I hate shopping. It doesn't matter if it is grocery shopping or clothes shopping, I really don't like it. To me, it is a necessary evil. If I must go shopping I go to find the item I need and leave. It is not fun for me, or even remotely exciting. I rarely feel satisfied, only exhausted.
My son is getting married. One of my best friends, upon hearing about the wedding said, "You need a dress. I'm taking you shopping." Dreadful words to me. Although I knew she was right I wasn't ready to admit it. The wedding is in October so I was surprised when she called me in May and said, "let's go dress shopping." My friend informed me we were going to Cincinnati, staying overnight and going to a town where there are literally streets of bridal shops. The idea of spending a day in bridal shops was appalling. But it was becoming obvious that my friend was in charge of this shopping trip, and my dress, and my life so I gritted my teeth and tried to be brave. We got a hotel near "Bride town" and spent the night.
My friend's instructions the next morning were, "you have to promise me that you will try on everything I tell you to try on." We're going to accomplish this task and we're going to have fun." I promised. I was at her mercy. "Bride Town" was blocks and blocks of bridal shops, cake shops, floral shops, a town fully devoted to the success of the big day. I was intrigued by the business venture of marriage. All of this for one day. I wondered if I could start a whole town for relationship building, child-rearing, financial planning, boundary setting, character building, trust development, counseling for dysfunction, grief counseling, domestic violence prevention. But I didn't spend much time thinking because I found myself at our destination. We were pointed to a room that had racks of dresses wall to wall on two sides, dressing rooms on one end and a mirror with a pedestal stand on the other, with chairs in the middle of the room. Two salespeople came with cold water and cookies. I dutifully stepped into the dressing room. Dress after dress was handed in to me. I tried on and took off, tried on and took off.
A tall, thin woman came into the room alone. Her face was quiet, but etched with years of hard life. This woman, too, had a son who was marrying soon and was looking for a dress. I couldn't help but notice the sadness all over her. In short order we became comrades. She was alone--trying to find and zip up enormous, beaded, corseted, creations that were supposed to make you beautiful. She was alone--looking for something that would make her happy as a divorced, broken woman getting ready for her only son's wedding. She was alone--trying to be happy for him when she was so unhappy; trying to be brave for him, believing his marriage could work, even though hers hadn't. She was alone--trying to be brave for her, wondering what her place would be in his life after he married.
We shared the pedestal all afternoon. As I stepped out of the dressing room in dress number 36, she was standing on the pedestal in a beautiful burgundy dress that shaped her tiny, almost formless body. Off one shoulder it was appointed with folds and beading in all the right places. Striking. But what was really striking is that she was smiling. Really smiling. She said, "I think I like this one." I said, "It's really beautiful on you." I couldn't help myself. The counselor in me got out and I continued, "tell me how you feel in that dress?" She looked back in the mirror and said, "alive." She finished up her purchase while I continued trying on dresses. She came back into the room and sat down in the chair as I came out in dress number 38. It was the dress. As we sat together and toasted our success with water and cookies she said, "I didn't want to leave without helping you find the right dress. You two have done more than you know for me. I was dreading doing yet another thing by myself. Life doesn't always turn out the way you'd like it to. Thanks for inviting me into your lives today. I'm grateful."
I was reminded again that day that life is never just about me. The task was to find a dress. The real purpose of the day was to be loved by my friend and to love someone else who needed a friend. The promise of the day was that God would be present and would accomplish his plan in all of our lives. I was grateful for a moment to be light and breath to someone else--an ordained moment, designed by God.
Shelley Lopez, Executive Director
Shelley has been a member of the Springfield community for 29 years. As she lives and works and worships in the city, she uses the metaphor of an old Victorian house restoration to keep her focused on the work she is called to do. Inspired by the words of the prophet Isaiah, she pours herself into "restoring old ruins, rebuilding and renovating, making the community livable again" (Is. 58:12 MSG)