It was a suitcase full of dresses. Dresses that I wore to accept awards in high school. Dresses I wore to my first date and bridal showers. My going away outfit. I didn’t know if I would need them, but I knew that I couldn’t leave them. My gracious husband of one year weighed my bag, but he never said a word about the dresses that took up half of my large suitcase. I forgot comfortable shoes. But I had dresses.
A suitcase full of dresses that I dragged through international airports and slumped over as I waited for Joel to find us a taxi. A suitcase full of dresses that I struggled with in subways and sat on in train stations in rural China. A suitcase full of dresses that were hung up in the dorm room that had a dusty concrete floor and hole in the wall that mice came through. Dresses that I picked glass out of when cheap construction led to our light fixtures fall and shatter all over our room. A suitcase full of dresses that made me buy another suitcase to fit the Chinese textbooks my husband wanted to bring home with us. I had to buy cheap sneakers in China. They were hard and painful.
I never wore any of those dresses. I packed them back up when my pregnancy cut our trip short, and eventually hung them in my closet when I had one back in the States. This week, 4 homes, 3 miscarriages, 4 children and 10 years later, I was cleaning out a closet that I had been avoiding since we moved. I knew I didn’t need anything in it, I had only touched its contents when I moved 6 months ago — just to pack it up and move it again. I smiled at their frills and youthful styles. I doubted I would ever fit my hips into them, widened and stretched with love and life and 4 beautiful children. I remembered the lovely times and I realized that I still cherish those memories. But I realized that even if I could wear them, I didn’t need to. I gently packed the lovely, frayed and yellowing fabrics into a bag to donate.
I have a lot of grace for my twenty-one-year-old self. The Spirit’s work doesn’t happen in a day. I didn’t realize it, but I was hanging on to those memories, like a bit of reassurance of a time when I felt like I was in control. I was a young, newlywed with a surprise pregnancy on the other side of the world with a man that I found I barely knew. Those dresses reminded me of a time when life seemed predictable. But today, I feel my heart move with compassion for my former self, and my soul swell with gratitude for the God that has been faithful. I look at the things I carried for reassurance when I was young in the faith, and like the blankets of my babies, there comes a time when I simply don’t need them anymore.
Without my even knowing it, the Spirit worked faith into my soul. Life is very very unpredictable. But my Lord and my Friend is the same as He was yesterday when I was a scared young woman in a dorm in Wuhan. He is the same today as I care for my four little girls. And He’ll be the same tomorrow with all its unknowns. How I long to be even more settled in that lovely truth: He is the same. I am sure as I continue purging and sorting I will still carry things with me, and that’s ok. Mementos and treasures from the past can be precious things, as long as I don’t draw security from them.
How beautiful to be a work in progress, to see the Lord slowly changing my heart and yours to love Him more! The Spirit yearns over us jealously, but He is patient, gentle and kind as He proves Himself worthy of any cost (Rev 5:12).
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me…
…in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! Psalm 139:9-10,16-17