What is a Girl to Wear?

July 17, 2012 | 44 comments

My dim closet swells with two rows of dresses, skirts, pants, and shirts. I stand before it all, neck craned and hands on my hips. Ive got wet hair and a towel wrapped around me with that one question swirling: “What is a girl to wear?”

The women at the Reformed church in town had called, wondering if I could speak to their group about my recent mission trip to Haiti. I said yes.

The church bulletins announced that I would present stories about “Our Haitian Sisters.” I had prepared my PowerPoint slides. And the photo-processor printed off 100 photographs of Haitian women, one for each person attending. Each woman would take a photo home and affix it to her refrigerator, a trigger to pray for a Haitian sister with no refrigerator, no cupboard, no certainty of food when their feet hit the floor of their tarp-sided hut each dawn of every. single. day.

And here I stood. My time to share has come. And I’m shuffling my feet along rows of clothes. I have choices. And maybe that’s why I’m paralyzed, because I can’t decide which one to choose. Black capris and a blingy purple shirt? The more formal gray dress? Choices, choices.

Right then,  I remember Haitian sisters who have no choices. One outfit? If they’re lucky.

And I remember, too, how I wore second-hand outfits in Haiti, thinking smugly how frugal I was.

I had bought two skirts and two dresses at the consignment store in town. I laughed with the store owner, as I held a bright-blue dress on a hanger up to my frame, and spun around. It had a draw-string waist, and that silly dress landed funny on my midriff in a way that made me look a few months pregnant. The dress itself was a bit misshapen, with dangling threads at the hem.

But it would only cost me $2. I bought it.

I wore the dress on my third day in Haiti, when the hot morning spilled in through the sliding-glass door of my room. I remember poking fun at my reflection in the door, smoothing that horrific blue dress down over my tummy. And my roommate and I just laughed at how silly I looked.

We met our Haitian sisters a few hours later, hunched over their bead-work. I walked in the room with my awful bag of a dress hanging on my frame.

And my Haitian sister Judith raised her eyebrows, motioning at me, and whispering to her friends. Adeline and Anoise nodded in agreement, and then all of them said it over and over again: Ou bèl. Ou bèl. This was something about my dress, I was sure of it. I tried out a half-smile.

I turned to the translator to ask what they were saying, and she told me: “They say you’re beautiful. And they like your dress so much. They think it’s pretty with the bright color.”

I swallowed down the homeliness of my pride, and felt my cheeks flush. I lowered my eyes, and scuffed a foot on the floor. I replayed the moment in the consignment shop, and at the sliding-glass door. I thought of my own closet back home, crammed with choices on hangers. It felt revolting, how I had treated a perfectly fine dress like a joke.

I told them thank you — mèsi — and made a little twirl and curtsied, with that half-smile, ashamed. They clapped. Ou bèl.  But on the inside, I wore my shame. I was horrified — a ball of tight anger over my sickening pride.

I’m remembering all of that here, when I’m trying to find a nice outfit to wear to a women’s church gathering. I’ve got choices,  I tell you. I realize it now: I’ve got a lot of really great choices here in the US of A. Haiti will do that to a woman who spent years chasing after the American dream, and in fact, found the dream in three-car garages, nice pay raises, good performance reviews and plush news assignments.

Yes, we all have choices in this life. So I make mine.  I make my choice.

On this night, when I’m asked to stand before 100 women in my community, I walk over to the end of the row, and find it there, hanging on the last hanger pressed against the wall. I slip it off the hanger, pull it over my head, and that’s what I will choose to wear at the podium: a $2 misshapen blue dress with a draw-string around the middle.

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by | July 17, 2012 | 44 comments


  1. kelli

    Ah, such a good choice. The blue one.

    Because you’re beautiful from the inside out, even if you’re wearing a feed sack.
    With a draw-string, of course. 😉

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Kelli. You make me smile —> 😀

  2. Lindy

    I want to print that picture out and stick it in my wallet. What a beautiful reminder it would be every time I’m out and about. A reminder for every time I forget what I already have.

    • dukeslee

      Hi Lindy… I need constant reminding, too. I have seen the abject poverty, have witnessed the children begging for water, have held their babies, have stood under their “roofs.” And still… I think I need more, more, more right here in America.

  3. ro.ellott

    Did those ladies see the beautiful color of Christ…or a beautiful colored dress…one just probably set off the other:) May we all be clothed in His Righteousness…and col. 3:12-13. blessings to you~

    • dukeslee

      You are too sweet! And thank you for that verse. Blessed to know you…

  4. Dea

    Oh I was hoping you chose the blue dress and, of course, you did! My heart has been in Haiti for days. I wish my body was there!

    • dukeslee

      Hey Dea! I almost didn’t wear it, to be honest. I knew that I would have to sit in the church basement for about an hour while we ate supper, listened to the vocalists perform, etc., and I secretly wondered if people would wonder why the guest speaker wore such an awful dress. … But, I did it anyway. 🙂 I’m glad I did.

  5. Susan

    Good for you, Jennifer! I wish we could do that every day. Hugs from VA!

    • dukeslee

      Hugs back to you, Susan. Thanks for being here.

  6. Joe Pote

    I am confident that nobody at the Reformed church that night was more beautiful than you, Jennifer!

    • dukeslee

      Aw! That is so sweet. (Blushing…)

  7. Kris

    Fabulous selection. You inspire me, my friend. Beautiful you- the way you wear Christ… pure lovliness.

