Episode 31: Hannah Lamberth: A Wedding Dress
Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast. This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.
I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.
So I’m delighted to be joined again for this episode by Hannah Lambert; hello Hannah!
H: Hello again!
C: It’s great to have you with us. So how have you been?
H: Busy. Lots going on. Family, work, life, general busyness. So it’s nice to be able to come today to what is a very very sunny Stoke, we’ve been sat in the garden all morning having a delightful, restful day, which is just such a treat. In our lovely conversation, we’ve been discussing Catherine’s forthcoming nuptials, which is very exciting. She’s doing a grin from ear to ear, for you listeners here, which is just the most wonderful thing. When Catherine and I first met, she had just begun dating the lucky man, and now the wedding is imminent, isn’t it? And has been sharing with me this morning a very, very lovely story about the wedding dress that she’ll wear on the big day.
C: Yes! So I was just talking about the fact that my wedding dress shopping just felt incredibly blessed. I know life doesn’t always work like that, but I had set out with a couple of friends to find a wedding dress, and I have to tell you that clothes shopping is amongst my least favourite things in the world. Because I am both shorter and wider than average, it can be really, really tricky. Finding things to fit is really hard. So I’d been very concerned about needing to find a dress. I was not after a ‘wedding’ dress as such. It’s the second time I’ve got married, and that wou;d have felt really, really inappropriate, and just not ‘me’ really. I’m not sure it was ‘me’ first time around, but definitely, definitely, I wasn’t going for white. So I just wanted a dress that would look nice that I could maybe hold a bunch of flowers with. The fact I’d got a couple of friends who were willing to come clothes shopping with me was just brilliant. So we had set aside a day and we set out from, I live in a place called Trentham, and just down the road from me, there’s a place with shops and stuff. So we started out there, found nothing. One of my mates really likes a shop there that has completely random mad psychedelic coloured furs in it, so why she thought we needed to go into that shop I don’t know.
H: I am sad that that isn’t where you got your dress from, because that would have been really fun!
C: Well yes. I think it’s just one of her favourite places so she just wanted to go in. That was where I got mistaken for being the mother of the bride, which I know potentially that’s possible but that still wasn’t the best feel. Unfortunately – well, it’s not unfortunate, is it? But I am old enough to be the mother of a respectably-aged bride these days. But anyway. So then we dragged along to Marks & Spencers down the road, big huge Marks and Spencers, not too far from us, absolutely nothing. Then we headed off to Cheadle Hulme in Manchester. I think it’s Cheadle Hulme, or just Cheadle?
H: Cheadle Hulme, yep
C: Where there’s a really, really big John Lewis’s. I was quite hopeful about John Lewis’s, because there are lots of concessions at John Lewis, like loads of them, and I had been told by fellow wider-than-average friends that that was a really good – there were a couple of places there that would be really good for getting larger sized clothes. Absolutely nothing. I put on a whole pile of stuff that looked worse than things I’ve already got in my wardrobe. So that was a no. Then my friend had had a text from her daughter actually, who had been having a look online and had found out about a shop called Yours in Stockport, which was just 5 miles down the road from where we were, that does clothes for bigger ladies. So we thought “right, ok, we’ll head to Stockport.” Stockport town centre, I have to say, is not the most glorious place in the world.
H: *chuckles* As a resident of Stockport, it’s safe to say it’s the most desolate place!
H: It’s pretty dire, isn’t it?
C: And it was a really really wet day, we’d parked up and went into Yours, and I don’t want to be rude about Yours, but it was pretty grim. Even if I was not looking for wedding gear, it was kind of ‘low grade for fat people’ as far as I could tell.
H: What do you mean, you didn’t find the dress of your dreams there?!
