We took a hiking trip and wrote a blog post together.
A celebration of—
God’s faithfulness, past, present and future.
Angela picked the spot—Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada. The paintings she’d studied in her art history course at Wheaton lured her in for the real experience.
We hopped in her trusty Suburu with the awesome sunroof and heated seats, passports in hand and headed out on our international adventure. It’s not our first gig and hopefully not our last either.
We counted our trips—just the 2 of us.
The first one was 11 years ago, when she turned 13. I tucked an invitation on her pillow. Wide eyed with excitement, she packed her bag and we headed west of the metroplex for an overnight excursion at a Bed and Breakfast in Granbury to dialogue about adolescence and growing up.
Sooner than I could have imagined, there were 3 separate marathon college visit trips.
And our service week in Haiti.
Last October, we travelled to England and Scotland together.
And now, here we are in Canada.
We’re no strangers to road trips. We know the drill. Bring plenty of snacks and water bottles. Don’t forget to download some podcasts, our favorite Spotify playlists and intermingle them both with spontaneous conversation.
I love dialoguing with Angela, always have. As soon as her mouth formed words, she wondered aloud about things, asked a bazillion questions, pensively formulated ideas and analyzed thoughts, her mental cogs always turning.
This trip, we reminisced about the one we took together on the cusp of adolescence and how it impacted her teenage years and beyond.
Like many evangelical Christian families, we adopted select concepts and resources anchored in the purity movement. Personally, I’d not been shepherded through my own adolescence. I’d never received parental guidance regarding sexuality. When I came into marriage, sex fairly blindsided me except for what I’d seen on the silver screen. I wanted to be sure not to do a generational repeat with my daughters. Without a model in my own story, I didn’t have the confidence to trust myself and the Spirit’s words through me with their sexual training. I thought the evangelical experts on the family must know best.
-We read our little girls books like “The Princess and the Kiss” which elevated a kiss as interchangeable with sex in defining purity.
-A curriculum called Passport to Purity guided our process for presenting the topics of peer pressure, dating, sex and the distinct differences between boys and girls in puberty.
-We contemplated “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and the Rebelution’s “Modesty Survey” though we never embraced them explicitly.
Other related resources and ideas in this tradition include:
-Purity rings, though we never gave them to our girls.
-Then there was the umbrella model (Angela’s nemesis), especially popular with the Gothard crowd, which taught that a woman should always be under the protection of a man. First, her father holds her umbrella, i.e. micromanages her life, then he passes off the job off to her husband. In this model, there is no space for a woman to hold her own umbrella at any age.
-And there’s the jean skirt people who generally steer women toward home-making programs after high school redirecting them away from college lest they be indoctrinated by feminism or become kingdom contributors in vocations supplementary to wife and mother.
Through the rear view mirror, I’ve concluded that many of the above parts and pieces can be counterproductive to a healthy perspective on sexuality. It was on my overnight adventure with my youngest that I shelved the curriculum and trusted my gut instead. I wrote about that experience here for anyone who wants to understand my parental journey better: https://hopewebster.com/2017/09/28/firsts-lasts-and-everything-in-between/
Just wish I’d done it sooner. About 9 years sooner…..
Driving through Canada, Angela recounted her experience like this:
The Passport to Purity curriculum covered a whole host of issues that normal American adolescents might encounter, but I was not a normal adolescent. I was a sheltered homeschooler with a desperate desire to please God and a paralyzing fear of disappointing people.
The rhetoric was fear based—intended to scare me out of making choices that could potentially harm me. The deep-voiced dude on the cassette tape explained all the ways I could destroy my life while I completed accompanying activity pages.
He talked about peer pressure and how I could ruin my future if I chose the wrong friends. He made boys sound like sex crazed animals that would lust after me perpetually if I wasn’t modest enough. And he must not have done a very good job explaining sex, because afterwards I still thought people literally slept together. Slept.
Innocently I asked you, “You mean, they’re not asleep when they do that?”
“That’s an important question. I’m glad you asked,” you said, before verifying that sex is indeed conducted wide awake.”
“There was one activity page that I remember quite vividly—it’s an image of a cliff. In the diagram, the edge of the cliff represents sexual intercourse. Next to the cliff was a list of activities including hand-holding, kissing, kissing while touching each other’s private areas, undressing, and others I can’t quite remember. The voice on the tape explained my assignment to arrange the items in the list in order of closeness to the edge of the cliff. Then I had to draw a personal boundary line. The line would be my protection from falling off the cliff.
