In my last blog post, I re-printed an earlier post telling the story of deep longing seen in a woman described in the Bible. (Luke 8:43-48) The description of her as the woman with an issue of blood speaks volumes. I imagined calling her Miriam, and I told the story of an ancient-say Miriam as I thought it may have played out.
Today’s post if a re-print of Part 2, the story of a modern-day Miriam. I actually sat face to face with this Miriam (a pseudonym). I’d invited her to my home for lunch, and over my favorite autumn recipe for Butternut Squash Soup, she unwrapped the remarkable story of her longing for wellness.
A Modern-Day Miriam’s Longing for Wellness
Miriam told me she relates to the woman with the issue of blood. Physical pain, public stigma, being shunned—all of these were part of her reality a few short years ago.
She began by telling me 12 years ago, she didn’t even know how much she weighed. Numbers on her home scale didn’t go that high. This she knew: her energy was depleted; she suffered continual pain in her back and knees; she felt chronically fatigued; she was unable to get a decent night’s sleep because of sleep apnea; she had a family history of diabetes and heart disease; she had tried multiple weight loss programs with no sustaining success; she was clinically depressed; and finally, she longed deeply, although privately, to be healthy. Miriam’s physical problems were significant. She realized she’d probably die at a young age if her situation didn’t change.
And, Miriam didn’t want to die.
Emotional angst may have been even more acute than physical pain. Miriam recalled going with her daughter to an amusement park, both eager to ride the infamous Timber Terror roller coaster. The line was long, but the wait worth it until they were seated. She wasn’t allowed to ride, turned away because her body was too large for the seat. I observed the scar of humiliation as Miriam described walking away from the ride in front of the long line of people waiting to board.
Later, a trip to Disneyland, intended to be the vacation of a lifetime for Miriam and her beloved daughter, became instead a painful memory. She recalled being so exhausted walking around the large grounds that her daughter needed to push her in a wheelchair.
So much pain in body, soul and spirit.
“I wasn’t born fat,” Miriam said. Abuse typified her growing-up years. Her father was a violent man. Her home wasn’t a safe haven. She suffered sexual abuse by people she believed were trustworthy. “The best thing I could do was try to be invisible,” she said.
Entrenched in loneliness, Miriam overate, each year packing on excess pounds. “Food became my comfortable friend,” she told me. As she was gaining weight, she was losing her ability to trust. Along the way, Miriam concluded the only person she was ever going to be able to trust was herself.
God—or any type of spiritual faith—wasn’t permitted in her family of origin. In addition to being violent, her father was an atheist. She said her only childhood recollections of religion were unpleasant.
When Miriam was 32 years old, a business associate introduced her to Christ after sharing the compelling story of his journey into faith. Even though her conversion was life changing, Miriam’s pattern of mistrust and addiction to food remained. She prayed often about her health dilemma, saying, “I believed God can do anything, but never believed God’s power extended to me.”
One desperate day, she cried, “God, this is bigger than I am. Help me!” She recalls after praying this prayer, peace settled over her, and she decided, “This is my lot in life. God wants me heavy.” Miriam told me, in retrospect, she’s convinced the plea for God’s help, accompanied by the relinquishment of her desire, created a pivotal point in her faith journey. For the first time in many years, she allowed her heart to trust in someone else.
In spite of being at peace with the relinquishment, a lingering flicker of hope burned deeply. Miriam’s physician assured her she was a good candidate for weight loss surgery. He encouraged her to attend a seminar given by a surgeon, whose skill performing the surgery was well respected in the local medical community. Instead of one, Miriam attended multiple seminars. Exiting the meeting room each time, the hope she’d held so long was squelched by a stark reality of impossibility.
$30,000! That was the cost of the surgery. Her modest income, working for the church she attended, was inadequate to cover that expense. And, weight-loss surgery wasn’t covered by her medical insurance. Even though there seemed to be no solution, her dream never died, and the peace, which arrived with her earlier acceptance, never waned.
One Sunday at church, Miriam chatted with a woman she knew only slightly. She’d noticed this woman and her brother both had lost significant amounts of weight, and she asked about their success. The woman reported she and her brother had undergone weight loss surgery. Coincidentally, their surgeon was the same doctor who conducted the seminars Miriam had attended. “Oh, I’d love to do that,” Miriam wistfully told the woman. “But, there’s no way I’ll ever be able to afford that surgery.” Then, their conversation ended.
A few weeks later—a workday for Miriam—one of the church pastors asked her to come into his office. Upon entering, she was surprised to see the woman with whom she’d been visiting as well as the woman’s brother. The pastor asked her to have a seat, explaining his visitors wanted to speak to her about an important matter. One of the siblings prefaced the conversation by telling Miriam, “God has been very good to us.” Then, coming right to the point, the other continued, “We’d like to pay for weight loss surgery for you.” Miriam, relieved she was sitting, could utter only an incredulous, “Why?” Their answer was simple. “We want to change someone’s life.”
Miriam told me her first reaction was skepticism. Through the years, her carefully constructed emotional shell thwarted trust. “I was skeptical of the motives of anyone who tried to give me anything. Receiving was difficult for me,” she said, “but, their motives seemed so pure, and an internal voice assured her this gesture was from God.” Within three months Miriam had the surgery, “a gift that gave me health, hope and a reason to keep living.”
Within nine months, she lost 170 pounds. Her weight did not fluctuate more than eight pounds in three years. Today, she eats moderately and exercises regularly. Her daughter also lost some excess pounds and has adopted her mom’s healthy eating practices.
Over that autumn-day lunch, Miriam smiled at me, saying, “I’ve gained 20 years in energy.” Then, chuckling, she told me she and her daughter together now fit into a pair of her old jeans. She no longer deals with excessive joint pain; her sleep apnea disappeared; and she doesn’t rely on anti-depressant medications to get through each day. Plus, she gained two new friends. Miriam’s benefactors, she said, “are still tickled about my surgery.”
A bonus to renewed physical health and stamina—Miriam learned God’s power does extend to her, and there are people you can trust.
Finally, Miriam, pensive in her reflection, added, “This experience taught me not to be afraid to catch a ball God tosses.”
As we journey through life, my prayer is we will realize as Miriam did that God’s power extends to every one of us…
Photo provided by my friend, Connie Lloyd
Over my favorite autumn recipe—Butternut Squash Soup—Miriam unwrapped the remarkable story of her longing for wellness. A blessed and generous brother and sister, wanting to help change someone’s life, enabled Miriam to cross the bridge from debilitating health problems to wellness.