C: I did not find the dress of my dreams. I did not find the dress of my “this might do for a night out” – or “for an afternoon gardening” sort of thing. There really was nothing. One of my mates then decided, “if the shopping has not gone well, we should at least have a decent lunch.” I like this philosophy! So she went on tripadvisor and found us a nice cafe that was about 5 minutes walk away. Still in Stockport town centre, but a really good cafe. The plan was, “we’ll have a look online for dresses whilst we’re there. So we’re not going to find a dress today, but if we can order some stuff we can at least look at it in the comfort of my own home". Whilst we’re looking at stuff in this – it has to be said – really lovely cafe, where we did get the nice lunch, we’re looking at stuff online and what I had learned from the completely pointless trip to John Lewis was that none of the stuff we were looking at was going to look any good. It really really wasn’t. So we sat there, at this point I’m thinking “I’m never going to find a wedding dress”. Then we started having a conversation about “would it be worth looking for something in a bridal shop?” Because actually the stuff I had tried on, even if it had looked good, made it look much more like I would be going to someone else’s wedding, than that I was having my own wedding. They do things for bridesmaids and stuff don’t they, there might be something.
H: It is a challenge, isn’t it, to be a bride who doesn’t want to wear a classic bridal dress, but also to look like the bride. That in itself –
C: Yeah, alright. Are you saying that I was looking for the impossible outfit?!
H: It just makes the ending of the story all the more glorious!
C: So we thought, “there’s no chance in this fairly-run-down, it’s-all-closed kind of town” that we’re going to find a bridal shop. But we thought we might as well ask the people who were here in the cafe. They said “yeah, yeah, there is, there’s a bridal shop worth a shot.” In this end of Stockport, there was going to be a bridal shop. So we went, hope in our hearts around the corner to find this bridal shop…which was shut. Possibly closed down. As we were walking away from this not-bridal shop, there was a charity shop with some kind of fairly hideous, but obviously meant to be ‘dressy’ dresses in the windows, sort of bridesmaid-y, ‘you might send your child to their prom in it if you were really cruel’ kind of dresses in the window. So I said “is it worth us having a look in here?” One of my friends said “well, yeah, we might as well, it’s looking better than anything else we’ve seen today” – which is not a very high bar, I have to say. So we went in, it took about 30s to realise that there is absolutely nothing worth looking at in this charity shop. As we were leaving, I saw this A-board on the pavement which was saying, of this charity shop that we’d just left, “upstairs: second hand bridal emporium”. So we were like “right, ok!” So we marched back into this charity shop, up the stairs, we end up on this landing where there’s a couple of rails of stuff, find a dress that might be worth trying on, my friend says “you might be able to try this”. But there’s nowhere to try dresses on, there’s a door with a notice on it that says “Engaged”, which is evidently there to dissuade people from going through it. Says “this looks like it’s possibly a changing room”. So walks through it into The Emporium. It was like out of the movies, this long room, two huge rows of dresses, there’s bling at one end, there’s a big posh changing room. So, tried the dress on, it didn’t do up at the back, but it really was exactly, I can’t tell you how exactly perfect it was. So my friend goes downstairs to say, “there must be something we can do with this!” Obviously it doesn’t fit, but there must be something we can do with it. So she goes downstairs to ask the people in the shop if they can come up and give us some advice. The response she gets is “well you’re not meant to be up there, it’s shut!”
C: So apparently the woman who is The Queen of The Bridal Emporium wasn’t in that day, but one of the women downstairs sometimes helped her out. So with a bit of persuasion she was able to come up and say “yeah, you just need to swap the zip for ribbons”. Y’know that corset-y ribbon-y fastening you sometimes get, and she reckoned that would be really easy to do, so we had found the dress, but what really touched me about it, if we are working on the premise, and I am, that God was involved in this, is that I had been kind of down-grading the kind of dress I was going to have for my wedding, I had been trying not to make a fuss, which I had been trying to do about various aspects of my wedding. I wasn’t going for anything fancy, I definitely wasn’t going for The Bridal Moment, but I found myself in front of this beautiful mirror, with crying friends, standing on a podium –
H: It’s like – have you seen Say Yes To The Dress? It’s a guilty pleasure of mine, it’s basically people going with Gok Wan into a wedding shop and trying on various dresses until they find the one, and they say “do you want to say yes to the dress?” It feels like, for anyone who’s seen it, this was your “Say Yes to the Dress” moment, it’s magical.
