things they told me

love God, and do what you will.
St. Augustine

The don’ts were a bunch of made-up stories, while the do-list exhibited an utter lack of imagination.

Don’t be gay or you’ll become sex-crazed.
Don’t drink alcohol or you’ll end up addicted and pregnant.
Don’t wear short skirts because boys cannot contain themselves.
Read your Bible so you’ll be holier.
Listen to the sermon so you’ll be holier.
Give 10%.

All of us together, wound tight with fear and anxiety, battening the hatches down around the children, reminding one another that our boundaries were all that kept us safe. Sometimes they said it was a war, against The World, against myself, and I who thrive on challenge threw myself into the challenge of competing for blandest. Best Defender of Status Quo.

I kept striving and straining to Be Good, even though it didn’t really set my soul alight the way they said A Good Christian would feel. I wanted that badly to do right by the dying God-Man who, of all people, had looked in my eyes and said I love you this much. Atonement theories aside, I always knew He was real.

I never stopped fleeing sin, doing battle, loving sinners and hating sins, and it was always tangled – in this noble part of me that has to do The Right Thing, and this subservient part of me that would give anything, anything at all just to have them like me, please just like me. All it takes is a great, looming fear of failure and the tiniest smidge of self-righteousness as a reward for maintaining compliance for one more day.

I perfected the skill of guilt:
I remembered to bring my quarters to church.
I only swore when I was alone.
I tried harder to Tell My Friends About Jesus even though it seemed like they already knew. I berated myself for being so shy.

I stopped reading the romance novels but the words stayed with me. I never told anyone, ever; there was too much shame and how could I know all their burdens were greater than mine? How could any of us know we had all done unspeakable things.

They said it was all about being Sold Out and Set Apart, all the do’s and don’ts because sin would Separate Us From God, so I kept trying. I stayed afraid.

When did I discover – when did the truth first glimmer that all these Boundaries might just be prison walls? How did I first find out there might not be so much to fear? That all the walls around The Children and The Truth and My Relationship With God might really only be designed to protect myself and the 90% that was Mine?

I think it was when my school friends loved better than the church group,
when the Bible I never stopped loving whispered freedom and grace to my anxious heart,
when the North Georgia storms blew wild and dangerous and achingly, irresistibly beautiful.

I can’t resent being kept from teenage mistakes. No one was trying to hurt me. And in the same sermons, the same breaths that I learned fear and legalism I learned of a God big enough and loving enough to save, and I believe this God is winning.

Now I am old enough and brave enough for this God and I to break the rules. I give too much away and I pray at odd times and I smoke the occasional cigarette and I told you about the romance novels.

I am quite sure I will make real mistakes, painful mistakes, even that I have already destroyed much more than I ever intended, because this is the way of humans.  But that is just it. I grow more human the less I cower; I create better and love wider the less I micromanage my life. I am running wild and laughing loud because I have given it all to God – just like they always told me.

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  1. mertz

     /  May 29, 2013

    I loved this! Thanks for writing.

  2. Shelley Higgenbottom

     /  September 11, 2013


    I know you don’t really know me. I think we had a class or two together at Lee; I was in the English department. Can I just tell you this post really spoke to me and echos the struggle I am going through right now in my own spiritual life as I’m now out of the “Christian bubble” and doing grad school at a public university. Thanks for writing.


    • Shelley Higgenbottom

       /  September 11, 2013

      Please excuse the missing punctuation… don’t know what happened there haha


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