August 21, 2016

She sat there, huddled on a tiny piece of rock poking out of the ice. The wind was coming up and the temperature was dropping. She could tell there was unpleasant weather coming by the moisture in the air and the slate blue clouds that had moved into the sky where it had been clear blue earlier in the day. She was feeling annoyed. Why had they taken that short cut across the summit? It was hard enough to manage the trail on Mount Washington in the depths of winter without going off of the trail. Short cuts are generally thought of as unsafe and they had decided to take one in February on the top of the highest mountain in the eastern US, the mountain advertised as having the “worst weather on Earth.” It had been a bad choice. They had started out on packed snow and now found themselves stuck in an icefield. She squatted there with her mother, watching her father try to chop treads in the ice with a flimsy instep crampon.  She was now not only feeling annoyed. She was feeling the intense cold sinking into her flesh. It was the kind of cold that she wouldn’t be able to shake off unless she got moving, really moving, soon.  A shiver wracked her body. About twenty minutes later, her mother noticed the shivering and turned to the father with panic in her voice, “She’s shivering!” The father stopped abruptly for only a moment, then turned and began frantically hacking at the ice.

There are two reasons that this girl’s situation is so dire. First: she’s becoming hypothermic, meaning she’d started to freeze to death. And second: she only weighs one hundred pounds, making getting warm again pretty unlikely.  She’s been anorexic for about five years. Every day she’s survived on about 400 calories while running 6-8 miles a day in any weather. She has lied to and manipulated her parents, friends and therapist to get what she wanted which was to be in absolute control of her body. They could insist that she do this or that and she’d agree but then manage to skillfully do exactly what she wanted, tricking them. She felt pretty smart. Her breath was terrible all of the time because her body was burning muscle. She had a fine layer of baby hair all over her body because she was cold almost all of the time. She looked as though she’d been in a prison camp. Her friends had stopped speaking with her because she was mean to them and they just thought she was crazy. She was lonely, cold and so sad that she didn’t see the point of her existence.

So, there she sat, calmly shivering, her parents panicking. It almost seemed a perfect ending to her story, she thought. Slowly, they picked their way down the shadowy gray slope in the dim afternoon light. She kept shivering but they had started moving enough to keep her just warm enough. She had begun to think that she really would like to be warm again, to be safe. She loved her family. When they were finally free of the ice field, in an attempt to warm herself, she broke into a staggering run through stunted trees choked with snow. She staggered, ran, fell, and got up over and over again and regained her warmth.

 When the family reached the bottom of the mountain, she kneeled down and thanked God for saving her.  She realized that day that she was not in control of everything, He is.  She also realized that if He saved her, an angry, mean, selfish, self-destructive girl, He is and extraordinarily compassionate God that can touch a person and deliver them from unseen bonds that are not created by Him, but by a lack of Him. From that day, she had no doubt that God was with her and she was worth preserving.  He had freed her from anorexia in a moment when years of therapy had done nothing to help her.  She decided in that moment that she would start living again instead of killing herself a little every day.

And here I am, 32 years and eight children later. It’s as vivid today as it was when I lived through it. I believe that I have experienced the compassion of God first hand. It fell upon my heart to share this with you in light of our scripture passage.

In our reading today, a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit approached Jesus only to hear Him teach. She did not ask to be healed. She just stood there, hunched over, as she had for the past 18 years. He did not ask her why she was there, if she had faith in Him, or how many good works she had done. He merely saw that for 18 years, she had been gripped by evil, was in pain and couldn’t do much other than get through each day. Jesus asked her to draw close and out of compassion, He healed her and how she praised the Lord.  Because she came close, He was able to set her soul straight so she could stand straight and strong, freed from the dark bonds that held her.

Don’t we all have periods in our lives when we are crippled- immobilized by fear, depression, anxiety, stress, guilt, anger, jealousy, worry? These are invisible weights, burdens on our bodies and souls that not only harm us, but those we love. We may not see them as the bonds of Satan, as Jesus saw them in the woman from our reading, but they couldn’t possibly be a creation of God or be a result of putting our trust and faith in Him.

We need not suffer under these burdens. We need not worry. Where there is worry, there is doubt: thin spots in our faith and trust in the Lord. When we are entangled with earthly troubles, there are obstacles in the way of a close relationship with the Lord. But we can come close to Him through prayer, reading scripture, doing His work, and most importantly, opening our hearts to Him and putting our lives in His hands. If we remember what we really believe: that God is in control of every little and big thing in our lives, and we trust Him as we are supposed to, the worries of this world fade away.  Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you. I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

And in Jeremiah 29:11-14: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”

He is in charge, stronger, more powerful than anything the world can do to us. We are His. He can straighten our souls so we can walk straight and strong, confident that we have God helping us through every minute. Then we will be able to do the Lord’s work, helping others to walk with Him, tall and assured of His help and guidance. We can help free those that feel the crippling, invisible bonds of a weak spirit by being sensitive to their sadness, their pain, as Jesus was to the woman in the synagogue and as He is to ours.

This is a true story by a man named Saumen Bhattacharjee

“Casey Fischer is always kept busy either by school or by her young little daughter at home. But when she saw a homeless man outside a Dunkin' Donuts store, she decided to bunk her packed schedule and do something for him. She saw the man fumble with the coins, presumably to buy something from the store. And so, she bought him a bagel and a coffee. She even sat down with him and they talked - for hours together. The man said his name was Chris, and told her about how people are usually mean to him for being homeless. He also said that cancer had taken his mother away from him, how drugs had turned him into a person he hated, and that he never knew his father. He also expressed how he wanted to do better. They were so engrossed in the conversation and talked for so long that Casey did not even realize that she had to get back to class. But before she could leave, Chris asked if he could write a note down for her to read later.  

She obviously agreed, and Chris wrote something down for her.

When she got into the car, she read what he had written. And it totally blew her away. The note said, "I wanted to kill myself today, because of u I now do not. Thank u, beautiful person." This is the power of love, compassion, and kindness. “

If we can pay attention when someone seems to be in need and respond with a caring word, a listening ear, an offer of help: compassion, we can be the difference for someone, between hope and despair, persevering and giving up, feeling loved and loneliness, maybe even life and death.  Because we walk with Christ and get our guidance from Him, we, like Casey, can be beautiful.

Gwen Jamison