The Red Pulpit

In the moments before worship as I prepared to preach, I grabbed my sermon and a pad. I’m not talking about a pad of paper. With my black professional binder carrying my sermon manuscript in one hand, and a pink plastic wrapped pad in the other, I mentally prepared myself to preach. As soon as I shoved the pad in the left pocket of my black robe, I worried its pink corners might stick out.

What if while walking down the sanctuary aisle, someone saw my feminine hygiene product sticking out my minister’s robe? Even if it didn’t stick out, would someone look close enough to decipher its large, heavy flow horizontal shape, pressing through the pocket lining?

What if the pad fell out, and plopped down right in the middle of the red carpet of the chancel as I stood up to preach?

Quickly I took the pad from my robe pocket and shoved it down inside my robe, aiming for the pocket of my slacks. More hidden. Less visible. Maybe now I could pass for a woman who was not bleeding terribly.

I was bleeding so hard that I needed all the pads. Boxes of them. When a box used to last me several months, now I needed a new box every three to four days. Yet, each time my period came harder and longer, I fell into this practice of silence and covering up.

Was this my woman’s cross to bear? My curse for wanting to be wise? My punishment for knowing too much?

After a year of this hoping it would just go away on its own, I saw a doctor who helped me discover the cause was a common medical condition known as fibroids. This medical condition caused my periods to be extra heavy, and my faith tradition caused me to keep quiet about it. Especially in the church.

For women clergy, the most common bodily function somehow is not suppose to impact us. As women clergy, we are expected to rise above any challenges caused by our bodily realities, lest they prove as evidence in the case against ordaining women. After all, Jesus didn’t have a period.

Yet, Jesus experienced his share of bleeding. At this point in my life and ministry, where I was losing too much blood, I wondered if I might die. Like the hemorrhaging woman who touches the hem of Jesus’ cloak, I wondered if I could be saved. I wondered how the church makes places for women preachers who have bleeding problems.

Then I remembered that the woman in the Bible whose bleeding caused her to go broke and to suffer a great deal, told Jesus “the whole truth” (Mark 5:33). The healing didn’t end with the woman’s bleeding stopped. The healing continued through her courageous act of truth telling and through the act of Jesus’ holy listening.

As I faced an unknown medical future, considering the possibility of a surgery that might require medical leave, I feared telling anyone in the church. What was I afraid of? Didn’t they already know that I was a woman? Wasn’t this a common medical condition that women faced?

I feared the church would view my too much bleeding as being too much of a woman. Coming out of my hiding of this illness, letting the pads show in my robe pockets terrified me.

I feared rejection, judgement, and disapproval. Admitting to hemorrhaging in the pulpit felt scandalous. How dare she!

If Jesus makes the cross red, then the pulpit can be red, too. If the cross can carry our suffering, then the pulpit can handle the weight and the gift of our bleeding bodies.

Women’s bleeding is natural and normal. And when it is not, it is nothing to be ashamed about. The red pulpit is a place where women can preach the word of God without shame and without fear. We can stand on holy ground and preach the holy word with pads in our pants and in our pockets.

When I shared with an online group of women clergy that I feared telling my church leaders about my medical problem, many others shared their own stories. So many of us, it turns out, suffer through meetings and worship services while hemorrhaging, worrying that we may pass out. Some of us have passed out in the pulpit from blood loss.

There’s shame and stigma attached to our bleeding so that when we need to take care of our bodies, whatever that looks like, we often feel powerless to do so. We feel our bleeding realities are shameful and disgraceful. We are fearful of bleeding on the church. So we try hard to stop the bleeding or at least to cover it up. But this triage is often done in isolation and in silence.

Thankfully, the online support from women gave me the courage to tell a few trusted church leaders. Once I overcame the initial awkwardness and embarrassment on my part, after telling them I felt relieved from the burden of secrecy. I felt supported knowing that if I needed to take time for extra medical appointments and procedures, my job would not be in jeopardy. This type of support from an employer is a privilege that many women do not have and it is a way that the church can support its pastors.

What would it look like for the church to be a place where women’s bleeding was celebrated as a demonstration of power and strength?

What would it look like for the church to be a safe place where preachers who are hemorrhaging could be supported and surrounded with care?

What would it look like for the red pulpit to be a place of truth-telling about women’s lives? Could it lead to unknown healing?

What would it look like for a preacher to hold her sermon in one hand and a pad in the other and to not be afraid?

The Advent of Untold Stories

There are untold stories waiting to be reborn and save us like the cries of our little Lord Jesus.

In our anxious Advent waiting, the pressure builds from within, like Grandma’s stovetop cooking. Yet, good stories take their sweet time to arrive, making their way over the river and through the woods of life.

Meanwhile, our untold stories drop deep within us, falling closer to the fertile Earth. Did you know that heaven and nature sing in order to show us how to break the silence?

We wonder as we wander around alone, stories dancing like sugarplums inside our heads, searching for words we cannot yet name, the answer to our silent night pain.

Hark the angels post in the newsfeed. Is there any hope while we bleed? Can anything good come out of this pain? Will God arrive in time, like a call to the suicide crisis hotline?

This scares me most: the chance that my untold stories slip too soon out from the sacred darkness of the womb. All is calm is not a balm when all you know is the tomb.

Advent is a time when untold stories grow inside. The breath of heaven guides contractions of truth, preparing our holy bodies for the all-consuming power of unpaid emotional labor.

In sacred blackness the collective heartbeat of our untold stories grows stronger. It doesn’t matter that we cannot yet see how to prepare the way. Truth comes anyway. All it will require is an opening.

Get ready to go tell the untold stories on the mountain.

It is almost time for our untold stories to be born.

Soon we shall sing: Rejoice! Rejoice! For unto us a story is given and we shall name them: Healer of the Nations, Mighty Counselor, Guardian of Peace.

Prayer for World Suicide Prevention Day

God of the valleys

God of the shadows

God of the pit of despair

We claim your Holy Presence everywhere.

When we see hope dimly,

You are there.

When we see life fading,

You are there.

When we see life end,

You are there.

We pray this day for all who experience suffering because of suicide.

For the person who is thinking about suicide,

For the person who is recovering from suicide engagement,

For all who fear suicide will touch them,

For all who have known the pain caused by suicide,

Grant us peace.

We pray for the arms of HOPE to enfold all of us, like a soft blanket wrapped around us, holding our pain, holding our loneliness, holding our inexpressible sorrow.

Hold onto us, God of love, even when we want to let go.

Hold onto us.

Grant us one more day.

Amen.

Call the Suicide Prevention hotline for help: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 911.