What’s in a Starched Shirt?

The club never had a name and it never had a meeting. No one ever asked you to join; it was up to you if you wanted to belong. Well, almost up to you. You needed to have a serious boyfriend and get his permission first. If he agreed, your membership was quietly published when his starched and ironed white shirt appeared on a hanger in your dorm room or in the lobby as you joined him for a date.

Seeing me happily ironing my future husband’s shirt one day, a girl from across the hall announced the dorm mother didn’t want residents doing that anymore. What! I was a second-semester senior and, as far as I knew, the latest initiate from our girls’ dorm into this select club. Not about to relinquish the membership card I had received at the eleventh hour, I kept ironing the shirt weekly.

Back in my college years, all the young men wore white shirts, suits, and ties to Sunday morning church services. Hundreds of them would worship in the church whose property was bounded on three sides by my school’s sprawling campus. Any student could easily walk to it. That’s where I would hook up with my boyfriend at 9:30 a.m. and proudly smile at his polished look in the shirt I had ironed.

Sunday’s clean and crisp shirt was more than a symbol of our serious relationship. It was service in love. Each time I sprinkled with water and pressed out the shirt’s wrinkles and puckers, I imprinted more of myself on the man I would marry and was increasingly convinced I wanted to share in the mundane things as well as in the hopes and dreams of building a home together.

As soon as the marriage certificate was signed, five additional starched, white shirts were birthed. While conscientiously ironing them throughout the years, I felt that I was doing my part in helping my husband put his best foot forward as he worked jobs that brought him face to face with a fickle public. Also, I thought of his appearance as a reflection of me. I wanted to be seen as a wife who took good care of her husband.

Having invested myself in how he presented himself, I felt that he was representing me. In another dimension, whenever I saw the sparkling white, wrinkle-free shirt covering his chest, I knew I had given a gift of my heart to protect his heart while we were apart.

Guarding the heart is what the apostle Paul had in mind when, using Roman armor imagery, he advised the Christian to put on the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14). A defensive weapon, the bronze breastplate worn by the ancient Roman soldier was commonly called “the heart protector.”

Ten years earlier, Paul had used the same military metaphor but referred to it as “the breastplate of faith and love” (1 Thessalonians 5:8). Faith and love, blended together, protect the heart against the attacks and influences of evil and preserve what is vital.

Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23 AMP).

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