Life In The
The Grace Letter
When Lee Frances died earlier this year, I had no will to continue writing for Grace and Lace/Love Letter. How could I continue when my mentor was gone? But I have realized that Lee would not want me to abandon our labor of love. God's messages for us are greater than any of us messengers, and I can hear Mama Lee telling me "Becky, are you going to have another article this month?" So, as long as God gives me inspiration, I'll keep up with my Grace Letters, in memory of Lee, but mostly in honor of our Lord who loves us so much.
1998: Christmas Remembered
1999: What's In A Date?
2000: Peace On Earth
2001: Dark Days
2002: The Little Things
2003: Shop Till You Drop
2005: What Are You Waiting For?
2006: Peace In Our Heart
2007: The Greatest Of These
The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, `Unclean, unclean.' He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp.
Leviticus 13: 45-56
At least seven separate medical problems are described in Leviticus 13 and 14, and are given the name "leprosy." It's possible that the disease we know as leprosy was not one of those; but it could have been, and certainly serves as an illustration of the concept I wish to discuss: the idea that changes in the physical body reflect a moral infirmity.
Leprosy, also known as Hansen's Disease, is still active today in our modern world. It is a chronic infection caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. Leprosy causes changes in the body which are often evident in a person's appearance. Skin lesions appear on the body, arms, legs, and face. Many of these lesions produce damage to the sensory nerves, which makes the skin numb in these areas. As the disease progresses, tissues are destroyed, and the lack of pain sensation leads to traumatic injuries to the hands and feet. Open sores are a pathway to infections, which are the cause of death in many cases.
Persons with leprosy cannot hide their disease. It is visible on their faces and bodies. I try to imagine the fear they experienced in those years before modern medical treatment could arrest and cure the disease. How frightening it must have been to know the inevitable future which those first lesions predicted!
But the physical distress, and the emotional response to a future of disease and death, were only part of the burden of the leper. The poor man or woman was labeled "unclean." It's likely that the designation was at first a hygenic one, meant to prevent the spread of the disease from one person to another. Just when this physical quarantine was twisted into a moral judgment is not clear, but by Jesus's time it was evident that lepers were society's despised outcasts. They were driven from their homes and had to live outside the city. When a "normal" person approached, they had to shout a warning, "Unclean!" while keeping the mouth covered to prevent contagion.
It would not be long before a person's spirit would be broken, and his self image would deteriorate so that he considered himself unworthy of love or companionship. Since spontaneous healing of these skin diseases was rare, most lepers had to live out their lives in the wilderness. Even in modern times, leper colonies in such places as Carrville, Louisiana, or the Hawaiian island of Molokai served to isolate the afflicted in places where only their caregivers had close contact with them. "Normal" society could avoid seeing, hearing, or touching someone they considered unclean. A sense of being different - different in an inferior way - was a natural result.
I would never trivialize the terrible treatment endured by these unfortunate persons who experienced physical changes they did not choose or plan for. But I do think some parallels can be drawn between the treatment they received and the way some "good Christian folk" regard me and persons like me.
It is almost the rule, rather than the exception. Someone has spent years in a church which gives easy answers to every hard question. Turn your burdens over to the Lord...leave them at the foot of the cross. Ask in faith and you shall receive. You have not, because you ask not. It sounds wonderful and we want to believe it. We do believe it! We live our lives believing it, for years praying for healing, for deliverance, for change.
And change does not come. Finally we have to look at another perspective: perhaps change does not come because God wants us to deal with our questions in another way. The spirit does not change... can the body change to match the spirit? To our amazement, we find that it can, and therein lies peace.
But such an idea is radical. It is a challenge to persons whose inner conflicts demand that the idea be considered. For persons without those inner conflicts, such an idea is incomprehensible. They cannot put themselves in our place, and so they may reject us as misdirected, sinful, unclean.
Not every Christian feels this way about us. Many are loving and sympathetic. Unfortunately, there are many who have no sympathy and who treat us as lepers. I have heard from so many dear Christians who have been asked to leave the church they loved until they renounced their new-found truths. This rejection is mirrored in the rejection by individual Christians. I have used the term "black hole" to describe the treatment I have received from pastors, deacons, "good Christian folks" with whom I try to communicate: letters go in, but nothing ever comes back out. I am ignored; I am anathema. Perhaps to them I am contagious.
For a long time I was so frustrated by this shunning behavior. It hurt so much to think they considered me so unclean they would not even reply to me. Sometimes my hurt became resentment as I told myself, "They are not acting in Christ's love when they treat me this way."
Finally it occurred to me: that's their problem, not mine. My problem is that I don't act in Christ's love myself sometimes. In my resentment for my treatment by individual persons, I stopped showing love for them, and I blamed entire denominations for the actions of a few members. God has allowed me to see that anyone, in any denomination, can open his eyes and understand the truth revealed in God's love to me and my people.
My task is not to keep hammering on these persons who reject me. That is unproductive and will not succeed. My task is to love these persons, and hard as it may seem, to leave them alone and let them ultimately be won over by love instead of by pressure. My task is to be grateful to God for seeing me through my life transition: God never abandoned me, and neither did many of my friends. My task is to let God's love shine in my life for all to see: those who accept me and those who reject me.
And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."
When he saw them he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went they were cleansed.
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.
Then said Jesus, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"
And he said to him, "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well."
Luke 17: 12-19
What happened to the nine lepers who didn't return to give thanks to Jesus? There's no further reference to them, but I see no reason to believe they weren't healed - physically. One can be healed in a physical way but still have a broken, unhappy spirit. I see this in some of my friends who have survived transition but do not have peace and happiness. If I can be like the one grateful leper, perhaps I can attain spiritual healing as well as physical.
My task is to let my peace and happiness show to my friends and to those who consider me a leper. I can do that through the love which Christ puts into my heart. This love is what makes transition complete and makes it a success. This is the faith that can make us well.