A few weeks ago, I was blessed to have lunch with my good friend, Laura Edwards. I’ve mentioned her in a previous blog post, how she might be the sweetest person on the planet 🙂 She’s like a real-life Disney princess! The reason for our lunch date was to discuss the Emmaus Walk that she had just come back from.
If you haven’t heard of an Emmaus Walk, let me tell you about it right quick. According to their website, it is ‘an experience of Christian spiritual renewal and formation’. It’s a 72-hour spiritual retreat intended to strengthen the local church through the development of Christian disciples and leaders. Scott and I were in youth ministry for a long time, so I always tend to describe it as a grown-up ‘Disciple Now’ or ‘Discovery’ weekend (youth ministry events).
Laura had just come back from her Emmaus Walk, and I couldn’t wait to hear about it. I had gone on my Emmaus Walk back in October 2008, and I always love to hear about the different experiences people have on their walks.
Of course, I’m not going to share all of Laura’s Emmaus experiences with everyone on my blog 🙂 – it’s her story to tell. But one thing that happened to her was very similar to my experience, and got me thinking about how powerful and humbling God’s love is – especially when executed by His children.
Like I said a few paragraphs above, I went on my Emmaus Walk in October 2008. There were several people in our church, FUMC Union City, that had wanted us to go, and it finally worked out with mine and Scott’s schedules.
To be honest, I had always been a bit cynical when it came to Emmaus Walks. I didn’t know anything about them, but anyone that ever talked to me about it seemed to be so fired up about it. There was so much hype, I was afraid I was going to be let down. See, I had been blessed in my lifetime to have several very spiritual experiences, via retreats, mission trips, church camps, and special worship services, so I had some very high expectations. I didn’t want to waste my time or hurt anyone’s feelings that felt so passionate about Emmaus. And to be honest again, I was let down. My expectations were way too high. But it’s because they were the ‘wrong’ expectations to begin with. I didn’t need some supernatural, ‘got the goose bumps and Holy Ghost shakes’ kind of experience, which was the assumption I had made and expectation I had set. God’s expectations were very different for me, and of course, way surpassed mine. And we all know what making assumptions do to us! Never assume you know what God is doing or has planned! Just let Him do His thing!
Let me start at the beginning of Emmaus Walk weekend. It begins Thursday evening and goes through Sunday evening. (This is where this blog post is fixing to get extremely feminine – sorry fellas! Bear with me…) So of course, I wake up Thursday morning, and my ‘cycle’ decided that it was time to make her monthly visit. But this was no ordinary visit. It was unbelievably heavy. I had NEVER experienced anything like this before. Not trying to be gross, but I was literally bleeding through every type of protection I had. It was INSANE. Actually, while I was in the shower, I passed a huge blood clot. I even thought to myself, “I’m having a miscarriage.” That’s how bad it was. Needless to say, going for a 72-hour retreat at some camp was the LAST thing I wanted to do in my condition! But I honestly felt like there was no way out of it, so I chose to stick it out.
My sponsor, Luann Barkley, came and picked me up Thursday afternoon, and we headed out on the 1 hour trip to Jackson, TN, where we all gathered before going to the camp. I’m sitting in her car the entire time just praying and pleading with God, “Please don’t let me have an accident in her car!” Once we arrived, I am subtly look at my seat, making sure there had not been an accident. Thankfully, there had not been.
I immediately went to the restroom once I got in the church. My heart sunk as I realized that I had bled through every bit of my clothing. I was mortified. My shirt was long enough to cover anything in the back, but I was absolutely miserable. I had nothing to change into, because all my clothes were in my suitcase on a van already headed to camp. Mortified and miserable… that’s all I can say about how I felt at that exact moment.
We get to camp, and the Emmaus leaders already have a schedule set. We have a meet and greet time before we get ready for our initial worship service and communion. I had no time to change clothes or anything like that. In the middle of the worship service, I have to get up and go to the restroom once again, and of course, have more bleeding. I finally lose it. I’m bawling my eyes out in this bathroom in Camden, TN, feeling more alone than I have in years. At that time, one of the leaders comes in to check on me. She comforts me and helps me get myself back together. I go back out with the group and partake in communion.
