the boy and the theatre girl: an excerpt.

As per the norm, I can’t really get you guys anything for Christmas… except my writing.  Seemed fitting, especially since you stayed with me after I spent almost a year in hibernation.  So here you go – the beginning of ‘The Boy and the Theatre Girl,’ my NaNo18 novel.  Thank you so much for your friendship, and Merry Christmas!

keaton henson // the pugilist

I’d always thought it incredibly sexy whenever someone correctly used a semicolon. Honestly, it should be called a sexicolon. Comma splices are used way too often now. It’s like there’s a widespread panic to use them up, even incorrectly, before they’re gone. As if there are a finite amount of commas in the world. Please. Just switch it out with a semicolon and, barring any other grammatical errors, I’d be yours forever.

Now, granted, being “yours forever” would provide that I actually talk to the person. I’d always heard that fluent communication is the key to relationships, even if I’d never really seen it played out in my own life. But maybe this communication could occur via the written word instead of verbal.

Another assumed factor in this fairy tale scenario is that someone would actually take the time to try to communicate with me. This is the most fantastical of the factors in this scenario.

It wasn’t that I was a hard person to talk to. I’d always thought of myself as a very approachable person. Shorter than the average twelve-year-old, I didn’t really look like a kid anymore. Honestly, it was the part about talking with me that tripped people up.

I could spend a long time explaining my reasons why, but the short and sweet answer was that I didn’t talk. The shorter and slightly more bittersweet reason was that I couldn’t. I used to, but for the last four years, I haven’t said a word.

The last family I stayed with only lasted a week. They were convinced I couldn’t actually talk – that I had been born a mute – and that my “special needs” and “disabilities” were, to quote the file Sheri had unsuccessfully tried to hide from me, “more than they could handle at the time.”

I was surprised; I thought they’d only last three days tops. That’s how long the previous family had kept me, but the reason I was taken away from them after such a short time had more to do with the fact that they had beaten me repeatedly. They’d claimed my inability to speak was due to rebellion and that, if they just showed me who was really in charge, they could “break my will.” But what they didn’t know – what nobody seems to understand – is that I was willing to feel a little temporary pain. It was better than the alternative.

I had learned the hard way that sometimes it’s just best to keep your mouth shut. I’d kept it shut ever since.

All of this lazily tumbled through my head as I sat on the bed, my tattered and dog-eared notebook in my lap and my worn backpack beside me as I mulled over how to word something I’d been trying to write in the notebook for the last hour. I had inserted a semicolon between two phrases and it had rounded out the stanza so nicely that I had to take a moment to admire it.

A knock sounded on my door, and I looked up as Mr. Jackson poked his head in. “Ten minutes, Zach.”

I nodded.

Mr. Jackson glanced around the room, looking anywhere except at me before finally fixing his gaze on me. “You ready?”

Again, I nodded.

After a moment, he nodded back, knocked twice on the door, then stepped back, closing it in front of him.

I looked down at my notebook, but none of the words would focus.

This always happened. I was always, constantly, endlessly in a cycle of hellos, attempts at adapting, not fitting in, and goodbyes. It would never end. Not until I aged out.

I blinked a few times, then frowned and rubbed my nose.

Six more years.

Closing my eyes and shaking my head as if to clear the cobwebs inside seemed to help a little. After a moment, the words became less blurry. I clicked my pen and continued.

Twenty-one minutes later, I sat in the back seat of Sheri’s car, my arms around my backpack and my head leaning against the window. I didn’t watch the Jackson’s house fade in the distance. It had been a while since I’d done that with any of the houses I’d left. It was better that way.

“You just had a birthday, didn’t you?”

I opened my eyes and caught Sheri’s gaze in the rearview mirror. I nodded, feeling the tension slowly start to ease out of my shoulders.

“I think there’s such a big gap between eleven and twelve. Obviously not in age, but in mentality. Twelve just seems so much older. Right?” She looked back at me and I nodded back. I knew what she meant. “And don’t even get me started on thirteen. You can never turn thirteen, okay?”

