The Ones Who Lead Us Home


Water seeped through the soles of my boots, soaking my socks. I slammed my trunk shut, pulled my hood tighter against the rain, and walked back across the parking lot toward the retreat house. The storm door banged behind me. I stepped into the kitchen to get the last of my things and found a woman sitting at the table.

She looked up as I walked in. “I forgot my boots,” she said, “So I came back for them.” We were two of a handful of women who’d come from various places and for various reasons to spend a few days in retreat on the Loretto Motherhouse grounds. She told me she’d been coming for decades. The cooler and bag on the table told of my impending departure, so she asked where I was headed.

“Nashville,” I said.

“Me too.” She asked what part of Nashville I was from, and I asked her the same. As she walked out the door, she said, “Maybe I’ll see you on the road.”

One of the best parts about Loretto is how remote it is. No cell phone service, nobody to bother me, no city lights to obstruct the stars. It’s a forty minute drive from the interstate. My GPS had guided me in fine, but I didn’t have service to look up the route home, and wasn’t entirely sure that I could mentally reverse it.

I looked out the window. She was still parked. I went outside and flagged her down before she could leave. “I usually come with a group and am not the one driving,” I told her, “So I’m not very familiar with the way back to the interstate. Would you mind waiting a few minutes for me to get the last of my stuff so I can follow you?”

She agreed, so I half-ran inside, put my jars of leftover soup in the cooler, threw it in the backseat, and slid in behind the wheel. I followed her down the hill and around the corner and through stop signs and over rises and into valleys. I watched mile after mile pass, thinking about all the times I would have second-guessed myself and wanted to turn back because it didn’t look right.

Thank God for the saints who have gone before, the ones who lead us home.

Sometimes they drive a red Subaru, but other times they meet weekly for coffee to check in or start dinner clubs or have a counseling license or spend hours on facetime from far-away or sit together every Thursday night for Bible Study or know just when to say the most encouraging thing.

There have been moments this year when I’ve second-guessed. Surely anything good wouldn’t be this hard. Surely I missed my turn. But here these people are. They show up and they walk beside me and they see me and they let me see them.

“I’ve been here,” they tell me, more with their lives than their words. “You’re not alone. The only way out is through, but there is so much beauty waiting on the other side.”

I probably could have made it home eventually on my own, but what a blessed thing it was that I didn’t have to. I took curves and kept pace and watched her slow down when I fell behind, followering her Tennessee license plate through most of Kentucky, the two of us strangers in a foreign land. Only she’d been there many times before, and she knew the way home.

Interviews and Things

Hello, blog friends. It's been a while. This season of life is not lending itself to blogging. I've found myself needing to live and process these days apart from the internet, and several other good and important things have been claiming my time and energy. I hope to be back sooner rather than later, but I don't yet know when that will be.

In the meantime, I've had opportunities to share about One Dress. One Year. in a few other places. Earlier this month, Brooklyn Lindsey shared her space with me, inviting me to guest post on her Justice Movement blog

My justice journey began with a walk to the mailbox. Beads of sweat trickled down my forehead as the Florida summer sun beat down on me. I was in middle school, and as I flipped through the stack of mail, I had no idea that my life was about to change.

At the bottom of the pile was a magazine for me. It was the July 2008 issue of Brio magazine for teen girls. The cover story was about Natalie Grant and what she was doing to help fight human trafficking. Until that day, I’d thought that slavery had disappeared with the civil war. I was shocked to find out just how wrong I was and just how many people were still enslaved. Continue Reading . . . 

I also got to share some thoughts about my year in the dress, Lyme disease, and the pressure to save the world at Elisa Morgan's Really blog.

Instead, my "failure" reminded me that it isn't my job to save the world. It taught me that my worth is not in what I do . . . These days, life looks a little different than it did in high school. About a year ago, I was diagnosed with late-stage Lyme disease. My energy is extremely limited, and I'm finding that it's hard to do anything heroic when I can barely get up off the couch some days. Continue Reading . . . 

