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The red coat

Take perfection when you can get it

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Does anyone know what perfection looks like—until they see it? We know imperfection well enough: “I expected better.” “It’s not supposed to be this way.” “What am I missing?”

I was missing family, community, even purpose. I knew enough to doubt myself and be wary of expectations. I knew that nothing on this earth lasts forever, good or bad, and that my hope is in heaven (nearer now than ever before). But I was missing gut-level assurance in the pall of winter. I wasn’t getting it, and couldn’t ask for it, because wasn’t simple faith enough?

All this was weighing me down in February 2020 when I went shopping for a coat.

But for now, a natural, ordinary sign is a kiss from heaven.

My only shopping options beyond Walmart and Dollar General are over an hour away, so I can’t just drop in at Target or the outlet mall when I have a little extra time. My time comes in chunks, crammed with other errands, and it’s not often I have a chunk of time empty enough simply to shop. When I do, it’s worth an entire afternoon, so that’s why I was negotiating traffic on the south end of town on a day when the high temperature never topped 20 degrees. I would take that time and, Lord willing, come home with a serviceable, warm winter coat that would cost around $45 and last me the rest of my life.

Perfection was not on my list: just something that would look reasonably stylish and feel warm on a 20-degree day. Also, not fuzzy, shiny, or puffy. At the end of the season my choices would be limited but probably more affordable. And if I couldn’t find anything, oh well. That’s what my life had been lately: underperformance.

Nothing at Target. A nice-looking gray fleece-lined knit at Kohl’s: easy care, versatile, might work if they had it in another size … but they didn’t. The other choice at Kohl’s looked something like what I had in mind—on the hanger, but not on me. While there I tried on a top that told me I was too old for it. (Thanks for the reminder!)

After picking over the outerwear racks at J.C. Penney’s and Marshalls and Ross, it was 5:30, almost dark and bone-chilling cold. Gordmans was last on my list, but halfway there I abruptly remembered it had moved. Not in the direction I was headed—over a mile away by then, and I was in the middle of rush-hour traffic in the most congested part of town.

It took determination to make a long left turn and head back the way I’d come. Past time, by then, to be on my way home. But this far along in my quest, wouldn’t it be a shame to turn back now? Especially since I didn’t know when the next chunk of time would roll my way?

Bless Gordmans for hanging on to their winter stock just a little longer. My eyes fell upon three long racks of outerwear in all sizes: fuzzy, shiny, puffy, and otherwise. Surely there would be something suitable in all this abundance? There was: I tried on five, came down to two. One was canvas with a plush lining, light but warm, three-quarter length, detachable hood in a subdued burgundy color. Practical and versatile, though it almost swallowed me when completely zipped.

The other was deep red, 65 percent wool, black lining, warm but not bulky. Beautifully tailored, in fact: Once on, it complemented rather than overwhelmed me.

Con: It was a little dressier than I was looking for, a little spendier, not quite as versatile.

Pro: The more I looked, the closer it came to perfection.

Moral: When it’s within reach, always reach for perfection.

My life remains imperfect. It will get better and worse by turns. I still struggle with implementing big plans and craving supernatural signs. But for now, a natural, ordinary sign is a kiss from heaven. God sent me a red coat.

Janie B. Cheaney Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD's annual Children's Book of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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