C: Absolutely! Absolutely, completely magical! And the number of things which needed to line up in order for us to end up in that particular charity shop in Stockport, which is a good hour’s drive, we needed to do the things that didn’t work in Stoke. The other thing which I found out later, is that there is a Yours shop just down the road from us. The reason we’d gone to Stockport was to find Yours, but how did my friend’s daughter end up telling us about the shop that’s in Stockport, and not the one that’s two miles down the road?! If we hadn’t been in the cafe and asked about the bridal shop, if we hadn’t wandered into the charity shop, if we hadn’t marched so boldly up the stairs in the charity shop before the women had a chance to say “no you can’t”
H: I love that there’s a good chunk of rule-breaking in your wedding dress story as well, I just think that’s perfect, isn’t it?
H: Some naughtiness
C: There was a moment when I walked through this door and I just boldly said “we’re not allowed in here” whilst –
H: But who cares?
C: Absolutely, who cares?
H: But actually, if that had been the first place you’d looked, you might not have been so bold as to say “we’re not allowed in here”. Because actually there is that, when you come up against that much disappointment, there is a sense of “oh, whatever”.
C: But there is – they say, don’t they, about kids with neurodiversity, that all behaviour is communication, so there’s something in “what is it that God was wanting to tell me?” And part of it, actually, is about the redemption of the relationship that I’m in, there has been an element for me about not wanting to make a fuss about getting married, but it is beautiful. Because of my story, because of Stephen’s story, there’s a huge amount of redemption in being in this place, and it really felt like God is saying “I want you to feel… special.” Like She was saying to me, “this is your ‘say yes to the dress’ moment.” I didn’t think that I wanted or needed that kind of moment. But actually, it was really really precious. The fact that my friends were there. And they then scuttled off downstairs and paid for my dress as my wedding present.
H: So lovely
C: It’s beautiful
H: It’s beautiful that happened in community as well, because actually, you could have quite easily said “I’ll pop to Trentham and try something on”, given up and gone online and done something, but actually your friends, who sound like they’ve been fairly persistent in their desire for you to have the gown of your dreams, for your day, actually in that community, you said “let’s drive an hour away, let’s go to Stockport, let’s go to John Lewis, let’s go into the town centre and give it a go.” But actually on your own, you probably wouldn’t have bothered.
C: No, I probably wouldn’t have done
H: You wouldn’t have known about the Yours shop, you wouldn’t have asked in the cafe about the bridal shop, it’s just done beautifully in community, isn’t it, which is lovely.
C: There’s been that in all of the planning that I’ve been doing, that we’ve been doing. There has been that sense of community. Friends wanting to do stuff. So a couple of friends boldly announced that they wanted to decorate the hall where we’re going to have the reception. And they’re going to way more trouble than I would.
H: You’re not spending your Saturday night making paper roses
C: No, I’m not, but somebody is
H: Somebody is, yeah.
C: There’s so much love in that, which I think is beautiful.
C: But the thing that’s really struck me has been that sense of God being with me in all of it. And really wanting to communicate something of God’s love for me, for us, and approval and blessing on what’s happening. Because for both of us we’ve been through some quite difficult stuff. So to be at this point is a real blessing. That sense of “this is a new beginning”. The whole thing about resurrection and redemption, it’s a new beginning, it’s a new start. And it’s not second-best, which is lovely.
H: It’s really lovely. When we were talking about this earlier, we were talking about it being a ‘pre-loved’ I think is the word, a pre-loved dress isn’t it? What’s the story in that? That story of restoration. Of actually this isn’t just an off the shelf, been made, it’s brand new, but actually even your wedding dress itself is a story of restoration and goodness and that it can be altered and changed for this new season, and adapted to fit you perfectly
C: Yes, and one of the little details that was a huge blessing to me is that actually we got it from a hospice shop. And Stephen’s wife died and had hospice care and she was a friend of mine as well, so there’s the fact of just that detail that we will be blessing them too, feels really right.
