"Do you want me to kiss you like this?" His tongue rolled slowly around the mint as he leaned over the desk. And I don't remember what I said, because my mind is still fixed on that mint, fixed on the shock of his words and on the look in his eyes that told me he knew exactly who held the power, and it sure wasn't me.
It was a summer of trying to avoid being near him in the deserted spaces of the library, a summer of tensing up for the comments and the leering glances that would make my skin crawl. A summer of hiding when he came over to our house, of having housemates sneak me down the back stairway and out for errands that would last until he left.
In the fall he abruptly left campus to return home for a family emergency.
And I felt guilty because I wasn't sad for him, I was just relieved to have him gone.
It was, I think, a Saturday at the library. The public one, this time. And I was early and so was he and so I didn't think when he chatted while we waited for the doors to open. It may have felt strange, and at some point the red flags went up and I shut up, but it was too late.
He showed up unannounced at my house one morning. The house that I had said just enough about to help him find. And my housemates sent him on his way with the words that it was NOT ok to be there.
Twice more I saw him, once slipping into the daily chapel (he wasn't a student) and then again months after I left school and had moved into an apartment. Suddenly one night, there he was at the door, too late in the evening for a friendly stop-by, telling me he recognized my car. And twenty-five years later it finally occurs to me that he had to have been paying specific attention from the moment we met to even attach that car to me. A car that wasn't anything unusual on a street that led to nowhere much beyond dead ends. I got angry, he acted hurt, and my roommate and her boyfriend must have sensed something amiss because they emerged from her room. Rocky, bless his weightlifting, motorcycle-riding heart, stood in the doorway and told him to never show his face again.
And I felt guilty. Guilty for being abrupt with him, when maybe it was all my fault that he was there.
Here is the truth of what no one ever told me when I was growing up, when I was told in so many ways that feminism was a dirty word and that good girls looked, dressed and acted a certain way. Sometimes guys just don't listen, even to good girls. And the world is not so simple that it can be divided into two sets of women: Good Girls who wear appropriate clothing and attract Good Guys, and Those Other Girls, who wear mini-skirts, swimsuits with high cut legs, tight jeans, or shirts that show just a little too much cleavage. The world is not even so simple that it can be divided into two types of men, those incapable seeing a woman in yoga pants at the gym without lusting after her, and those who have mortified their flesh through hours on their knees to still their carnal urges. Just as it is possible for a woman to wear yoga pants for the sole reason of comfort and ease of movement, it's also possible for a man to look at a woman and just see a person. Really, it is, and I don't know how many men have to speak up and say that it is before they stop being disbelieved, before the morality mavens stop insisting that they MUST be rare exceptions to the rule.
And the truth is that the girl who attracted unwanted attention was the same girl who sat with guys in those years to talk theology and life and a million other things that had nothing to do with sex or lust or unbridled passions. The same girl, in the same clothes, with the same bumbling immaturities, the same laughter, the same mind.
Sometimes growing up female in the church is hard. With words and with actions we are molded into the ideal good girls, plastic dolls who dress a certain way and talk a certain way and think a certain way. Meek, quiet, unassuming, deferential. Holy vessels forged on an assembly line instead of lovingly crafted by a potter who delights in the unique stamp he gives to each creation. Because Good Christian Girls can't possibly wear miniskirts, and they can't possibly be outspoken, and they certainly don't listen to THAT kind of music or dance unfettered for the joy of moving, or...or...or...
I'd like to think that it's all a hallmark of the evangelical youth movements of the 80's and 90's, that we've grown past the burdens we put on our daughters, but I've seen enough to know that it's not, that there is still that pressure to believe that Good Christian Girls will look, act and think in certain ways. Sarah Bessey wrote a beautiful post about women in bikinis, a post that a commenter called 'shameless'. Another popular Christian blogger and speaker posted some songs she liked to her Facebook page and was chastised for encouraging women to listen to music that did not contain uplifting lyrics (i.e. it wasn't 'Christian' music).
If clothing choices were what it took to draw others to Christ, the Amish churches would be bursting at the seams.
If music choices are what we're all about, then we probably need to decide whose music and which culture and what decade and are instruments ok or not because we've had those arguments in the past and from what I can see we either split or caved and never really answered for once and for all the question of what kind of music is most holy. And should it be all instrumental, or can we trust our fallen human words to tap into a faith that is bigger than we believe?
But what if it's just love? What if all I have to offer isn't my goodness, or my meekness, or my record collection (er...sorry, dating myself much?...my Spotify playlist?). What if all I have to offer is just love? Outrageous love that shines on the good girls and the loud girls and the girls in bikinis and the girls with wild music ringing in their head and the girls who are quiet and the girls who run and dance and the girls who cook and knit and craft and the girls who talk theology and the girls who read vampire novels and the girls who are all of the above or none of the above.
What if we taught our girls what outrageous love looks like?
What if we taught them to see through to the heart?
What if we taught them not to be ashamed to speak up?
What if we taught them that they are worthwhile just the way they are?
What if we taught them they are loved, every blessed inch of them?
What if we set aside all of the rules and all of the measuring and just loved?
Here is what I know...those who know they are loved have more love to give.