This week my friend Mandy Hale is celebrating the release of her second book: I’ve Never Been to Vegas But My Luggage Has. I appreciate Mandy’s humor, courage, and the way she shares her story with those who need it most, and I’m honored to have her share a bit of her story here today.
When I first gave my life to God at age 20, it gave me a whole new perspective on every aspect of my life, including dating.
Because of all my questions, I started doing what I usually do when I don’t understand something: I researched. My digging led me to a book called I Kissed Dating Goodbye by a guy named Joshua Harris.
The very popular book, as I’m sure you know, focuses on Harris’s experiences as a young Christian in the dating world who grew increasingly frustrated with the modern process of “dating,” so he made the decision to give it up in favor of the more traditional form of “courtship.” It was a concept heavily endorsed by the church I was attending, so after giving it considerable thought, I decided to join the movement and “kiss dating goodbye” myself.
That decision started a five-year chapter in my life in which I didn’t go out on a single date, didn’t kiss a boy, didn’t so much as hold hands with a member of the opposite sex. For a while it was fantastic. I felt free, like I was surrendering the outcome of my love life to God. Finally I could stop the endless cycle of bad dates and heartbreaks!
But about three years after I joined the church, I started to see some troubling trends.
Leadership had changed, and with the change came a feeling of oppression that I had never felt inside the four walls of the church. The attitude about dating and relationships felt particularly stifling.
One day I was planning to carpool with a guy from our singles’ group to a church event in Nashville, and I was harshly reprimanded: “You must do everything you can to avoid the appearance of evil.”
I was baffled, and even hurt. Because we happened to be of the opposite sex, riding in a car together would somehow cause our morals to fly out the window?
Another time a big group of us, a mixture of guys and girls, were sitting around watching movies together, and someone cracked a joke about “granny panties”. The next thing I knew, leadership was bringing the girls in the group in to scold us about how as ladies it was our job not to make our brothers in Christ “stumble.” (As anyone can attest to, there’s absolutely nothing sexy about high-waisted granny panties, so if the thought of them made any of the guys stumble, there was an issue much deeper going on with them that had nothing whatsoever to do with us.)
The final straw for me was one Easter, when I was scheduled to be a greeter, which I did happily and enthusiastically while wearing a new black dress I loved and felt incredibly ladylike in. According to the leadership team, it was “too low cut” and proved I didn’t have “good discernment in the area of clothing.” The dress caused such a scandal that instead of just coming and talking to me about it directly, they called a leadership team meeting to discuss it.
Once upon a time, we had held leadership meetings to discuss ministry and how to reach the unloved, and now there were meetings being held in honor of my A-line Easter dress. (Which, for the record, was not the slightest big scandalous or low cut. My mom would have never let me out of the house if it had been.)
Before long, I started to feel exhausted, and church started to feel like a chore.
Suddenly all the endeavors and activities and volunteerism I was doing began to feel like a burden. And all around me I was watching couples walk around campus, holding hands, celebrating engagements, and whispering to their friends about the thrill of a first date. I began to feel more and more like I was giving up a vital part of life that I needed to experience to be a fully well-rounded person. I was experiencing the classic symptoms that any Christian struggles with when church becomes more about rules than about walking in the freedom Jesus bought and paid for with His own blood on the cross.
When I finally made the decision to walk away, it felt like a divorce. It was hard, painful, confusing, and heartbreaking. Ironically enough, I had kissed dating good-bye and yet still wound up with a broken heart.
This post is an excerpt from Mandy’s new book “I’ve Never Been to Vegas But My Luggage Has”, a memoir of loss, love, and faith. You can buy a copy today on Amazon, or enter to win a copy by sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter and leaving a comment right here. On Friday, I’ll randomly select somebody from the comments of this post and send them a free copy of Mandy’s book.
Make sure you follow on Twitter too: @NeverBeen2Vegas
published March 12, 2014
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