I met my friend in the church parking lot after daily Mass to make the exchange. We opened the trunks of our respective minivans and transferred nine garbage bags full of little girls’ clothing—her past, and my future.

My friend had recently had her seventh and likely last child, a boy. The same week, I had delivered my third child, my first girl. Her four daughters had outgrown the garments she offered me. Some would fit my daughter right away. Others would have to wait until her second or third year. That time seemed so distant, and yet I knew from my two older boys that it would be here and gone before I knew it.

Going through the bags took a whole glorious afternoon. Free shopping for the dresses and cardigans I’d been dreaming about for years from the comfort of my own home? Yes, please.

I started with the smallest sizes, and added a few to my girl’s already satisfactory wardrobe. Then it was on to six months, twelve months, eighteen months, two years. As I dumped bag after bag onto my bed for sorting, I chronicled the story of a family.

Here, in a dress, an affinity for the Yankees. There, in a t-shirt, a souvenir of a trip to an island or a theme park. Here, in stretchy pants with polka dots, innumerable playdates. Dresses for Easter. A onesie bejeweled with a pumpkin and embellished with an orange tulle tutu for Halloween.

At the same time, I watched my infant daughter’s future days unfold. I considered the seasons when I expected she would be such a size, whether she’d need more shorts or sweaters in our varied northeast climate. My boys wore zip-up footie pajamas until they were potty trained, and transitioned into two-piece sets. I was already imagining the same for a little girl who couldn’t yet sit up.

I found a dress for her to wear for Christmas Mass later that year, and a size up for the following year, when she would be walking, talking, laughing, and singing. Would her hair stay curly or go straight? Would her eyes remain blue or morph into green, like mine? She was only five months old, her personality bubbling up in fits and starts, gurgles and cries, her likes and dislikes starting to make themselves—herself—known.

It was an emotional experience to pack the items I’d chosen into plastic under-bed storage bins. It looked too compact. It was stored away too easily. The years threatened to pass too quickly.

By the time my girl outgrows the last of the items I put away for her, she will be ready to choose her clothing for herself. Perhaps she will want to wear the same thing every day—a dress, or maybe a shirt with a butterfly paired with striped stretchy pants. Or she will create a new ensemble each morning, each afternoon, each evening, and never wear the same combination twice. Then again, she might follow her brothers’ lead and simply grab whatever’s on top in her drawer, her mind on any number of other activities.

In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul reminds us that, “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.” As parents, we choose how to clothe our children, physically and spiritually. Faithfulness. Respect. Hope. Love. Joy. Gentleness. We set the example with the way we live our lives and with the gifts, the clothes, the garments we offer them.

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For as long as she’ll allow it, I will choose to dress my daughter in a way that honors her dignity. There will be t-shirts, onesies, dresses, and jammies. There will be Masses, rosaries, and grace before meals. We will pray for strength when we feel weak and rejoice to the Lord over good news. I hope that the way I choose to fill her closet and her early memories will convince her of the beautiful daughter—my daughter, a daughter of God—she truly is.

How have you clothed yourself today, on a spiritual level? How have you chosen to honor your dignity as a child of God in thoughts, words, and actions?

Copyright 2016 by Lindsay Schlegel