I promised her. I told my Delaney Jayne several weeks ago I would take her shopping for a special mother, daughter date. She’s growing and changing in every way. Her blossoming like spring brings the need to find everything new. I’m sick. I’m getting sicker every day. I know I need more treatment and even see surgery on the horizon again. I’ve let my girl down too many times. Beautiful intentions have been crushed over and over again by the reality of this broken body. I woke yesterday after just a few hours of fitful sleep. I saw the look in her eyes and the carefully drafted list of needs and a few wants in her sweet little notebook. I did the chronic illness math in my head. How far could I drive? How long could I stand? How much clothing dye, perfume and people smells could I be exposed to? How much stimulation could my racing, raging mind handle? How many times could my shoulder pop out of joint from pushing hangers on the racks. How strong could I be when it came to the budget and reality of our family finances? Would I find the wisdom to share conversation with her discussing messages the world shouts to us about our appearance and identity? Could I gently show her the value of finding her own personal style? What kind of joy could come from all this hard? I divided the sum of all these things by the strength and Grace of Jesus, and I pushed.
Even when I was healthy I hated malls. I’ve never been one to shop at department stores with brand names or wander for hours looking for something to strike my fancy or fill up some space in my life. If I must buy I go to Target with a list. If I am looking for inspiration or a perfect gift I love Anthropologie or any shop small enough to be owned by someone I can say hello to when I walk in the door. I do love to putz at TJ Maxx or Marshall’s for a bargain but only for fun and mostly for my home. When I was well and worked I kept to a simple rule of mixing and matching classic, well made clothes. My sense of style allows for a new scarf or beautiful cardigan when the season changes, but what I wear is not something that consumes much of my thought at all. I still own many timeless pieces that I will keep and wear for years. I subscribe to the “cost per use” rule. This justifies a pair of black riding boots I paid several hundred dollars for and have owned eight winters. They’ve been cobbled once, polished every year, and I know they will last me at least eight more and look just as good if not better than the day I bought them. I wear sparse jewelry. Each piece holds some kind of meaning. Very little to nothing is “costume” for me. My weight has fluctuated from a size six when Danica was young to a size twelve at my heaviest through steroids and months in bed. I’ve given away the tailored pieces I know I will never fit in again. Pajama pants and a good hoodie are primarily my wardrobe now.
I admit I am completely sheltered and nearly oblivious to the consumption going on around me. I have been ignorant to the pressures my daughter faces daily when it comes to the kind of clothes and shoes she owns and wears. I don’t hear the constant yelling about how appearance is one of the most important statements you can make to let others know who you are, because I’ve had the volume down for a very long time. I didn’t grow up with any of these influences. I looked into the mirror every day with a cross stitch of I Peter 3:3-4 reflecting behind me. “Do not let your beauty be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”
We climbed into the car in our garage, and I said, “Let’s pray.” I asked God to keep us safe, give us a good time together and guide our buying. I do this because my grandma always prayed before we pulled out of their driveway. I do this because my mom still says, “Let’s pray,” when she picks me up for anything. I know it makes Delaney uncomfortable, just like it did me for so many years, thinking this ritual might somehow keep us from a car accident or bring us to a sale we otherwise would miss. Now I do it because I acknowledge His blessing on our coming and going. I do it to acknowledge Him.
We’d gone to Target first for basics like camis and jeans and a simple dress for a choir competition this week. Walking into our local mall created an emotional response in me I could not have prepared for. My head snapped back as I smelled a rank contagion opening wounds with every swipe of a plastic card. The crowds wandered like zombies. I couldn’t see real faces. I felt sad and afraid. Was this my social anxiety or something more? I braved a store with clothing tailored to a young audience. The music, the square footage stuffed to overflowing with racks and racks of cheaply made formaldehyde smelling garments only good for a season at best, the cheap perfume, the too short shorts, the graphic messages on the shirts and the sheer number of girls pressing in to grab something made me dizzy. My legs were like jello. The burning in between my shoulder blades and the pain clawing up my back into the base of my skull forced me to find a stool in a dressing room. Delaney found some things she liked that could be basics for the season. I sat while she tried them on. I tried to do the real math in my head adding up the price of each item. I wished I had my mom’s old red plastic clicker she used to tally up our groceries. We always knew if we went over and had to put something back. My arithmetic was not so good.
We did that one awful store at the mall, and I told her I couldn’t do anymore. She could see it in my eyes. She didn’t argue. As we walked toward the exit we saw a Las Vegas type mecca of baubles called Charming Charlies. I limped and grimaced trying to think of a way to save this date. I offered to go into this store and let her pick out a few accessories to add color and style to her new clothes. She smiled. In we went. I felt like I was in the worst carnival fun house ever. All that fake metal and in no way precious stones and plastic and pleather made my stomach turn. The entire place was arranged by colors. I pushed her to the scarves in the two hues we had decided on. The ones she chose were pretty. I let her grab a necklace to go with her dress for the program. I waited in line and paid for these things with my mind swirling from what I’d just seen. We burst out the mall doors and I gulped fresh air. Inside the car I felt my vertebrae snapping into their places for the drive home. My eyes were burning and my face was bright red and on fire. Delaney seemed strangely happy if only because I had been able to do this with her. Whatever it looked like I was there, and this made it good. As we rode home I asked her where she thought all that stuff people bought in one day at that one mall would end up in the next year or two. She didn’t quite understand what I meant. I told her I think it will all end up in a yard sale or a donate bin or a basement tote. All that money and time and effort used up or stored up for nothing that really counts. We got smoothies. I began to instruct her about cutting the tags off so she didn’t make any holes in her new things. For good measure I reminded her to pick up any little plastic tag pieces off the floor. Oh God, my OCD is so bad. I can’t help myself even when I want to with all my heart.
Back at home I collapsed into bed for the rest of the day and night. Delaney came in later to hug me and thank me for taking her. I tried to apologize for my serious commentary on what was supposed to be fun. She said she understood. She asked if she could go through my scarves and pick a few I owned to borrow or even have. We laughed as I told her the stories behind some of them and how long I had owned them. I felt peace knowing God had allowed her heart to open to my experience. She went through my jewelry and asked if she could maybe have my old tarnished cameo ring. She said she would like to begin collecting lockets and could I gift the special gold one my dad gave me on my thirteenth birthday to her when she turns thirteen? My heart smiled.
Yes, daughter. Classic beauty. Accent your Jesus face. Don’t distract. Fine linen and purple will last. Dear girl, store up wisdom. Fill your mind and heart with kindness. Simplify. Less things that break or moth or burn. More hidden treasures of the heart. Charm is deceitful, my child. Most beauty is vain. Let Him make you gentle, quiet and full of God’s Spirit. Precious in His sight. Forever. And ever.