I’ve suffered from chronic and invisible illnesses since I was a teenager. Migraines at 15, endometriosis at 17, back issues thanks to a car accident in college, Crohn’s Disease and Anylosing Spondylitis in my 20s, and then strokes which are probably symptomatic of a larger neurological disorder in my late 30s. I have frustrated family, friends, and doctors. I have been frustrated with myself. As a young woman I felt so alone with my pain and discomfort. But as I’ve gotten older and wiser I’ve realized I am not alone. The more I learn of how many women are misdiagnosed, ignored, and belittled due to their bodies, the more I am inspired to advocate for them. Until very recently, most research in heart disease and stroke has been done with older men, so it’s no surprise that young people and women present with different symptoms. The myths abound regarding many invisible disabilities and health issues still today, although much is being learned as we speak out and demand treatment.
I am often asked what kept me sane and pushing forward during the darkest, scariest, and most painful times. That’s easy. My family, friends, and faith. It the late nights before social media, and yes even still today, I would open my Bible and read of other women and how they faced their challenges. One unnamed woman became a special friend. I had a bond with her even though I may never know her name. I appreciate her boldness in getting treated, and I aspire to her faith.
The Woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:24-34) had suffered in every sense of the word, yet experienced first hand the inexplicable love of God.
Of all the suffering today; cancer, AIDS, chronic diseases and pain, etc., this woman knew each aspect of affliction and more. She endured pain and fatigue from her disease. She dealt with the frustrations of going from doctor to doctor enthusiastic about a possible cure then disappointed when it failed. Family, friends and “church” ostracized her because under the law (see Lev. 15:19-30) she was unclean and anyone who touched her or any furniture she had sat or lied on would also be unclean. She was impoverished by doctors, treatments, medication, and maybe having to hire help to care for her, her family, and her home. The worst part was the questioning: “What did I do to deserve this? Does God love me? Why would He allow this to happen? Is there a God? Can I strike a bargain with Him? Is it a test…if I can give the right answer will I get better? Would everyone be better off if I were dead?” In those twelve years, she understood the reality of Job 42:2-3, and her faith sustained her.
In faith, she seeks Jesus. She has heard he is the Great Physician and Son of God, and is healed. God, in his own time and way, heals whom he will in order that his name receive the praise. In verses 30-34, Jesus asks who touched him. The question is not for his benefit, for he is omniscient and already knows the answer; however, he wanted the woman to give a public testimony and then be commended for her faith and restored to her community.
I hope all who suffer find encouragement in this example of faith, and those who are healthy gain understanding and sympathy for others who are hurting. I may never be completely healed as she was, but when you realize how much healing has occurred compared to the prognoses I was given, I know that my faith is alive and well. Faith has led me to prayer, doctors, therapists, and fitness experts. I have been blessed to be part of a community of people who have loved, cared, and prayed for me. I have been blessed to be taught by my mother, grandmother, and countless Sunday School teachers to reach for my Bible in order to search out what my mind can’t understand on its own.
“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” Psalm 119:71