I didn’t smile, but my face softened and I felt my the knots in my insides slowly release a little. Only Sheri knew how to do that.

“Remind me before we get to the Keller’s that I have a present for you in the trunk, okay? I got it the other day and was going to bring it to the Jackson’s, but then there was this situation with two sets of triplets – triplets, Zachary, and two sets of them – and the time just got away from me. You should’ve seen them. So cute. Both sets were identical, so that made for a very interesting weekend…”

I listened to Sheri ramble as I stared out the window. It was easy between us. It’d always been that way. Even when I’d leave a house and everything was awful and it didn’t feel like it would ever get better, I knew I’d see Sheri and, for at least a few hours, everything would be okay.

As my social worker, she knew everything about me, so she was the only person who never pressured me to talk or asked any awkward questions about my past. She was the only person in the world who understood me, but knowing there was at least one person out there who could help me, even on my very worst days… it just helped.

“So this family has a cat – did I tell you that?”

She glanced over her shoulder and I shook my head, letting go of my train of thought.

“An orange tabby,” she told me, flicking on her blinker as she pulled onto an exit ramp. “You know I despise cats, but I hope you can be friends with him. I think his name’s something Shakespearean – Hamlet? Macbeth? I don’t know. Anyway, I think he’s sweet. They said he was. But that’s an oxymoron. A sweet cat? Are you kidding me?”

I pursed my lips, but knew that my dimple had made an appearance. After all these years, she’d been the only one who’d consistently been able to make it appear. Of course, she was the only consistent factor in my life over the course of those years.

“Now, they’re a little farther away than I like for you to be,” Sheri continued, briefly glancing back at me again, “so you’ll be in a different school. I’ve already talked to some of your new teachers, though, and I’m pretty sure you’ll be ahead in some subjects. The best thing about staying with the Jacksons was definitely the school. Good decision on everyone’s part.”

She cleared her throat and I stared at the rearview mirror, noticing how she looked everywhere except at me.

“However,” she said, her grip tightening on the wheel for a split second, “Mrs. Keller has tossed around the idea of homeschool. It’d be mostly cyberschool, with some textbook learning. No co-op, no tutors, nothing with physical interaction.” She braked at a stoplight and turned back to me. “How does that sound? Something you’d be interested in?”

I held her gaze for a moment, then looked at the center console. Thoughts rushed around my head in chaotic swirls like money in a money machine, and I, its confused occupant, was unable to grasp at any of them.

“Want to at least try?” she asked softly.

Homeschool was something I’d heard of and almost wanted to do since before I got into the system, but it always seemed more like a pipe dream. It scared me, but the thought of pushing through bodies and standing awkwardly in front of teachers as they tried to make me talk scared me even more.

After a while, I nodded.

Sheri smiled. “You’re a good kid, Zach. You know that?”

I felt my face grow slightly red and my gaze flickered up to Sheri’s as I tried not to smile too widely.

Suddenly, a car behind us honked their horn, making Sheri jump and spin around.

“Gosh, can’t they wait a second?!” she shouted, accelerating. “Trying to have a moment with my favorite boy here!”

I snorted in my attempt to conceal my laughter. Sheri glanced at me in the rear-view mirror, beaming with glistening eyes.

“Sappiness aside, I really think you’re gonna like this family.”

I leaned my head against the window and closed my eyes, just listening.

“I know I don’t say that about every family, because it sure as hell isn’t true for every family.” She turned on her blinker, tapping her finger against the wheel as she waited for a chance to merge. Sheri’s language usually grew a little flowery whenever she was in a stressful driving situation, and it appeared that today was no exception. “But I’m serious about this one. Their daughter Emilie is seventeen and an only child, so you don’t have to worry about little ones invading your personal space. And they’ve all obviously been made aware of your situation, so you shouldn’t have a problem with that, either.” She glanced back at me for a second before merging. “Sorry about the Jackson’s kids, by the way. I didn’t know it was going to be an issue.”

