I bought this dress on a whim while on a trip about a year ago, full of expectation and brimming with the hope that I would be the kind of person who wore that dress. It was a vacation kind of dress, bright fun colors, a bit shorter in cut. It required some sass, a bit of pizzazz to wear. I intended to have those, I wanted to have enough confidence to wear this dress. I purchased it, packed it in my suitcase, brought it home and hung it in my closet where it has stayed all this time. The dress began to mock me recently, laughing as I walked by, knowing it was not for me and I was not for it. I wanted to be that person but the dress just did not fit my vision of me. Oddly though, every time I looked at it fully, I saw not my shortcomings but a vision of my friend. I could not get her out of my head with each pass through the closet. She has sass, she has pizzazz, she routinely wears dresses. She has been allowing her hair to go gray and has the exact right coloring for this dress. I knew this dress was not me, but surely it was her. Finally, the dress was removed from my closet and now resides in hers. I don’t know if my vision really matches her reality, this could be just a traveling clothing item that is searching for the right home. Still, I am sure this dress was not for me, the real me. It felt good to let it go, to walk peacefully through my closet and not feel mocked at who I am not, but rather to see my big sweaters and longer, darker dresses, also to see the t-shirts from marches and issues I support sprawled around my shelves. The closet reflects me.
When I was younger, I wanted to heal the world. I was an activist social worker, I wanted to make a difference. I was on track but messages from childhood competed with the education I was receiving in college. I can see now that I was scared, afraid of being on my own, not married, not sure I was capable of protecting myself. My desire to be a mother erupted and overtook my personhood. My life trajectory was forever altered. I don’t regret those years, still it is only with hindsight that I see I gave all to only one aspect of me. I only ever wore one dress at a time. When my children left to begin their own lives, their own relationships and choices with consequences that severed our ability to stay connected, I was left naked. My one dress was gone. I can hear myself tell Chef repeatedly through angry hurtful tears, “But I am a mom, that is who I am.” The sound of my own voice crying out that plea to let me go back, put on my old identity, begging God to just let us all go back, it still breaks my heart as it reverberates in my mind. Like the children of Israel who followed Moses out of slavery, I didn’t understand I was being freed. I didn’t see that while walking in the wilderness, God was leading me by day with the clouds and at night in my fiery dreams. I could only complain about wanting more, what to go back to the known. Yet, God had more for me, wanted more for me, knew that I am more. I didn’t know I was shedding. I did know it was horrible and painful. I didn’t know if there was anything after, if there would be any me left when all that had been was scrapped away.
Wearing roles as my identity is much like that dress, I wanted them to fit. I wanted to be enough for them, them enough for me. Shedding those roles that once defined me has been an excruciating process, not one I would have chosen any more than giving up on this pretty dress. Pain in the peeling, the leaving behind, fear of the resulting emptiness. If I take away “mom” will I disappear? I did for a bit. I sat in the nothingness, my skin raw as the last vestiges of who I thought I was slid away, unable to expose the fresh tender me to the sunlight. The hiding time was healing time, though. God was growing me into my new skin, from the inside out, not allowing me to don another role of caregiver as my new dress. Hindsight allows me to see that my year of seclusion looks much like a time of wrestling that old skin away, much like my beasts hurling themselves against the huge trees outside, rubbing their bodies from nose to butt against the rough bark to help remove their winter hair. Clumps fall away, get caught in the wind, beasts run with abandon feeling lighter and less itchy. Many trips to the tree, much hurling and tossing about, barks and yips breaking the quiet. Growing into the new is hard, is a process.
I am new. I am becoming more of me. The struggle to assert my personhood even causes friction in my marriage as we establish room, more space for a bigger me. Like the dress that doesn’t fit, not just a size up is needed, an entirely different style. Communication, assertiveness, determination, skills required as Chef realizes he wed one woman and is living with another. We are sweeping up the clumps of hair, wrestling with our evolving selves and how God wants us to stand together to be new and united. I can see that Chef is in the beginning stages of the peeling away, the horrible painful time of losing it all to find what is underneath, to find his more. I have cleaned out his closet to remove those clothes that mock him as well. Now he sits in the nothingness, losing clumps of himself and wondering what will remain, will anything remain. I know, I want to shout with joy, I know so surely, that God is leading him out of this wilderness and into his own time of growth and new identity that is pleasing to God and in fulfillment of His plans. It is okay that Chef doesn’t know, doesn’t always believe, I do.
My raw skin has healed, I am free and new. I am a person of God. I will always be a mom, be grandma. But I am more. My closet is a mixed mess of colors and styles, ready to take me anywhere from the back of my brother’s Harley to Sunday morning church. It takes me to meetings for all the ministries I am involved in and out to the dirt to play. There are comfy clothes for writing time and Tom’s shoes to make my statements. I pray I never get stuck wearing one dress again, as beautiful and tempting as it may be. I am more.