Finally, several months ago, I was given an opportunity to fly to Canada and do an interview with 100 Huntley Street. (I also got to see Niagara Falls. In case the photo at the top doesn't convince you, well, let me just say that it was a good trip.) That aired a few weeks ago and is now online

Even Here

I didn't intend to go awol from the blog on book day, but, well, here we are. These months have been challenging health-wise, and while I'm not ready to come back to writing and posting regularly just yet, this piece I posted after Pentecost last year seemed appropriate for this season, so I thought I'd give it an update and share it again. 

It was Pentecost. I slid into an empty pew, the last of the evening light filtering through the stained glass windows. Exhaustion tugged at my eyelids. It was nothing new—it'd been a long time since I'd really had energy. But that night, I felt particularly worn out. Taking a few deep breaths, I willed my lungs to work as they were supposed to.

The service began, and I managed to pull myself to my feet at the right times, to follow along, to say the creeds and sing the hymns. We listened to the reading of the account of Pentecost. The sermon that followed was on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and it’s been rattling around in my head ever since.

He loves to rush in.

The disciples were waiting, the priest reminded us. They were scared and confused, and they certainly weren’t trying to conjure up some sort of spiritual display. Jesus had left. He’d promised a comforter, but they didn’t know what that meant. All they could do was what Jesus had told them to, so they gathered and prayed and waited.

It was then that the Holy Spirit showed up.

He loves to rush in.

The words lingered in the air as the priest moved on.

Even here? I wondered.

I thought about the fear and confusion, about the places where God seemed absent. Jesus had promised his presence, but then he’d up and left and I didn’t know what to do. Was that what the disciples felt? Sure, it was easy for him to say that he was sending a comforter. He was the one who was leaving. But what about the ones he left behind? The ones who felt lost?

He loves to rush in.

Rush [ruhsh]: to appear, go, pass, etc., rapidly or suddenly.

An element of surprise, something that’s out of our control.

Even in the places that feel hopeless and confusing, he rushes in.

Even when we are weary, he rushes in.

Even when we are alone, he rushes in.

It’s who he is.  

He loves to rush in.

He’s the one with the audacity to barge into the places where we’ve declared that he is not present. He sets up camp there, doing the work that only he can, the work that we sometimes try to tell him is impossible.

All week, I think about it. 

Even here? I still wonder.

But I’m reminded.

He loves to rush in.

Even here.

Photo by BrecklesCreative Commons

One Dress. One Year. (A Preview)

On Saturday, I got in the car and drove twenty-five minutes south. The Barnes & Noble website told me they'd shelved copies of the book early, and I wanted to see it with my own two eyes. There it was, sitting on the shelf just like a real grown up book. And I still can't believe it. 

Today, March 1st, is officially book day. I think I'm going to spend my day walking around pinching myself. For those of you who preordered, hopefully the story of the dress will show up in your mailbox today. If you didn't preorder, you can find it on Amazon, Christian Book, and Barnes & Noble (or in real brick-and-mortar Barnes & Noble stores!). You also still have a whole week to sign up to win two copies.

In honor of the release, here's an excerpt from the introduction. If you like what you read, you can click over to preview Chapter 1 here

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12

When I was in middle school, I found out that slavery still exists. In fact, every morning, millions of men, women, and children around the world wake up trapped in a system of human tra"cking. Faced with the same bleak reality day after day, their dreams of freedom remain just that—dreams. I knew it didn’t have to be this way, but if anything was going to change, ordinary people, people like you and me, needed to get involved. So at sixteen, I decided to do something about it.

From January 11, 2012, to January 10, 2013, I wore the same black dress every day. It was my way of raising awareness about and money to help end human tra"cking across the globe. One Dress. One Year. For Freedom. It was a yearlong journey that I chose. People who are enslaved don’t have many choices, so surely I could limit my clothing choices for a year to help them be free. While my experience wasn’t nearly the same thing as what those who are enslaved face, it was a connection I could make to help others understand human tra"cking. I then asked people to partner with me by giving to one of six organizations working to end modern-day slavery.

Using the black dress as my primary piece, I added other clothing and accessories to create different looks, and each day I posted a photo of my outfit on my blog. By the end of the year, I’d worn that same black dress in 366 different ways—of course I would pick a leap year. I went into that year thinking I would do something big for God. I was going to raise $100,000 to help end the fight against modern-day slavery. My blog and my dress were going to change the world.

