The Red Dress

Earlier this year, Danny told me he’d be going to a week-long training in Tennessee at the end of August.
“Okay,” I replied, mechanically. I know all about these week-long training things. They aren’t new. They are code for, “gear up for a week of being the only parent to deal with all the fighting, but take heart! You don’t have to cook at all because kids love cold cereal and cheese and chips in all their varieties.”
“You should come,” he said.
“Yeah, come with me.”

Sweet of him to think I could leave the babe-lings for an entire week. He must think I’m made of sterner stuff than I am.
“When is it again?” I asked.
“Last week of August.”
“I can’t leave the kids right when they’re starting school… and I can’t leave Alice at all.”
“Just think about it.”
“Babe,” this is what we call each other when we’re frustrated, “I can’t even think about it. My brain explodes.”

A few weeks went by with him gently and teasingly nudging me, “you should come with me.”

A few more weeks went by.
“So,” Danny said to me through the phone, “I just found out that when I’m in Tennessee, I’ll be staying at The Grand Ole Opry Resort and Convention Center.”
“The kids will be fine,” I said, “How much for a plane ticket?”

Because apparently I CAN BE MADE OF STERNER STUFF when The Opry is on the line. I started Googling and found out that Loretta Lynn’s Ranch was an hour away from the convention center, and I became more convinced than ever that I had to make this trip. I HAD TO.
I wrestled with money and time and schedules and heavy travel anxiety, and the next thing I knew, I was walking through the front doors of the biggest motel I’ve ever set eyes, ears, and feet in.
There were gardens, shops, restaurants, a spa, pools, a gym, even a car rental place IN the resort. I woke up Monday morning to a quiet, dark motel room. I had a cold, but it turns out it is EASY to have a cold when you’re alone in a dark, cozy room.
It took me ages to get out of bed, get dressed and ready for the day. Danny and I took a shuttle to the nearby mall to eat lunch somewhere cheaper (because that resort food was NOT cheap!) and I stayed on at the mall while he went back to training.
I weaved in and out of shops, thinking of the kids and keeping my eye for treasures for them.
Clothing stores can be so daunting. Sometimes I don’t even bother because I’m overwhelmed.
What do I like?
What is shopping like without kids pulling on your underthings?
Do I even like clothes at all?

I walked into Forever 21 with the sole purposed of finding out the answers to all of these questions.
Did you know the clothes Rachel and Monica wore in season 1 of “Friends” are back in? I don’t understand this. I ran my fingers over the racks and wondered when I got to be too much of a mom to shop at clothing stores in the mall. I loved the floral patterns, but I hated the belly shirts. I loved the flowy dresses, but wished they had sleeves. My fingers stopped on a red, floral dress.
It had sleeves.
It was long-ish.
It was jersey and form fitting… I turned it over and saw the price tag: $10.

I threw it over my shoulder like a continental soldier and took it to the dressing room. I knew putting it on would be a trial experience. It would reveal EVERYTHING. I prefer clothes that hide, not clothes that hug. But I was determined, and for ten bucks, it was a risk I was willing to take.

Looking at myself in the mirror was a funny experience. As I looked over my 30 year old body that’s given life and birth to three babies I missed very much, I felt old. Too old to wear the dress. Outside my dressing room, I heard three girls giggling as they tried on outfits, their southern accents bouncing off the dressing room walls.
“Ya’ll this is perfect for church!”
“Don’t even think about it,” answered a mother, her voice equally as southern and equally as smooth.

I was too big for the dress, right? I looked like I’d had three kids, and isn’t that not allowed, or something?
Just then, my train of thought was interrupted by Me. The real Me, the real Me that has been coming back out to play. We used to hang out all the time until I buried her alive a few years ago.
“You know,” she said, “If you don’t buy this dress and wear it downtown tonight, you’re going to hate yourself when you’re 75.”
She was right. She usually is. And I laughed at myself as I paid the steep $10 and felt like THE MOST DARING WOMAN since Joan of Arc.

I made my way to an Old Navy outlet store where I bought crisp new shirt for Danny because I knew if I was wearing a new dress, he’d want to wear a new shirt… otherwise he’d feel weird. I don’t know why. I just know he’s like that.

When he came in from training, I showed him his new shirt and put on my new dress.
“It works,” he said, “It isn’t you, not quite your style, but hey… go with it.”
I felt the same way. It wasn’t me or my style, but I wasn’t about to NOT go with it.

I put on all the make-up, not just the mascara. I even glued on some fake eyelashes and had painted my toe nails. It was all very BIG TIME business.
Danny was glad I’d picked a shirt up for him, “I wouldn’t have anything to go with your dress,” he said.
Did I pat myself on the back for my foresight? Yes, I did. It turns out when three kids aren’t pulling on your underthings, you can actually think rather clearly.
Speaking of that, at that point it was 5 pm and I wasn’t tired! Were the convention gardens infused with magic?

