"I believe; help my unbelief." Mark 9:24
We sat at a coffee shop. She didn’t believe me, but I didn’t know that as I confided what as yet is one of the most traumatic events I’ve experienced to date. For the next several years in one another’s homes, or over another latte, she would check in on my recovery. It was nice of her, but not kind. Nice has no weight and needs no truth. Kind is brave and takes courage. I wish she knew it was safe to be ambivalent or afraid, and even more to say so.
I brought her coffee. It was on an impulse. We sat in her living room and I confessed what as yet is one of the hardest apologies I’ve offered to date. For several years in one another’s homes or over a latte with someone else, I was not kind. I wasn’t even nice. Each word had weight and showed forth the ugly truth. She was brave and forgave me with so much courage. I was learning it was ok to be ambivalent and even better to say so.
In between these moments in time, I learned my heart wasn’t well. It skips beats and adds extras to make up for gaps. I was due any minute with my third child when the doctor gave ominous predictions, and back in the lobby I called the first friend in tears for reassurance that everything was going to be alright. From places I’ve known in her story, this was a space of acceptance where I was held. It was only until a few months postpartum that things began to unravel. We are creatures of belief and unbelief desperately trying to evade the conflict.
Almost a year passed bringing me to the coffee and apology, where soon after I was weighed down with the pregnancy of my fourth. The arrhythmia still beat like a dissonant melody testifying to the abnormalities my life was beginning to take. Without giving too much away of a story that deserves its own song, I found myself on a hot day being driven to the hospital by none other than the second friend whom I denied. The scenario was an exact match to one she had experienced herself where I didn’t believe her. I had showed up, helped out, made myself available and present to all but empathy. Amidst contractions, blacking out, and attempts at breath, she reached over to put her hand on mine. And I wept. It was only a few short months since I had begun a rewrite in a time of repentance and here was a space where I was loved. We are creatures in need of belief with unhindered potential, while desperately trying to hold a grasp on reality.
The other day husband said that empathy is the something that you must sell everything to find and in these places I was halfway through the necessary loss of possession by way of betrayal and instinctive confessions. It is the pearl of greatest price and like the treasure hidden in a field, you must unearth and lose all to find. A campaign against sexual assault at one of the schools we attend bears a simple message: I believe you. That says it well.
It is a terrifying union to enter the dark space of a soul without consuming or being consumed by the other. The places we’d rather not see are usually the ones we dismiss as specks in another because it resembles a piece from our own tree of life that fell to the ground somewhere in a garden we burned to escape long ago.
Lent is an invitation to this wilderness. The 40 days in the desert are prerequisite to atonement and testify in the broken bread of sacrament. Temptation is not language for enticement to indulgence; human desire to satiate pain is secondary trauma. It is much harder to accept wounds than fallibility. Did God actually say, ‘do you want to be healed’?
The labor of new life is not one easily endured by faint hearts. So when I knew the day had come in a new home and a new state with friends no longer there nor close I tried not to let the cavernous presence of absence swallow me up in grief. It has taken me four children, like Leah, to admit what this body has known all along and through the beginning waves of active contractions I finally let her cry, kneeling on white tiles in a bathroom alone. This road to belief is so narrow.
She told me to get out and push, I still didn’t trust her judgment or my own strength. I was spent in every possible way and as much I wanted this day to be over, didn’t think it was time. I felt the transition unbearable and yet somehow not powerful enough to deliver this baby into my arms, but my heart kept beating. This memory of eternity passed between ready to push and wanting to die, over and over. With the others I had always willed myself to stay and somehow this time I slept. Feeling her descend, inch by inch, but retract with every effort I held awareness through fire I’d not known before.
Let it be.
I believe. Help my unbelief.
Today I sit by myself, at home with a latte and the kind company of being human. I am healing and ambivalent. I even believe it to be, dare I say, beautiful.
"Do not fear, only believe." Mark 5:36