The Little Black Dress

Rest in peace my Favorite Little Black Dress (with the pretty little pink flowers)…  We had so much fun together…  Like hanging out with Amanda and Vanessa at Methodist College’s homecoming… 

 I haven’t worn it in four or five months.  I had washed it and then hung it to dry in an attempt to save it from the abuse of the clothes dryer.  And ever since, it has hung next to the shoe rack in my closet—my favorite little black dress.

 As any woman will tell you, there’s something very special about The Favorite Little Black Dress.  It’s comfortable.  It’s versatile.  You can dress it up or dress it down.  You can accessorize it with just about anything.  And everybody knows that black is slenderizing (which is especially valuable to REAL women, like me, who have curves.)  I’ve had my Favorite Little Black Dress for nearly ten years and I have always been able to count on it for funerals, camp meetings, job interviews, and my college graduation.

 Sunday afternoon, I began to get dressed for a special Sunday evening Pentecost Celebration Service at our Conference Tabernacle.  I immediately thought of my Favorite Little Black Dress.  There was no question that it was the perfect thing to wear.  And it never entered my mind that it wouldn’t fit.  I mean, it fit the last time I wore it.  And recently, I’ve been working out and even lost some weight.  But when I reached back to button it, to my profound distress, IT DIDN’T FIT!

 Change is not my favorite activity.  I like being comfortable.  I even enjoy being in a rut sometimes.  The rut doesn’t take a lot of energy and it doesn’t require a lot of risk.  I am happy in the rut wearing my favorite holey jeans and Old Navy flip flops, parking in my favorite spot at work and sitting in my favorite pew at church.  I get up every morning and do the same things, in the same order.  I don’t even have to think.

 I met Wendy several years ago when I was working at a crisis pregnancy center.  When she came to us for help, she was about six months pregnant and was very scared.  She was in her late teens and was living with her father.  He had always been a harsh man, not very affectionate or sensitive.  She knew that he would be angry about her pregnancy and so she waited as long as she could to tell him.  Finally, when her baggy clothes would no longer hide her belly, she admitted that she was pregnant.  His reaction was far worse than she had expected.  He had always had a quick temper and a sharp tongue, but now, he began to slap her and shove her whenever he would get angry.  When she would try to defend herself, he would remind her what a disappointment she was and how grateful she should be that he hadn’t kicked her out. 

 As soon as I heard Wendy’s story, I knew what the answer for her was: get out!  We worked with our contacts and partnering agencies and found several places that Wendy could live for the rest of her pregnancy and even after she had the baby.  To me, it seemed like the perfect answer.  But when the day came that Wendy had to make the choice, she picked up her purse, went home to her dad and never came back. 

I was eighteen years old and hadn’t seen quite enough of the real world to understand why Wendy would turn down a safe, loving environment for the abusive home where she was living.  Frustrated, I went to Wendy’s counselor and asked, “Why?!” 

 Betty looked at me with sad eyes, shaking her head slightly, “Better the evil you know than the evil that you don’t.”

 I frowned.  “What?!”

Betty put her hand on my arm.  “She’d rather stay in the abuse that she’s familiar with than risk a situation that she isn’t familiar with.”

I just shook my head. It didn’t make any sense to me and I never expected that it would.

Over the years since I met Wendy, I have come to understand.  I know that the Favorite Little Black Dress is a silly metaphor, but I could have just as easily told about the relationships that I’ve refused to let go of, the jobs I’ve refused to leave, the living situations I’ve hesitated to move out of…

In Mad Mary: A Bad Girl from Magdala, Liz Curtis Higgs says “From the moment we take our first gasp of air until we breathe our last, God is calling us to walk in the light of his Word.  Whatever ‘tomb’ might feel like security to you is really a deathtrap.  Morning has broken.  The stone has been rolled away.”

I’m letting go of the dress– and I’m letting go of my graveclothes.  I’m taking a risk and following Jesus into the altogether unfamiliar.  It’s the only way I can ever be free.

* Today’s post was originally posted on June 3, 2009. I’m still letting go of my graveclothes…

About Sarah Salter

Comments

  1. This is beautiful. I really “get” the hanging onto things that don’t fin anymore.

  2. Dacia Bryan says:

    Ding, ding, ding….hit me square on the head, Sarah.

    “Better the evil you know than the evil that you don’t.”

    “She’d rather stay in the abuse that she’s familiar with than risk a situation that she isn’t familiar with.”

    Been there, done that…trying hard not to do it ever again.

  3. Sarah Salter says:

    Michael – I’m notorious for it. And thanks for identifying with me! I don’t feel like the Lone Ranger anymore!

    Dacia – I know you know what I’m talking about. And I’ve got your back, girl. Hang in there!

  4. saphyreplatypus says:

    Your comment about the ruts made me think of a quote I once heard, “the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth”. I take that to mean we have to shake it up now and then, change is inevitable and it’s the only way we will truly experience this life we’ve been given.
    Now I will sneak away to finally toss out the “little black dress” I have hanging in my closet that I haven’t been able to let go of. : )

  5. Sarah Salter says:

    Kate – I love that quote! Never heard it before, but it’s so appropriate! And let me go ahead & confess… I wrote this post in June of 2009 and that stupid dress is STILL hanging in my closet. Granted, I haven’t tried to wear it again. But it’s still hanging there. *sigh* Guess what I’m doing when I get home today? I’m having a dress-throwing-away party! Don’t sneak off and do it, I say. Have a celebration over it! :)

  6. Don’t give up letting go Sarah. It is my understanding that getting rid of the graveclothes is a process of taking piece after piece. Good thoughts Sarah.

  7. It’s always so plain to see in other people, but when we look at it in our own lives “it’s complicated.” Oh yeah, definitely know what you’re talking about. :)

    Great post, Sarah.

  8. Sarah Salter says:

    Bill – Thanks for the encouragement! It is most definitely a process… and usually, a long and painful one. But SO worth it!

    Jason – “It’s complicated.” UGH! Yes, it is! But that doesn’t excuse us from having to let go! (Preaching to myself…)

  9. Wow, the Wendy story was really sad but I totally understand it having lived that way for a long time. Sometimes the thought of knowing the evil vs. what evil is lurking and being more scared of the latter is so true.

  10. I loved your analogy of the black dress as “grave clothes.” Oh, it is so hard to shed them.

    Great post. This is my first visit. :)

  11. Sarah,
    Liked the Higgs quote. Your post made me think about what I need to let go of…
    Thanks,
    Jeff

  12. The comment re: evil was very true. I have been on both sides of it… being abused and trying to help the abused. Both sides sometimes come out insane, to say the least. — And when I DID stay with someone/a family after the abuse phase of my life, shortly after I finished high school eons ago, I was NOT a very good person to have around… abuse was what I knew, a bad mouth was what I had … and, in one manner, or another, I abused that family. Looking back, I’m sad, embarrassed, horrified that I acted that way when that was the opposite of what they wanted for me. BUT today … life is incredibly different for me. But I try to be patient with those abused ones in whose lives I am placed, b/c I know how hard it is to become someone you never knew you could be.

    Very good post.

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