(Brace yourselves. This is going to be a long one.)
As I was laying in bed last night I began to think about, of all things, clothes. I have been told I have a decent amount of clothes (and now they are arranged by color - you rock, Janice!), but my mind went back in time to some special outfits. I remembered them, not so much for their hip and cutting edge fashion, but because of what they represented during a certain season in my life. I am fairly sure most of these clothes are long gone, but the memory of them brings back emotions of regret, joy, sorrow, and hope that I don't ever want to dispose of. Here is a glimpse into my memory closet.
My Baptism Dress. I was around 7 years old when my sisters and I were baptised. We were raised in the Lutheran church which practices infant baptism, so our being so "old" was a bit of an oddity for our congregation. My mom's denomination practices believers baptism, and so the three of us waited until Rev. Anderson came to lunch one day and talked to us about baptism and what it meant and asked us if we believed that Jesus was our Savior. Yes. So we were to be baptised. I wanted to wear something special, because even at 7 I knew this was an important moment in my life, but my folks weren't going to go out and buy new dresses (back then, it seemed wasteful to buy a new outfit for any occasion that came up). In the back of my closet I found a maroon and white plaid dress that I had never been terribly fond of. It was simple and plain, and even at 7 I was more of a sparkle, sequin girl. But I had never worn this dress, and that made it new enough, and it became my baptism dress. I will never forget standing up at the front of the church with my sisters, my parents, and my uncle and aunt and being sprinkled with water from the baptismal font. I remember feeling the water trickle down my face and taking the little cloth Rev. Anderson held and wiping furiously to get it off. I was right about that dress being special, because years and years later I saw it folded sweetly in the bottom of my mom's cedar chest.
My Annie Costume. This outfit too can be found stored safely away in the cedar chest. When I was in 6th grade my mom mentioned that a community theater in a town near us was holding auditions for the musical Annie. I can't for the life of me remember how I worked up the nerve to do it, but mom drove to Players Club and I auditioned for a role as one of the orphans. We had to learn a little tap dance and do a reading with an adult and then sing part of "Tomorrow". I remember distinctly standing up at the front of the stage ready to do my reading with the "Daddy Warbucks" stand in, trying to decide if I wanted to play it cool in front of the other girls auditioning, or if I was going to take the risk of performing the reading the way I thought it should be done. Somehow I worked up the nerve to give it all I had, and it payed off as I was offered the part of Tessie. I had wonderfully fun lines and a solo, and I found a place on that stage that taught me a little bit more about who I was and what God had put in my heart to do. We had these beautiful custom made dresses for the final scene at Daddy Warbucks' house, and mine was pale green with a sailor collar and a pleated skirt. I loved making the audience laugh with my "Oh my goodness!" and bringing down the house with the tap dance the orphans did. I still remember the dance steps to this day. Since Annie I have done more stage productions, and no matter what else has come my way, I have never lost my love (and respect) for live theater. Someday - oh someday! - I want to get back to the stage again.
My Green Overalls. These overalls were a bone of contention between my mother and I, and for that alone they seem a fair representation of my high school years. They weren't farm-ish, but they were khaki green, and I loved them. I wore them with a bright peach short sleeved shirt underneath, and at that time pegging your pants was in (I know some of you called it something else, but pegging is when you would fold your pants over and roll them up). I would peg the overalls and wear these brown boots with them. Thinking about this outfit reminds me of the boy in high school I "loved" (As it says in the gospel according to Garth Brooks, "Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers"...), and all the drama that surrounded that crush. I also think back to some great friends I had in high school, and I wonder what they're doing now. My mom and I went rounds about my choice to wear the overalls for my senior pictures, but eventually we worked out a compromise that I could wear the khaki overalls and peach shirt for part of the shoot, and then change into a nice dress for the rest. Those overalls just felt like...me.