Sensing that proximity to the cliff’s edge was disastrous, I drew my line as far away from the cliff as possible. Innocent little me who had no male friends from the beginning of middle school to the end of high school had no clue how to process this diagram. I basically came away with the idea that any expression of affection that gives me pleasure is dangerous, negative and potentially catastrophic because it moves me down a slippery slope towards the cataclysmic drop off.”
Then, a little levity to cut through the intensity—we diverged to joking about the curriculum’s discussion of menstruation. It was the only thing the curriculum recommended celebrating.
Angela remarked, “More than the slippery slope, you know what I think really ought to be feared? It’s your menstrual cycle. I just don’t get it—they suggested that we go out to ice cream to celebrate my first cycle.” I agreed, “My take on periods is that the best time to go out to ice cream and celebrate is when you hit menopause.”
She finished recounting her most poignant memories of the curriculum then transitioned to analyzing its impact and how it assimilated into her worldview.
“It’s all scare tactics. The entire thing is meant to scare you out of making any stupid decisions.
This narrative makes reason the highest virtue. If something feels good, it’s impacting your reason adversely, therefore it must be wrong. If I enjoy it, it must be a step toward the cliff.
And here’s the truth—the cliff is a man-made construct.
God didn’t say that a kiss is the thing you’re saving for marriage. He said to save sex. I don’t think it does us a service to draw extra lines as if they are on par with God’s instructions. That’s what the Pharisees are famous for.
When you add a bunch of extra rules, your body becomes a liability instead of a gift. Guys become 2 dimensional and their designed complexity gets minimized. Girls get scared of them and struggle with a false sense of guilt for the way a guy looks at them or responds to their body based on the outfit they choose. Expressions of affection become negative things because they’re a slippery slope toward a lethal fall.
This model reduces relational risk to something dangerous only, and to be avoided at all costs. But some risks are worth taking even when they don’t turn out the way you wanted. Anytime you enter into a relationship with another person, you choose to take a risk because you think they are worth it and the relationship is worth it to you. And in a good risk, you both end up feeling honored by what you shared even when it’s over. There’s no shame in giving your heart away.
I don’t find a fear based approach to dating and sex to be helpful. I think it’s way more helpful to focus on Imago Dei and the indwelling presence of Christ.
Think about the Weight of Glory. In his essay Lewis says,“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”
If that’s the person you’re in a relationship with, then the way you treat him is a reflection of the way you treat Christ. Because of Jesus, you treat his body and your body with the respect and honor that Jesus asked you to show.
Not being sexually intimate with someone you’re not married to is ultimately something you’re doing for Jesus, not for yourself, and not even for the person who may or may not be your spouse someday.
Jesus gave his life for you and you owe him everything. So if he asks you to do something with your body, you honor what he asks. Period.
About that time, she took a long, deep breath.
And I looked over at her admiringly.
What a privilege it’s been to be her mom.
She’s an amazingly beautiful person who is understanding God’s love and grace more deeply these days, as am I.
Both of us, we’re being transformed into His image.
If I got a do-over to when she was 13, it’d sound different.
From the vantage point of life experience, I recognize her words in my own story. When we convolute the gift of sex so directly with shame and fear, women come into marriage afraid, self-protective, mistrusting and we struggle to feel freedom to embrace the beauty of sex after marriage because a finger wagging “no-no” set up shop in our souls. At least, that’s what it’s been like for me.
I’ve always answered my kids questions as honestly as I know how, before, during and after Passport to Purity. No matter what the topic, we’ve batted it around. We talk about everything. I just wish I’d have had more God confidence– that as His image bearer, He could be trusted to lead me over time, by His spirit through intentional dialogue to communicate whatever He wanted me to say without a boxed curriculum.
And, I wish I’d trusted God’s indwelling in my children’s lives more. I wish that I’d intentionally affirmed their soft hearts to know Him better and by default to love Him more and let that relationship fortify their conviction that He can be trusted with their sexual journey and their plan to work that out.
I wish I’d been a better cheerleader for the innocent and exciting delights of exchanging affection in word and deed rather than blanketing it in fear and condemnation.
Truth is, I haven’t done the mom thing perfectly.
She hasn’t done the kids thing perfectly either.
And our perspectives don’t always intersect.
But there we were together, a few days ago.
At the trail head.
The sign said Caution: Cliff Ahead.
So, we hiked it side by side, along the rim of the cliff.
We could have fallen over the edge if we weren’t discerning. The cliff was dangerous, but it was so much more than that. It was also beautiful.
And that’s the moral of the story: The best life is lived in the tension of the risk and the beauty, holding tightly to the hand of God…even though you’ll likely get a bit scuffed up along the way.