H: And the passing on of –
H: It’s just the most precious story, which is part of a much bigger story, which is just beautiful and more intricate and tells of God’s kindness and goodness. It’s precious, it’s really glorious, and it’s in Stockport as well, which I’m just delighted at.
H: Coz it’s where I’m from!
H: Well, I’m not from there, I’ve lived there a long time.
C: But somewhere that you know
I think in our discussion that we had earlier, you were talking about the intimacy of God in the small things
C: And you were saying “don’t feel like that to me at the moment”
H: Absolutely. So Catherine’s had this wonderful story, and it’s glorious, I love it! I too have got a great big grin on my face, don’t I? I’m absolutely delighted for you. Catherine was saying how it’s just one example of how God can really care about the little details in the bigger scheme of things, and one dress for your wedding day doesn’t seem like the biggest thing on the agenda, but that is something that God is so bothered about. And instead of being a really enthusiastic and encouraging friend and saying “yeah, it’s wonderful isn’t it”, I went “urgh, I don’t feel like that!”
H: And I think there is that tension between the experience that you’ve had recently, but life hasn’t always been a walk in the park, has it, and there is the ability to rejoice in the kindness of God in the small things for one another, but there’s also the reality that life is bloomin’ tough. Sometimes. And sometimes you’re like “God, there is so much opportunity to show up in the small things, in the difficulties and the challenge of life, so where are you? Where’s my story of encouragement in that?”
C: Yep, yep. So for you, it’s not feeling like that? You’re feeling more of the absence of God in the small things?
H: Yeah. And I think to have faith in God is to believe in the greater, isn’t it? And the higher power, and the sense of purpose in all things and to say “God does have A Plan”, one of the – some would say misquoted, but that’s a whole nother – that we won’t go down. But one of the most used verses in the bible is Jeremiah 29v11, of “For I know the plans I have for you”, because we desperately want to know that we’re part of something greater and bigger, where there is a plan, where life isn’t just accidental, but actually that we are part of something far more intentional, far more created. So I think there is a sense of, for me to be able to cope with challenges and difficulties, to be able to go “God is bigger, God is above all things, God is in control eternally”, but sometimes I think it’s easy to lose sight of God in the intricate detail of our lives. And I think there is a question of “have I just been overwhelmed or too busy to see what God is doing?”
C: I wouldn’t go down that path, because I think that puts the emphasis back on you in a way that’s unhelpful, actually.
H: That’s wise
C: My experience over the years has been that God will be doing something in me that still has hope and still has meaning, even in the days where things have been really really difficult and things have been really dark. So, I mean, I’ve had 3 nervous breakdowns in the last 12 years. Probably slightly more than 12 years, perhaps 15. But I have, and always it’s been at those moments when life has just been really really really difficult. What has helped me to hold onto hope has been that sense that God is doing something good in me and in the world, despite that, but I’ve needed to walk with a God who doesn’t intervene. Who is there, I think in one of her books Sue Monk Kid talks about the God of Presence, not the God of Rescue. And when you are living with that sense that there is a God who is with me, but quietly. You know when Jesus is in the boat and He’s asleep, and we all have that moment where the disciples are saying “What are you upto?! We are going to drown! And you might be here, but you seem to be snoozing!” And it sounds like that has been some of your experience. Trusting that you are still held in God’s love, despite the fact that things aren’t changing, and despite the fact that God isn’t turning up in the details. So there may be things where God is doing stuff and you’re not noticing. But often actually God just isn’t interventionist in the way that we would hope. And there is something in the life of faith in holding those two things together. Because the temptation then is to say “well if God doesn’t turn up in this way or in this detail, then God doesn’t do that ever.” And that’s evidently not true, because lots of people have stories where God does. One of my detailed stories, which is just nutty, is that before my boys were born, before we adopted them, myself and my then-husband, God told us what their names were. This was before we’d even talked about adopting.
