Drowning In Jennie’s River

The door flew open. My biology book slipped out of my grasp and landed on the linoleum with a bang. "Jennie!" I said. "What’s wrong?"

It was typical of my friends to burst into my dorm room when they wanted to talk about a date or to complain about an exam. But one look at Jennie’s tear-streaked face told me that this visit was different. My heart beat faster as I shut the door behind her.

"I’m pregnant," Jennie said. She threw herself across my bed and burst into tears.

"Oh, Jennie!" I said, stroking her hair. Help, Lord! I prayed silently as she sobbed into my pillow. I’m not ready for this.

I’d been baptized just one year before in a fountain on this secular campus—a new Christian in a land of intellectual cynics. Everyone in the dorm knew that I attended a Bible study. Some of them were even curious about why I’d chosen to follow Jesus. Jennie, a star soccer player on a full-ride scholarship, had been one of the most interested. I knew she was attracted to Jesus’ compassion and that she liked to hear stories about his interactions with women.

I let her cry for a while. "Are you … can you …?" I couldn’t get the words out around the lump in my throat.

Jennie sat up and reached for the box of tissues on my nightstand. "There’s NO way I can have this baby," she said, wiping away her tears. "I’m only 18. I’ll lose my scholarship. I’ll never finish college. And my parents will KILL me."

"What about the father?"

She scowled. "Ben. New Year’s Eve." Jennie’s high school boyfriend was at an Ivy League school. He’d broken up with her on New Year’s Day. "I don’t want him to know."

I was silent, and she studied my expression. "Don’t worry," she said. "The health center on campus does this stuff all the time. It’s totally safe. And it’s free. I’ll be fine."

You’re supposed to be comforting her, I told myself. Say something! If this conversation had taken place before I’d become a Christian, I’d probably be telling her just what she’d just told me. I might even have insisted that she use the health center’s services. But now that I had access to the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, everything was different. Just the other day, for example, I’d sat through a slide presentation on conception and human reproduction. When the bell rang, the other students left the lecture hall, but I’d stayed in my seat, lost in wonder over God’s creativity in designing each human life.

"What’s wrong?" Jennie asked me, breaking the silence. "It’s early enough. I’m only two months pregnant, so it should be pretty easy."

"I know," I said. "It’s just that …" My eyes drifted down to her flat, athletic stomach.

Her eyes followed mine. "Oh," she said.

"At least think about it, Jennie," I said. "Think about how you’ll feel 10 years from now when you start wanting to have a family. When you see your other children …" I broke off as Jennie’s face hardened.

She stood up, hands on her hips. "Why don’t you start thumping your Bible?" she asked. "I should have known you’d judge me. That’s what Christians are good at, aren’t they?"

"I’m not judging you, Jennie!" I said. "I’m trying to help."

"That’s why I came to here first. I thought you could help. Boy, was I wrong!" She pulled away from my hand and ran down the hall to her own room.

The next day, sitting numbly in my classes, I struggled through a torrent of questions. Had I failed God? Had I failed Jennie? Would I get another chance to show her God’s love? Retreating to the safety of my room, I reached for my Bible, longing for comfort and wisdom.

I heard a soft knock on the door.

"Come in," I called.

"It’s me."

"Jennie! I’m so glad to see you. I’m sorry I—"

She shut the door behind her. "I’m sorry, too. I sort of jumped to conclusions. I feel bad about what I said. You’ve told me how much God loves me. I know you’d never condemn me."

"Never, Jennie," I said, feeling my heart lighten. "God does love you so much—"

She interrupted me again. "I’ve got an appointment at the health center tomorrow afternoon. They’re going to do it. But—I’m so scared. Nobody else knows, and I don’t want to go through this alone. Will you come with me?"

I panicked, feeling like I was drowning again. Part of me desperately wanted to say yes. You’ve been praying for this girl for months. She’s only 18, and her parents were all the way on the other side of the country.

I opened my mouth to reassure her that of course I’d be there, but once again my gaze was drawn down her trim, petite body. What—or who—was growing inside of it? I pictured a living creature with a head, a tiny brain, a heartbeat, hands forming, feet beginning to kick. I could almost hear another voice calling to me for help—a voice that was not Jennie’s at all.

"Can I … Will you let me tell you by tonight?" I stammered. "I need to pray about this."

Jennie glanced at the Bible on my desk. "Okay," she said. "I understand."

"You can’t go with her!" my Bible study leader said, even though he didn’t know the details about who I was talking about. "You’d be condoning a sin. It’s like sanctioning murder!"

"But there’s two people involved," I said. "What about the girl asking for my help?"

"She’ll thank you later for taking a firm stand of truth."

I called another friend. "Go with her," she said.

"WHAT?! I’d be condoning a sin. Like sanctioning murder!"

"I know. But what about this poor girl? She needs to know that God won’t desert her, even in the midst of sin. Remember, “while we were yet sinners …’"

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I groaned. "Pray for me, will you?"

I skipped lunch and dinner and stayed in my room. What do I do, Lord? She’s going to have this abortion, whether I go with her or not. I can’t save this baby’s life, no matter what I do.

But I had to try. Picking up a pen, I scribbled a note: Dear Jennie. It means so much to me that you trusted me with your news. Let me explain why this is so hard for me. I believe you have a baby growing inside you, and I want that baby to live. I understand the consequences will be hard if you decide to carry the baby to term, but I will help in any way I can. Please think about this, Jennie. Take some more time before making this decision.

I paused, and then kept writing: If, however, you decide to go ahead with the abortion, please let me know. I will be praying for you.

I slipped the note under her door. The next morning, Jennie’s roommate told me that Jennie had borrowed her car to go to the beach. "She needed a day to herself for some reason," the other girl said, shrugging.

I called two Christian friends. All we can do now is pray, I thought, careful to not share too much with them.

As soon as I saw Jennie’s face, I knew she hadn’t changed her mind. Her skin was pale, and dark shadows curved under her eyes. "Three o’clock tomorrow," she told me. "Will you come? I need you."

I took a deep breath. Lord, couldn’t you save this baby? Restraining the scream that was tearing through my mind, I plunged in over my head. "I’ll be there," I said, and closed my door.

She looked even younger in the white gown they made her wear. Her hands were shaking but her eyes didn’t blink, staring up at me like two black stones. She gripped my hand tightly, keeping that cold, dark gaze fixed on my face. I couldn’t see anything else through my tears. Sometimes I still taste the salt of them in my dreams.

The doctor gave me a disgusted look. "The material’s all been removed," he said. "She’ll be fine. Playing soccer by tomorrow."

Christ is with you, I told Jennie silently, when she finally closed her eyes. And also with you, I told the one who’d been washed away by the current of Jennie’s life.

Jennie never became a Christian, as far as I know. In fact, she started avoiding me as the months went by, as though I reminded her of something she wanted to forget.

Did I do the right thing? I’m still not sure. I know I tried to be like Jesus—committed to both truth and love at the same time. It’s excruciating to make a decision when you’re caught between those two ultimate Christian values. It’s like swimming upstream against a fast river or crawling along a narrow precipice with no safety in sight. Once you’ve made your decision, it still feels like someone’s nailing your heart to a cross. At the end of it all, you’re only sure of one thing—Christ is with you, too.

[Mitali Perkins was born in India and grew up in the United States. A full-time freelance writer, she maintains a website for immigrants called The Fire Escape: Books For and About Young Immigrants (Mitaliperkins.com).]

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