The Ruined Dress

By Rachel Ann Nunes

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    At first, the yellow stain on my daughter’s dress symbolized the challenges I face as a mother. Now it reminds me to focus on what has eternal significance.

    The dress was ruined. Tears sprang to my eyes the minute I saw the yellow stain on the stark-white collar. I scrunched up the small dress, still wet from my scrubbing, and threw it in the wastebasket. I didn’t want to see it again, especially as a rag that would remind me of that horrible day.

    I couldn’t explain why a dress for my two-year-old daughter meant so much to me, but it did. I had bought the beautiful, drop-waist dress on sale the previous summer, and I dreamed of how Cassi would look when the dress fit. Finally, a year later, Cassi was big enough.

    Still, I hesitated to let her wear the dress to church, knowing what a mess she could make out of the few cookies she ate in nursery. So the dress hung in the closet and remained clean and white. I liked it that way.

    Then it happened. One Sunday morning just before church, Cassi soiled her dress and I had to put her in the only other clean one available, the new dress.

    “Oh, Cassi!” I exclaimed as I buttoned the last button. “You look beautiful!” I hugged her until she squirmed away. Then the baby started crying, and my four-year-old son asked me to tie his shoes. Cassi skipped merrily to the table where her breakfast was waiting. By the time I got there 30 seconds later, little Cassi had dripped orange juice onto the collar of her dress.

    I removed Cassi’s clothes for the second time that day, exasperated but not really worried. I tried to scrub out the stain, taking care not to get the whole dress wet. I figured I could get the juice out and then pat the collar dry with a cloth and Cassi could still wear the dress to church. But the stain didn’t come out.

    Well, I thought, it is white. It can be bleached, can’t it? That was when I made my mistake. I learned that day that some white things are dyed white and, when bleached, leave a big yellow stain. I guess I should have been happy that I learned that lesson on something relatively inexpensive, but I wasn’t.

    I cannot remember what Cassi wore to church that day, but I remember feeling somewhat better as the Spirit calmed my soul. Still, my heart ached at times over the loss of the dress and what it represented to me.

    After that things got worse. My two toddlers were a lot of work, and it seemed I never had enough time to take care of them and the baby, who was content and perfectly happy with life—as long as I was holding her.

    I felt so useless to anyone and so alone. I admired the women in my ward who gave selfless, Christlike service, and I wondered where they found the time. They were always cooking and cleaning for others, visiting and serving in their ward callings in ways beyond what I could dream of doing. It bothered me that I didn’t have the time to help and serve others as generously.

    Each long day passed as I fed, bathed, diapered, dressed, wiped, disciplined, cleaned up after, and played with the children. And then I turned around and did it all over again the next day. I knew that being a mother was what I wanted; it was an important work, one that could bring joy and fulfillment through the eternities. But for some reason I was caught in a season of discouragement and frustration.

    I prayed hard for guidance to be a good wife and mother and to be happy in the present. I knew that I needed a change of attitude—a change of heart—for the well-being of my family, who all meant so much to me. I read the scriptures and visited with my bishop. My husband offered support and encouragement. I felt the Spirit, and peace came into my heart for a time, but soon my feelings of discouragement would return. I continued to pray for something that would make a lasting difference.

    One day I visited a sister who had teenage children. As we talked, I mentioned how little sleep I got at night and how hectic my days were as I tried to manage and keep up with three little ones.

    She paused thoughtfully and then said, “You know, my son woke up a lot at night when he was little. I knew that I could either be upset and get angry or I could use the opportunity to have a special one-on-one time with him that we couldn’t experience during the day. Either way, I would still have to get up. So I made a decision to make those moments special, for both of us. Now those memories are some of the best that I have of him as a child.”

    Her words hit me like a revelation. Maybe I couldn’t change things, but I could change the way I looked at them. We finished our visit and I left, still pondering her words.

    That night my husband and I put the older children to bed. As usual, the baby wouldn’t sleep until later. By the time I was finally able to go to bed, I was exhausted. But no sooner had I almost drifted off to sleep than I heard my son calling for me. Feeling grumpy, I stumbled to his room and started to speak to him in an angry voice. Then, suddenly, I remembered the sister’s words. My voice softened.

    “What’s wrong, honey?” I asked him.

    “I had a bad dream,” he mumbled in a frightened voice. “I’m scared.”

    “It’s OK,” I said reassuringly. “Come here.” I reached up and gathered my little boy into my arms. I carried him into the front room, where I held him close and rocked him gently. He pressed his head contentedly against me, and I felt the comfort of the Spirit flood my body.

    In that instant the change in me I had prayed for and that had started earlier in the day was complete. Somehow I finally understood that it didn’t matter that for the time being I was not in a position to serve others as much as I would like. I knew I was doing the most important thing I could ever do; I was serving my Lord each and every day as I served my little children.

    My daily challenges didn’t miraculously disappear, but the realization that I am seeking to follow Christ and that, as a mother, I am playing an important part in the Lord’s plan has changed my attitude toward the demands of motherhood. Since this experience, I’m finding that the joys of raising children far outweigh the heartaches and challenges.

    As for the ruined dress, I retrieved it from the seldom-used wastebasket by my washing machine where it had been for weeks. It’s folded neatly in my closet now where I can see it every day. I don’t regret its loss anymore. The dress is now an important remembrance of all the difficulties I have faced and have yet to face in my important role as a mother, a reminder to focus on what has eternal significance and to let go of the rest.

    Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh

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    • Rachel Ann Nunes is a Sunday School teacher in the American Fork 15th Ward, American Fork Utah Central Stake.