The bell on the door jingled for the hundredth time that afternoon, but instead of Brad, it was Sylvie.
“Hi, Giselle, long time no see,” Sylvie chirped as she approached the table. “Oh, my … you look awful. What’s wrong?” She pulled a chair around the table and put an arm around me.
The kind touch let loose a flood of tears. “Brad. It’s all over,” I choked out.
“Oh, honey. What happened?”
You can tell her. I sent her for you.
Tears slowed to a trickle as I regained composure. Still, I hesitated to obey the voice.
Talk to her. Tell her everything. Not just Brad, but everything you’ve been hiding for so long. She’s safe.
There was that prompting again, more urgent than I’d ever felt it before. I had ignored it so many times, and where had it gotten me? I worked up my courage and spoke. “Sylvie, I really need someone to talk to about this, but maybe here isn’t the best place – can we go for a walk or something?”
“Fine by me. I was here looking for a reason to procrastinate, and you just gave me one. There’s actually a great place in the woods I know of where we can stop and chat. I love hiking in winter, don’t you?”
“Sounds fun but a little chilly – do you mind if we go back to my room first so I can get a heavier coat?” I squeezed Sylvie’s hand. “Thanks. I really need a friend right now.”
The storm from the night before had covered the muddy melting snows on Elk River’s hills with a fresh blanket of clean white. Even through my worries and fears, I couldn’t help but marvel at the change in landscape. Though this was my second year experiencing the change of seasons, the wonder of it all was still fresh, and the beautiful surroundings immediately lifted my spirits. After the brief stop to add extra layers and grab a blanket, Sylvie led the way down to the Hollow and up through the thicket of stark black trees, stopping in a familiar clearing.
“Is this the spot?” I asked. “I think Ian brought me out here once.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it – I think it’s his favorite place on the whole campus. He and I have been coming out here a lot lately. It’s like a little chapel, isn’t it? Let’s sit on that log over there.”
So they’d been coming out here a lot had they? I had been so wrapped up with Brad that I hadn’t even noticed Ian and Sylvie’s developing relationship. We worked together to lay the blanket over the icy log and settled in to talk.
“So what happened with Brad?” Sylvie asked. “I don’t know either of you very well, but you seemed pretty happy together.”
“Did we? I guess we were, at least sometimes. But looking back on it, I wonder if it was all fake.”
“Everything about it was fast. We didn’t even meet until late last year. We fooled around in his room. But then there was this whole weird thing with him and Zoey when we were in Europe this summer…. Never mind, I’m supposed to have forgotten about it. When he wanted to get back together, I jumped at the chance and who wouldn’t, coming from a guy like him?”
“Okay, so then what happened? Why did Brad dump you?”
Tell her, the voice said. Somehow, I made the words come out. “We’ve been having sex. I thought my period was late.”
Sylvie’s eyes widened.
"But yesterday it finally started, I think. But it hit me, how wrong I was. I wasn’t ready to be a parent, for one thing, and worse it was plain defiance against God. So I told Brad I thought we should repent and he basically kicked me to the curb.”
“I can hardly believe it either. I always thought I would wait until marriage. Why did I just waste myself like that?” I twisted the end of the borrowed scarf in my hands, waiting for Sylvie to contradict me. When no response came, a wave of bitterness welled up.
I thought you said she’s safe? Or was that my wishful thinking again?
Safe or not, now that I had started talking about it I couldn’t stop. I went on. “You should have seen me, it was so pathetic. I couldn’t stop crying and started babbling about the Holy Spirit of all things. Brad got angry, and suddenly he’s telling me he never wants to see me again. And I’m pretty sure God hates me and I’m going to hell.” I ground my toe against the frozen leaves, feeling a sort of twisted satisfaction as they disintegrated.
Finally Sylvie spoke. “Oh, Giselle. I’m so sorry. It sounds like you really regret what happened, and I can tell you’re very angry with yourself. But why are you so sure God is angry with you too?”
“I don’t know. Actually, it’s kind of funny, but I thought I heard God talking to me last night. Dumb, I know.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, Brad said it was all in my head, just my neurotic mind inventing new ways to torture me.”
“Could be, but it depends. What did the voice say?”
