I have no idea how I became one of them, but I did. Thousands of women on chatty, buy, sell, and trade private facebook pages dedicated to brand name handbags. Before I knew it, I was a member of several groups. Women enmeshed in what was either a hellish addiction or heaven. Their cumulative depth of knowledge was utterly astounding. Multiple daily sales posts and professional-looking staged photos of their latest acquisitions drew me in quickly. “I’m In Love” was a common single byline over many photos. One lady posted “New Arrivals” with a photo of two handbags and her new born! I wasn’t sure what to think. Either I was missing something about handbags or these ladies were, in fact, living in another dimension. I just needed a good handbag, one that would last me my usual eight to ten years. So I stayed with the groups, a brand, and these ladies who would help me complete my task.
However, my analytical passions got the best of me and I soon desired to find out more about these ladies and their “loves.” I wondered why they sold so many bags. Were they making poor decisions? And what about this trading thing? How did that work and why wouldn’t someone just buy new? Then there was the profuse thanking of one member to another for helping find their “unicorn” bag. What was that? I felt stupid asking on a public page and even more ridiculous when my question was answered.
Within weeks, I had purchased and returned a dozen bags and was deep into interacting with ladies about sales, discounts, cash back incentives and handbag care. I was buying and selling handbags like a short order cook flipping pancakes during breakfast rush. Whenever someone asked a question, I gave my newly obtained advice. I relished the “likes” and comments on my posts and got a little buzz off how quickly I sold bags that did not work for me. I loved passing on great prices to others, due to my thriftiness. Seemingly overnight I had become one of them. I personally friended and conversed regularly with many of the members, including the woman who had posted the photo of her handbags with her newborn.
My husband and adult sons frequently expressed concern about what was looking very much like an obsession. I, in turn, saved photos of different women’s large collections to show them I had this under control. At least I thought I did. But, in a matter of five months, I had bought and sold or returned 37 items. This experience helped me decide the size, style and type of material I wanted in my handbag. However, I now had nine handbags, three totes, five accessories, a couple coming in the mail, and one on my wish list. Okay, it was two. Two were on my wish list, for now. This was far from my goal of finding one quality handbag to last me ten years. Was I out of control? Was this the beginning of another addiction just like the half dozen other things I’d “collected” and just spent years of my life purging?
“Please God,” I found myself praying. “Please don’t tell me this is just another over indulging, materialistic, entitlement-obtaining act of filling up my empty self.” As those words rolled over my tongue, I pictured my handbags posed for one of those “family photos” so many other ladies had posted. I wanted to do that. I wanted everyone to see I had a modest collection. I wanted them to see the functionality within the beautiful silhouettes that had become my personal style. I wanted them to see how well I coordinated colors, style, fashion and function. And I wanted to justify it all by telling them the amazing low price I had paid for the total collection. I wanted the beauty of what I had created to be seen.
But something more was behind all the posts and comments, sales, rebates, and addictively obsessive behavior I found myself loving. It was my own desire. I stopped wondering why other women were buying and selling handbags. I stopped thinking maybe some of them were addicted. I stopped justifying my purchases and returns based on thriftiness. I just stopped. Then I saw the attraction. I saw the empty hole I had. I saw my neediness.
When I was thirteen I finally saved enough of my own money to buy the purse I had been wanting. A burgundy all-in-one clutch style with a snap tab closure, wristlet strap, kiss lock coin purse with lots of photo sleeves and a spot for a check book. It was the very first purse I ever purchased. I excitedly showed my mother this treasure. I so wanted her to join me in the pleasure of my accomplishment in this step toward becoming a lady. But she didn’t.
Forty Two years later, I met a group of strangers who taught me about handbags. I learned about style, size, strap drop, organizational pockets, lining, closures, color and craftsmanship. I never imagined leather had so many variations. My preferences and observation of these ladies gave birth to an insatiable desire to carry my own version of a beautiful handbag. Given my handbag history, this shocked me. I knew I was not addicted to this, I had too many boundaries in place, I had too little space, and I didn’t want to own things I did not use. Still, I wondered how this new passion could be so intense this late in my life.
Then I noticed how ladies posted about their bags. “Who’s with you today?” “Starting my work week with this beauty!” “She’s finally here.” were frequent phrases accompanied by photos of a handbag in the passenger seat of a car, perched on a deck railing or in a garden of flowers. I heard the word “carry” over and over in reference to size and style. “I carry light”, “I carry everything but the kitchen sink”, “What are you carrying today?” And woven throughout the sales and discussion posts were bits and pieces of what some women carried in their personal lives. There were requests for prayer, fundraisers, kind words and generous deeds among these ladies who loved to carry beautiful handbags. This was intimately personal.
As I pondered these things I no longer struggled with why I or any of these women love to carry beautiful handbags. I know God made women to unveil beauty. I know our bodies are made for carrying things like babies and breast milk. We carry emotions and burdens for those we love. We carry painful broken promises, insults to our bodies and hearts. We carry laundry and groceries, job titles and expectations. We carry grief and loss. Love and hope. But for some of us, the pain and the promise never show the way it was intended. It is guarded, much like how some of us guard the opening of our handbags. It’s hidden by our beautiful distractions. We function our way through life with the accessories we’ve been given and the organizational systems included in our “bag.”
But every woman wants to carry beauty. If that is in our physical beauty, our parenting, relationships, or careers people will see that. If it is hidden inside our brokenness and needs to be shown in our jewelry, clothing, shoes, or handbags people will see that as well. That is why we feel good when someone compliments what we carry on the outside. Because somewhere behind that jewelry, beneath that outfit, and inside that handbag is our beauty shinning through.
Don’t ever think those things make you more beautiful. You are one-of-a-kind, perhaps vintage, but never the less, “mint” in the eyes of your Maker. And it is YOU who give beauty to all that is around you, not the other way around.