Before we all head back to our cabins, I’m introduced to one of the leaders who is a nurse. Her name was Susan. She told me that there were so many people already praying for this Walk and specifically praying for me and that it would be okay. She sent someone to the store to get the items I needed, because of course, I had already run out of everything I had brought with me. I mentioned to her that my clothes were very ‘dirty’ since I had bled through them and asked her for a plastic bag. She told me to give them to her and she’d wash them for me. I told her ‘no’ very fervently! How embarrassing! I could not give her the very dirtiest and nastiest of my clothing! She seemed pretty insistent on my giving them to her and she kept talking about how this weekend is all about God’s agape love towards us and our being able to accept that. But I left with the plastic bag, and I felt like I had won that battle 🙂
The next day, I felt a little better. My ‘monthly friend’ seemed to have let up a bit, so that definitely made me less anxious. After a few of the day’s events, we had time to go back to our cabins. And what should I find on my bed when I arrived? My clothes from the day before – cleaned, smelling good, and perfectly folded, laying on my pillow. And I broke down. The embarrassing type of ‘break down’, when the sobs are uncontrollable and the wails are loud. I have cried like that only 2 other times in my life. While I was watching Passion of the Christ when I was 9 months pregnant with Zoe, and at my kitchen table the week after my mom passed and I was handling her affairs. I could not believe that someone – another human – would love me enough to take my dirty, nasty clothes and wash them for me. That they would come into contact with such filth, my filth, so I didn’t have to worry about it the rest of the weekend, and I could feel God’s great love towards me. Unbelievably overwhelming. In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
As the weekend progressed, I continued to physically feel better. Spiritually speaking, I was still pretty cynical. I still never had not had any of those really intense moments of worship or learned anything that I didn’t already know. But during communion on Saturday, I felt like God brought everything full circle and opened my eyes as to why He wanted me there.
As we took communion, our spiritual director, Sandra Leatherwood, told us to cup our hands as she gave us the bread. Then she said that having our hands cupped like that shows that we are ‘receiving’ the communion bread and ‘receiving’ God’s love for us. That was it! I have always been in a place of ‘giving’. Being a pastor’s wife and an active lay person in the church, I found myself ‘giving’ all the time. Even on that very Walk, I kept thinking, “what can I do to help?” But God needed me to be in the posture to RECEIVE. That was the expectation He set for me. He needed me to receive. And to make sure I truly learned this lesson – to sit, be still, accept, and receive God’s love, He allowed me to be in one of the most vulnerable physical states I had ever been in. Sometimes learning a lesson is hard – mortifying and miserable – but if you allow God to teach you something in all of it, you will come out on the other side, clean, smelling good, perfectly folded, and feeling loved beyond measure.
As I was reflecting on this story and about sharing it on the blog, I was reminded of another lady who had the same type of physical issues I was having. But instead of being just a 5-7 day issue like mine, hers had lasted for 12 years! I’m speaking of the lady with the issue of blood from the Bible. Her story must be very important for us to hear, because it is described in 3 of the 4 gospels. I personally like Mark’s description best. From Mark 8:
24 So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
The ‘bleeding’ this lady was experiencing was the same type of bleeding I was having, except hers had lasted for 12 years. And then there’s the whole ‘Jewish law’ thing going on, which makes the entire situation even more heartbreaking. According to Leviticus 15, any woman going through this ‘time’ was considered unclean. That didn’t mean that she had to go through some crazy cleansing process once it had passed. She did have to do that, but there was so much more to it. Anyone that had any contact with her was also considered unclean. They would have to go through the same type of ceremonial cleansing as the woman. Plus, anything that the woman had sat on, laid on, or touched was considered unclean, so if you came into contact with that item before it had been cleaned, then you were then ‘unclean’. So to keep from having to jump through all these hoops, people just shunned you. If it was your monthly cycle, you were an outcast until you were able to be ‘clean’ again.
Now imagine that ‘shunning’ happening for not just a week, but for 12 YEARS! What a wretched, lonely life that poor lady had been experiencing. An outcast, mortified and miserable, and according to verse 26, financially broke from paying for doctors that weren’t helping but actually making her worse. I can hardly believe she was able to crawl out of bed, much less, find out where this ‘Jesus’ guy was and make her way to Him.
But she did. She said, “If I can just touch the edge of clothes, I’ll be healed.” So very humbly, she came from behind Him, as to not draw any attention to herself, and touched his hem with her fingertips. And immediately, she was healed. She had faith, took action, and Jesus healed her. But there was one last thing that Jesus wanted to do in her life. He wanted to speak to her.
Scripture said Jesus felt His healing power go out from Him. He asked the disciples who touched him, but of course, that seemed like a ludicrous question. The crowd was pushing all against him. He was being touched by many, many people! But He knew this was different.
The lady saw that Jesus was looking for her, so she came forward, fell at His feet, and told her story. Jesus did this so He could commend her and assure her of healing, as well as being a testimony to the crowd. He then called her ‘Daughter’, a tender term that is not used anywhere else in Jesus’ recorded words, speaking directly to someone. I wondered why He would call her that. Then I realized that she had probably not been thought of as a ‘daughter’ or family member in at least 12 years. And by calling her ‘daughter’, it reminded her that she was a child of God and worthy of love. She was set free that day. Free from pain, free from humiliation, free from misery, free from loneliness, free from sin. He loved her in spite of her ‘unclean’ state, and made her white as snow.
On that Emmaus Walk in 2008, I felt embarrassed and miserable with my current physical state. But before I could let that go, I had to let those Emmaus ladies love me and my dirty self. Before I could learn the spiritual lesson God had for me, I had to cup my hands together and let myself receive His love. Sometimes you just have to receive love – without question. Let people love you – dirt and all. Then pay it forward. Pay that dirty love forward, and then tell your story. It’s the most powerful tool you have to share God’s love.