relieved to know with certainty that I had not been imagining things.
For eleven years following the events of 1997 and 1998 I continued to undergo surgical procedure after procedure, to seek medication after medication, to visit specialist after expert, seeking relief from pain and hoping for a restoration of my fertility, all the while begging God to give me physical rest and relief. In the meantime, in 2001, Scott and I got married. He was by my side for two or three surgeries in the early 2000s, and he was there for the final, emergency surgery that saved my life in 2006.
God answered my prayers and rescued me from my pain once and for all in November 2006 in a very dramatic manner. I required emergency surgery and a week-long hospital stay for sepsis all because of endometriosis. I was very angry at first. My opportunity to become pregnant was obliterated. God had allowed me to become very sick to show me how much I needed to lean on him first—and to turn to him before trusting doctors, medications, remedies, my husband, and even my own gut.
My recovery was long and felt quite slow. I spent a lot of time in bed waiting for my hormones to settle down and waiting for my anger to resolve (The latter took a lot more time. I’m talking years.). I was angry that God would choose to “help” me by letting me become a lot worse—and never to be able to conceive. But then my sense of God’s working on me shifted as I laid in bed, my body slowly healing. I had always, always asked God to physically restore my body. It occurred to me that God might want to heal me otherwise, perhaps in a spiritual way. Maybe his concern was with my soul, this soul of mine that longed for so many years to conceive a baby—perhaps, God was telling me, it was time to begin to heal from that longing so I could be a godly mom to the soul already loaned to me to parent—our daughter, Bethany. Maybe if I allowed God to heal my soul, my anger about never conceiving would start to resolve with the Spirit’s help.
I remember lying in my bed one night after dinner, crying out to God in my spirit, begging God to help me, feeling such pain in my heart. I asked God, “If I don’t have endometriosis, who am I?” God spoke to my heart that night in such tender ways. His words from 1 Peter 2:24-25 stole over my mind like a benediction: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds, you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” I knew and trusted that I was God’s precious covenant daughter, one who had indeed touched the hem of his garment and been made whole in spirit. I remember a physical sensation of warmth spread over me, and I thought, I have known the peace of God, but now I know the God of Peace.
I believe Jesus’ love for us very much encompasses his concern for our physical well-being, but oh, how much more is he concerned with our spiritual health and wholeness. We may never receive full bodily health and wellness this side of heaven. We all know what it’s like to live with our own illnesses, aches and pains, stiffness, chronic diseases, accidents, and declining toward death. And we know the reality of spiritual disease: unbelief, mistrust, turning away from God’s Spirit, and willfully disobeying his call on our lives. But let us consider, how glorious to live with the hope of heaven here, and even more, with the forgiveness and mercy of our Savior right now. I want to cling to these truths when my spirit wanders from the fold of his care. I want to remember how he lovingly tends to our souls so that we might live to righteousness. Let us allow the Lord to heal us, or not, as he wills. And may we seek his face and his care because he is our Redeemer and Savior, our Father and Shepherd.