Breakfast was ready. And that fire alarm dug it's nails into my soul.
15 years old. I stumbled into the kitchen, rubbing my eyes and brushing hair out of my face.
"Back upstairs, Lauren." My mom stood at the stove, waving her spatula at me.
"UPSTAIRS. You know you can't wear that around your brothers."
I shook myself fully awake and glanced down to figure out what she was talking about. Sweatpants and a cami. I guess you could tell my breasts were developing. A little late, I might add.
"Mom, I just woke up."
"You can't wear things like that around your dad and your brothers. It isn't appropriate. You're distracting them. Shame on you."
A sickness crept up in my stomach and I felt it in my skin. I pushed memories out of my mind.
Memories like the week after I turned 13, and I shyly put my balled up, polka dotted underwear in my mother's hand because I was too embarrassed to speak the words, "I started my period." She wanted to show Dad, and I was paralyzed. I stood in an aching stillness, cold feet on the kitchen tile floor, while my little girl mind shifted and groaned and made way for a developing normal that felt like being forced to stand naked in front of a man. Memories like my dad reading my diary against my will. Memories like finding naked women on the computer. Memories like hiding. Pretending. Keeping quiet. Shaking. Hush all these things.
Three years later and the boy I loved broke up with me. I thought it was for a girl that would do more with him.
Six months after that, I kissed a boy. I told him he was my second kiss, thinking that it would be something special to him - and I never saw him again. I found out a week later he'd kissed me on dare from his friends. They had seen my picture, I was super hot, and they didn't think he could "get me."
Harassed on the street by a man who wanted me to model nude for him. "I had to." I was too beautiful, I owed it to him.
Being banned from an organization because I wore a shirt too clingy and was making the boys stumble.
A man I viewed as a father figure coming on to me, shattering one of the only safe places I had left.
A co-worker trying to tape me when I didn't know it.
A first date who got violent when I refused to sleep with him after he bought me dinner.
A lifetime of awkward visits to the pool in one piece swimsuits and shorts so that I wouldn't be responsible for causing men to sin when they looked at me.
A close friend's father asking me, begging me, pressuring me, cornering me to watch a movie with him in bed.
Men who have put their hands in places I wasn't strong enough to protect.
Four times my life has ended, and I've created a new one out of nothing on the opposite side of the country. And in every life, they find me. These men who take and do not give. These women who shame me into believing it is my fault. The church's endless list of standards that declares my body is at the core of what is wrong with society. These people who wrap their own sins in guilt and shame and lunge them at my heart, commanding me to carry their weight for them. Hiding. Pretending. Keeping quiet. Hush these things.
All my stories? The ones I brace my spirit to share, and the ones I don't have enough courage yet to tell? My stories are no different than the average woman. Every woman I know has experienced these things. Every girl I've spoken to is wearing thin from the men in her life who have taken and not given. And all these women march forward in brokenness with a church who blames our injured hearts on our own precious bodies. To inflict pain and then blame the injured for the violence does permanent damage to a heart.
For 24 years my suffocating modesty doctrine has kept me from wearing outfits that I love, has dictated the way I dress, and has now brought me to the morning where I stand in front of my closet as a married woman, realizing that I have nothing sexy to wear for night out with my husband.
24 years of hiding so that I won't be blamed for men fantasizing about me has brought me to my husband wrapping his arms around me, telling me how beautiful and sexy he thinks I am, and that he hates seeing me hide in my clothes because I'm too afraid to wear what makes me feel beautiful.
For the last month, I've been suffering a daily barrage of comments and emails criticizing the way I dress. Questioning my character and my salvation. Challenging that I can't have the influence on women that I want to have when I'm wearing an oversized v-neck shirt on a date with my new husband. Rebuking me for causing men to stumble. Telling me that all the good I am doing is being canceled out by the fact that I have a great pair of legs. That I'm selling myself short by being attractive.
Last night, I received this comment on my blog: "Maybe when you talk about pornography, you could refrain from wearing such low-cut shirts."
The sickness crept back again. I crumbled. And I sat on my bedroom floor in the dark and cried. The ache was back.
The emptiness in my chest. The pain of having it all taken. The shame of being blamed. The desperate desire for someone to stand up and shout, "IT'S NOT HER FAULT."
And He did. You know, He whispered, "It's not your fault." He whispered, "I made you for this. I made you for Me. I made you for him." He told me I was beautiful. He told me I have nothing to hide. He told me He knows. That He will never take from me. That he knows every man that tried to take. He told me that it was never my fault.
And then my husband came and wrapped his arms around me and whispered all. the. same. things. in my ear.
My Jesus has proclaimed that he has given me life so that I can have life to the full.
My God says He looks at my heart and that He loves me sacrificially, and Paul begs of us to be perfect in this way that our Father is PERFECT. (Matthew 5:48, I Samuel 16:7, John 15:13, & Matthew 23:13-28)
Have you missed this? Have you missed what the God of the Universe has deemed as PERFECT?
Perfect is sacrificial love, not shifting blame for a selfishness that ravages through the souls of men, urging them to take take take.
Perfect is knowing we are all sons and daughters, made in the image of God, redeemed and restored and spotless before Him.
Perfect is looking at one another's hearts, and knowing that the outward appearance shows NOTHING of their character, their value, their salvation.
Perfect is living in the freedom that Christ died for. Not under a higher, more impossible list of standards that is so impossibly human it could not have come from our Lover. (Isaiah 28:10)
Dear men: If you believe my neckline is causing to stumble, you have bought into the lie that women are the problem, NOT YOUR LUST.
Dear women: If you believe you are responsible for your fellow man's sins, you have bought into the lie that YOU are the problem, NOT SIN.
Dear men and women: Our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
When you believe that your struggle is against a man or woman's body instead of against the spirit of death, you have lost and will continue to lose.
I rebuke the spirit of lust, of rape, of prostitution, of religion, of addiction, and of immorality that continues to try to shackle the body my Maker designed and gave to me with it's guilt.
I declare freedom, life, joy, purity, beauty and love over my body and my spirit.
And I will not be apologizing for it.