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The Dress

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Mary was young, filled with dreams of love for God and His service. John, restless and impatient in his new pastorate in the farmlands of Wisconsin , longed for the libraries and action of New York City or Chicago , where he had attended seminary. John's brilliant mind craved books. Mary saw beauty in everything—the smell of the freshly plowed fields, the song of a bird, the first signs of spring, crocuses and violets. Mary sang to the wind and laughed with the birds. But she had one secret longing—a new dress for spring. Not the somber brown or black, befitting a minister's wife, but a soft voile, billowing dress with lace around the neck and sleeves and a big sash.


There was no money! Carefully she laid plans. She would put pennies into a box until there was enough money to buy a new kerosene lamp for John and material for a new dress. She would reuse the lace from an old velvet dress in the trunk. Someday she would make a blue velvet dress for her baby Louise.


The day came when the treadle machine purred like music while Mary sang and sewed. Golden-haired Louise played with empty spools and clothespins. The small house shone clean. The new lamp had a place of honor on John's reading table.


In a playful mood, Mary pulled down her long brown hair and brushed it in the morning sun. Then she put on her new dress—soft pink voile with violets and lace. A sash tied at the back, and Mary swung around, to the delightful squeals of Louise. It was spring! She was young, just 23, with another new life within her and Louise to rock and love. The wilderness church, the somber immigrants tilling the land, and the severe harshness of long winter had isolated the young wife into her world of poetry and song. But she had grown to love the faithful people and shared their joys and sorrows. Today, she danced with abandoned joy in her new billowing dress.


Like the flash of summer lightning, Mary was whirled around by an angry John, whose storm of frustration unleashed the fury within him. "Money for foolishness! No libraries, no books—no one to talk to about anything except cows and chickens, planting and harvest!"


Like a smoldering volcano, John erupted with rage and ripped the dress to shreds. Just as suddenly the storm was over, and the galloping hoofs of John's horse broke the quiet terror. As he rode into the wind, he unleashed the remainder of his fury on the passing fields and their wide-eyed cows and clucking chickens. He longed to gallop from Wisconsin to the heart of New York —his beloved library.


Huddled in a corner, Mary clutched Louise and the shredded dress. Trembling with fear and anger, she remained motionless. Too drained to weep, she was sick with emptiness and an unutterable longing for her family, far away from John. There was no one to turn to in the lonely farmland. She remembered Psalm 34:4. "I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears." Then she wept, long and deep, and cried out to the Lord.


Mary set her heart to seek a way of escape. She would make a pallet up in the loft and take Louise to sleep with her. John would sleep alone. Then she folded the shredded dress in a small package and hid it in her trunk. Pastor Hansen was coming to visit the surrounding churches and Mary decided to bide her time, to quietly wait and show the dress to Pastor Hansen, then ask for assistance to leave John and return to her mother.


With quiet determination she put on her dark dress and combed her hair into a severe knot, befitting a minister's wife. She set the table for supper. When John returned late in the night his supper was in the warming oven. Mary was asleep in the loft with Louise curled in her arms.


Quietly John ate his supper and then looked for Mary. When he found her in the loft, he ordered her back to their bed and put Louise in her crib. Mary gently tucked Louise in her crib and obediently went to bed. John's storm had passed, but he was unaware of the debris in its wake.


Life went on as usual, but the song was gone and Mary's steps were weighted with bitterness. She quietly waited and thought out her plans.


The arrival of Pastor Hansen brought a new exuberance to John as the two ministers discussed books and theology and the work of the church conference. Mary served quietly. No one would have guessed the anguish behind her gentle face as she worshipped with the faithful congregations, but heard little of the sermons.


The final service was drawing to a close and, as yet, Mary had not had the opportunity to see Pastor Hansen alone. She had to find the opening—perhaps this Sunday afternoon, when John would visit a shut-in member while Pastor Hansen would meditate on the evening message. With a quickened mind she decided to listen to the sermon and perhaps use his comments as an opening.


"The text this morning is found in Mark 11:25. 'When ye stand praying, forgive.' Forgiveness is not optional, but a definite act of the will to forgive, in obedience to God's command. The feeling comes later, the feeling of peace. When we offer to God our hurts and despair, God will pour His love and compassion into the wounds, and His healing will come."


Oh, no, Mary cried inside. I can't forgive, and I can never forget.


The sermon continued, "Someone may be thinking, I can never forget, even if I could forgive. You are right—you can't forget, but you needn't be devastated by the remembering. God's love and His forgiveness can and will cushion the memory until the imprint is gone. When you forgive you must destroy the evidence, and remember only to love."


John and Pastor Hansen rode home with Deacon Olsen. Mary stepped into her buggy, tied her wide black hat with a scarf and carefully secured Louise around her waist. As the horse, Dolly, trotted briskly down the country road, Mary's scalding tears poured forth.

She knew what she must do. She would obey God. Without waiting to unhitch Dolly, she fled from the buggy and placed Louise in her crib. With trembling hands, Mary took out of the trunk the package with the torn dress, but she couldn't let go.


The Sunday dinner was in the warming oven; Mary poked the fire and added more wood. Automatically she put on the coffee pot and set the table. "The evidence must go," rang in her memory.


"I forgive you, John." She finally picked up the tattered dress with one hand and the stove lid with the other. Tears splashed on the fire as she watched the dress burn slowly. "True forgiveness destroys the evidence," pounded so loudly in her heart that she failed to hear John's footsteps. "Mary, what are you doing?"


Trembling with sobs, she said, "I am destroying the evidence."


To herself she said, "My offering to God."


Then John remembered. Pale and shaken he murmured, "Please forgive me."


Fifty-eight years later, when John had gone home to be with the Lord and she missed him terribly, Mary had a dream. Three angels appeared to her and said, "Come, we are going to a celebration." Over the arm of one angel was draped a beautiful dress.


“So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.” -2 Corinthians 2:7 

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