We hopped in an uber and went straight to the Johnny Cash Museum where I wore a red dress and didn’t care. My rolls came out to play, and I didn’t care. I had a great time. Love him or hate him, Johnny Cash is incredibly inspiring. There was a certain air to that museum that left you with a, “why am I not just going for what I want?”
We took half a million pictures.




During picture-taking, I made a conscious pledge to myself to not suck in, not hunch over, not hide… just BE! It was liberating to just not care about what was going on with me and really be present in a place I’ll probably never go again. This was a once in a lifetime experience, and I wanted to enjoy as much of it as I could, and I wanted to do it in a red dress covered in a flowers. Not young enough? Not small enough? Bah. Who givza.


We left the museum in awe, and really happy to be together in a new town. We rounded the corner and were met with the lights of downtown -lots of bars, lots of live music, and lots of street performers! I dropped dollar bills into instrument cases and took pictures of horse-drawn carriages with red velvet interiors.
Did we rent one?
Naw, Dad lets us drive his for free.

We parked ourselves on the top floor of a bar and ordered some nachos and fried pickles. Danny paid the band to play “9 to 5″ by Dolly Parton and they really did try very hard.
We looked out over downtown and saw the CMT building. Danny ate as many pickles as he could, and I ate nachos like there weren’t any more in the entire world. We took an uber back to the hotel, and the next day we wore our same outfits to The Grand Ole Opry.
Isn’t that some sort of fashion no-no?
Who givza.
I spent TEN BUCKS on a dress and I was going to wear TEN BUCKS WORTH, by jingo. Danny had spilled something on his shirt, so we sent it out for dry cleaning. It made it back home just in time.

Lately, I’ve had these glorious waves of self-acceptance come crashing at my Arizona door. They are serene and exciting, and when they come in, life feels crazy good.
The wildest part about them is… I did nothing to earn them. I don’t understand this. Do you? I’ve spent my entire life working for what I want. I’ve earned and worked and earned and worked and it has been SO incredibly satisfying! Is there anything better than a sweaty brow and a job well done?
I really thought that if I worked out and had a fit body, I’d love my body. If I just EARNED it, right?

But guess what? I quit earning it because honestly? I just got really, really tired. I couldn’t earn anymore. As I’ve sat in quiet and tried accepting my body AS IS instead of AS I FELT IT SHOULD BE TO BE LOVABLE… I found myself in tears a lot. Giving up earning it was not easy. There were times I’d give a half-hearted earning effort only to find myself giving up again, realizing that the self-acceptance that I wanted, that felt so out of reach, was something I wanted more than any work out could give me.
I stopped working out because I hated my body.
I started walking because I love walking. I jogged to get my heart rate up sometimes because I love my heart.
I started feeding my body stuff because I LOVE my body instead of NOT FEEDING to punish my body… or eating TO PUNISH.

There were some days I had to hide from it all. There were some days I couldn’t do housework because of the nasty voices that told me how awful I was.
Who lets their sink get to THIS point?
Who would eat from that table?

I would stop and do something loving. A movie, a bath, a book. I’d pray a lot and reach out to trusted friends and patient family a lot.

Last year, a wave of self-acceptance came crashing through my door and it was miraculous.
I didn’t EARN love, and it poured through every pore. I wanted to shout from the roof-top that I was an okay person with working body and cool trailer and cool used cars!
When the wave left, I was sad again. Since then, the wave has come and gone. Come and gone. Each time it stays a little longer, and I thank God for the miracle of His Grace -the lifeblood that conducts these waves.

At The Grand Ole Opry I wore my dress and didn’t fuss at all. I wasn’t self-aware -I was just THERE. I felt every downbeat, I cried when I felt like crying and I laughed out loud and yelled when they asked if anyone was celebrating an anniversary (ours was just a few days away). I sang loud even when the girl next to me looked at me like I shouldn’t. I didn’t give her much credo, since she cheered more for Dustin Lynch than Charlie Daniels.





As the entire audience was brought to their feet by Charlie Daniels breaking into “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Danny and I decided that we had accomplished something really, truly memorable. The Grand Ole Opry will always hold a piece of our hearts, and every time I mention it, Danny mentions the red dress.

The Red Dress, which has hung out like a champ in my closet since we got home, has become a sort of victorious symbol of living -really living.

It was the right decision, just like going to Nashville was the right decision, just like putting down my earning boots was the right decision, just like sitting still and letting God’s Grace in was the right decision.

When I’m comfy in my own skin, everything seems to wear better on me. Funny. I thought for so long clothes would wear better if I was smaller.
Turns out, I’m good as-is, forever and always. There’s a bright life waiting for me on the other side of insecurity. I don’t always access it, but when those blessed waves roll in, it feels like coming home.






At the end of the trip, Danny remarked, “You know, I really like that red dress on you. At first I wasn’t sure, but now it is my favorite.”
Learning to love myself is like that. It feels awkward and out of place when I try it out, but after I strut around with it for awhile, it wears like it belongs.