[Today’s guest post is from Juli J. Ellen. I hope you enjoy her insights on Christian women, dating, and faith. And no, I did not pay her to say nice things about me as blog host.]
When Tim asked me to write a guest post on his blog about the subject of “dating and how God uses us to work in other people’s lives,” I immediately had a hundred ideas. As usual, I wrote each one down on a sticky note and started sticking them to the walls around my desk. When the sunlight hits the bright fluorescent pink sticky notes, it’s a blinding reminder I need to plunk out the keys on my computer and write those thoughts into a short story, blogpost, or work them into the book I’m writing.
Something was very different this time, as my stomach was churning when I thought about completing this assignment. I’d sit down to write, but instead I would allow myself the time to complete every routine task I could think of before actually doing any writing. However, the menial tasks would add up to an all day chore list and at the end of the day I hadn’t written a word. I knew I was impeding the process, and I felt like I had writer’s block. In attempting to write this blogpost, I realized my writer’s block had more to do with the condition of my heart than a slowing down of my creativity.
I had excuses in my head as to why I should refrain from writing this post, one being that Tim’s audience is mainly Christian and the truth of my story and my attempt to be real may very well cause many to pass judgement and raise an eyebrow, or maybe two, and miss the point of my post. Consequently, I will refrain from giving specific details, but will state that it is possible in the midst of dating, either online or the old-fashioned meet at Home Depot, the bank or the grocery store, to be encouragers of our faith in a way that isn’t overbearing or judgmental.
A Certain Type of Man, a Certain Type of Church
Having a proclivity for attracting men who have secret lives, it used to take me a decade to figure out what was going on. I use the word “proclivity” for a reason:
pro·cliv·i·ty: A tendency to choose or do something regularly; an inclination or predisposition toward a particular thing.
To explain where this predisposition comes from, it’s important to know I was raised in two of the most conservative Christian churches in Southern California during the sixties and seventies. They believed women should not teach or minister to men, or do anything that attracted the attention of men. I was taught to be the submissive little girl and future wife. As a teenager, I was always trying to stretch the boundaries of what I was allowed to do. I didn’t want to learn classical piano, I wanted to play jazz and rock & roll. Not being allowed to participate in modern art, yearbook, dance, or other classes that would be out of the box, I was told to take typing, cooking and sewing. This was all in preparation for me to be a wife…a submissive wife.
As a child, I attended Sunday school every week. I remember in first grade, one of the lessons was to love my enemies and always be forgiving. I also remember being taught this during the time the girls and boys were in separate classes. I’ve wondered if the boys were taught equivalent messages. This teaching created a mindset in me that led to a traumatic encounter in first grade and affected my ability to know the difference between forgiveness and trust later on in my life.
In first grade, I decided to put my new Sunday school lesson into practice as there were two older girls who would hunt me down during recess, call me names, and physically push me around the play yard. I spent my savings to buy each of them a present and used my newly acquired origami skills to wrap these up in neat little paper designs. I put my two origami gifts in my lunch bag and trekked off to school with a nervous stomach, knowing I would need to approach these two mean girls at the first morning recess.
At 10:10 a.m. the sound of the bell was louder than any other day. I grabbed the two gifts and walked down the asphalt play yard. It was fenced with chain link on all four sides, and as I passed the foursquare courts painted on the ground, I sensed I had no escape.
The girls were playing with a volleyball and bounced it like a superball when they saw my approach. Each crash of the ball hit the pavement faster and faster as if it was beating to the rhythm of my heart. I walked up to them with my arms outstretched, with an origami gift balancing on the palm of each hand. I clearly remember citing the words I’d learned the day before from my Sunday school teacher. “I’ve been told to love my enemies, so I forgive you and have these presents for you, and I want to be friends.”
This is when one of the two girls expeditiously threw the volleyball in my face and broke my nose.
These girls were a few years older than I, so they had some pretty good throwing skills from being on the kickball and volleyball teams in the after school sports program. When they saw the blood gushing out of my nose and down my face, they looked at each other with fear and ran away. The only thing I remember seeing through my tears was the volleyball bouncing slower and slower and then rolling across the pavement and stopping at the chain link fence.
I was told by my parents and my Sunday school teacher I had done the right thing. I’d loved my enemies, shown I could forgive them and I would find my reward in heaven. Instead, I should have been given the tools to spot and deal with the bullies.
These teachings had an effect on my marriage and still have an effect on my subconscious when I meet someone I’m interested in dating. I have an unending capacity to forgive and be non-judgmental, but this leaves me missing the red flags that are waving vigorously in the hundred mph winds of caution. Winds I used to pretend were just a breeze blowing through my hair, like when I found out my husband had a secret life. I forgave him, I took him back, and it would happen again and again, affair after affair.
When counseled by my church in a joint session with my estranged husband, the counselor’s first sentence was, “This is happening because you’re not a submissive wife. You need to forgive him and take him back.” I had the good sense to get up right then, leave the counseling session, go out to the payphone and call my attorney to give her permission to file the divorce papers. I haven’t set foot on that church campus since. My husband at the time wasn’t sorry for his actions because of the pain he caused, he was only sorry because he was caught.
Lessons Learned and Lessons Taught
All of this brings me to one of my favorite bloggers, Tim Fall, who has been an encouragement to me during the time I’ve explored my equality with men and what the Bible really teaches. I’m learning to use the gifts God has given me, even if it’s contrary to the teachings of conservative pastors like John MacArthur or John Piper. It no longer takes me a decade to see the red flags in a relationship, and I know to let go sooner than later. I now understand that forgiveness and restoration of trust are two separate necessities in a broken relationship.
Dating these days is very different from when I was single before.
We talk politics, religion vs. faith, and many times they’re surprised to know my faith is a little different than the church going women they’ve dated in the past. I’m honest about who I am, why I think the church has missed the mark, and my obvious faults. All this lends itself to more honest discussions and when I have an opportunity to mention Tim’s blog, “Just One Train Wreck After Another.” they light up and look in my eye, as if I’ve just sent them the phrase that describes their entire life. If we’re honest with each other, we can relate to this train wreck because we all have the inability to be perfect and we will repeat our mistakes.
I don’t know how many of these men get over to read Tim’s blog, but I do know a few who have, and they’re relating to what Tim is posting. In a world of online dating, where flirting, sexting, and free love run rampant and politics collide, and where people are afraid to identify as a Christian, I am an encourager of my faith in Christ. Not because I’m a church goer who lives by rules, but because I have a daily relationship to Jesus. I trust Him, but at times I struggle with that, and sometimes I get angry, but I’m open to what He has for my life, even if I don’t at first agree.
I’m at ease with knowing God’s intention is for men and women to submit to each other in love, and that a successful relationship will exemplify this. I do single life fairly well, and if in the future I find I’m interested in a forever relationship, it will be a relationship where we inspire each other to be better people and do great things with the gifts God has given us. Where we can be honest with each other in a kind and gentle manner, and because we’re better together than apart.
Juli J. Ellen is an accomplished lifetime entrepreneur in the arts and business, from creating fine art photography to owning an ice cream store, working with child custody cases as a mediator and parenting coordinator to creating social media content for local, national and international brands. As an empty-nester mom of two grown children, and a lover of the outdoors, she finds the time to trek to the arctic, hike out on the trail in the Rocky Mountains, and spend time writing about her life adventures. Juli is exercising the gifts God has given her and hopes to inspire other women and girls who have been oppressed by patriarchal teachings.