Who is the Woman in White? Is she you? Is she me? What does it mean to be the Woman in White? Is she respectfully standing in solidarity with other women as a declaration, or is she the ghost of a beautiful woman who was once scorned or betrayed? Does she represent purity, virginity, goodness, light, and innocence? Or does she represent isolation, emptiness, and coldness?
As a young girl studying pictures from my parent’s wedding, I remember struggling to reconcile what I considered my mom’s freedom of choice with the current beliefs held in my Christian community. Married in the early 1970s, she wore a Juliet-style dress with a hippy flare. The bodice of the dress was white with a sheer pastel floral overlay on the front panel. Pastel blue floral translucent fabric laid above the empire waist and cascaded down from the shoulders to a lengthy train while white fabric flowed down the length of her arms, cuffing her slender wrists.
White, associated with purity, was the traditional wedding color of perfection. Ivory, although similar to white, was believed to symbolize tainted innocence. Introduced to this concept at a vulnerable age, this distinction followed me into adulthood. I adopted the conviction that only women who were innocent were allowed to wear white, and any other color was afforded to those who had not maintained their purity.
Hesitant to side-step tradition and laced with shame, I believed that I did not deserve to wear white until my matron of honor showed me otherwise. Atop the nightstand beside my bed rests a silver picture frame that holds her words for me.
“May you walk as the Woman in White. To do so, you must leave the black coat of shame in the closet hanging next to the black dress of powerlessness and betrayal. Moment by moment you have to choose to resist the shame crouching at your heart’s door. You will wear strength and dignity as your apparel. You will offer your strength freely but not use it to hide your vulnerability. As the Woman in White, you allow yourself to bleed for the sake of deeper relationships, and you trust God to restore any blood lost in the process. Your beautiful white gown may show the stain from your heart getting pierced, but God will cleanse it daily when you bring your heart to Him. The Woman in White is passionate, lovely, and inviting. She offers fierce vulnerability and tender strength. She calls for the more in the lives of those she loves, and they feel safe showing themselves to her. She is alive to her longings, and they sparkle like sequins sprinkled across her gown. I see you my dear, sweet Bethany as the beautiful Woman in White.” (Tracy Johnson)
Recently, I feel as if I am hemorrhaging blood. My heart feels more tender than usual, and tears of disappointment and hurt swell effortlessly. Vulnerability has felt costly, making me question why I even care. Recounting a story to my husband, I ended my discussion with an exclamation that I should simply stop caring. Except that I can’t.
Being seen as the Woman in White communicated words of blessing over me, offering life and healing my soul. My friend’s words became an invitation for me to embrace grace and step into my own beautiful, sparkly gown again and again. Shame, powerlessness, and betrayal still accompany me. My dress is blood-stained and tattered, but it is slowly becoming more comfortable than the black dresses hanging in the closet.
For me, to stop caring is to stop being me, and me is someone I have fought hard to become.
Seated on the side of my bed, I look to the framed words and read them slowly. Moment by moment. Resist shame. Allow yourself to bleed for the sake of deeper relationships. Call for the more.
In this moment, I realize that I am the Woman in White. This is who I am. This is how I choose to live. I am too much and not enough. I am strong, I am vulnerable. I bleed. Oh, how I bleed. Yet, each morning the blood that I have lost is restored, and I start again. I invite those who I love into more. I am safe. I am alive to my longings. And when I am no longer alive and my time here is done, may it be said that I lived my life as the Woman in White.
Bethany Cabell, a lover of simplicity, is often inspired to write by the relationships she holds as a wife, mom, and a physical therapist. Bethany, her husband and their boys returned to life in Texas after wandering off to the Midwest for a season. What she once pictured her life to look like has forever been changed by her two sons. Navigating this messy and beautiful path of parenting two children each with their own unique challenges, she finds grace and beauty in the gift of each moment.