I was raised in the age of beanie babies and purity rings. Everyone I knew bought into the hype, with sterling silver rings on their left index fingers and rows and rows of beady-eyed bears lining their shelves. The rings invariably read “True Love Waits” and the pristine, heart-shaped tags on the bears invariably read “ty.”
Labels, you see, are of the utmost importance when you are 12 years old and still discovering what in this world – what in your own self – is of any worth.
I never bought a purity ring. I often wondered if maybe I should get one so that people would know what a good girl I was. So that people would know how seriously I took my faith (or my virginity, really, since at the time the two seemed interchangeable.)
But I never got one.
Purity rings were for the pretty girls, the ones with the boyfriends, the ones with the opportunities.
I had never been given that sort of offer, so I had no need for a ring to remind me to reject it.
And so I managed to escape puberty with naked fingers and not-naked everything else.
I did not, however, escape the beanie baby hype.
To be fair, I didn’t buy it myself. It was a gift. Brand new with tags and in a box that had never been opened, it came accompanied by a promise and a warning:
A promise that if I left it in the box, left it unopened and un-tampered with, that one day it would be worth a fortune.
And a warning that if I took it out – even for a moment – if I risked getting it dirty or losing those precious tags, it would be utterly worthless.
All my friends had beanie babies, and those beanie babies stayed in their boxes for days, weeks, months, even years. But eventually, they all came out of their clear cubic prisons. The beanie babies were played with and shared, just like toys are meant to be. Their tags came off, as had been warned, and the fortune my friends might have had was forever lost.
Oh, but not mine. I heeded those warnings and hid my beanie baby away, safe from all the perils a carefree and careless childhood might bring. And as I watched my friends laughing and sharing and playing, I reminded myself over and over again of the fortune that awaited me if I just waited.
A lifetime has passed since then, a lifetime so very different from what my 12-year-old self imagined it would be. The beanie babies and purity rings have long since passed out of fashion, ending up in garbage bins and garage sales and Goodwill piles. But she is still here: my little brown bear with her heart-shaped tag, hidden safely in her box on my shelf – in perfect mint condition.
When people see her sitting there, their reactions are varied. Some are impressed that I’ve managed to keep her for so long. Some are nostalgic for the time when they, too, believed that a little stuffed animal carried with it all the hopes and dreams and promises of a prosperous future. But more often than not, it’s viewed as strange.
To be a quarter of a century old and in possession of such a novelty is an oddity, to say the least.
But despite all that, I’ve grown sentimental. I’ve had her for so long now that I could never just throw her out or give her away to a stranger like so many others before me have done. And in all honesty, I’m beginning to think that – despite all those pretty promises I was given at 12 – she isn’t worth anything at all anymore. She’s become nothing more than an odd remnant of a lost time that no one really wants to re-visit.
And somehow, by association, so have I.
But a part of me still secretly hopes that some day a collector will show up on my doorstep – an oddity, like me, who clung to those same childhood promises that I did. I imagine him falling to his knees and joyously proclaiming that she’s the one, the rare and unique treasure he’s been searching for his entire life. Then, at long last, she could come off her shelf and be exchanged for the fortune I was promised so long ago.
I wouldn’t mind parting with her then because I’d know that she was valued. That she’d be cared for and treated with gentleness and respect.
It’s such a silly, pretty dream. With each passing year, it becomes a little less realistic, a little more ridiculous.
But the hopeless romantic in me still clings to it, just the same.
So she sits there with me to this day.
Waiting, waiting, waiting.
A symbol of the innocence and hopeful naïvety of a childhood past.
Priceless? Worthless? I suppose that distinction is in the eye of the beholder.
We are both untouched.
In Mint Condition.
Confession: I didn’t actually have a beanie baby. It’s just a metaphor.
Even so, this allegory remains one of the most vulnerable things I’ve written, because, truth be told, I’m still not entirely sure what “waiting for marriage” is supposed to look like if marriage never comes.
It’s not so much a matter of abstinence as it is a matter of identity.
While the roles of “wife” and “mother” are enthusiastically endorsed by Scripture (and have been beautifully modeled for me by my own mother) the church often struggles to find a place in ministry for women outside of these callings.
As a result, I am having to learn how to pursue holiness and meaning as a single woman vastly on my own and without an example.
But even in this, God is good. And even in this, I trust Him.
If you, like me, are struggling to find your place and identity apart from relationships or lack thereof, know that you are not alone.
And whether you are married or engaged or single or dating or lonely or confused or confident or hurt, know that none of these things define you.
You are an image-bearer of the One who was and is and is to come, and you are beloved.