Sunday, August 10, 2014

Giving From the Heart

This may be a surprise to some, and not a surprise to others.

I never wanted a second wedding.

See, I never planned on marrying again, having been too tainted by nine long years in my first marriage. But you know what they say about best laid plans and all.

I met my current husband early in 2010, became friends with him during that summer, had my first date with him Labor Day weekend 2010, and then we became almost inseparable. And life as I new it changed forever.

When he proposed Christmas Eve 2011, I knew I was going to spend the rest of my life with him and I wanted to be husband and wife. I was, however, not thrilled about the prospect of planning a wedding. I was fine with scheduling a date with our minister, his wife, my stepchildren, my parents, and my brother.


I wasn't opposed to the idea of celebrating with our friends and family, but I was spending a lot of time, and I mean A LOT, dealing with various health complications from Sjögren's syndrome and I had done the whole wedding thing before. I KNEW how tough it could get and I didn't have the physical stamina or the desire to go through that again.

My husband had other ideas however and to him, the bigger the better. And I wanted him to have that; I just didn't want to deal with all the planning that came with it. It took us months of discussion to negotiate this and to date, it is one of the two biggest negotiations that we have had to deal with as a couple, because we were on such different sides of the fence on this issue. We came up with a plan to hold a ceremony on one day and a casual BBQ reception two weeks later, with a honeymoon several months after that. Splitting it all up would be easier for me physically. My husband agreed to take a lot of responsibility for the planning and so I agreed. We were having a wedding.

Our ceremony was being held at out church and we expected about 70+ people to attend that. I was really on the fence about what to do about a dress. My husband really wanted to war a tux and honestly, I really wanted to see him in one so I figured I needed some type of dress. I am not a big fan of dresses. At first I was going to go with something casual, almost like a sundress, but after a few days of looking at different ones, I decided that I wanted something more appropriate for the occasion, especially with my husband being in a formal tux. I was only going to wear the wedding dress for the ceremony, as I would be wearing a casual summer dress for the BBQ reception. That meant that I didn't want to spend a fortune on it. My bigger problem with the whole dress thing was this:

I couldn't stand the look of most wedding gowns on the market.

All the dresses just looked so ridiculous to me...too much poof...too many sequins...too much EVERYTHING! I looked around at several bridal shops and scoured magazines and websites looking for something that screamed, "CHRISTINE". I wanted to look beautiful, both for myself and for my new husband, but I wanted to feel like myself in the dress. I was thinking a vintage look was more my speed, but these dresses were so difficult to find without paying the equivalent of a down payment on a house. Frustration set in and four months before my wedding, I still did not have a dress.

And then all of a sudden, it happened. When I went back to one of the discount bridal stores, I found the dress. I know, so cliche. I saw it just sitting there on the rack amongst all the poof, the sequins, and the ridiculousness. I looked at it up and down, side to side. It was so beautiful and so unique, exactly what i could envision myself wearing with its vintage look. I was a bit concerned about how it would look on. It was an A-line design, which typically looks better on my apple-shaped figure than some other styles, but it also had a halter neckline and I so didn't see myself going there.

But, I did. And the second it was on, it was like magic. My mom was with me and I could see by the look in her eyes that this dress was the one. The seamstress worked with me in making some alterations so I would not feel so self-conscious in a halter top neckline and then all of a sudden, I looked in a mirror and saw myself the way I wanted my husband to see me on our wedding day.

Photo courtesy of Susan Shea-Bressette

Our wedding day(s) came and went. As it got closer, I knew that having this wedding was the right thing not only for my husband, but for myself as well. He knew that right from the beginning, but I was too afraid in the beginning to see that planning a wedding didn't HAVE to be stressful; that by planning a joyous occasion together, we could plan a truly happy occasion that didn't feel like a burden.

It was honestly the best two days of my entire life and I will never forget it as long as I live.