I thought The Dress Project would give me value and make me special. I wanted to prove that I was better than other people my age. After all, unlike many of my peers, I was thinking about important things. Sacrificing normal clothes for a year or talking about slavery or challenging others to fight for the same cause was supposed to make me important too. Instead, the year I spent in the dress changed me in ways I never expected. It taught me to pay attention to fashion, and it altered the way I see myself.

That year, the people who partnered with me gave $8,615 to International Justice Mission (IJM), Not for Sale, the A21 Campaign, Compassion International, Restore International, and Love146. The money was used to rescue people, provide them with rehabilitation services and legal counsel, and prevent human tra"cking in vulnerable communities.

I’d always been told that pride goes before the fall, but I think some of us fall harder than others. I didn’t come anywhere close to my fund-raising goal. Throughout the year I felt like I should have been doing more, but I couldn’t figure out what—or how. Nothing seemed to go the way I wanted it to. It didn’t make me feel better like I thought it would. Instead, the dress helped me see myself for who I was (and who I still am): a girl who needed to be set free from perfectionism and pride and guilt and the notion that I could buy my way into God’s good graces with my grand plans. I couldn’t. All I could do was hope that somehow, even when I felt unlovable, he loved me still. The beautiful part was that in my darkness and my doubt, God met me. He’s still meeting me. I’m sure your story won’t be the same as mine, but I bet if you look closely, you’ll find God meeting you too.

The Dress Project was a way that a high school girl helped raise money for organizations that are bringing freedom to people worldwide. During that year, though, I also discovered how much I needed the freedom God can bring. Freedom is for all of us, and it’s something all of us can be part of extending to others. But it is only something we can participate in when we know that we are loved, and that we are already free. 

Adapted from One Dress. One Year. by Bethany Winz with Susanna Foth Aughtmon, Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2016. Used by permission. 

Gifs, Gratitude, and a Giveaway (or, one week till book day!)

We are one week away from book day. (Wait. What?) In seven short days, the story of the dress will be in your hands. And, like any birth, bringing a new book into the world comes with a lot of feelings—feelings I don’t quite know how to express. 

I’ve spent most of the weekend dancing around my kitchen in disbelief. (This is what happens when my roommate is out of town. And also sometimes when she is in town, but that's beside the point.)

I'm so excited. I’m also terrified, but mostly I’m excited.

The main thing I need you to know is that when a 20-year-old publishes a book, it’s not because that 20-year-old is exceptional. It’s because people with far more skill and experience looked at that person, saw potential, and decided to invest in it. I get to share the year of the dress with the world because of an agent who relentlessly believed in the project, a co-author who put so much time and energy and thought and sweat into shaping these words, and an editor who thought it was a story worth telling.

I can’t believe that I actually get to do this. And it never would have happened without the incredible women I’ve worked with every step of the way. The writing itself was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve ever done. There were, of course, mornings that I woke up convinced that everything I had to say was garbage.

As much as I need words to process the world, writing them is frustrating. Especially that many in such a short time. But thanks to Susanna’s hard work and patient encouragement, not to mention the many friends who talked me down off a ledge time and again, the book has been written and edited and edited and edited. And, well, here we are, just days away from the release.

(Yeah, I’m kind of freaking out about that.)

There’s another group of people, though, that I need to thank: YOU! For those of you who have been around since day one of the dress project and cheered me on every step of the way, those of you who have reminded me that my words matter, and those of you who are new around here, just stopping in to see what all of this is about...

To let you know just how grateful I am, I’m giving away three pairs of signed copies of the book—one for you, one for a friend. Enter by leaving a comment on this post telling me who you’d share the extra copy with. You can get two extra entries by subscribing to my blog and sharing the post. Just let me know in your comment if you do either (or if you're already a subscriber). The contest closes at 11:59pm EST Tuesday, March 8th. Winners will be chosen by a random number generator and notified by email. 

And if you're interested in pre-ordering a copy, you can find links for that here