I opened my mouth slightly, feeling the words “It’s okay” pushing against the edge of my lips. But, as always, I couldn’t say it. I swallowed and just smiled up at her a little.

I’d never been closer to speaking to anyone than I’d been with Sheri. I felt so at ease around her that I knew if I could talk around her, I would. But every time I seemed to make it to that point – to maybe, almost, possibly saying a word or two – she’d drop me off and drive away for who knows how long.

I understood why, and it wasn’t like I was mad at her or anything. After all, it was her job. I just always wished we could have a little more time together. Then maybe I could finally talk to somebody. Maybe.

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it’s okay if it isn’t the best time of the year.

This past week was one of the toughest weeks of my life. And I hate saying that, because the universe is always like “You thought that was bad?! Check this out!!!”

It’s never a good idea.

However, seeing as I cried myself to sleep twice this past week, I think I can say that.

I called my best friend about halfway through the week and vented to her, then listened to her vent about her own rough week. Not gonna lie – she definitely had it worse, and I felt bad for complaining when all of that was going on and I didn’t even know it.

I found myself telling her that it didn’t even feel like Christmas. We don’t get too much snow here in Georgia, so I’ve only had a few white Christmases since moving here. We had Christmas music going at my work, but only for about a week because some of my coworkers complained. I haven’t watched many Christmas movies because I’ve been so tired from working eight-plus hours a day & driving almost three. With all that – plus all the drama going on in my life (it’s been kind of a nightmare) – it’s hard to get into the holly jolly mood.

On the phone that night, we ended up making plans to see one another that weekend because it had been way too long. The next Sunday, I went to church donned in a Christmas sweater and Santa hat (the youth building was having a Christmas outfit contest and, as a leader, there was no way I wasn’t going to participate) and blasted Josh Groban in my car. I did some Christmas shopping and got lost looking at Christmas lights before picking my best friend up from work, getting coffee and two pizzas to split in the car, and driving almost thirty minutes to see a massive Christmas light display that another friend told me about.

Because of that – those hours where I actively chose to go find some Christmas spirit – I definitely think that this week will be better. (Knock on wood.)

However, in those hours of driving around getting lost, before picking up my friend, I heard some bad family news and got into an argument with my sister that could have ruined the evening. It did for a while, as I ranted to my bestie, but then I tried to put it past me for at least a little while.

All that to say, I’ve gotten so caught up in the messiness and drama of everyday life that I’ve totally missed the actual spirit of Christmas. It’s so easy to get stuck in the ruts, isn’t it? To just lose yourself in the everyday routine and only see what’s directly in front of you instead of zooming out and seeing the bigger picture?

Something I’ve learned this season is that it’s okay if all the Christmas songs don’t actually ring true. If it’s not the best time of the year. If it’s not holly or jolly or if your heart can’t be light or if your troubles aren’t miles away.

It’s hard to say, but maybe all the awfulness brings us closer to Christ in this season?

I had a moment in my car on the way to church where I was just overwhelmed for a while, mostly with God’s goodness and grace. I don’t deserve anything He did, especially right now. But all this mess – this garbage we either choose or don’t choose to bring into our lives – is what He died for, isn’t it? He knew we’d have messy, beautiful, chaotic, passionate lives, and He still chose to make that decision.

This turned a lot more preachy than I wanted it to be and I apologize, but these are just some things that I’ve had on my mind lately. I am by no means someone to look up to, but I just thought I’d share a little of what I’ve been thinking and experiencing in hopes that maybe you guys could learn it without making the same mistakes I do.

Christmas is just around the corner, and I hope and pray that you all have a good one, regardless of whatever is going on in your lives.

Love you all, and Merry Christmas!

review: i survived i kissed dating goodbye.

-ISIKDG-poster-landscape

courtesy I Survived IKDG / DOCSology

“just because something sells doesn’t mean that it’s giving people what they really want or need.”

joshua harris, i survived i kissed dating goodbye.

