I was in D.C. recently. It was a sun-filled but chilly day as a small group of friends and I wandered through the capitol city dappled with cherry blossoms. We tucked into one of the many Smithsonians, losing ourselves and each other in the maze of flags and memorabilia, when I stepped into the room that housed the gowns and personal effects of our First Ladies. It took my breath away.
I walked slowly along the display wall, pausing to read the caption cards, gazing intently at the beading on Mamie Eisenhower’s pale pink inaugural gown and smiling when I saw Nancy Reagan’s white satin Cinderella slippers. I felt a kinship with these women, seeing the gowns and accessories, dishes and stationery, all picked out lovingly, carefully, to make the White House their home. They weren’t so different than I, I felt, when I saw Edith Wilson’s bawdy purple feather fan and Abigail Adams’ glass pearl necklace… We’re all still girls.
I traced the perimeter of the room, finally settling on a small bench in front of a screen tucked into the wall. It was playing the tape from the ceremony when Michelle Obama donated her inaugural gown and just nearing the end, so I waited through the credits for it to loop back around and start.
The couple next to me got up. The tape started to play again. An open shot of the main hall at the Smithsonian, rows of seats in a sun-filled room all facing a small podium at the front, and beside it, four chairs. An announcer came on over the loudspeakers, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome designer Jason Wu… The Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History… The Secretary of the Smithsonian…” Three men strode from a hallway in the corner of the screen, and I watched that spot waiting for Mrs. Obama to appear.
I started imagining what she must be thinking, feeling—while she was surely undoubtedly honored, this fuss probably wasn’t a big deal to her. She’s the First Lady, after all. Pomp and circumstance had probably gotten fairly de rigueur at this point—she just wanted to get on the stage and do the thing.
Finally I saw a flash of her short white day dress peeking from around the corner, and those telltale toned arms. I read the white captioned words at the bottom of the screen as I heard, “And finally, the First Lady of the United States of America…”
My whole body lurched. Like I was about to be sick or immediately start bawling, a strong and sudden bolt starting in my stomach shot to the top of my head. Inexplicably, hot tears began making warm rivulets down my face as Mrs. Obama walked nonchalantly up the steps to the small podium and sat in her chair.
What was that?
“The First Lady of the United States of America…” The words echoed.
I was taken back to a night in LA. A night after college. I had been sitting in a medium-sized Bible study at a small café in Studio City when a guest speaker called me out. “You… Yes, you. I feel like there’s something I need to tell you.” I lifted my head and blood rushed to my cheeks as many sets of eyes turned to me in the darkened room.
“I just keep looking at you and hearing, ‘First Lady… First Lady…’ And I feel like the Lord wants me to tell you that that’s how he sees you—as his First Lady. And just like no one is allowed to speak disrespectfully to the First Lady of the United States, or dishonor her, that’s the same way the Lord sees you. You are his bride. And he is your defense. He respects you, honors you, and expects people to do the same. You are his First Lady.”
I was floored.
“What… in… the… “
Even now, retyping these words, my heart can hardly believe it. But in the humblest way I know how to possibly say, it felt true. While I rarely feel worthy of any special respect or honor, and am certainly aware of numerous shortcomings and faults which would immediately discount me from many forms of esteem… Her words spoke to something deep and noble in me.
“The Lord sees me as what…? Really?”
I remember once hearing an interview with one of Princess Diana’s childhood friends, and she spoke about how young Diana never smoked or drank or slept around or got into trouble because, “she always had this uncanny sense that her life was made for something greater. She knew her actions would count someday, so she preserved herself for a noble cause.” I was only 13 or so when I heard these words, but they immediately branded themselves on my heart. That’s exactly how I’ve always felt. Set apart. Preserved. Branded for something noble.
So as I sat on that small bench in a dark room at the Smithsonian, brushing away the now-drying streams of tears, I savored those words. “The First Lady of the United States of America…”
There’s power in those words. Power in nobility and grace. Power not from man, not from earned prestige or ill-gotten influence… But power from the Lord’s hand. I may never marry a president—country, company, or otherwise. I may never have a title or cause or crown that brings people to awe. …But I am the bride of the Most High. And I want to live worthy of that call.
I want to be His First Lady.