The sweat dribbled down the back of my neck as I stepped across the threshold of my local Dress Barn. As the cool air blasted through the vents in the ceiling, I knew from experience that I should make this a relatively quick trip while my deodorant was still good. I was shopping for the perfect dress to wear on a date with my husband and I wasn’t having much luck. Everywhere I looked, polyester was in ample supply, while cotton seemed to be elusive. Incidentally, I’m not a huge fan of polyester.
“Is there something in particular you were looking for?” the helpful saleslady asked.
“Actually, I’m looking for lace. I want a lacy dress to wear on my date for Saturday night. We’re going on the Napa Valley Wine Train and from what I understand it’s going to be quite romantic. My sister in-law and another couple will be joining us, so I’ll need to look better than them.”
“Well, unfortunately, we don’t have very much lace this year. I can only think of one dress that may work for you. Let me go get it.”
She returned with a pretty lacy number that gathered at the waist and had a provocative “v” neckline. It graced my shins like it was born for me. Well, almost. As I examined the tag, the dreaded word appeared again with the instructions I feared most. Dry-clean or hand wash only. The cream colored lining was made entirely of polyester while the pink outer lining was made of rayon. I could handle the rayon but it was going to be a battle of the wills to get me to wear polyester. Let’s see how this little vixen fits and then we’ll decide on a proper verdict. I tried it on with a little elbow grease on the zipper. After examining myself in the mirror from every possible angle I came to a decision. I had argued with my inner goddess about the severe discomfort I knew I would inevitably face, and in the end vanity won. I purchased the dang dress.
After I got home I was curious. What exactly was I going to be wearing on that steamy evening smack at the end of July and why must it be dry-cleaned instead of machine washed? Suddenly my curiosity overtook me and I began to dig deeper into the mystery. By the end of my study, I unveiled more than just clothing and cleaning. I found a whole new, spiritual side to the entire process. The best part was that I fell in love with God all over again.
“Polyesters are made from chemical substances found mainly in petroleum and are manufactured in fibers, films, and plastics.”
(http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blpolyester.htm. author Mary Bellis)
So basically, polyester is a form of plastic. No wonder I hate the stuff. I’m actually going to wear a ketchup bottle. Correction- I’m going to wear a pink, lacy ketchup bottle. To answer the dry-cleaning questions, I spoke to the good people at Cypress Cleaners in my hometown. I spent a good hour and a half taking a crash course on the ins and outs of the business. I learned about the hefty machine that our valuables are washed in and the process it takes to get something from dingy to dazzling.
My gracious teacher, Mae Slater walked me through her general duties starting with turning on the machines. She began by showing me how to press a garment after it’s been cleaned. Mae and I also talked about different types of fabrics. I learned that professional cleaning businesses have secrets that they don’t want the public to know about. For instance, most garments can be laundered at home, despite what the label says. Hand washable items are fine if used in the gentle cycle. (I was already starting to feel better about my pink heat trap.) It’s also wise to use common sense when using home dry cleaning systems because clothes can get ruined if one isn’t careful. When in doubt, bring it in but be prepared to sign a liability release form.
After being introduced to the various pressing appliances, I finally came to the source of my curiosity. Planted toward the back of the store the dry-cleaning monstrosity sat in soothing colors of turquoise and white. It had a front loading door similar to today’s modern washing machine. On one side were lots of buttons and three gauges with a front loading door where all the soiled garments go. To the right of the door was a tiny little closed in opening about the size of a child’s fist. This is where the solvent is dispensed. Next to that small opening is another smaller door that opens. This is where the cooker is. The cooker recycles the water that is used to heat the chemicals that are used to clean the clothes. The back of the machine looked like something out of a science fiction movie. There were tubes and pipes everywhere. It had a button trap that caught the stray buttons and a lint trap similar to one out of an ordinary home dryer.
On the left side of the machine, resting on the floor was a plastic grocery bag filled with black goop that resembled tar. This small little detail surprised me more than anything else. The owner of the store, Mr. Shin explained to me that the black substance is all the waste that is expelled from the newly cleaned apparel. Every two weeks the soiled clothes produce a gallon of waste.
As I peeked over at my now worn dress later that night I imagined a world free of plastic clothes. Cotton is such a pure fabric. It feels so much better to the skin and a person doesn’t need to spend such angst worrying about how it’s going to feel on a hot, summer night and how much it’s going to cost to get it cleaned. My pink dress looked really nice but it was made of a fiber that required chemicals to get it unsullied. I could run it through the gentle cycle and maybe it will come out ok. But the lace concerned me. If I want this dress to maintain its beauty, I’m going to need a professional. And after the whole process is completed, sticky muck will still be the end result.
How much is that like our spiritual walk? We go through our lives trying to cover up the problem ourselves with self help remedies that only aggravate instead of fix. We put on uncomfortable behaviors that look attractive but inside where nobody sees, feel simply miserable. Finally we go to the Professional as a last ditch effort because we’re thinking that after the disaster we’ve made of our lives, it really couldn’t hurt to see if He can do a better job. After we show up we admit that we have flaws. We know they can only be removed by a skilled, knowledgeable person. We wait for the lengthy process of purification.
First we’re spot treated, taken extra care to remove those blemishes that have been steeped deep into our being. Then we’re rigorously cleaned by the gentle Word that heals and mends. It is in this stage where the sludge is worked out. The Lord softly extricates all the garbage that has been piling up for so long within us.
There is a time of drying out that follows where we can rest and allow him to mold and press us into the shape we were meant to be. The final result is a sparkling image of the Creator himself. It doesn’t come without a price, though. We have to pay a fee for this cleansing ritual that is so vital for us all. But if we dig deep enough, we know we wouldn’t have it any other way. For without his solvent, we’re as good as filthy rags and not fit for the kingdom. It’s only up to us to decide when we’re ready for him to get to work and make us beautiful once more.
I made the decision a long time ago to allow him to cleanse me from the inside out. The process can be painful at times but I’ve never regretted that choice. And after one night in that dress, I’m so thankful he willingly obliges over and over again.