My mom introduced me to I Kissed Dating Goodbye when I was around thirteen by jokingly telling me that she’d originally purchased the book when I was in kindergarten.  I’d recently started hanging out with a boy named Ryan, told my mom I was in love with him, and – by the encouragement of his and other moms – called him “my boyfriend.”  Even if it was a joke, she and my dad still read the book together, highlighting and paper-clipping and underlining, trying to figure out how to navigate dating and maybe even spare their children of the mistakes they’d made when they were younger.

Remember, I was six.

As I grew up, my family and I became entrenched in the purity culture movement.  I’m pretty sure I’ve read every book on purity, and I’ve done quite a few Bible studies and traveled for conferences, too.  (I’ve even written so many blog posts on it.)  This movement shaped my teenage years, and Josh Harris’s book was the face of it.  After hearing back in 2016 that he’d apologized to a woman who said the book was “used as a weapon” against her and would step back to learn about the impact his book had on the culture, I was fascinated.  I knew it was something I wanted to watch unfold, even before a documentary was announced.

My family and I watched I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye together when it first came out, making comments and even pausing it for several minutes while we discussed.  The documentary is relatively short, but it covers so much ground that I had to watch it twice.

Team_ Joshua Harris vergical

courtesy I Survived IKDG / DOCSology

In I Survived IKDG, Josh travels around the country to visit people who were directly or indirectly impacted by either his book or the purity movement, speaking with influencers, pastors, and others who all had unique stories to share.  Topics covered included purity culture, catchphrases such as “guarding your heart,” the oversimplification of the purity message, cookie-cutter and a + b = c theology, and courtship versus dating.  Josh listened as others told him their stories and what they’d learned since first reading the book so many years before, asking hard questions and being incredibly receptive to the equally hard answers.

I think one of the things that struck me the most about the documentary was Josh’s vulnerability and humility.  I can’t imagine how much strength and prayer it took to go through something like this and be so honest and accepting of something so huge.  He didn’t – and shouldn’t – take responsibility for the whole movement that stemmed from his book; just the book and its impact on the culture.  (In case you missed it, he’s decided to discontinue the book and not let it go to another printing.)

While watching the documentary, I realized that the problem doesn’t ultimately lie with Josh or even his book.  The problem lies with the people who let a 21-year-old be an authority on a subject, the people who took it too far, and the people who used it to withhold from their children.  (Hence, the key “I Survived” in the title.)  I feel like all of this anger directed towards Josh isn’t warranted – as if he’s to blame for young adults missing prom or never having been on a date by their early twenties or being worried about being friends with the opposite sex.  But, like Thomas Umstattd (of Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed fame) says in his interview with Josh, just because IKDG became the face of a movement doesn’t mean Josh is entirely at fault.  The movement literally provided the framework for almost half of my life and caused some issues with how I view the world, but I’m steadily working through them and learning how to operate without these blinders on.  But I don’t blame Josh for this.  I blame all of the books, Bible studies, conferences, and the entire movement as a whole – and also myself, for believing that courtship really was flawed but not saying anything for years out of fear that I’d be shunned by my conservative subculture.  (I was, but then I discovered grace and the fact that I couldn’t give a dang about what they thought.)

Team_On Location -Dale Kuehne, Josh Harris, Jessica Van Der Wyngaard

courtesy I Survived IKDG / DOCSology

Because my critical years were so heavily influenced by this book, watching as Josh learned about the impact his book had on the conservative Christian culture was… therapeutic.  I wasn’t as harmed by the book as others I know, but I would definitely recommend this documentary for anyone else who was affected by these ideas.  There’s an entire generation of conservative Christians that I personally know were shaped by it, and I know they would really benefit from watching it, just like I did.

Have you seen the documentary yet?  If you have, what are your thoughts?  If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?!  (Hint, hint – it’s free!)

(I received early access to the documentary in exchange for my honest review.)

i’m alive.

Hey, guys.

Long time, no talk.  It’s been… nine months?  (Insert pregnancy joke here.)