“To come back. That it wasn’t too late to come back.”
Sylvie smiled. “Now that sounds like the sort of thing God would say.”
I relaxed a bit, enjoying the companionable silence that fell between us. Maybe Sylvie was safe after all.
Tell her about the rest of it. What you’re most scared to talk about.
Did I dare? I wasn’t even sure I should have told her the first part.
“So, is there anything else you need to talk to me about?” Sylvie prompted. “I’m so glad you felt safe enough to talk to me about you and Brad. I’ve been asking God for a girl friend I can really walk through life with. And, well, Ian’s been telling me I should get to know you better. While you were talking, I wondered if this could be God answering my prayer, so I asked Him.”
It was now or never. What did I really have to lose? “Yes, I do have something else I want to talk to you about. Well, I don’t want to exactly, but I have to.”
“I can relate,” Sylvie said with a smile.
“I’ve always been so confused about sex and everything around it. What’s wrong, what’s okay? Am I evil just for thinking about what it would be like to kiss a cute guy? Is it a sin to get turned on watching a movie or reading a book?”
Sylvie shocked me by saying, “I struggle with that too … I mean, who doesn’t? We’re all human. I think God understands that. He’s the one who created our bodies and minds to work that way. The important thing is to not let it turn to lust. Isn’t there a saying like that? Something like, it’s impossible to stop birds from flying by, but you don’t have to let them build a nest in your attic.”
“That’s Martin Luther. So does that mean it’s a problem if you go beyond just getting turned on, if you catch my drift? What does God think about that?”
“I’ve wondered about that too. I do know it’s not specifically addressed in the Bible, so this is just my opinion. Don’t take my word for it or anything, but I tend to think there are some times when that is innocent and natural, but there’s also a point where it turns to lust.”
“If that’s true, then what’s the difference? How can a person know if they’ve crossed the line?”
“I’m not sure. I think it’s something you have to talk to God about, and listen to the leading of the Spirit. Sometimes it just seems like it would be safest to decide to not do it at all, but…” She cleared her throat but didn’t continue.
I could hardly believe it. Did someone who seemed as holy as Sylvie really struggle with the same feelings and secrets I did?
“What I learned from Ian is that Satan wants nothing more than to keep us from truly receiving and experiencing God’s love. You know that one of his names is Accuser, right?”
I folded my arms. “I’ve heard people say that,” I said skeptically.
“Well, that’s just what he does. He tries and tries to convince us that if we break one rule or another, that God stops loving us.”
“What do you mean?”
“Satan knows you belong to God and he can’t change that. The most he can do is get you to focus on following rules instead of following Jesus. That way, he can keep you and me so bogged down with guilt that we never make a difference in the world.”
“I thought it was good to feel guilty when you do something wrong. Isn’t that called a conscience?”
“There’s a difference between your conscience or the Holy Spirit convicting you and the type of shame and guilt you’ve been telling me about, Giselle. You belong to Jesus, so you can rejoice in knowing that He already dealt with each mistake for you on the cross. You don’t have to cower in fear or wallow in guilt each time you sin. We’re God’s beloved children. Think about it. What does a toddler do when he falls down and scrapes his knee?”
“Look for his Mom or Daddy to comfort him.”
“But what if his Daddy just finished telling him not to run because the ground was slippery?”
“Kids don’t care about things like that.”
“Exactly, and in my child development classes they teach us that good parents don’t punish in moments like that either. They just sweep them into their arms and kiss the hurt away.”
The vision of the child getting a bear hug flickered anew on my mind’s eye, triggering a smile. Maybe that could be God and me one day, after I worked hard to make things right again.
Sylvie continued. “I think that’s part of what Jesus meant when he said we have to enter the Kingdom like little children. When we scrape our knees, we should immediately run right back to the Father’s arms.”
My face fell. Immediately? Surely God wasn’t so ready to sweep me up in His arms right this second. My violation was a lot more serious than running instead of walking or a scrape on the knee – it was more like when I took Daddy’s Miata. How long had it been before Daddy started speaking to me again? Heck, he still reminded me about it every once in a while, half-joking that he should make me pay him back for it. No, it was too soon. I’d let God cool off a little before I dared go near Him.