Same Message, Different Dress

“Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25:5

My dress for my daughter’s wedding arrived. The romantic blue floral with long sleeves and tassels at the cuffs felt perfect for my daughter’s upcoming whimsical outdoor wedding in June. I rushed upstairs to try it on, having already worked through that the sizing of the dress made me feel like a failure. This company, after taking my measurements, had me ordering a size dress that I hadn’t been in for two years. These little insignificant numbers seemed branded on the front of dress, like a scarlet letter. I rushed upstairs and as soon as I took the dress out of the package, I had a sinking feeling. The dress lay on my bed, cut in ways that seemed disproportionate and unnatural for most women. I reluctantly tried it on, unable to button it in certain areas while other areas it hung on me oddly. Moments of my wedding dress fiasco flashed through my mind, making me feel “less than” once again.

Twenty-five years ago, we decided to have a much smaller wedding than originally planned by getting married in three weeks. Although we moved up the wedding, I still got married in the church I had always planned surrounded by people who loved us. My mom threw us a small wedding reception, with the traditional cake. Although everything else seemed to be working out, finding a wedding dress had been a challenge. A dear elderly saint offered to make my wedding dress in three weeks. I was looking for a romantic style with flowy sleeves and soft lines. When we shopped for the fabric and pattern, she led me to pick out a formal dress with more ruffles than I thought would flatter me. She also picked out a fabric that she thought was dressier. Again, I acquiesced to her request. In a final fitting, two and half weeks later, the wedding dress of my dreams was a bad mixture of clown ruffles in front, a skirt that folded in like baggy shorts, and linebacker shoulder pads with too-tight sleeves. She recognized that it needed a few changes and offered to do the final alterations. I agreed, fighting back the tears, knowing deep down that no alterations would make me feel beautiful.

When I picked up the dress, I was adamant with Terry about breaking tradition and begged him to give me his honest opinion. So, we went back to my apartment, and I tried on the dress. When I came out of the bedroom, his eyes were wide and his mouth dropped open, not with pleasure, but in disbelief. He had no words, and I threw myself down on my bed crying, threatening to call off the wedding or walk down in jean skirt. After calming down, we went out to look for a replacement and found something in the second store that was close to what I had envisioned.

Yes, my final dress was pretty, and when I walked down the aisle, Terry beamed with absolute joy. Yes, everyone I loved said I looked beautiful, but years of being overweight and the wedding dress fiasco reaffirmed internal messages I felt about myself. These messages of feeling less than, clownish, and like a linebacker taking up too much space in the universe robbed me of the joy I should have felt on my wedding day. For years, when looking back on my wedding pictures I have focused on Terry’s smile, my hair and avoided my body, still feeling less than. I have put on a brave face and laughed about my wedding dress story, trying to believe the words I told others, “In the second store, I found the perfect dress.”, knowing deep inside, it always felt less than perfect.

And once again, I have an important event where I am feeling less than. I am not writing this to receive a lot of comments about how far I have come or that I am beautiful. I know the truth of what everyone is saying, and it’s the same wisdom I would offer a friend. I know I need to show myself some grace. I know that I have taken some steps to address the weight gain, which I will share in later post. And I have had a tough year, with some hard losses. I know that in times of crisis, its common to revert to old habits of coping. And at different points in the last few months, food has been a source of comfort for me, especially the pistachio lattes someone in my family has been generous to buy for me.

I have all the head knowledge and know the right things to do and speak. But it doesn’t stop the internal messages from blaring in my ears; the feeling that in my daughter’s wedding, my dress will emphasize all that I have believed is wrong with me. It will shout out my lack of grace and femininity while emphasizing the twenty pounds I have gained, the hanging skin on my arms, and the large space I believe I take up.

But this blaring voice is not the voice of God. Yes, God wants us to submit all areas of our lives to him, including how I use food as a comfort instead of relying on him. But God doesn’t look at how much space I took up when I was 361 pounds or how much space I take up 150 pounds less. He doesn’t look at the size on the dress tag, or the numbers on the scale. He doesn’t look on my outward appearance. He sees a woman who has internalized the messages of the world and allowed them to have more influence on her heart than His truth. He sees a woman who is forgetting what her wedding and her daughter’s wedding day are about.