My Senior Prom Dress. I was fortunate to go to prom four different times, and had a great time at three of them. I was most excited about the senior prom I was going to at a sister school with a boy I liked (which caused some thoroughly enjoyable jealousy from my high school "love"). A special part of that time was that I finally got to buy a prom dress. With two older sisters and parents who lived on a teacher's salary, a new dress was a luxury for me. I lived on hand me downs, and never really minded. But when I found out I would get a new dress for my senior proms, I was thrilled. I remember going to Northrups Dress Shop in Titusville with my mom and finding...the dress. It was midnight blue, strapless, floor length, with a peplum waist and midnight blue sequins on the skirt. I knew it was a lot of money, but my mom put the dress on hold and promised we would come back and get it in a few days. That afternoon we bumped into my uncle in Titusville, and when he heard about my dress, he insisted on driving to the dress shop and paying for it that day so I could have it. I am not sure how mom felt about doing things that way - I am sure she paid him back in a day or two - but I was so touched by my uncle seeing what really was a little thing, yet knowing it was big to me. I have never forgotten generosity like that. The actual prom was heart breaking - at the after prom party that I thought we would come home at midnight from turned out to be a drinking fest (I didn't drink so I sat in a chair and read the family's Star magazines) and my date hooked up with his ex-girlfriend who had been eyeing him all night. It was one of my first heartbreaks, but by no means the most serious or the last, and he and I renewed our friendship months later and even dated off and on through college.
My Pocket Patch Jeans. These jeans remind me of a horribly painful time in my life, that probably still isn't fully resolved for me, and certainly isn't dealt with at all by almost everyone else who knew me at that time. In college I struggled with the pressure of the "shoulds" - and there were a lot of them coming from a lot of directions. I didn't think I could live with myself if I made any mistakes, and that internal pressure erupted one January into a struggle with anorexia. Anorexia wasn't about fashion models or calorie counting for me, it was about having one little place in my life that I felt I could semi-safely (ha!) express my yucky feelings. I ended up in an in-patient treatment center for five weeks or so. During this time I had these fabulous jeans that I loved that had a huge patch on the back pocket and were a size negative 2, and as part of my "therapy" I was encouraged to give away my "sick" clothes and look forward to buying "new and well" clothes in an actual human size. There was a girl named Gina who was a patient with me, and she was a former gymnast who looked 12 but was really in her early 30s. She had battled anorexia for more years that I can count. She was the sickest person in the wing, and she just couldn't seem to find a way to get well. I gave my pocket patch jeans to her before I signed out AMA, and she was so touched, as if no one had ever extended a nice gesture her way before. I wonder sometimes if Gina is alive. I pray she is alive and well and too big for my jeans now.
Cap and Gown. Even though I missed a semester of college, I still was able to graduate on time with my friends. It felt great wearing that cap and gown, not only because I graduated on time, but also because I was saying a very final good-bye to a college boyfriend who was no where near right for me.
A Dress I Can't Even Remember. Not a clue what this dress looked like. After college I worked at a church in Pittsburgh and on one of my first Sundays I drove to the grocery store in my sweats and T-shirt to pick up danishes and locked myself out of my apartment. I called the landlord to no avail, and showed up at the church with a feeble smile, danishes, and very grungy clothes. A sweet family lived just down the road and the mother was about my size and she quickly took me home and loaned me a dress and some shoes and helped me get myself together enough to face the congregation that day. Although I can't remember the exact outfit, I can remember consciously deciding not to bother being so sensitive about small things, because it had become terribly obvious as I stood in that dress that I would have lots of largely embarrassing moments to save my humiliation for. That is a life lesson I still hold onto today.
My Wedding Gown. When I think of my wedding gown, I still shake my head. As I said before, I am a sequins kind of girl, and I always assumed I would have this gargantuan wedding dress that was so sparkly and poofy it would need its own zip code. Shortly after Mark proposed, mom and I went wedding dress shopping. We went to a few different stores, and I tried on every poofy, sparkly, Cinderella looking dress I could find, but none of them really...fit. They just didn't feel right on me. I was getting discouraged when we stopped at this little bridal shop, and walked in. I grabbed some dresses to try on and one of them was a plain white dress with an A-line skirt. As we worked our way through the dresses with the shop owner, I felt like that line of "you'll just know it when you try on the right dress" was a load of bull. When we got to the plain dress, I said, "I'm not even going to try this one on. It's too plain.", but the shop owner and mom encouraged me to just slip it on for a second and see. Yep. It was The One. I knew it the instant I looked in the mirror and for the first time that day I saw ME. Not poofs or sequins or lace, but ME. The girl Mark wanted to marry. The shop owner brought out the matching veil, shoes, and had me try on gloves, and it all just fit. My wedding day was one of the happiest days of my life, but when I look at pictures of that dress I remember the lesson I learned that day. I am enough. Me. I don't always need sparkles or fluff because I am enough.
