In a writing course last year, the instructor assigned such essay topics to the class as you might encounter in sixth grade. "My Pet Peeve" launched me into a 10 page tirade on Christian anxieties. I wish I could land somewhere with the assignment, "What Jesus Means to Me."
(No pun intended.)
It was my third pregnancy after a year of trying to get pregnant and miscarrying. I was at a woman's retreat put on at the pastor's home after having taken a prego test only a day or so before. Every time I went in the bathroom I was swiping for blood, scrutinizing the toilet paper for a full fifteen seconds and wondering, each time, if the tiny red specks I saw in the paper were from its recycled particles or from my uterus recycling its parts. I'd had enough of spotting in the past year. Every trip to the bathroom during a pregnancy was tantamount to preparing to hear a final sentencing. Would this baby live or would it die?
And then, fifteen minutes into the beginning of the retreat my OCD took over and I found myself in the bathroom, swiping and then staring at a small splotch of unmistakeable red that did not come from Soft N' Gentle's manufacturing plant.
Oh, how many times I have wanted to talk about toilet paper, and wiping, for that matter. Toilet paper means everything at the beginning of a pregancy. It's as good as having a daily progesterone or hcg test, as good as having the lab results charted every afternoon. Blood shows up on toilet paper in a pregnancy gone awry, in accord with falling hormone levels. And toilet paper is the eight ball in the whole process. At least, it can be. Sometimes women bleed and it means nothing at all--though not in my experience to date of that pregnancy. Bleeding always meant something bad.
How do I describe the feeling of betrayal in that moment. Soft N Gentle had done nothing wrong. It was me, it was my body, my egg, my uterus, possibly my husband's sperm, that was failing me. I left the women's retreat, the softly-lit living room and musical voices of women who were glad to be together. The worship leader was just playing a chord or two on her guitar in preparation for worship. I left, got in my car, drove through Iowa countryside to get home. I was jerking my knee up and down, unable to sit still, unable to focus on the dark road.
Mark wasn't home when I got there. I ran inside, found the CD, and pressed the repeat button on the CD player.
Carry me. Your love is wider than my need could ever be.
I played it as loud as I thought the neighbors' ears could afford. My need was beyond wide. My need was beyond great. Could love be wider? I needed love to be wider. I slid my torso down the pine cabinets until I sat on the kichen floor. I screamed. I screamed. I screamed.
I screamed like the woman you see in movies whose seven-year-old son just fell over a cliff, the woman you know won't ever be the same because the loss of her son is like the loss of her capacity to breathe. I screamed like that woman even though I hate being that woman, and I never let anyone see that woman (especially the women at the retreat), except maybe Jesus. I sometimes let him see me that way.
I wish I had it in me to let him see me that way more often. Usually its done under my own emotional duress, otherwise he certainly wouldn't force it out of me. He never does.
Maybe this all has to do with why Jesus lately appears to me with the cross in the background, as if I need a reminder that he felt pain, too. Maybe this is why I dig him so much--although I think it's a pretty bleak statement that I connect with him mostly because of pain. I keep thinking that there's this whole other side to Christianity--this side where you're just really joyful all the time and nothing's got you down. But why would I think that? I'm a big believer that shit happens to everyone, Christian or not. I'm a big believer that God brings peace in difficult circumstances. He doesn't load our plates up with trips to the carnival and big band music. He's not Mary Poppins 24/7. Still, there are some pretty sweet deals where Jesus is involved, but nothing about knowing him means I don't hurt. It just means I'm comforted.
Jesus said in one of his teachings, "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted." And maybe that's what happened on the kitchen floor on a warm September night when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter. He didn't give me any assurances that this pregnancy was going a good direction, although he could have. Really, the only thing he gave me was himself. I felt his presence inside every scream. Felt the weight of comfort bearing down on my chest like a heavy blanket.