Blowing Up Evangelical Baggage – The Series (Cara Strickland)

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Hello lovely readers. You may remember back in March when I wrote about a certain conference I attended: The Faith and Culture Writers Conference.  I wrote about how I loved the speakers, the time away from everyday life, the road trip with my friend Dena.  But what I really came down to was I wanted to meet some of my twitter friends in Portland (you know, because I have them). Cara Strickland was one of those friends.  Enjoy her work and be sure to check out her blog (and her exceptionally cool logo)!

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My Single Suitcase

I didn’t have a boyfriend in high school. It wasn’t a choice.

I watched my youth group friends dating. One senior friend told me that she and her boyfriend (her first) were “dating with marriage in mind.” He was quiet and shy (but taller than she was). She had a laugh that echoed all through the church where we met on Wednesday nights. They were an unlikely pair. When they decided that they were too unlikely, I listened as she assured him that they would still be friends.

The drummer, the one I’d been pining for from the sidelines, had recently been through a break-up as well. I should know. I was the one who had spent hours on the other end of the phone providing support, encouraging him to process, hoping that he might one day wake up and realize how delightful I was. He took my friend’s newly-exed boyfriend under his wing. I don’t know what it is about me, why people from all over seem to open up in my presence, but they do. I have heard the confidences of taxi drivers and government officials, camp counselors and college professors. That day, as I ate my weekly youth group hamburger, I listened to the drummer comfort his friend as we stood, a circle of three. “It’s amazing how a girl can reach into your chest, rip out your heart, throw it on the ground, stomp on it and grind it around in the dirt and then hand it back to you and tell you that she still wants to be friends.”

It has been years since I heard those words, and I have never forgotten them. I vowed then that I would never make anyone feel so used, so hurt.

We were on the swings near the church when another friend told me that I couldn’t start dating anyone until she did. She was a year older than me, and I was in her thrall. I wanted nothing more than to be her friend.

I nodded. It made sense to me.

Incidentally, she met a guy at that youth group, playing volleyball. She wasn’t sure how he felt about her, so she took me along to his house to “drop off some stuff.” We stayed and chatted for a while, both of them grinning (she was not usually one to grin).

“What do you think?” she asked me, as we left. “Do you think he likes me?”

“Yes,” I said. “I think he likes you a lot.”

That was one of the last times I saw her. They have been married for several years now.

In college, I started dating (long-distance) between sophomore and junior years.

I did so with a sigh of relief.

My Christian college was filled with couples. People did not go on dates, they coupled. You were not single, you were pre-marriage. Although people didn’t have sex, of course, if they did, it would be premarital, rather than extra-marital.

I didn’t feel a pressure to date, I felt the isolation of not dating. I felt the worry of association when my friends heard that I was single. Was it catching? Would I try to steal their picture perfect boyfriend?

Even a far-away boyfriend was better than nothing, for their purposes.

Outside the church, especially the evangelical church, it is not unusual to be single well into your 20s. My head knows this, and I’ve been working on unpacking this single suitcase for the past few years for the sake of my heart. I remove ring by spring and have you tried dating online? I shake out women will be saved by the bearing of children and you’ll find it when you’re not looking. I do not fold or handle ‘have you dealt with the sin in your life? for long, but hurl it straight into the bag labeled “Goodwill.”

The truth is, I’m single, and I’m a single story. I would love to be married someday (or today), but I’m not now. I am not unhappy most of the time, worried most of the time, or unfulfilled most of the time. I am not a threat to those who are married, or those who are single and feel differently than I do.

I am replacing the articles I’ve unpacked with a few new things I’ve picked up. I’m hanging fearfully and wonderfully made and image-bearer in my closet. I’m putting on precious, unique  and lovely. Unlike my baggage, I don’t want to keep these in a suitcase underneath my bed. I want to wear these words around, like a garland, or a sash.  

 

cara profile   I’m Cara Strickland.

When you first meet me, you might think that I’m quiet or reserved. I’m still learning how to relax my fingers, gripping tightly to how it should look and how I should be. I’d love to have a cup of tea or a glass of wine with you, to gradually pull out a few of my broken pieces, matching them up with yours and watching them sparkle in the light. You can connect with me on my blog, Little Did She Know, or over on Twitter
little_did_she_know

 

  • I’m trying to think of something much more profound than “you’re such a good writer.” But really, you’re such a good writer. Loved this piece. And I love your honesty and your willingness to unpack the jumbled suitcase of faith to find what is lasting.

    • Thank you so much, Jamie. Your words are so kind.
      I’m certainly not done unpacking this suitcase, but it does feel good to have made some progress. Thanks for being on the journey with me.

  • LOVE this.

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  • yup, we joked about “ring by spring or your money back” at my bible college too. and i felt like the only one who didn’t get married right after graduation. Great post!

  • Alicecrumbs

    Wow and yes. Your wardrobe is full of beauty – wear it with joy. xxx

    • Thank you lovely Alice. So happy to have you in my corner!

  • Thank you. It’s taken me a while, but they are starting to come. Thanks for being here 🙂

  • I love the image of unpacking the baggage you no longer want to (or can, or should) carry but then not stopping there–instead putting on new clothes, of acceptance and love and beauty. I’m rolling this idea around in my mind, trying to fully absorb it’s beauty and hope. I am certainly with you, Friend. I’m a few years past you and still single and it’s hard to find your feet sometimes (or often times) when surrounded by people who are no longer single. Especially in the church where it feels like you must be doing something wrong to end up single past age 25. And can I just say that I love the way you write in pieces? I am no good at that. Telling small stories, or pieces of stories, that speak to a larger story together. I love reading your reflections on where you’ve been. You are helping me feel a little less terrified of my own stories from the past, and for that I can’t thank you enough.

  • Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Cara, you are STILL wonderfully made and bearing the image of Jesus. You’re just showing people He looks different in each of our skins… And in our church, just for the record, most of the young ish people I know are like in their 30’s before they get married.

  • Yeah, we didn’t go on dates Christian college either. We coupled. I had three boyfriends, neither of whom took me on any actual “dates.” But we were a couple! Holding hands walking to class, talking about our callings, etc. I feel like I missed out on the fun of casual dating… I married my third college boyfriend. Thanks for writing. I pass along many of your posts to my single friends.

    • Thank you for this, Carly, and for sharing my writing with those you care about. That means a lot to me.

  • Jane Halton

    I’m so thankful so many of you are enjoying Cara’s piece. I’m grateful to have her here!

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  • oh goodness. This is so much my life too – complete with long-distance college boyfriend. Thank you for sharing. Sometimes I still forget that every woman in this world didn’t grow up believing she was supposed to have a “ring by spring” to prove her merit and achievement of “womanhood”