A few years ago, our church asked for donations of wedding dresses to send to rural villages in Columbia. These villages are too poor to send their pastors to seminary, so a ministry was formed to translate seminary-level training materials into Spanish for these men.
On the side, they also send the donated wedding dresses to these villages so the young women have a special gown for their wedding day. The lady at my church who asked for the donations told me that the dresses are used many times, carefully altered for each bride.
So now my wedding dress is somewhere in South America, perhaps being worn even now by a young woman who is taking her vows with a heart full of love for her groom.
Recently I’ve thought about the women who have worn my dress in the past two-and-a-half years. What did these brides look like? Did they feel beautiful as they took their vows? Did they feel the way I did on my wedding day: hopeful, joyous, bursting with happiness? Did they like my dress with its layer upon layer of tulle skirt, the itty-bitty rosebuds circling the neckline, and short train? Was she marrying the man of her dreams? I hope so.
In some ways, these brides are very different from me. We come from completely different worlds: I from my middle class American background, they from an impoverished village. We speak different languages. I considered it my birthright to attend the college of my choice and obtain a bachelor’s degree in the discipline of my choice; I wonder what educational opportunities were available to them.
Yet something binds us together, something that goes beyond language or culture.
It’s that desire for someone to love us, honor and cherish us.
It’s that desire for happily-ever-after to be filled with happiness forever. It’s that desire to be beautiful on our special day.
Not every bride will get that. Not every wife is honored or loved or cherished. Not every little girl is cherished by her daddy; not every woman is treated with respect or dignity. In some cultures, women know that they will be little more than slaves to their husbands.
Right now in the Congo, there are hundreds of women and girls raped; by some estimates, five hundred since July. Sex trafficking is a thriving industry. Similar stories of shame and depravity fill every corner of our world. Many women, men, and children live with hearts broken by the sinful actions of others, their innocence and trust stripped from them like a torn veil. The wedding dress is stained and ripped before it is ever worn.
But their hearts still long for love, even when there is no hope of receiving it.
For these women, I grieve. A gorgeous dress won’t fill that hole in their hearts. No fabric can patch a broken soul. That takes a healing that goes beyond any seamstress’ abilities.
But I believe God can mend the broken places in their lives, our lives, yours and mine. His love stitches together the rips in a hurting person’s soul, takes the filthy clothes of shame and replaces them with a flawless white gown befitting a bride.
It’s not just a spiritual mending, either. He also uses me to put that love into action in tangible, physical ways. He doesn’t need me to do this—he’s perfectly capable of changing lives without me—but I still get the opportunity.
Heaven knows my attempts to help others are like clumsy, uneven stitches on a hemline: I don’t know what to pray, I can’t fly to the Congo or Afghanistan and stop the violence, I can’t force the reluctant hand of my government to intervene in another country. Still I can pray for those without hope and I can work in the ways that are at my disposal: giving money, using my little blog to remind others of those in need, supporting those who intervene.
I can’t possibly make the wedding dress. I can’t package up my own dress and ship it to an exploited woman or child.
But I can show them where to find it.
Top: A woman learning to sew at a rape recovery center in the Congo, www.blogs.oxfamamerica.org
Left: Young girl in the Congo, www.umkcwomenc.wordpress.com
Right: Afghan woman and son, www.photographytips.com.au