  8. Eileen

    Thank you for shifting my eyes and heart to what’s really important.

    • dukeslee

      Hi Eileen. Glad you are here. My eyes require a constant shifting. I have to daily take the gaze off of myself, to fix these eyes on a Savior. Grateful for your words in this space this morning.

  9. Kory Graham

    Between this today, and Ann Voskamp yesterday, I am not sure I am going to have many more tears left to shed! But I suppose that is the whole point, His whole point. I don’t think it will be anytime in my near future, but I hope and pray that this pull that is becoming stronger and stronger to visit Haiti or some place like that comes true sometime in my lifetime here on Earth. And that verse is so powerful and one I am going to repeat daily to my 2 girls ages, 9 and 11 (since lately they are finding a lot to fuss about:) As always, thanks for sharing your gift-such a blessing! Make it a blessed day!

    • dukeslee

      Oh my, yes … Ann’s post yesterday absolutely undid me.

      I used the Message paraphrase of that particular verse, and it seemed just right that way. I can be such a fusser. 🙂

    • Jillie

      I was going to say the very same thing…
      directing people to read Ann Voskamp’s post from yesterday. I read it yesterday and then again this morning. I cried. I’m so ashamed of the way I so often get sidetracked by ‘all that glitters’ and I think I will just d-i-e if I don’t get what I want. I am spoiled and selfish. Time to grow up.

  10. Danelle

    I loved this Jennifer. You inspire me always.

  11. Duane Scott

    Oh? I’m wondering now, with my upcoming mission trip, if maybe it’s required to wear second hand clothes?

    I like those ladies in that picture up there.

    So happy. So fun. The things that really matter.

  12. Christina

    Your stories always touch me! And this one…how full my own closet is, how much I take for granted. I know you spoke truth and pierced the hearts of the women you spoke to. May He contine to use you. Blessings!

  13. Nacole

    dear, dear Jennifer,

    i love how you are so real with us about things that are taboo–things that women just dont talk about. The way you told us you were smug–that was a brave thing to lay out there–and i totally got it. yep, been there too. love coming here to read your precious heart. and look at you radiant in that picture with those joyous women, all of you beautiful in every way.

  14. Shelly Miller

    I think it is noble that you chose that dress and it humbles me because I know I wouldn’t have done that. I couldn’t wait to leave behind all the clothes I wore in Rwanda that I didn’t like on myself. Now I’ve got to go pray about this area of my life you exposed, beautiful you. Yikes.

  15. Alicia

    Love your wardrobe, friend. Thanks for being honest. Real. And BRAVE.

  16. Ann Kroeker

    You are “bel” not just because of the skirt; it’s your heart. You have <>

  17. Ann Kroeker

    Oops. French quotation marks cut out my French phrase: you have “un bel coeur.” A beautiful heart.

  18. Laurie Collett

    Seeing our sisters in other cultures surely puts things in perspective. We are so blessed with an abundance of resources, but we must be good stewards of the money, time, and talents He has entrusted to us.
    Thanks for the great post & for hosting the linkup, & God bless!

  19. michelle derusha

    Love this story, Jennifer. Love your honest, true heart.

    {and thanks for the shout-out in your sidebar – xxoo!}

  20. Kay

    Ah, convicting, challenging, and delightful. I love your choice. And yet I feel so dirty sitting here in my similarly blue t-shirt this morning that I just “had to buy” two days ago. It was NOT $2. But I wish it was. I wish I didn’t feel a magnetic pull toward the clothes on the racks at the mall. That is why I usually stay away from there. But Monday I was there, and I walked out with things I didn’t need. Choices I didn’t need to have hanging in my closet. I have wayyy to many. Thank you Jennifer for sharing a simple and lovely story. And thank you for wearing that $2 dress to speak in. You inspire me.

  21. Pam

    Beautifully told, Jennifer. I’ve been thinking about this lately… how much I take for granted here in America. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  22. Deb Huffaker

    What a precious story. I’m so glad that you chose that dress to wear…it’s a testimony in itself!! Thanks so much for letting me join in!!!

  23. Jennifer@Adam's Rib

    When my children were born, I started thrifting. I just couldn’t stomach the prices, told husband I thought I wasn’t being a good steward of GOd’s blessings. After six years: my three kids and don’t know what it is to buy retail. We all have closets full of nothing but thrift store clothes…we still look great and no one is the wiser! We Americans are so wasteful.

    You chose the right dress.

  24. Robert Moon

    I have a problem finding something in my closet that fits! Older now and more weight and not been shopping lately. Your story is Great and I enjoyed it.

  25. Deborah

    Tears here – and a pricked conscience. Thank you X

  26. Amber

    This is what’s important. This was right on time for me, God speaking through you.

  27. kendal

    we have SO SO much. my family (26 of us) brought 98 pairs of shoes to the beach. 98. and bought 3 more.

  28. David Rupert

    actually, I kind of like that dress. Who knew it was only $2?

  29. Pamela

    Isn’t it amazing how God speaks to us in the clothes closet? Sometimes I hear God more clearly in the mundane places than on my knees. Heart stirring story, Jennifer. I love the idea of a photo for the fridge to remember those without.

  30. Kathleen

    We are indeed a spoiled lot — I have a closet of clothes that needs to go… given to those who need. This was a great story… very thought provoking. Have a great day!

  31. Megan Willome

    This is such a wonderful story, Jennifer. I love how you took us on the journey with you.



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