Just wanted to say hello and that no, I haven’t died!  I’ve been working 43+ hours a week, commuting ~3 hours a day, and trying to maintain a social life (and my sanity).  Since talking to you guys last, I’ve also been in a musical (Singin’ in the Rain!), written and performed in an original play (and everything in between), took a random trip to Disney with two of my best friends, went on my first long road trip by myself, became a social media manager for my theatre company (and have enjoyed watching the stats shoot up – help me out by following us!), stress-cried more times than I can count, and have also made so many new friends whom I love dearly.  I also won NaNo (remember The Boy and the Theatre Girl?), so that was cool.

Anyway, I’m here to say that I’m back.  It was a much-needed break (that I didn’t really intend to take???) but I’m finally ready to start posting again.  I don’t know how much I’ll be posting, but I have missed you guys and can’t wait to continue on this crazy journey with you.  Thanks for sticking around.  What have you been up to since I last posted?  Let’s talk!

PS: I’ll be back tomorrow with a review of Joshua Harris’s documentary I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which I was given an early-release copy of to review, hence reviving this little blog.  I guess I’m still fired up about purity culture.  : P

feminism rant: why we need a women’s day (and month).

quote feminist angelou frenchbydesign blogOne of my least favorite things about feminism doesn’t actually have much to do with feminism in and of itself.  I’m talking about always having to explain how feminism doesn’t actually promote a negative effect on men.  (As if feminism is about men in the first place???)  (Also, having to do the whole “whhhelllll, I’m a second-wave feminist, I don’t actually think men are evil, I don’t think we’re better than men, equal rights and opportunities, yadiyadiyada” backtrack.)

When March 8th happened and everyone realized it was International Women’s Day, it sparked a few different things in my own personal circles – chiefly, my own constantly burning desire to see all of the kick-butt women in my life succeed at everything they do., but also a few great conversations with friends and family members.

I didn’t actually start the first conversation.  (Unbelievable, right?)  It started with someone telling me when Men’s Day was, claiming that “I’m for equality here.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m done with the selfishness.  Why does everything have to spark the “hEY BUT WHAT ABOUT ME?!” argument?

Black Lives Matter turned into All/Police Lives Matter.  Gun Control Now turned into a rampant flame-war about the second amendment.  Women’s Day turned into a huge argument about men’s rights.  (As if men ever really had to fight for rights in the first place… but what do I know?  *sips tea*)

The second you start flipping it around is the second you start ignoring the problem.

Black lives are being taken by police and white men.  Sometimes justly, sometimes not.  I’m not here to judge.  All I’m here to say is that it pains me to see my black friends (and, hello, family members) hurting and being directly impacted by this.

Seventeen people’s lives were brutally cut short and suddenly people are arguing about whether or not teachers should carry guns, as if the people directly and indirectly affected by those lives weren’t just radically altered.

Women are being oppressed, both here in the US and across the world.  It’s worse in other places and I don’t take my freedoms for granted, but that doesn’t mean that what happens here isn’t bad, too.  Seeing one of my coworkers – who had sold more than anyone else that week – minimized to nothing but her womanhood by a random male customer hurt.

This isn’t to say that white people aren’t being killed by police (they are) or that men aren’t oppressed (jury’s still out on that one), but this isn’t. about. them.

HIghlighting an issue doesn’t mean we’re ignoring others.  People who are in denial to further their own selfishness are part of the problem.

Not only is deflection not an effective argument, it doesn’t solve anything.  By shedding light on these issues with Black Lives Matter and International Women’s Day, we’re solving the problem.  Slowly but surely.

Like my amazing, beautiful, KICK-BUTT sister said, “Just because women are kicking butt doesn’t mean they aren’t having to work harder just to have a seat at the table of success.  Women have to be out there kicking butt to be recognized.  Today is a day for women to celebrate how far we’ve come.  How far our struggles have gotten us.  To encourage each other to continue to press on towards equality.  It’s not about “women women women.  Women are the best, men suck.”  It’s about giving us a day to express ourselves and remember the women who helped us fight to come this far.  Men have never had to fight for the right to vote, to get an education (shout out to Malala, she’s bitchin’).  This is not a day about celebrating how far men’s rights have come.  It’s for women.  It’s twenty-four hours.  Let it be for the women.  So please, for the love of any and every women you know, don’t make this about men.  Let us have this day and not attempt to shame us for it.  It only proves how much we have to fight.”

