Living in China screwed up my faith the way it screwed up others’ intestinal tracts. I mean, if God loved the whole world, why did He make the Bible as hard to access for half of it? But my faith didn’t go sour in China. China is where it changed, just like how a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, or how a normal mole turns into something malignant. I just wasn’t sure which one it was. Was my faith going through menopause too? I dared ask questions that would make my missionary uncle roll over in his grave.
My faith started to have hot flashes way before Asia’s potpourri of religions and my imploding marriage. It started unraveling with a dirty doodle.
One day, while waiting for the L train in Chicago, I saw a billboard featuring a silhouette of a sad girl looking out of a window: she had one hand on her stomach, the other holding a hankie, and gang graffiti on her shoulders. It was for a crisis pregnancy center, one that was pro-life and anti-birth control, things not made clear by the sign. Things that wouldn’t be revealed to the crying girl until after she showed up for a free pregnancy test. I pulled the antenna up on my cell phone and called the number. The conversation went something like this:
“No, I’m not pregnant. Yes, I’m for sure. I’m forty-seven.”
“May I ask why you are calling?”
“I’d like to volunteer.” Yes, I did. At the time, I was quite active in helping teen moms, challenging churches to offer programs for those that took the same rocky road as Mary, the mother of Jesus. But many churches were the modern-day equivalent of the innkeeper, shutting the door on girls in need. A megachurch wanted help in raising millions of dollars for a wedding chapel but couldn’t find ten bucks for a Bible study for teen moms. Go figure.
“ Well then, how about coming in for an interview?”
The pregnancy center was in an antiquated building near shiny new bean in Millennium Park. Or, as taxpayers referred to it, a million-dollar magnet for pigeon poop.
When the doors of the old elevator opened, I was greeted by Jesus on the cross and a display of those Russian nesting dolls for the uterus. A Serena Williams lookalike comes to greet me. Tall; strong; dark brown hair pulled back tight. My eyes went to the pin on her blazer. It was of two little footprints.
After a quick interview to make sure I wasn’t a spy for Planned Parenthood, the director fills me in on a few policies. They include the following: Always wear gloves while handling the urine tests, do not let callers know abortions were not offered, and never suggest birth control.
“Is that all?”
“Actually, no.” She slides me a pile of forms.
Along with an application, I had to submit a few references, complete a background check, and take classes at a Catholic church. Getting into Harvard would be easier. Getting a Chinese working visa was easier. I glance at the little feet on her lapel again. Why do you make it so difficult for people to help? That is what I wanted to ask.
It took about a month to complete all of the forms and letters or referrals. But still, I had one more hoop to jump through on my last day of training.
I show up at the reception desk with the nesting dolls of embryos. The director hands me a stack of videos.“You might want to take notes.” They weren’t the kind of videos you could rent back in the day at Blockbuster.
I go into a small viewing room, pop in a video, and fast forward it until I land on a segment that interests me. It’s of a male doctor in a white lab coat like what you see on TV and never at your gynecologist. I grab a yellow legal pad and charge up my pen. He starts explaining a woman’s inner plumbing.
“Inside, you have two ovaries.”
First, I draw two circles.
“Is it connected to the birth canal…”
Next, I draw a long tube between them.
He continues, “This is where a full-term baby should exit, but a pregnancy termination happens here.”
I colored a circle where a baby’s head would pop out, at the end of the long tube between the two round ovaries.
I crumpled up my doodle and went home.
The next day, I return to the pregnancy center excited, thinking my training wheels would be off. I would be trusted to answer the phones. I came out of the elevator door ready to give Jesus a high five. But the director was waiting by the reception desk and holding a crumpled piece of legal paper. “Ginger, could you come into my office?”
“Sure.” Maybe I’d get a pin with the little feet.
She slid the piece of paper across her desk. It’s my crumpled doodle from the day before.“I’m wondering why you drew this–a penis.”
Did she just say what I thought she said? “I drew what?”
Her red nails point to my ovaries and lame attempt at a birth canal. “These are the testicles and this is the uh,” she whispered, “the shaft.”
I grabbed my doodle and took a look. I could see how it could be mistaken for a weiner, just like the optical illusion of an old lady that turns into a young woman. I try not to laugh. “This isn’t a wiener, it’s a woman’s plumbing!”
“No, it’s a penis.”
The director isn’t smiling. She isn’t listening. She is nuts. She is accusing me of doodle porn.
“We no longer want you volunteering at the center.”
I shoved the doodle in my bag and left the pregnancy center feeling judged, thinking of all of the time and energy I poured into that goody-two-shoes volunteer position for a tiny foot-lapel pin. Then I thought of all of the girls who walked through those doors, scared and alone. Then I thought about writing a resignation letter to Jesus, giving Him my two-week notice.
This is messed up. I’m quitting my faith. When I went home, I showed the crumpled doodle to my husband.
“It does look like a wiener,” he laughed.
That dirty doodle triggered a desire to move away from the land of TV evangelists, megachurches, and commercialized faith, move somewhere we would see a new side of God, Asia. In that place, my faith went into a blender with missionary Christianese, world religions, and a failed marriage. A spiritual smoothie with lots of nuts.
It took a divorce to make me realize what faith really was.