(A short story)
By Lynnette Bradford
Let me tell you a story about the day I almost died.
I was perched on a rock, near the shore, watching the birds dive in and out, catching their dinner. Each one seemed to emerge with fish after fat juicy fish. I kicked my empty net off the rock, as if it were its fault that I was going to spend, yet, another hungry night.
I’d tried so hard. I’d done everything my father taught me. I’d gotten up early and stayed out all day, and, still, there I sat. Hungry. Starving. A young man of sixteen should be able to catch a few measly fish!
But, who was I kidding? That’s not why I planned on walking into the sea, letting it consume me. Being denied a last meal was almost expected. It was as if the universe itself was also wishing my demise.
I lived alone in a cave, down the way (if you call that living). At only eleven years old, I ran away from home, shortly after my father died. My mother’s new husband took a special liking to me….especially at night. I told tell my mother, but she became enraged and beat me, until I was silent. I never spoke of it, again. My older brothers would call me names and steal my clothes, forcing me to walk nude to look for them. My stepfather complained that I brought shame to him, and, eventually, I was not allowed to sit with them at dinner and, instead, was forced to eat scraps with the servants.
One night, I bundled food, I had been saving, and left. I never looked back. It didn’t take long for it to run out, though. I would catch fish or baby rabbits, every now and then, but I wasn’t really good at it. No one had ever shown me how. So, I am ashamed to say that, sometimes, I did the only thing I knew how to do to get money or a place to sleep at night.
So, there I sat on that rock, feeling worthless, broken and unwanted. I was tired of trying. Tired of living. Tired of failing. I slowly slid down the rock and, unceremoniously, walked toward the shore, gazing at the sunset. It would be my last one, and I wanted to feel the heat on my skin, one final time. I closed my eyes and strode into the water.
The water felt cool, as it lapped up against my chest. I let my feet sink into the sand and played with the seaweed, around my toes. Part of me was afraid of the pain, but I knew the momentary burn of saltwater, filling my lungs, wouldn’t hold a candle to the incapacitating and unending misery I’d suffered for years. I sank further into the sea and let the water reach my chin. I took a long deep breath to prepare myself.
About that time, I heard a commotion, down the beach, a bit. A crowd gathered around, talking loudly. At first, I thought there was an argument, but, as I turned around, I could see there was someone in the middle. People were pushing and falling over each other, eager to get to Him. Some of the men tried to force the others back, but many broke through.
Curious, I walked back to shore, watching from a distance. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone crouching low, slowly heading toward the crowd. At first, I thought it was a child. Her frame was small, her legs thin, her movements effortful and difficult. She seemed to tire easily and struggled to keep her balance. Her clothes were tattered and hung on her bony frame. Her head covering slid off, revealing her face.
I gasped audibly, before quickly covering my mouth. Her cheeks were sunken in, and her sockets seemed too large for her eyes. Her hair was brittle and sparse. She quickly covered herself never pausing, intent on reaching the crowd.
This was no child. I immediately recognized the woman from the village. She was sicker than I’d ever seen. Rumor had it, she was stricken with disease and bled continuously for twelve years. She was shunned and ignored by both men and women, as it was a sin to even touch her. Some of the women took pity on her and left scraps, by the river, where she was forced to live.
I quietly moved closer to catch a better view, inadvertently stepping further away from seashore. I caught glimpses of the Man in the middle of the crowd. He looked so…ordinary. Why the fuss? Who was this man?
The lady stricken by blood made it to the edge of the crowd. She tried to get through, but was quickly pushed to the ground. She tried a second time, and a flailing elbow plowed into her chest. Gasping for air, she fell to the ground. I screamed “Hey! Get out of there!”, but she never even turned her head in my direction.
I moved in closer to the crowd…and further from my death.
The woman crawled back into the mob, on all fours, scraping her knees, on the rocks, in the sand. The horde stepped on her hands and jammed robust body parts into her frail head and body as they tried to get to the man in the middle. Still, she fought.
In her infirmary, in her pain, in weakness, she fought to get to Him.
I watched her dodge angry kicks and falling bodies. Silently, I cheered, as she used surprising strength to shove past belligerent naysayers. I got down on my hands and knees to watch, as she pressed through the mass, as someone stepped on her leg and spat in her face, causing her to drop to her stomach. She struggled to pull herself back up, but failed. She was so close. I thought for sure, she would be trampled to death.
I jumped to my feet, running toward the mob. But, just as I was approaching, the woman managed to crawl a few more feet, reached out her hand and lightly grazed the hem of the Man’s cloak.
Time froze. I froze.
My chest felt heavy and my hands tingled. All I could hear was the air traveling in and out of my lungs. Suddenly, I was glad to hear that sound. “I’m still alive” I thought.
The man stopped, and the crowd quieted. He searched for the one who touched His cloak. How could He know? Everyone was touching Him. How did He know she touched him? The woman stood gingerly, the skin on her legs no longer pale and translucent but vibrant and glowing. She let the breeze remove the covering from her face, unveiling a beauty, now visible to all. Her piercing green eyes and olive skin were radiant, against the rays of dusk. She stood in defiance of all who had once held her back and looked at her Healer.
Did she know this would happen?
The Man turned and faced her. She told him of her journey. I listened, as she spoke of sickness, discouragement, isolation, poverty and sorrow. Her voice cracked and trembled, as she recounted the years of suffering she’d endured. Our stories were different, but the pain was the same. She seemed to know, with unwavering certainty, that this Man could and would help her. To which He replied: “Your faith has healed you.”
