Friday, January 29, 2021

Do Clothes Make the Woman? Or Does the Woman Make the Clothes?


I often say to my husband, “Picture this!” Then I describe a gold sheath dress I wore when we dated accessorized with a gold-studded belt and a multi-strand gold-balled necklace (still have the necklace). In my “picture this” frame of mind, we’re standing on a braided rug, inside the door of my farmhouse, saying goodnight after a Saturday night at the movies.

Why do I talk like this? Because it takes me back to a happy time, a happy place. Little did we know about the cares of child-rearing, the stress of relationships, the pain of sickness, the challenges of aging. How naïve we were. And how happy.

“Take me back,” I say. “Take me back to those carefree days.”

It’s funny how what we wore at benchmark moments serve as markers. Markers of happy times. Sad times. Run-of-the-mill times. Strung together, they tell the story of our lives, a multi-faceted, layered concoction. And we learn so much living through them. We learn to embrace the good and survive the bad. We grow in character and strength:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12 NIV).

My mother sewed many of my childhood clothes from feedbags. That’s right. I went with my father to the local mill where feed for our cattle came in patterned bags, perfect for housewives of the day to sew into dresses. I learned humility wearing “homemade” clothes because I sometimes wished for more “store-bought dresses.”                                          

Once a year, however, we shopped for new Easter dresses. I remember a pink organza embroidered with white daisies when I was maybe 7. Worn with hat and little white gloves and Mary Jane shoes. Oh, how special I felt. In childhood, I learned to appreciate what I had instead of grieving for what I didn’t have.

I remember the yellow dress I wore for a son’s baptism. A happy time, for sure. But raising children teaches you gentleness and patience as you navigate the crying and the trying that goes with family life.

I picture the royal blue velvet dress with red lacing up the front that I wore to my grandmother’s funeral at age 7. My first brush with death. Then there’s the black dress I wore to my father’s funeral and the pink vest and skirt that I wore to the funeral of our infant daughter. Oh such sad times. They taught me compassion for others who suffer loss.

In my early 30s, I wore a royal blue wool sheath to walk to the front of a church to dedicate my life to serve God, however He might call me. A monumental moment. And then I patiently waited for God’s direction.

The years flew by. I gained weight. I lost weight. I taught school and acquired what I considered a “dressy” wardrobe. In those days there were no dress-down days. I loved shirtwaists. Two-piece dresses that worked for my lanky body. Dressy, but not too. I hope my students remember me as a kind teacher who treated them fairly.

For our first big out-of-state event, Kim, Janine and I shopped, coordinating colors and textures. Public speaking taught me perseverance as we traveled, slept in strange beds and worked on effective presentations.

These days my style consists of turtleneck sweaters and slacks. Dressy clothes droop in the closet. No dress-up days in sight. But I’m learning patience as I wait for times I took for granted—going to church, having dinners with my family, celebrating birthdays together.

Clicking from image to image in the photo album of my life, I see a mosaic of color, texture and meaning that God melded into a unique individual. I am a product of my generation, a product of the culture of my day, a product of my faith. The outfits I wore at pivotal moments tell the story of a girl who aspired to be a wife, a mother, a teacher, and was blessed to achieve all three.

Take a moment and think back to pivotal moments in your life and what you learned from them. Then thank God that just as we put on a fresh outfit every morning, God teaches us fresh lessons each day. Let’s learn and grow together. This is one journey that never ends.

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