My Blue Floor Length Maternity Dress. When I got pregnant with Jude I was working at a church in Cincinnati, and I loved my job. I also knew that I would quit to become a full time mom when he arrived in January, so one of my last "official" functions on staff was to attend the staff Christmas party. It was held in the ballroom of a local hotel, and it was always a wonderful evening of laughing, talking, and dancing. (Yep. We were the dancing kind of Christians.) I had planned on wearing a beautiful black semi-fitted maternity dress to the event, but when I tried it on (or shall I say, tried to try it on) there was just no way. At all. You remember that line from Steel Magnolias about a woman's dress at the wedding? "It looks like two pigs wrestling under a blanket." Yeah. That was me. So I quickly ran out and bought this ugly, large tent-like dress. I swear if I would have tucked the neckline in between two of my chins, it could have served as the party room itself.
A Hospital Gown and Perfectly Groomed Toes. Every time I have to put on a hospital gown, I think back to the day I delivered Cal Henry. I was induced, and I showed up to the hospital with full make up and hair done. I had even gone a few days before and had a pedicure. My toes were (supposedly - how could I know?) a lovely shade of pink. After I slipped into the hospital gown, they started the potocin. A nurse encouraged me to sit in a rocking chair or use a birthing ball while I labored. I propped myself up on the birthing ball she threw my way, and settled in for a long labor. But as the minutes clicked by and the contractions intensified, I remained calm, unaffected, serene in fact on that ball. I was still in full makeup, and Mark even took a picture that I later used in a playbill at our church. (Just the face, people. We may have danced at that church, but we weren't freaks.) A few nurses came in and asked how I was, and when I calmly replied that I was doing fine, they began encouraging me to go natural. I began to think about it. After all, I was already 8 centimeters and I still had lipstick on. And then...I hit "transition" and from that parallel universe you go to when the pain becomes too horrible to stay with reality, I began to hear this...noise. It was sort of a grunting/high pitched moaning wail of a noise that reminded me instantly of the sound a sheep makes when it is delivering a lamb. And then I realized that I had become that sheep. The wail was my own and I turned to Mark and choked out one word - "anesthesiologist!" Fortunately he heard me and shortly after, a fabulous dr with a long needle put the laboring sheep out of her misery. Once the epidural kicked in I began talking and laughing again, and even had the nurses admiring my toenails. I finally got to see them when I put my feet in the stirrups. They were nice.
Blue Shorts and a T shirt. When our family moved to the great state of TN, finding a church had to be about the most frustrating experience. There is literally a church on every corner, and quite frankly, southern people are just good at doing the Jesus thing, so it was hard to get an authentic read on the first few churches we visited. We finally found a church we loved, but the "catch" was that to become a member, a person had to have a baptism by immersion. This was a tough one for me, because I felt like I had experienced a believer's baptism, and while I was sprinkled not dunked, I still felt fairly certain my first baptism had "taken". I wrestled with this for a few weeks, and then finally it dawned on me that picking your battles doesn't mean you have to pick every battle that comes along. And for Mark and I it was a conscious decision to submit to the leadership of this church to go ahead and be baptised (or re-baptised). So in borrowed blue shorts and t shirts (not as pretty as my first baptism outfit), I got to watch while my wonderful husband was baptised, and then he stood nearby while I was (re)baptised. For as much as I had wrestled with that decision, the blessing of being baptised with my husband, my true love, was inexpressible. What I was fighting turned out to be a gift from God! And that is a lesson I try to remember today.
Shorts and My Peach Running T Shirt. I began running almost two years ago, and what I had once thought only masochists did became the greatest stress reliever of my life. Running redefined who I thought I was. I had never been terribly athletic (scrappy, but not athletic), and I always said I wouldn't run even if someone was chasing me with a weapon. Quite honestly, I just didn't believe I could do it. But I printed out a walking/running plan that had me ready to run a 5K in 6 weeks, and after that 6 weeks I forever changed what I thought of myself and what I thought I was capable of. I can't explain it, there is just something almost spiritual about running distances. My favorite running outfit was a pair of blue shorts and a peach shirt Mark bought me that reads "Running is cheaper than therapy." Since being sick, I haven't been able to run, and that is a loss I mourn almost more than any other aspect of not being "myself". It took me a long time to feel comfortable saying, "I'm a runner", but one day I did, and that new "title" felt like a good fit. I think about running every single day. I keep clinging on to the hope that I will be doing a 5k or a half marathon this time next year. Running is therapy. I imagine right now I could use some.
So there is a long peek into my closet of memories. While so many of those clothes no longer fit or seem fashionable, what I learned about myself while wearing them still hangs around inside me. Clothes don't make the woman, but they can sure tell you a lot about her.