Rights aren’t equal, therefore we still fight.  Continue on, my beautiful fairy goddess warriors.

the day i started wearing dresses again.

Today I wore a dress to work.

What a weird sentence.  A year ago, the dress part would’ve driven me nuts.  Three or four years ago, the work part would’ve.  (Me?  Having a job outside of the home?  In a non-Christian environment?  The horror.)

I’ve been reading a lot of exposé-type blog posts on the Quiverfull/ATI movement (and conservatism as a whole) lately, and a few particularly jarring posts about modesty have gotten me into a weird funk.

I never knew what kind of a niche environment I grew up in until recently.  This subculture of Biblically-endorsed patriarchy.  This baby mass-producing, holier-than-thou legalism.  Luckily, my family wasn’t as entrenched in it as others, but it’s still affected me in ways I’m still trying to work through.

When I was twelve, my sister and I went shorts-shopping with my mom.  We’d just been through training to be summer missionaries with several of the youth in my church.  We needed new shorts to wear as we traveled around our city ministering to kids that summer, and I found several options, including some adorable plaid ones that went down to my knee that I couldn’t wait to wear.  It wasn’t until we got home that my dad told us we’d be wearing skirts outside of the house from then on.  I distinctly remember slipping the plaid shorts under a massive, layered jean skirt a few times, and enjoying their secret existence.

From the time I was twelve until sometime when I was eighteen, we wore skirts whenever we left the house (and sometimes when we didn’t, because I had a younger brother).  It was a modesty thing, it was a deference thing, and it was an umbrella thing.  It pointed to my father as an authority in our home – how I was honoring him by keeping my brothers in Christ from stumbling.

I was always a tomboy when I was younger.  Climbing trees and playing football with my guy friends were some of my favorite activities.  I soon learned that doing these things in a skirt was incredibly difficult (and, at times, less than modest).  I remember riding in a go-kart with a guy friend (my best friend for most of my early teen years – but I never told anybody that).  We rounded a curve and my skirt flew back, exposing the (again, adorable) plaid shorts.  I was grateful to have worn them that time.  Another time, on a family field trip to Charleston, we toured a battleship that had been involved in WWII.  It was a windy day and I was wearing a lighter, linen skirt that day.  As I climbed the stairs up to the top deck, in front of most of my family and other guests, a gust of wind flew up underneath my skirt.  No shorts that time.  I was mortified.

Growing up, I was taught that modesty was about not drawing attention to yourself.  But then I’d go outside my small, conservative bubble and notice that we were drawing more attention to ourselves and my like-minded friends with our skirts that reached the top of our shoes and that the only skirts were cute, cut below or above the knee.  I wanted that.  I didn’t know why my skirts had to sweep the floor or be straight denim that reached my mid-calf.  I just knew my growing curves had to be hidden.

It was probably because of this that I never made the connection between modesty and beauty.  I’m not sure there was one, besides the notion that “modest is hottest.”  (Tangent: What does that even mean?)  I heard Bible verses that were used to teach against jewelry and short hair and makeup.  Authorities in my life always said that natural beauty was best, but I never felt comfortable in my red, splotchy, acne-dotted skin and experimented with makeup for special occasions.  The shapeless skirts just made me feel more fat than I already thought I was.

I never felt pretty in those skirts or dresses.

When I was eighteen, we were ever-so-slowly allowed to wear shorts and pants outside of the house again.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m the one who started this trend.  I didn’t see the point in wearing a skirt solely to pick up the twins I nannied before bringing them back to their house for the afternoon.  I started wearing shorts and it was such a fascinating mixture of delight and nervousness and guilt and wonder.  If I needed to run an errand beforehand and wore shorts, I’d walk through the store as quickly as possible, feeling a twinge of guilt whenever I passed even a younger boy.

