I love my dress. I remember the way it felt, when I first put it on. I knew it was my dress. I loved the way I looked in it. I loved the way I felt in it. I have kept it since I got married 8 years ago. It is safely preserved, wrapped in hopes that one day, my daughter or one of the young women I have pastored might wear it. But, I am the mother of one son, and I don’t think young girls grow up dreaming of wearing their youth pastor’s wedding dress.
So what do you do with your wedding dress after a divorce? I love my dress and would happily get married in it again, though I suspect that is in very poor taste. A new marriage deserves a new dress. And even if I remarry and have more children, both of which I hope to do, would my daughter want to wear my dress from my first marriage?
Well-meaning friends suggested I donate my dress to a community theater or a high school for a costume. I didn’t want my dress to sit in some closet, gathering dust. Others suggested that I donate it to a charity, but none of those suggestions felt right to me.
I wanted my dress to go to a good cause, to help another bride feel as beautiful as I felt when I wore it. But since multiple offers to pass my dress along to engaged friends came to naught, I listed my dress for sale at a pre-owned wedding dress website, filled with mixed emotions. After one month, no one had expressed interest, so I lowered the price, which was harder than I thought it would be.
While checking Facebook one evening, I saw a post from a friend of mine about her recent donation of her wedding dress to Angel Gowns, an organization that uses wedding dresses to make baptismal and burial gowns for babies in the NICU of Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, TX. As a former hospice chaplain and as a mother, my heart broke for those families whose babies might not make it, for those families whose babies did not make it.
I remember my son’s difficult birth circumstances and the short window when his health was uncertain. I remember the moments turned to hours turned to days of praying for God’s healing hand. I remember how deeply touched I was by the blessing of our friends and family holding us in prayer.
A wave of peace came over me as I thought about the possibility of donating my dress. I would know that my dress had gone to a good cause that was very personal to me, for an organization in the area where I was raised.
Not an hour after I had become excited about this possibility, I received notification that someone wanted to buy my dress. I did not care about the money, but I did feel a sense of responsibility to hold up my agreement to sell since the dress was still listed on the website. But Angel Gowns felt like the right thing. Should I sell or donate my dress? Fellow young clergywomen gave me their opinions, but basically told me it was up to me.
I decided to donate. I read more about Angel Gowns and learned that not only could you support them by donating your dress, you could also support them by being a seamstress. The website offered patterns you could print at home with detailed instructions for how to convert wedding dresses into beautiful, unique baptismal and burial gowns for NICU babies.
I love to sew. My grandmother and I have made countless quilts together, from t-shirt quilts to quilts made from my son’s baby clothes to quilts to comfort those who are sick. Concerned she might object to cutting up my wedding dress, I told her about the organization and my hope that she and I could make the gowns together. She loved the idea, and so did my mother.
In all honesty, I am nervous about cutting up my dress. I know I made the right decision to divorce, but that does not mean the absence of grief or sorrow. My hope is that transforming my dress into baby gowns will redeem it somehow, let the best parts of its beauty and my memories of it live on for other families. Maybe my labor in sewing will help me to heal.
I give thanks for my healthy son. I know that not all mothers’ prayers are answered with healthy babies, but for some reason, mine was. Every time I look at my son, I see God’s answered prayers and the miracle of life.
As my dress is cut into pieces, may it be made new, broken to be transformed from one into many, from remnants to new life. May our sewing labor infuse each stitch with love and faith. May the mothers who dress their babies in our gowns feel our prayers surrounding them. May they feel the power and strength of other mothers around the world standing in solidarity with them as they love and care for their children.
And may we remember that in both death and life, God our Mother is with us, and she is always faithful.