Last Thursday I spoke for Biola University and wore an outfit I have not had the courage to don, at least not on stage where they pay me to speak.
Black wool sleeveless top (sounds weird I know, but it’s very professional looking)
Black “riding” pants (tighter than most speaking slacks).
Tall black boots (tall because they’re platforms so lift me a few inches and come up to my knee)
Silver bracelet, silver key on a long necklace chain, silver earrings.
This is what I looked like.
Afterwards as students lined up for in a line that took nearly two hours to wait through I watched their faces. They wanted to talk with me, to get books signed, to get a hug and ask questions. I felt over the moon with amazement. Here I had spoken on near empty, four hours sleep, a long plane ride to get there, my stomach all upset and unhappy with the tension and yet, here I was being enjoyed.
Enjoyed by Biola (a big shout out to their openness), enjoyed by my family (my mother, grandparents, sister and her boyfriend all came to hear me), enjoyed by my sister and new nephew (they came for a brief visit right before I spoke), enjoyed by God.
And I, frankly, really enjoyed being heard and accepted for who I was.
It wasn’t until early this week that I figured out what was significantly different. I’ve done lots of speaking on little sleep and a spasticky stomach. I’ve done talks about controversial things.
But something very basic and very incarnational was different this time: my clothes.
To borrow from an older post on What Would Women Wear our clothes will always be important to who we are. No matter the culture our style links us to our tribe. Our clothes tell other people where we belong and how we see ourselves. They cue the men our age to notice us or to turn their eyes away. They tell women if we’re aware of what’s fashionable or if we don’t really care. They tell the world what we care about.
Last weekend, our family visited our local hot springs in town. Somehow my bathing suit wasn’t packed. Rather than refuse to get into the water I marched up to the front desk and asked to see the loaner suits (I know, borderline gross).
I had two choices: a seagreen number with black piping that I already knew was stretched out (don’t ask) and a new suit I hadn’t seen.
Cotton candy pink, taut fabric and round donuts covered in pink icing all over broken only by a large chocolate announcement on the posterior, “Will Swim for Donuts.”
Sighing I took it to the locker rooms. Out in the hot pools, Dale suggested I just keep to the water. We saw friends we knew and I felt strangely young and a little silly. Still, I wore it with as much dignity as I could muster.
The suit didn’t reflect who I was very well, even if I did just get donuts that morning. I looked vaguely teenager again, complete with unaware advertisement of my cravings.
When I speak, I usually wear typical conservative stuff: collared shirt with 3/4 length sleeves, suit pants, maybe a suit jacket. I often tone my hair down because it’s, well, distracting.
But for Torrey Conference, I wore an outfit that felt like me. It matched my content: vulnerable, a little more edgy, lots of get-up and go and some femininity.
I felt like myself as I spoke, complete with enthusiastic spitting (which was by accident) and yet when I commented on it,
“I’m so excited about this point I’m spitting,” I confessed to the thousands in Chase Gymnasium.
“I love that you’re clapping for that.”
In a word, I felt loved by this audience and I felt known as I was. It’s taught me a few things
The more I share the different things about me, my hair for instance, the more chances I have to be healed. One serious male undergraduate asked me during the Q and A time, “I believe God has called me to be a pastor, what guidelines can you give me about protecting myself and women around me in my friendships? Oh, and by the way . . . your hair is beautiful.”
The audience exploded. As they calmed I answered, “Well, I think you’ve just answered your own question. You just complemented a woman’s body in front of an audience of thousands of your peers and I don’t think anyone would question your integrity.”
What we wear and how we wear clothes shape us at least as much as we shape our clothes. It’s one of the ways we get to tell the world what God is like.
And my God, for the record, is a lot more fun than I’ve been reflecting.
Time for that to change.