FOCUS My best Easter dress

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by Lt. Amanda Reardon – 

There is nothing quite like a new Easter dress.

For me, it always had to be pink, or at least lavender. It had to be complemented by white shoes and a white purse, and occasionally even a white hat with a ribbon. Sometimes, my mother made matching dresses for my sister and me. Those were the most special because we’d seen them evolve from stacks of fabric into lacy dresses. On Easter Sunday my mother made sure everything was just right ­ not a wrinkle, not a loose button, not a stray curl amongst my locks. I felt like a brand new girl.

The Easter after my 14th birthday was different. On this particular Resurrection Day, my worship included a self-defining act that determined the course for the rest of my spiritual and physical life. I became a senior soldier of The Salvation Army.

I wish I could express the joy that filled my heart on that day. Growing up in the Army, I couldn’t wait to become a senior soldier. I believed in our mission, and I wanted to belong to it. I had learned the doctrines, and I loved them. I loved them because they so clearly expressed the truth of the Scripture. Even today, my eyes fill with tears when I read the doctrines, secure in the knowledge that the Army I love is rooted squarely in the Word of God.

Without even opening my mouth, I could express all this dedication and passion by simply slipping on my new uniform. My best Easter garb. While my Easter dresses had been a testimony to my mother’s seamstress skills, my uniform was to be a testimony to the skills of the Potter, who was still molding the young girl within the uniform. And what a uniform it was! In the ’70s, corps often stylized uniforms without reprimand. A group of us were enrolled together, and no two people had matching uniforms. Almost all of us had hand-me-downs: one had red epaulets, one had a stand-up collar, and I myself had the pale blue tunic that our band and timbrels wore back in those days. But I didn’t care. It was my Army uniform and, more than ever, I felt like a brand new girl.

Go ahead and accuse me of spouting Army propaganda. I can’t deny it. I buy into this 100 percent. I love my uniform because I love what it stands for. When one sees a person in a uniform–any uniform–one isn’t so much curious about the uniform itself as about the wearer, and what she is representing. No stranger has ever looked at my uniform and cried: “Yikes! Polyester!” But hundreds have looked at my uniform and said, “With whom are you associated?” or “Oh! Salvation Army! You came to my aid once.”

Every time I put on my uniform I am reminded that I must reflect Christ in all I do. As an officer, I wear my uniform every day. I must mind my behavior in the market, in the dentist’s office, at my son’s school. I can’t tell myself, “Well, these people don’t know I’m a Christian” because they may very well know what that uniform is, or they most likely will ask what it is. I’m a walking witness.

I must admit that it can be monotonous to wear the same outfit to the office every day, but I never tire of wearing it in public. I enjoy the smiles and comments from those who recognize it and the chance to explain myself to those who don’t. In the most unexpected places at unexpected times, my uniform initiates a conversation that leads into an opportunity to share the gospel.

I like to wear my uniform to Christian seminars because it helps get the message to fellow believers that the Army is a church, not just a social services organization or a thrift store. I have found that once fellow Christians learn about us, they are very moved by who we are and what we do. I have often been thanked by Christians of other churches for accomplishing what we do for the Kingdom of God. The visibility of the uniform is the catalyst for these conversations.

Some say that the idea of a uniform has run its course. I find that hard to understand. I know people who work for banks, accounting firms, and other businesses who are now expected to wear a company shirt to work every day. Arguably, a very sizable portion of the work force wears a uniform of some sort. In many parts of the country, public school children have started wearing uniforms. Uniforms are part of our culture.

On a recent weekday I showed up at the corps in other clothes (uh, the dog ate my uniform). A college intern doing some work with us said, “Oh, so they’ve already changed policies?” “What do you mean?” I asked. “Well, I heard on the radio that The Salvation Army was no longer going to have uniforms.”

Fear momentarily seized my heart. I thought of all the witnessing opportunities that had come my way, all the teary-eyed veterans who’d shared how they felt about the Army, all the people who thanked me for the Christmas basket the Army had left on their doorstep years ago ­ all because I’d gone about my day wearing my uniform. Is this honor to be taken away?

To date I haven’t heard anything to substantiate the rumor the intern heard. That day may come, I suppose. If it does, you won’t have any trouble identifying me. I’ll be the crazy old coot still in the uniform.


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