My wedding day had nothing to do with my dress, Terry’s smile, or even the cake. It was about entering into a covenant relationship with God and my husband. When I make it about me, I lose sight of what is important. Maggie’s wedding is not about how I fit into a dress. It’s about celebrating with family and friends the covenant relationship she is entering into with Will and God.

And what is the truth? The truth is that God wants me to know that I am fully known and accepted, saggy skin and all. He desires for me to draw closer to Him, to become more confident in how He sees me. At times when I feel less than or, in some cases, too much, He wants me to know that I am just enough for Him. Yes, I need to grow and become more Christlike, not because I need to measure up to an ambiguous, ever-changing standard, but because I see His goodness and want to be more like Him.

I am waiting for dress five to arrive later this week. Both Maggie and I love the dress and feel confident that it will work. Regardless, I am reminding myself who I am in God and what Maggie’s wedding is about. It is going to be about me standing next to my husband, surrounded by family and friends who are traveling from afar, to share this moment with us, as my daughter enters a covenant relationship with God. And no matter the space I take up, God is with me, filling me with His peace and assurance that I am enough!

Homemade Lemonade

“Unless the Lords builds the house, they labor in vain who build it;” Psalm 127:1

We just started pre-wedding festivities with my daughter’s shower two weekends ago. The theme was “She Found Her Main Squeeze” with lemon décor, daisies on the table, fruit-filled cupcakes, and a beautiful charcuterie board. The bridesmaids were amazing, helping me make my vision a reality. Today, she is packing up her gifts, along with her bedroom, with plans to move into her first apartment at the end of the month.

Some details at Maggie’s shower.

Maggie asked me today if I am excited to be an empty nester, and my response was yes. But this yes came after weeks of working through some tough emotions. Not only is my daughter getting married this year, but we are likely going to be move into a much smaller apartment closer to our church and my husband’s work. There are a lot of losses that I had to work through and some grieving I had to do in anticipation of the move.

Some of the losses include the fact that Terry and I have never owned our own home. Some of this was due to poor financial decisions we made early in our marriage, but a lot was our commitment to home educate our children. Early on, Terry went back to school part-time while I stayed home with our children. After receiving his associates degree in 2007, we dreamed of putting aside money for a down payment for our first home. As he was looking for a new job, the recession of 2008 hit, resulting not in a better paying job but a job loss. For three years, Terry worked temp jobs in his field, unable to land a permanent position due to the economy. Hence, our house-owning dreams were put on the back burner. In 2011, we moved to Pennsylvania with the hopes of eventually owning our first home. Again, circumstances seemed to put that dream aside. Now, with the current housing prices and our age, we are trying to weigh our options.

I know that its’ considered the American dream to own your own home. I have always imagined what my home would look like. I have created Pinterest pages with kitchen layouts and picking out my own light fixtures. Yet, we are realizing the American Dream might not happen for us. And this recognition came with some internal messages I was believing about myself. I believed that my lack of home ownership meant I was a failure as an adult. I had to take an honest assessment of my life and realized that, although that is how society defines success, this is not how the Lord defines it. We made decisions to live as a one-income family and that came at a price. In retrospect, neither of us regret that decision or the effects of it.

Despite the fact we have always rented, I feel like every place we have lived has been my own home. We have been blessed to have the freedom to paint, and even on some occasions plant trees in our yard. Our home has been a place for our family to gather, love and play. Which leads to another loss I had to work through: this new place we are moving into will be a place where my children have never lived. Not only was I going to be an empty nester, but in many ways, it felt like I was cutting down the tree where the nest had been. I had to remind myself that it was an opportunity to create new memories. I also had to remind myself that this is a new season for my husband and I, and new seasons also bring positive changes.

Finally, when looking for a place to live, we decided that we wanted to stay as close as possible to the price we are currently paying. With the housing market being so competitive, rent prices have also increased. Thus, we are currently looking at a much smaller townhouse. Which leads to the last loss: I will have to give up some of my stuff. I have no desire to crowd our current household of items into a smaller space. I like having open space in my house to breathe. But I love my stuff, I have carefully curated my décor over the course of years. I love having access to all my books, kitchen gadgets and office supplies.  It took me a little while to gain a healthy perspective.  But the reality is that it is just stuff and having a simpler lifestyle will force me to consider new purchases more carefully. It will also force me to be more careful at the grocery store.  Finally, it will allow us to have more freedom to travel and explore, creating the kind of memories we want.