Just then, someone in the distance called His name: “Jesus”. He looked up and our eyes locked. My knees softened. He smiled at me.
He knew what I’d been planning. He knew of my suffering. My pain. He’d been waiting for me…for this moment. Could He heal me, too? I wanted to run for Him, but my legs wouldn’t move.
I looked down at my feet, trying to will them into action. When I glanced back up, He’d turned and was walking away. I collapsed into the sand, overwhelmed. I lay there, staring at the sky, until morning never once thinking of sleep…or death. I replayed the events of the day, over and over again.
I’d decided that I would find this Man, and follow Him wherever He went. I’d never felt that much love in my life. I didn’t even know that much love existed. Somehow, He knew what’d I done, and what had been done to me and, still, He loved me. I felt wanted, important, valuable.
I’d decided. I was going to go find Jesus and follow Him. I stood up to run, but the hunger had gotten the best of me, and I crumpled into the sand. A soft voice whispered, “Here, drink this.” I looked up to see the healed woman. Her dark, red hair whipped around in the wind and looked ablaze in the sunlight. I thought to myself: “A woman on fire.” Then, I passed out.
When I awoke, I was in her home. It was small and modest, but it was a home. She nursed me to health, all the while telling me about Jesus. I recounted the events with her and told her what I saw in His face. She told me she knew of me, too. She’d seen me around the village and knew of my… “reputation”. I tried to explain, but somehow she understood. She shared her food and her home with me. She invited me to stay with her, as long as I’d like. I accepted. I’d never had a real family.
She taught me to fish and hunt, but she taught me more than basic survival skills. She showed me how to live. I learned of faith, perseverance and patience. I was taught to press through difficult times and hold onto peace in times of trouble, to never trust my eyes and ears more than I trusted my faith.
I began to see myself as healed and whole, rather than broken and abused. I grew stronger in body, mind and spirit. The gawks and stares from people, who knew of my past, no longer fazed me.
A few years later, we learned of Jesus’ crucifixion. I would not be telling the truth if I said I did not grieve that day, but she did not. She began to pack and told me to do the same. “We must meet him in Bethany.”
“He is dead!” I told her.
“Do not believe your eyes and ears more than you believe your heart. Is he dead?”
I could not answer. Could He come back from death?
I packed my things, and we traveled to Bethany. The closer we got, the more alive I began to feel. There were rumblings of empty tombs and fulfilled prophecy. We pressed on, only stopping to briefly rest and eat. We heard tell of Jesus walking through the streets. Some laughed at the idea. We did not.
Finally, we’d reached Bethany. From a distance, we could see a crowd, once again, gathered around Him. My mind went back to that day, on the beach. But, this time, the people were different. They were quiet, calm, peaceful. We reached the masses, and were welcomed, as we sat and listened to Him speak. I was overcome with joy to, once again, see His face. He spoke of the Father, love and forgiveness. He blessed and prayed for us.
After some time passed, He prepared us for His departure. The clouds gave way, and a brilliant ray of warm light engulfed us all. I had never been more at peace, than in that moment. As He was still speaking, His feet slowly rose above the blades of grass and into the air. There was so much I wanted to know, so much I wanted to say. I wanted to tell Him of what happened after He left that day. I needed to tell Him how much I…loved Him.
I stood up to talk and we, once again, locked eyes. I was rendered speechless. He smiled knowingly, His eyes filling with tears of joy and unspeakable love. He spoke to my heart, with words that cannot be uttered with the mouth. I responded, in kind, telling Him I loved him and thanking Him for saving my life. And with that, He was gone.
It’s odd thinking about it, now. The day, I planned on dying, was the day I learned how to live. I smile when I think of the “woman on fire” who taught me how to live out loud. I’m encouraged, when I remember the power of faith and love and how it changed…and saved…my life.
I have a wife and children of my own, now. The woman, now, lives with me and is teaching a new generation the power of faith and love, just like she taught me. Her hair now has streaks of gray, but she is still on fire. Thanks to her, so am I…
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Some questions to consider in your personal study time:
- Rejections and isolation can sometimes make us feel that even God does not want us. Have you ever felt that way? What can you do to remind yourself that God loves you, even if others do not?
- The women with the issue of blood had incredible faith and fortitude to persevere through so much physical and emotional adversity. How do you think she kept her faith so strong? What do you do to strengthen your faith?
- Blood can represent many things: the substance in our body that is necessary to maintain life, kinship or genealogy, or spiritual life or death (to name a few). That being said, do you have an “issue with blood?” Are there areas in your life where you are physically, emotionally or spiritually hurting? If so, how can we model the woman in our story to press toward healing?
- The woman did not have to actually touch Jesus to receive healing, just something connected to Him. What in our lives is connected to Christ that we need to persevere towards to get closer to healing?
- There were many people standing between the woman and Jesus. How do you think she was able to push past them? Who is standing between you and Jesus? How can you push past them?
- There are many people around us who are hurting and in need of support and love. Who do you feel called to help? When will you reach out to them?
- Hebrews 11:1 gives us the definition of faith as: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (NIV). Put this definition in your own words and write it down.
- On a scale of 0-10, with 0 being “absolutely no faith” and 10 being “woman on fire” faith, what number would assign your level of faith to heal your issue with blood?