by Constance Child Wood Gravestock
Born in Maine, my great-grandmother knew Ellen Gould White. My happy childhood was steeped in Adventist heritage and hospitality. By the time I was about twelve years old I started reading “Counsels on Diet and Foods” Right away I saw a discrepancy between the practice of my family and church friends and the counsel of this book! My life was hurled into a terrible dilemma. I believed the counsel was right but feared to obey it upon pain of earning the dread label “FANATIC”! After a terrible struggle I decided it was better to be in the good graces of God than my “brethren”, and I began to refrain from eating between meals. Every time I picked up the book, another wrong habit was brought to light, and I changed it too. Soon my family wondered “What's happened to Connie?” I never said a word to anyone about what I was doing—I merely DID what the book said. Often my whole spirit recoiled from the words blazing off the page before me. My whole nature rebelled and thought this was a very silly thing for God to ask me to do. But always, a little practice of the new way and I was convinced that I felt better, and soon didn't even want my old habits back. I discovered great blessing in obeying God in these seemingly “small things” of life. The best part was the closeness I felt with Heaven. My new habits were like a secret I shared with God. If I tried to share with my family or church friends, my enthusiasm was often rebuked, so I largely kept it to myself.
Soon after SDA schools trained me in nursing, I married a new Seventh-day Adventist man. There was nothing we loved more than to share Scripture and the prophetic books! Together we took up more reforms.
Early in our marriage I realized I had not faced the issue of Christian dress. When I was a child, it was easy to recognize an SDA woman by her lack of make up and simple attire. As a teenager in the 60s, I dressed a little bit provocatively—not too much or I would be regarded as lewd. As I considered my attitudes about dress, I realized they were not consistent with true Christian values. Finally I dug out the books and sought the Word of God as to how I was to dress. I repeatedly discarded my entire wardrobe as I learned new principles. The statement “the dress question should not fill the mind” became an enigma. I felt I wasn't getting it right and couldn't understand how to put the whole concept together and felt this issue WAS occupying way too much of my energy. Then, as my husband lapsed into a backslidden condition I noted instruction that applied to women with unbelieving husbands that was different from believers! So I put the whole issue to rest for a while and did the best I understood to do at the time.
Our marriage ended in the dread horror of my husband abandoning me with a three year old to raise alone with no support from him. In the quiet of my new life, the God of heaven became even more precious. My Savior was truly my Husband, my Lover. Now I had only Him to please! I cried out for understanding about dress. I prayed, “Dear Heavenly Father, please take away every thought I've ever had of my own about DRESS. Please construct only YOUR ideas in my mind. If you want me to dress upside down hanging from a tree, I don't care. I only want to understand your plan once and for all. I want to settle this issue, obtain clothes that reflect you, and live by those principles for the rest of my life! Please help me to understand your truths”
This time a cohesive whole picture came together in my mind. I told my daughter of the changes I was making and why. She told me she wanted to dress in the way that would please God as well. Together we committed ourselves to the path of Truth and Purity in dress. That was thirty-two years ago and I can truly say that self denial in Christian dress has been one of the biggest blessings of my life.
Women raising children alone are in a very vulnerable position in society. Predators lurk in wait on every side. Too often other Christian women regard them as a threat to their marriages. I am certain that the practice of dress reform in those years spared me from a thousand perils! If nothing else, it reminded ME that I stood for God. Like the “border of blue” on the hem of the Israelite's garment, my dress continually reminded me that all heaven expected me to maintain a high moral standard.
The husband my daughter chose reflected her choice to serve another God. After seventeen years of mocking me and my carefulness in religion, the two discovered their marriage in shambles. Dragged through a terrible hell, their five children witnessed scenes no child should ever behold, as their hearts were rent over the conflict between their parents. Following counsel far from God, both parents betrayed marital trusts. Facing divorce court, while everyone thought there was no hope of reconciliation, my son in law asked me to teach him how to win my daughter's heart. Today, they both tell their children the only reason they are together is because of “Grammy's good coaching in teaching Daddy how to love Mommy.”
Somehow I believe that if I had ever yielded to a compromising spirit under their ridicule, I never would have had this opportunity. This past school year all five of my grandchildren attended SDA schools even though for most of their childhood, their father forbade them to attend any SDA functions with me! A few Sabbaths ago I joyfully attended the baptism of the three youngest.
I praise God for all His counsels that make our lives rich, but I especially thank Him for the sacred privilege of honoring Him in dress reform!