We are excited to move to Carlisle, where our church is located. Specifically, we want to be in a neighborhood where we can be helpful and connect with our neighbors. We want to be an example of how Jesus transforms lives by loving our neighbors well. After working through some of the losses, I am truly looking forward to this new stage. This week, I’ll be putting in a call to the realtor of the neighborhood we are hoping to move into. Our prayer is that we can move sometime after the wedding to embark on this new adventure. While Maggie may have found her main squeeze, I am choosing to make lemonade with life’s lemons.

Donuts and Narnia

“Intelligent people are always ready to learn. Their ears are open for knowledge.” Proverbs 18:15

It’s National Library week and I want to celebrate this magical place of wonder. As I child, I was enchanted with my monthly visit to Mead Public Library in Sheboygan, WI. At the time, the children’s section was on the ground floor. I quickly rushed head of my mother and siblings, through the double glass doors to step on the carpet in front of the six-foot animatronic Kangaroo, waiting for her traditional greeting. Then I rushed around the library, looking for places to go and adventures to have through the pages of books. After we checked out our stacks of books, we would head to Frederick’s Bakery for donuts. The smell of fried pastry wafted through the doors as we entered the bakery. I then picked out my favorite, a chocolate mudpie. We went back to the car, and I opened a book, devouring the warm gooey donut as I entered Narnia.

Macaroni and cheese always makes the list of people’s comfort foods, but if I had a comfort place, it would be the library. I love the shelves of books covering all subjects: cookbooks, gardening hacks, biographies, historical fiction, and the classics. I love the fact that the library is user friendly for anyone, with no cost to join and the amount of information you can access seems unlimited. In many ways I make myself a personal ambassador to the library, sharing its virtues with little people. From the time my own children were two, they have had their own library cards. I later signed them up for the same summer reading program that I had been a part of as a child. For years, we attended the library story time where they heard a librarian read a book, sing a song, and maybe do a small craft. Since then, any child that has been under my care for any length of time has explored the library with me.

Terry and I are both library nerds. We plan our Saturday dates occasionally at the library, checking out a stack of books that I have no hope of finishing in one month. We then grab a cup of coffee from our favorite local coffee shop and hurry home to peruse our books. If our library system doesn’t have a particular book we want, we request it through the inner-library loan system. For a short period of time, we even became members of the Library of Congress, only to walk in awe through the reading room and map room. Currently, we hold library cards for two different counties and often have books checked out from both. We also like to visit famous libraries like the Peabody Library in Baltimore and the Providence Athenaeum, with hopes to hit other famous libraries on our bucket list.

In a future blog, I will be talking about our need to downsize our book collection. I know all of you book lovers might be gasping in horror at the thought. But we often tend to read the books we check out from the library before the ones we own. And in examining our bookshelves, we could eliminate the ones that we could easily access from the library and keep the ones that we underline and reference the most. The point is, as much as I would love to have a beautifully curated personal library, I am content to continue visit my local library to fulfill my bibliophile needs.

It would be easy to look at our smart phones and argue that maybe libraries are becoming obsolete. About four years ago, my oldest uncle and aunt drove from Wisconsin to Rhode Island for my son’s wedding. He had written down the name of the church but forgot the address. Not being very tech savvy, my uncle did what most people in his generation knew to do, he want to Tiverton’s local library to look up in a phone book the address for the church. Even though he could have looked up the address on his cell phone, libraries are using technology to appeal to their patrons in new and innovative ways. They give us access to a large collection of free e-books, audio books, and learning programs, including learning foreign languages. As technology evolves, libraries seem to be on the cutting edge, finding new ways to entice people to learn.

Author Sidney Sheldon said, “Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up the windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve and contribute to improving our quality of life.” If it has been a while since you have visited your local library, take a short trip and see what your local library has to offer. As you walk in through the doors, take a deep breath, and look around, letting your eyes scan the room. Explore the shelves, and see what adventures await. And just maybe if you are in Carlisle this Saturday, you might see me at the library as well!