I am antsy. I can’t sit in the pew. I keep looking at the clock. Tick. Tick. Can we please just end service? Now? Tonight we are leaving for California on a bus. And I can’t wait to spend the next 12 hours next to him. Talking. Reading the Bible. Laughing. 12 hours next to the man I love and who loves me. But within 10 minutes plans change and I am left feeling confused and very hurt.
Just as we settle into our seats Bro Lee leans over. “I hate to tell you this Sister Taunya, but you will have to move seats.” I look at him, a tad bit confused. Yes, we had rules about interactions with the opposite sex but this wasn’t a random brother in this church. We are ENGAGED. To be married. Approved and blessed by our pastor. And I can’t sit by him? Before I open my mouth my fiancé, J.R. speaks the words that are raging through my head. “Why?” The poor guy looks so uncomfortable. “One of the sisters thinks it is not good.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? “What is not good? She’s my fiancé.” I feel bad for Bro Lee. I know he thinks this is just as crazy as we do. “Well, since it will be past midnight before we get there, you’ll fall asleep…and (Oh good grief I know where this is going…) they said it’s not proper that you sleep together before you are married.”
I sigh. I know fighting against uptight sisters will get me nowhere. So I move to the seat in front of J.R.. I try to not get bitter as other girls are allowed to sit near him and talk to him. I keep telling myself that I have to set an example for the younger girls. That I should appreciate that sister looking out for my reputation as a pure, virgin sister. (GAG!) I’m really upset but I know the rules and I remain silent.
At some point in the night we stop at a gas station. I am looking at Delilah. She’s asking me a question and I’m trying to answer…”WHY are you not sitting with J.R.?” I’m trying to figure out how to tell the truth without saying the truth. “Because some sister thinks sitting by him is sleeping with him.” She looks like she’s going to explode with laughter or anger or both. “That’s ridiculous. You’re not having sex in the back of the bus. He’s your FIANCE (she spits this out with heavy emphasis) you should be holding his hand, sitting by him, ACTING like you like him.” I look at her and begin, “Yes but we’ll just get in trouble.” She just shakes her head at me. “Tell those old jealous ladies to shut up, sit next to your fiancé and go to sleep.”
So, I tell J.T. and he agrees with Delilah. I sit next to him, wrap the blanket around me and pray the sister who is upset doesn’t come to the back of the bus. At one point Bro Lee leans down and whispers, “Look, I’m on your side. I’m saying nothing, but you better make sure you move back to your seat before the lights come back on.” I sit there with so much anxiety. How can I be engaged and still be treated like a child?
After Bro Lee leaves J.R. curls up next to me. He wraps his arm around my waist. I’m so afraid we’re going to be in trouble. I want to relax, fall asleep, comforted by his presence and all I can think is they are going to send me home to my parents. Eventually I submit to the warmth of his arm and fall asleep. Luckily it’s not the most comfortable position and we are not caught. The sister is so offended by our sleeping with each other sitting by one another that on the way home we are separated. He is in the back and I am in the front row where they can be sure I’m not going to be anywhere near him.
This memory makes me laugh and cry. We were both unable to fight for each other against the insanity of the dating rules. We were never allowed to be a couple. Someone was always making sure we were not spending too much time together alone, separated by the proper six inches and not showing any affection. I spent the majority of our 7 month engagement looking over my shoulder. In some ways, the micromanagement of our relationship pushed us into a sexual relationship. The one thing they were trying to avoid, is the very thing they created. Had they left us alone, allowed us to sit together in services and events without a million “thou shalt nots”, hold hands and even kiss, we would have tried harder to do what was right. The husband was a private person and the fishbowl made him retreat and I followed, desperate to hold on to the only stable thing I had in my life. By the time we married I equated sex with affection and that was a toxic thing for a sexual abuse victim.
One of the things that the husband and I have worked hard on is affection. I know that when he puts his arms around me, it’s not just because he wants me sexually. It’s because he loves me, he wants to convey that and as he puts it, “He’s comforted by me.” I’ve learned to relax and accept the affection. He’s learned that I need affection and that it’s even better when others around, because it says to me, “This is who I love and I have nothing to be ashamed of.”
And at the end of the day, when we close the door and it’s the two of us, he pulls me close and his arm is around me and we fall asleep together. And we are comforted.
Humans are wired for touch. We are wired to be touched and loved and comforted by another human. My babies slept snuggled close to me up until they were almost 9 at one point or another. Still, when they are sick or ready for bed, they will come to me for a snuggle. And through all these years I’ve learned that there is comfort in the arms of another person and it has nothing to do with sex and it is good and righteous.
And I realize that Abba made it that way. John wrote these words of my Jesus, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” The love we show one another in the comfort of each others arms is a beautiful picture of the love our Father has for us.
“So let the storm clouds rage high, the dark clouds rise, they won’t worry me; for I’m sheltered safe within the arms of God.”
One day I will be sheltered safe in the arms of my Father. For now, he has given me the husband. I am sheltered safe in his arms.