Photo Courtesy of Susan Shea-Bressette

Photo Courtesy of Susan Shea-Bressette

Once we settled into married life, I began to think about my beautiful dress. I had gotten it cleaned and it was hanging in a garment bag on the back of my office door. I thought about how much I loved it, but what a waste it was just sitting there month after month. I don't now exactly how I originally came upon the non-profit organization Brides Across America. Maybe it was on an online wedding site, or an advertisement. Brides Across America is an organization founded by Heidi Janson in 2008. She was inspired to do something special to express gratitude for the dedicated men and women of the United Sates Armed Forces.

Brides Across America began its work with a small network that donated time and resources to head up the inaugural program.  In that first year, fifty gowns were given away to military brides. They take donated wedding gowns and pass them on to a military bride in need. This can be a woman who is an active military member or is marrying someone who is. It is their mission to thank our military personnel for all that they do and sacrifice for us on a daily basis.

When I first heard about this organization, all I could think of was what a fantastic idea it was, especially at such a volatile a time when so many of our soldiers are fighting in despicable conditions, risking their lives on a daily basis, and their families often struggling just to make ends meet.

I procrastinated though and then a few weeks ago, I realized it had been over a year since we got married and there was the dress, still sitting on the hook behind my office door. A tangible reminder to me of not only a remarkable and beautiful day, but of this once-in-a-lifetime love I have been so blessed to find.

I realized that I needed to get the dress to Brides Across America if I was going to go through with donating my dress. I sent them the information about the dress and they agreed to accept it. I purchased a box at the post office and put it together on the sofa. I went downstairs to my office, unzipped the bag, and took the dress out; carrying it ever so carefully upstairs to the sofa where the box waited. I laid it out and then I cried.

I didn't think I could do it.

My reaction caught me completely off guard. You see, even though I think of myself as an emotional person, I am also a very practical person and a minimalist at that. I don't keep much around the house (for myself) that doesn't have a use, if it takes up a lot of space.  And here I had this dress that I would never wear again, would never pass down to someone else, and yet, I was having a difficult time parting with it.

But then I thought of the fact that it was my parents that bought the dress for me as a special gift and I thought of their generosity. I thought of what it would be like to want a wedding dress and not be able to afford it. Most importantly, I thought of how much sacrifice military families make for me every that I may live free and able to pursue my dreams. It was (barely) a plus sized dress, which can be difficult to find, and a very unique one at that. This dress had something special to offer someone. This felt like something I needed to do, even if it was difficult.

So I gently folded up my dream dress and put it in the box, along with a note to the bride who might wear it and before I could second guess myself, off to the post office I went. By this point, it should be sitting safely in the offices of an organization that does so much for other people.

In the week that has passed since I mailed the gown, I have thought a lot about how difficult it was for me to donate the dress. I am not a stranger to giving. I have donated more items than I can count; items no longer wanted or needed. I have donated my time to various causes. I have donated money, sometimes in periods of my life where I had no business doing so as I was trying to support myself with a disability check and overwhelming medical bills. But in that circumstance, I would always stop and think if where I was donating my money to needed it as much, or more, than I did.

But the dress was different. The dress was about giving away more than a possession. It was about giving away a small piece of my heart and that is what made it more difficult. It is easier to give away things that have no meaning or significance to us; we actually welcome the idea of that. It is easier to volunteer our time when life is less stressful and carefree. It is harder to give our time when we are juggling so many other important aspects of our life. When stopping to listen to someone makes the rest of our day more difficult, but we do it anyways. Those times are what it is like to give from the heart.

The dress has reminded me that the true spirit of giving is giving when we would actually prefer to keep. Giving it to someone who needs it reminds me of the generosity we received from our family and friends when we needed help with wedding plans or when their gifts helped us to experience our dream honeymoon at Disneyworld. It reminds me of the people who helped me in some of my darkest days, when I couldn't cook or shop for myself. The dress reminds me to be humble and that the greatest giving is when we give from the heart.

Thank you, wedding dress.

1 comment:

  1. A "Second Bride" will wear that beautiful dress and she will immediately know that dress was "meant 'specially for her". She will also know she will look beautiful in it and probably feel the same way you did about it. "A Love Dress".