I am thankful that I found Carly Gelsinger on Twitter this year (I know, you are sick of hearing about how much I love the twitter). She was eager to share her story in this series and as you read you will see why. You can read more from Carly on her beautiful blog. You will find other tales of baggage being blown up, mothering triumphs and woes and essentials like references to Tina Fey.
In my Christian circle, I knew there was one thing I was never, ever supposed to do. I heard sermons on it. I read books on it. I went on entire retreats and conferences entirely dedicated to it.
You guys know that I’m talking about S-E-X.
There were a lot of don’ts and dos for a young woman in my church. Don’t drink. Do read your bible everyday. Don’t swear. Do witness to your friends. Don’t play cards. Do go on missions trips. Don’t dress immodestly. Do hold your hand to your chest when you bend over so men won’t see your cleavage. Don’t drink. Do go to church at least twice a week.
But above all else, there was One Big Don’t:
Don’t have sex.
And One Big Do:
Do stay pure.
I remember the first time I saw the “paper heart” object lesson, in which a youth speaker glued two construction paper hearts together and then ripped them apart. Both pieces of paper were torn and broken with remnants of fibers from the other piece, symbolizing what happens when we give ourselves away. Broken, damaged, worthless. I took this lesson to heart.
A diehard disciple, I not only read I Kissed Dating Goodbye, but Joshua Harris’ follow-up book, Not Even a Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust, which told me that a True Virgin does a lot more than just not have sex. A True Virgin guards their heart against lust in all forms.
I tried really hard to attain the True Virgin status, which wasn’t easy. It required a lot of prayer, a lot of guilt, a lot of fabric covering my body, and a lot of memorizing Scripture. It is one of the reasons I clung to God so fiercely those years. I needed God on the narrow road of staying a True Virgin.
I was told it would all be worth it, that I was protecting my future marriage.
And then at 22, I walked down the aisle in a white dress. All of a sudden, I was not only allowed, but also supposed to have sex all the time. This was nice and all.
But the problem was I didn’t know how to be a Christian anymore.
My spiritual identity had been all wrapped up in the Don’t Have Sex rule. It was a tool I used to test true teenage orthodoxy – the purer you were, the more serious you were about God. How can I prove I’m serious about God if I’m not a True Virgin anymore? This question set my faith crisis was in motion. If my purity defined my faith, how now do I relate to God?
The baggage I did carry into my marriage was not from my “slip-ups,” such as the boyfriends I had before my husband or the suggestive poster of Johnny Depp I taped to my dorm room wall. As backwards as this sounds to anyone with my background, my real baggage was my purity.
But God is all about starting over. As I rebuild my faith from the ground up, my focus is wholeness. I want to know God when I think, when I write, when I change diapers, when I feel lost, and when I make love. My sexuality is important, but my faith doesn’t begin and end with it as I thought for so long. I am throwing my skewed and lopsided faith before God, saying “here, take all of this and please make something beautiful from it.” And God is doing just that – blowing up my baggage one piece at a time, and replacing it with something good.
My new faith is shaky, but it is real and encompasses the whole of me. It’s rooted in something deep, something untameable, and something bigger than purity and all the Dos and Don’ts and all other things I tried to make it before.
Carly lives in California with her husband and toddler girl. She loves breathing deep under the eucalyptus tree groves on the Central Coast, laughing at lowbrow comedy, and watching her daughter grow up. She unpacks the stuff of faith, doubt and motherhood at CarlyGelsinger.com, and also hangs out a lot on Twitter under @carlygelsinger.