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I grew up in the evangelical church, one of the Jesus Girls, one of the ones who was on fire.
I learned quickly that I wasn’t like everyone else. I certainly wasn’t like the other girls. Instead of being afraid of the boys, or even particularly attracted to them, I wanted to hang out with them. At youth group parties, you might find me playing Halo, jumping on the trampoline, or playing spoons with the boys. In their company, I felt like I was taken seriously, I felt a part of something.
It was nice to be different, when it was in that context. We had frank discussions, talking about God, about life, about girls. I grew comfortable with that role: the confidante. I became the quintessential sister-figure, loving every minute of it.
But no one wanted to date that girl, and after a while, I wanted a date much more than I wanted to be myself, so she got lost somewhere along the way.
When I was a teenager I read every Christian dating book I could get my hands on.
I wanted to be ready. I read about how a nice Christian girl should act, what she should say, the way that she should come across.
I read the chapters that were supposed to be only for the guys, too. They were, perhaps, even more informative. Here were instructions to the Christian guy in selecting a date (or mate). I soaked up this information, along with the occasional tidbit from the salacious pages of Seventeen, and, later, He’s Just Not That Into You.
I learned, a little at a time, that if I ever wanted to attract anyone worth attracting, someone worth marrying, I had a box to fit into.
But I didn’t fit in the box. I did my best. I crammed myself into it with the same practiced skill as that acrobat in Ocean’s Eleven, stuck in a duffel bag for hours on a plane.
You get used to it.
It worked pretty well. That’s the thing.
I didn’t upset anyone by speaking my mind, I was infinitely agreeable. I gave all the boys the benefit of the doubt, over and over, until I couldn’t anymore. But when they broke up with me, I knew they weren’t really breaking up with me. They didn’t know me.
You see, I’m a bit of a spitfire. I think all the time. I’m bold and passionate and interested in things that matter (and many things that don’t). I struggle to have a conversation on the surface. If I love you, I want to tell you. I’m frank and honest in a way that either horrifies or disarms people.
For a long time, I watched those girls, you know the ones: unconcerned, silky hair that did what they wanted it to do (remember the perfect “messy bun”?). It didn’t seem like they cared about anything, especially the attractive guys buzzing around them.
But I did.
I could do everything the books said, but in high school, I couldn’t pretend I didn’t care. I didn’t learn that until later. That was all it took, just a little indifference, a little freaking out on the inside, with my girlfriends, in my journal, instead of in front of him. A little distance, a little delay when he texted, or asked if I was free.
And I wondered, from time to time: will there come a point where I can get excited about us? Will there come a time when I can sing a little off-key when I want to? Or quote Star Wars? Or talk about the future?
I obeyed the rule of initiation to the letter.
After all, I was a woman. It was the man’s job to reach out, to call, to ask, to text. I worked hard to be responsive, to match (but not exceed) his level of interest, so as not to scare him away.
I didn’t want to appear too eager.
All of this has followed me here, to the present. It might have held me still, except for one thing: I started to see something new.
I’ve been reading the Bible since I was small, but there was something I never noticed, perhaps it was the lens I was using.
I noticed that the Bible is full of women who initiate.
All of a sudden, I was seeing Martha rushing to meet Jesus, challenging and questioning him. I watched Mary anoint Jesus’ feet with costly perfume. Here comes Ruth, uncovering Boaz’s feet and proposing. Rahab tells the spies that she and her family must be saved. And what about Tamar? Her quest to honor her husband and his memory goes beyond anything I can imagine. I can’t read about Tamar without crying.
And they don’t stop.
These stories keep going through the whole Bible. Deborah, Esther, Leah, Rachel, Jael, Rebekah, Naomi, Abigail. The list goes on.
Honestly, I am pressed to find very many women in Scripture who did not initiate. These women were bold, they were thinkers and prayers, prophetesses, lovers, sisters and saints. I began to get glimmers of recognition. I began to resonate with what I was seeing and reading, as if something long asleep was coming alive.
It wasn’t ever spoken out loud, but the message was clear: you’re the bomb.
My strength, my exhortation, my hard, true words, the very core of me, were not a gift to the rest of the Body, they were a danger.
For years, I’d hidden it away inside me. My passion, my personality. Not just in romantic relationships (though that was a big part) but in friendships and churches and Bible studies and small groups.
My job was to make sure it was hidden far within me, cushioned from anything that might rattle it, causing it to go off and hurt someone.
My job was to meet someone who could disarm it, for good.
Recently I realized something that has changed the way I look at relationships: I am a good idea that God had.
It seems simple. It seems too simple. I couldn’t believe it.
After all these years of trying to seem a certain way, I stopped trying to “seem” and started being myself in relationships.
I’m not quite the girl that I was in early high school, playing Halo with the boys, but I’m comfortable in my skin like she was.
Still, at least once a day, I remind myself to be me.
I remind myself that I don’t need a boyfriend or an excuse to say no to a date if I don’t want to go. I remind myself that if I want to send a text, I can.
When I waver about being honest about my feelings, I draw a deep breath and speak the words out loud. I take my own face in my hands and tell me that I don’t want the kind of life lived in a box: no room to relax, to spread out, to be excited. No room for me.
I’ve spent my life thinking that the things that made me unique were like wrinkles that just needed to be ironed out. I’ve tried, and they don’t smooth. Now I’m so glad.
The wrinkles are part of the art. They are on purpose, and so am I.