My heart was palpitating at what felt like a mile a minute, as if an express train carrying a heavy load was chugging across my chest. I tried to breathe slowly - in through the nose and out through the mouth, like my mother taught me during past anxiety attacks. It was difficult to breathe because of my congestion, so I tried to take long breaths through only my mouth. The heart vibrations did not stop like it would in previous panics. Never in my life before have I voiced the words to call for an emergency line: “Peter, I think we need to call 112,” I told my husband. We do ministry in the country of Georgia where 112 is the equivalent of 911. “Something is very very wrong.”
I could sense it in every part of my being.
My legs and hands began to tingle. I positioned myself to rest on my abdomen as Peter read an article that stated that lying on your stomach should assist in breathing. It was at this time my vision began to fade. I could see, but only vaguely through pin-pricks of blue, red and yellow stars. There is not much I recall after that. Here’s what I know from Peter: I began to yell and wave my arms. My words became nonsensical chatter. I could not answer his simple questions about who I was or where I was from. I threw up. I resisted him as he lead me down the hill of the parking lot from our apartment building to the ambulance. I vomited again in the ambulance.
Once, I had a tooth extracted and was administered anesthesia to numb the pain. The nurses did not give me enough to turn my mind unconscious completely, so as the procedure was done, I began to see my dentist like I was in a foggy dream. It seemed as though there might have been three of him. That is how I felt in these moments - I remember bits and pieces as if I was in that foggy dream, as if the people in it were not real. Within the next 24 hours, I would receive an MRI, a CAT scan and several tests that I have no recollection of any doctors or nurses conducting or gathering. According to Peter, I had to be restrained because I was becoming violent with the nurses and doctors.
Ask anyone who knows me well and they will tell you that is incredibly unlike me! (Unless you ask my sister who will tell you I once punched her in my sleep when I was 10...) The tests and scans occurred between a Friday and a Saturday. My awareness of the world slowly seeped into my mind Saturday night. On Sunday afternoon, I was able to call Peter with the phone he dropped off at the hospital and left with the nurses to give to me. I was so weak, but Peter was thrilled to hear I had a sound mind again. The call only lasted 15 minutes before my energy levels were too low to carry on the conversation. “Our kind Georgian friends drove me home and as soon as they left, I just cried and cried. I didn’t know when I would see you again, or if you would be in your right mind ever again,” Peter told me.
Later he reflected in a Facebook post: "It was really scary for me to go through it because one moment I was talking to her rationally and then she just wasn't there anymore. She couldn't tell me her name, or where she was from, and she would just babble incoherently. Then she started to...act erratically. I'm just so glad that I was with her and able to call an ambulance and get her to a hospital where they could help her. If she was living on her own, or if I was away for a few days, I don't know what would have happened to her. She easily could have ended up walking around aimlessly outside. Or something worse. It really made me think that if you are walking down the street and you meet a ‘crazy person’ they might just be someone like Anna who needs you to call an ambulance and get them to a hospital quickly."
How far does our compassion extend?
This little revelation reminded me of a time I worked for the Salvation Army's community and family services as a secretary. I saw people that the average person might deem as “crazy.” We had clients that “babbled” to no one in particular outside the doors, or decided to remove some of their clothing in the front office. In the end, they were simply someone who couldn’t afford to pay for their schizophrenia medication, or they had experienced some kind of trauma they did not know how to deal with.
We didn’t turn anyone away.
We learned not to make assumptions about a person’s past.
We began a slow path to a better understanding of walking in Jesus’ footsteps, who did not deflect a single soul. Yes, He called out the Pharisees, and flipped a table in the temple court, but He also showed immense compassion. Don’t think for a second that He would turn away a Pharisee or a merchant in the temple court had they come to him the next day with a heart ready to change and learn.
One of Jesus’ most tender-hearted moments, captured in the series “The Chosen,” was the time he healed Mary Magdalene of her demons (see Luke 8:1-2). Though, of course, the Bible only makes a brief mention of it and “The Chosen” elaborates, I believe that Mary would have been depicted as a “crazy” woman in Bible times, someone who could have easily “ended up walking around aimlessly outside” as evil spirits tormented her.
Furthermore, as Sarah Bessey writes in her book Jesus Feminist, "in a patriarchal culture, women were never included in the teaching… [they] were not well educated beyond the sphere of their duties at home, let alone in public worship and discussions..." Yet Jesus invited Mary, a woman, into his teachings and allowed her to follow him as he did miracles, a form of public worship to His father (see Luke 8:1-3). Bessey continues, "Even though the word of a woman was not considered sufficient proof in court, Mary Magdalene was the first witness of the resurrected Christ and the first preacher of the Resurrection."
In fact, when she first saw Jesus resurrected, she exclaimed “Rabboni!”, which is an honouring Jewish term for “teacher” (see John 20), revealing that He did indeed teach her. What a beautiful story! This "unhinged" woman, once filled with torturous voices, was now healed and had the amazing privilege to be the first to spread the good news to the world!
The Way of Jesus
Although The Salvation Army demonstrated much kindness, and Peter and I both had our empathy muscle strengthened, none of our compassion compares with that of Jesus Christ: the man who welcomed Mary Magdalene, lepers, and many others whose illnesses perpetuated their labels of “outcast” or “unwanted.”
Today, social media has made it so easy to put labels on people and “turn them away” or “cast them out” with a simple click of an “unfollow” or “unfriend” button. Sure, we can share love and compassion on social media as well, but what are we really doing when we see something or someone we don’t like? Are we inviting them in or pushing them away just because they have offended us or posted something we deem “crazy”?
If I had posted something while I was not in my right mind, how many “friends” would I have? Many of us are going through things and we do not know what others are going through either. This does not give an excuse for us not to confront people when necessary (Jesus did call out those Pharisees, after all). But it does give cause for compassion, a quality that Jesus displayed perfectly, one that we should emulate if we want to be more like Him.
Despite our lack of knowledge of what occurred neurologically in my body, I will tell you I was not unconscious or “crazy” when I felt the presence and transcending peace of the Lord in my hospital room with me. His compassion towards me was intrinsic and pervasive across my whole being. That kind of deep sensitivity is something our Lord extends to all of us. He draws us closer in the moments we think He is most distant, and uses our most difficult times to teach us compassion among other beautiful life lessons.
No matter our circumstance, our label, or our diagnosis. He is there, listening, teaching, loving.
He is the great Rabboni.
Anna was a Salvationist at Kingston Citadel for most of her life until she married her husband, Peter Kupisz, in 2021 and moved to Tbilisi, Georgia to work as traveling missionaries and teachers. You can follow their journey on instagram at @empowering.creativity.
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