The Polka Dot Dress
by Michelle Greene Wheeler
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The Polka-Dot Dress
It was a hot and humid Sunday in July, 1979. A girl of eleven rode around the curving mountain with her family toward their little church in town. They had already attended services that morning, but the girl's parents firmly believed that attendance was required each and every time the doors were open.
Usually, taking this trip and sitting through yet another sermon was tedious and boring. Some nights, she was barely able to keep her head from falling onto the pew in front of her and scaring everyone with a loud snore. There were a couple of boys her own age attending the church who kept these imprisonments interesting for her some nights, with a little note passing to fill the time. But mostly, the hours were spent trying to appear interested and stifling yawns.
This morning's service had been different, though. It may have been the message, or the songs that had been sung. Whatever it was had caused thoughts to run through her mind all day. Who really was this man named Jesus? She had heard his name a thousand times, along with the stories about his birth, death and the miracles in between. And they were wonderful stories. Unlike the captivating Jack Tales her teacher would read to the class at school, everyone she knew was always talking about how these stories were real. Real? How on earth could they possibly be real? How? And even more importantly, why?
These thoughts rushed in and out of her mind all through the day. And the more they came, the more she felt a soft, quiet flutter in her heart. If there was truth here, and if she was in any way implicated in all these stories…
She could hardly sort through it all before it was time to return for the evening service. Staring out the back seat window, the stories kept replaying inside her as quickly as the mountain views were passing by outside. Torn, she could hardly tell if she were excited to return to church so she could hear more about her part in all this or scared by the thought that she might be. There's no way she could have been the reason something so horrible happened nearly two thousand years ago, right? But no answers would come; soon enough her thoughts were nearly drown out by the hum of the engine and the quickening of that persistent flutter.
Nervously, she climbed from the car and into the sanctuary. Choosing a seat in one of the nearest pews, she sat with her friends and tried to appear normal. She smiled. She stood and sang along with the crowd. She sat back down and began to count the large white polka-dots on her bright red dress. She loved her dress. She loved the way it fit, and she loved how it would swing just a little as she walked. She loved the cap-style short sleeves, and the way it made her feel like a grown-up when she wore it. But somehow, she always lost her place after just a few dots, and the counting would have to start all over again.
Were the words the preacher was using that powerful? She was trying so hard to ignore them; why couldn't she? Why didn't she feel like cutting up or passing notes? Could anyone else tell that she was sweating from more than the July heat?
Yes, she had played a part in this gruesome tale. She was a sinner. Had been one all her short life. And there were no excuses to be made or good deeds she could do to make up for any of it. Nothing to do but to admit it to the one named Jesus.
As they stood for the closing song and prayer, the preacher called out to any who needed to come to Jesus. "Just meet Him here at the altar", the preacher said. Her knuckles turned ghostly white as her hands gripped the back of the pew in front of her. She couldn't go to the front of the church; what if her friends made fun of her? What if everyone there thought she was just a stupid kid coming to the front for attention?
She allowed all her weight to be rested on the cool, wooden surface because her knees were now knocking as if they just might buckle from under her at any moment. "Just meet Him here" was still ringing in her ears, but she knew there was no way she could ever make the long journey from where she stood to where the preacher was waiting. "If you'll take that first step, He'll make the rest of them for you", she heard the preacher's voice call out to the crowd. Did he know that she'd just been thinking that she couldn't make it on her own? How could he have possibly known? "Take that first step", the preacher repeated.
That was it- she had to go. She had to get all this off her chest once and for all. Tears were welling up in her eyes now, and there was no disguising what was going on within her. It was now or never.
She was shocked to find that the first step was the only one that she had to take consciously. Her steps were lighter than air for the rest of the walk down that aisle.
And the preacher was right- Jesus did met her there. She dropped to her knees even before she realized that she would, and began immediately to sob from the pain and guilt, along with the relief and peace.
Her quivering lips could barely form the words of the simple prayer she was trying to say. The sounds that came out were ineloquent and barely understandable, but He would have been able to hear what her heart was asking if she had used no words at all. Salvation- sweet salvation was the desire of her heart that fateful July night. And her desire was granted with more mercy, grace and love than she could have ever expected.
The smile that girl wore on her face as she left the little church that night wasn't from the dress she loved so much. It was from the joy that had filled her heart and soul because she had taken that first crucial step. She never forgot that dress, though. Nearly thirty years later and yet she remembers it fondly. Not as the dress that made her feel more mature than her eleven years. But as the dress she was wearing when she first met Jesus.
And you know, I almost wish I'd kept that dress.
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Michelle, this is a wonderful testimony. Sometimes when one steps out to receive Christ, others follow. After a classmate stepped out one Sunday morning long ago to ask Jesus to come into her heart, I did the same that evening. The girl provided the encouragement I needed to take that first step. Thanks for sharing.