One day, I distinctly remember deciding to wear a skirt, mostly out of guilt that I’d bent my standards so much.  I picked a shorter one with lace at the bottom and an adorable flower print.  I finally felt cute in something that was in line with my standards (although I’m fairly sure a comment was made about how short it was).  Some men were working at the house where I was nannying, and I spent my afternoon simultaneously trying to keep the kids from riding down their incredibly steep driveway on their bikes and holding my skirt down because wind was, again, an issue.  I think that was my last time wearing a skirt to my nannying job.

After we left our church, I wore skirts for several weeks as we church-shopped.  The first time I wore skinny jeans to my new church, I felt so rebellious but, at the same time, strangely enough… free.

Years of legalism and I was finally getting a taste of grace.

I kept most of my skirts, mostly because some were cute and because I felt like I should, but it took a long time to finally be able to wear them again, pairing them with boots or a cute top to make myself feel better about it.  I still shied away from more full or longer skirts that made me remember those days in ways I didn’t want to.

When I got a job where the dress code was business casual, I bought my first dress since those skirt-wearing days.  It stopped a few inches above my knee, was cinched at the waist, and had straps.  The most important part was that it was my favorite shade of forest green.  I loved it.

So today, when I wore that dress to work, you can start to understand why it was such a big deal to me.  I thought very little of it – I just wanted less items of clothing to match.  The green dress plus tights, a mustard cardigan, and short boots, and I was set.

It made me remember the weekend before, when I cosplayed with a friend as Anastasia and felt like an actual princess in the flowing skirt, pearl beads, and long hair (almost as long as my hair was before I cut it at the end of my skirt-wearing days – and got shunned by the girls at church).  I was so hesitant to wear it at first, because it dredged up all the old memories of feeling lumpy, formless, fat, and told that my curves were something to be hidden.  But when I tried on the skirt for the first time and pulled on the sleeves – before the bodice was even cut – I nearly cried.  I actually felt beautiful.  In a skirt.  The morning of the actual event, when I put on the whole ensemble for the first time, I teared up when my friend pinned the crown on my head.  For the first time, I actually felt the connection between wearing a dress and feeling absolutely gorgeous.

And it was incredible.

It took four long, painful years to get past these memories and such a poisoning frame of mind, but I’m finally well on my way to freedom.  I’m so much better off.  I don’t regret any of the decisions I or my parents made, but I’m so glad I’m past those days.

All this to say, something I’ve learned is that your convictions shouldn’t be the result of guilt or fear.  Do what you do out of your love for Christ.  Period.

the problem with purity books.

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{for le blog aesthetic // not mine}

As some of you may know, I started re-reading Before You Meet Prince Charming by Sarah Mally last year. It’s taken me a long time to get through it, and I’d wanted to finish it before I wrote this post, but I have too many thoughts on it (and other purity books) to wait.

Plus, why SHOULDN’T I rant about why I always felt so alone on Valentine’s Day today?! These books are one of the main reasons I felt so single on this day of every year as far back as I can remember!

Buckle up, because these thoughts have been festering in my mind for years and I’ve just learned how to express them over the last several months (and they’re all over the place so bear with me).

If you grew up in a conservative bubble like I did, you grew up hearing about, reading, and being heavily influenced by these books. You looked up to the Botkins sisters, secretly wanted to be Jasmine Bauchum, wanted to marry a Harris brother, and maybe even traveled several hours to a Bright Lights conference. (Check off all of those for me.)

I grew up entrenched in this system. My parents had their legitimate and valid reasons for encouraging this mindset. I don’t regret anything I learned while in this phase of life because it shaped me into who I am today, but I do still have some scars and even struggle at times with the lasting consequences that I continually have to deal with as a result of this mindset.

The biggest thing that influenced this purity trend in conservative Christian circles were the books written, starting with I Kissed Dating Goodbye and lasting through newer additions such as It’s (Not That) Complicated and Joyfully At Home.

