At the ripe old age of 16-ish, I’m pretty positive I couldn’t have told you what living above reproach meant.
Fifteen years later I moved to Baja and lived above a roach (a colony of them actually), but that’s different.
The appearance of evil is a tricky thing. If you’re not actually doing anything evil/wrong/illegal, it’s easy to argue it’s no biggie. How it appears to outsiders looking in is whole ‘nother ballgame.
I didn’t realize it for years, but I’ve had three similar experiences that could’ve flipped me on my head and changed the trajectory of my life. They didn’t just happen to me though—I chose them. I just wish someone would’ve challenged me along the way to be more discerning.
Oh wait—they did.
1. The Guitarist
Growing up, my dad disciplined me the way he played piano: calm, cool and collected. I’m halfway to 90 and I’ve still never heard him raise his voice.
As a result, when I walked out of a guy’s cabin around midnight, my dad’s reprimand didn’t sound harsh. So I didn’t take it serious.
The 20-something guy, on summer staff at the camp where I lived, played the guitar and spoke like a humble rockstar. He wasn’t hard to look at either. I, a staff teen, loved the guitar and loved humility.
A bunch of us gathered in his cabin after work to hang out, sing and eat. Innocent fun turned into hoping he’d give me the time of day once the room cleared out.
One by one the counselors and ice cream scoopers left till we sat there, alone. He played me a new song he wrote, all the while acting like he wasn’t interested in me. (He wasn’t.) I swooned on the inside, stayed cool on the outside and left a short time later.
I walked home almost on time and went to bed, assuming everything was peachy. The next morning I got an earful from my composed father.
“The appearance of evil is a strong thing, Carrie.”
“But nothing happened.”
“Doesn’t matter. From the outside looking in, it’s not appropriate for you to be walking out of a guy’s cabin by yourself after midnight.”
“But nothing happened!”
“I believe you, but people assume things.”
Pretty sure he went on about his role on the executive staff and our family’s semi-perfect reputation, but I was too busy thinking of more excuses to prove my point and prove him wrong. The dramatic overreactions of older people were so annoying.
Barely driving age, I completely disagreed with what he said, but his words stuck like super glue in my brain.
Nothing happened, but I see how it didn’t look good. Neighbors could have whispered. My reputation could have been scarred. The man-child could have accused me of something I didn’t do.
I shouldn’t have stayed solo.
2. The Blindsided One
When good friends get shocking news that leaves them speechless, my first reaction is to jump into action. It’s part of my DNA and I can’t help it.
Whoa… I just noticed how “DNA” and “and” are mirror images.
ANY-who… my mind usually races to helpful solutions faster than a toupee in a windstorm. So when a guy friend we worked with got sucker-punched with betrayal, my first thought involved food.
What can I make or buy? How can I help with a small distraction? What would remind him he’s not alone or forgotten?
In-N-Out Burger, that’s what.
My husband didn’t want to go so I charged ahead solo, not thinking how it might look. In the drive-through, across town, and into his work parking lot… I met him outside, gave him a hug and the infamous white bag, we talked in his office while he ate, and I left.
I returned home to a concerned husband, which baffled and convicted me, but mostly made me defensive. How could he be upset when he’s the one who chose not to go?
His composed argument revolved around things like the appearance of evil and something about living above reproach. But I was too busy thinking of more excuses to prove my point and prove him wrong.
Nothing happened, but I see how it didn’t look good. I shouldn’t have gone solo.
3. The Sad Friend
Our age gap made it feel safe; our decade of friendship did too. Common friends invited us to come stay at their house during the birth of their baby, but my husband had to work.
This single guy and I were leaving from the same area, so it only seemed logical to save gas and drive together. My husband was completely fine with it since they were friends, so we grabbed a map, swung through a coffee shop and drove 6 ½ hours without a care.
The next night we sat in front of our friends’ wood burner long after midnight while he lamented about his recent breakup and I offered empathy, compassion and a listening ear. There was a tear or two, lots of encouragement, and plenty of Jesus talk.
How could kindness be inappropriate?
Unlike my first two experiences, nobody challenged me about this 13-hour road trip or our late-night chat. Maybe because I was older? Maybe because they didn’t think it was their business? Maybe because we were both Christians?
Nothing happened, but I see how it didn’t look good. Never mind gossip or assumptions… I don’t want to be the one giving anyone (especially younger friends) reasons to wonder.
I shouldn’t have gone solo.
New Modus Operandi
My husband and I had no idea we were walking into a mine field of gossip when we started a new ministry and moved to another country. But we were, so we changed.
Our new routine:
- Riding in a car with the opposite sex besides your spouse? Take a third person.
- Need to go out to lunch with an opposite sex staff member? Take a third person.
- Need to hold a private meeting? Meet outside in plain view, or in an office with the door open.
One time a female staff member needed a ride somewhere and my husband was literally the only person available. So she sat in the backseat! Looked funny, but in the tiny town where we lived, it became a perfect solution.
In case you feel drawn to snicker or judge, I’ll tell you the way we watched satan (with a small s) work for a dozen years.
He worked through adults, teens and kids. He worked through businesses and schools and churches alike. He worked with intention, subtly of course, making us think of words like “coincidence” and “luck.” I believe in neither and felt nudged to take a stand more than once.
Why? Because we started that ministry, grew it, and loved it. It made us laugh like free-spirited kids and cry like embarrassed adults. We lived it.
Of course it belonged to the Lord, but we were on the ground doing the grassroots work that gave us purpose, caused stress, helped us grow and taught us to trust.
And in the midst of it all, satan tried to worm his way into our marriage with impressive precision.
- Take out a ministry and the marriage can survive.
- Take out a marriage and the ministry crumbles too.
When we finally recognized his aggressive tactics, we held on even tighter to our convictions and made no exceptions to living above reproach. Even today, we don’t care if people think we’re old fashioned, right-winged or paranoid.
We’ll gladly sit in Billy Graham’s camp any day.
You will never be able to stop all the busybodies from flapping their lips, but you have complete control over your actions.
If you’re married, pray for your marriage and take practical action to protect your
If you’re single, pray for your future spouse and take practical action to protect your purity, and your reputation.
“No one in history has ever choked to death swallowing his pride.”
What about you? Do you have practices in place for when unexpected weirdness comes your way? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.