C: We were doing some 24/7 prayer in the house and he came downstairs one morning and said “God’s given me two names”. And we’d got friends who were, slightly randomly, they weren’t Christians, but they were praying to have male twins. Coz they wanted to start a family. Which is a completely mad thing. But my husband had come downstairs with 2 names that God had given him, 2 boys names, so we wrote them down and kept hold of them, because we thought “This will be the proof! They will become Christians when we can say, ‘God told us the names of your children!’” And then they had a little girl.
C: Yes, one little girl
H: Instead of 2 boys? With the 2 names that you had?
C: Yes, but, 6 years later when we are sitting looking at profiles of kids, I have a real sense in my heart, there’s a couple of boys, and something just warms in my heart a bit. We’re looking at them and I say “well, shall we find out about these two boys?” and so we decided that we would ask a bit more about them, and it was in that moment that I suddenly realised what they were called.
C: It’s like, “but that’s mad!” Which makes me very aware that whatever this life of faith looks like, whatever walking through the world with God looks like, it includes these details. And that sense of intimacy. But also alongside that is this sense of God not intervening in situations where we just think “why not?!” But it’s difficult to see both of those at the same time. I think you’re either in a season of walking with the God of Presence and walking in that Presence and trusting the fact that God is lovingly with us, despite the fact that it doesn’t look like it, and then there are other times where it’s really evident that God is intervening and involved, and blessing us, and doing things with the details. I remember ending up in hospital visiting somebody, and I’d gone with a friend and we were going to visit someone and then another friend kind of turned up, and there were these series of encounters between people that lined up and my mate said “do you ever feel like God is lining us up like billiard balls?” That was one of those moments. Equally, our friend who was in hospital could list dozens of ways she would have liked God to have intervened, and God hadn’t intervened. It’s a mystery, isn’t it?
H: I think it’s very easy to forget what God’s done as well sometimes. I had a text this week from a friend with a selfie with another mutual friend of ours and the mutual friend I got to know and have since introduced to this other friend of ours coz my youngest daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 20 months old and ended up in hospital, and two beds away there was another lady who was in with her pretty sick child as well. When you’re in hospital with sick children you end up having the 24hr stays, and then you have the committed ones that are there for a week or two, and actually, time stands still in hospital. Anyway I got to know this lovely lady and her son, and she wasn’t a Christian and she was asking about my faith and one night we ended up in a side room while our kids were asleep, left in the careful care of the nurses, and she gave her life to Jesus. And it wasn’t an interaction that either of us would have ever wanted, to be there with our sick children, and there are so many ways that God could have intervened in that situation that would have been really quite ideal, mainly healing, or making it not happen in the first place, and actually this lady now has an incredibly strong faith and it’s totally changed her life, and I just think, that was a moment I’ve totally forgotten for years, and it was only this week, then I thought actually, God’s there in our pain and our weakness, doing things we can’t always see and we don’t understand the significance of the impact of. So even when you’re not in those moments I guess it’s good to reflect and look back and think about where we’ve already seen God in the everyday and the intimate and the small things.
C: And allowing for the fact that we can’t control which season we’re in. It’s fine to honestly ask God for what we need and what we want, and it’s entirely appropriate, but I look back, there would have been a time in my life when I would have felt that if I can just pray hard enough, or just work hard enough as a Christian, I could make those things happen, and actually, I’m not convinced that we can. It’s not that God doesn’t listen to prayer, but actually, sometimes there is grace of one kind, and sometimes there is grace of another kind. And both are beautiful.
C: But I’m not sure it’s necessarily in our power to make one thing happen or make another thing happen.
H: Yep, there’s no magic formula for making God do what you want
C: There is no magic formula
H: Making Him do things at a specific time
C: No. There is just a glorious journey
C: And there’s that lovely bit that talks about being like wind blown like the Spirit. We don’t know where the wind is coming from or where it’s going to, but it’s lovely to be along for the ride.
C: Thank you ever so much for coming to chat
H: Thank you for having me
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Thank you for listening.