These books are written mostly by young women who had no personal experience with the real dating world. (And still, in their mid thirties, have no experience. Still unmarried, still living at home. Jasmine is the only one who has some semblance of a normal life. She’s my hero and my hope.) The only things they know about it come in the form of horror stories from older people who want to keep them away from it for one reason or another. Starting a book with only this knowledge is a major recipe for disaster. Well-intentioned, of course. But still a disaster.

These books started an “us against them” mentality – courtship versus dating, Christians versus non-Christians (or better Christians versus less enlightened Christians). They made it a fight, with strong feelings on each side. Anyone who thought differently than us was wrong, with no exceptions. Saving yourself was obviously the best way to go about this, and thus would yield the best results (right???), so why shouldn’t we be confident that we’re right and our everyone else down?

In reality… courtship is not the only way and it absolutely will not guarantee a perfect (or even great) marriage. You can’t make a blanket statement and say something like “all dating is evil” because you also can’t say that all courtship is good. And that’s the kind of mindset that these books encouraged.

I also think it’s such a tragedy that these books shamed girls into being afraid of their feelings – that, just because they have a crush on someone, they’ve given away bits of their heart. So not only are girls afraid to admit that they have crushes, but they feel like they’ve already lost.

I’m sick and tired of the notion that purity is something that can be irrevocably lost.  These analogies about sticky notes, chocolate cake, suckers, and roses – they’re all incredibly and horrifically wrong.  The whole point of the Gospel is that Jesus took what was dirty and made it clean.  Period.  He took the broken and made them whole, and all that remains is a beautiful, flawless testimony of God’s grace and forgiveness.  That testimony isn’t “ruined” by mistakes made.  Once repentance is reached and forgiveness is given, it’s done.  Over.  The mistakes we make are lessons to be learned, not something to be held over our heads for the rest of our lives.

I’m also sick of this thriftstore Jesus Who is somehow bound by what conservatives say about Him and about grace and about purity – that you’re damaged goods if you didn’t immediately jump towards and end up with the first thing that came towards you. That girls are supposed to sit around and wait for guys to come along so we can fulfill our ultimate purpose as a wife and mother. (Hooo, boy, better stop that train before it leaves the station. That’s another post for another time.)

Listen. It’s okay to have feelings. It’s fine to feel disappointed and even sad that you’re not in a relationship. More than that, it’s completely normal.

Just don’t stay there.

Being single is hard. I know. (I was there for twenty-two years before a guy showed interest in me.) There’s no way around that. But being married is hard, too. Every season of life has hard parts. But faking a smile, ignoring the feelings, and saying, “It’s okay! I’m single because I’m waiting for someone God has for me!” is neither productive nor honest. And it’s about dang time someone takes an honest look at relationships – dating or courting or whatever the crap you want to call it.

I’ve toyed around with writing a purity book, but I wouldn’t even seriously consider it for a while because, even with a lot of guy friends and my current dating experience, I don’t think I have enough knowledge – even though it’s a lot more than these girls can say. (For that, go to Leslie Ludy. She has the experience to back it up – and the marriage to prove that it can work and last!)

If I were to write a purity book, though, I’d say this – stop. being. so. serious.  Yes, this is one of the most important decisions of your life and yes, it should be seriously thought about.  But you don’t have to stress over every single facet of your relationship the entire time.  It’ll only bring added stress. Bringing this full circle to what I started to rant about, as the writer of one of a new favorite blog says, “The average neurotic [conservative, quiverfull/courtship] adherent … has been taught that everything is a sin and that they are corrupting every male simply by being alive.”

Don’t be so intent on “finding the one” or “staying in God’s will” that you miss out on actually living. Because there’s so much more to life than someone’s hand to hold.

Precious girl, you’re worth more than that.

{Bonus thoughts: Someone who views everyone as a potential spouse is someone to be wary of. We should look to see everyone as a potential friend. If a guy only saw me as Wife Material and didn’t want to be friends with me first, I’d run. FAST.}