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The Story of the Pink Shoes

by Beth Bruno

For over 17 years a pair of faux pink suede shoes have been in their original box, with all the silica gel, in a tupperware container in storage. 17 years ago they received about an hour and a half of daylight. Worn once, but kept all these years because of the significance of the wearing. 

17 years ago I was smack in the middle of my time on staff with a Christian organization and smack in the middle of our time overseas. My husband was advancing in leadership and, so, we were invited to a massive regional conference on the Mediterranean coast, at a gorgeous 5-star hotel. There was going to be a banquet. And I, having recently lost baby weight, had purchased a brand new outfit; a feminine, flowy, soft outfit with matching shoes.

When the hour of the banquet finally arrived, I nearly floated into the hall, feeling so lovely, so radiant. I sat with my 4-year old on one side and my 1-year old on the other at a table with 6 men. After the initial pleasantries and chit chat, the men dove into strategizing, posturing, dominating. I became wife, mom, invisible

Acutely aware of my feet in the faux pink suede shoes, hidden and unseen beneath the table, I tended to little children and excused ourselves an hour later, leaving my husband to the table full of men and their business. 

I put the kids to bed still wearing my shoes, so reluctant to remove them. Finally, as I slowly took off each article of newly bought clothing, making a pile of feminine pink on the dresser, I took off one shoe and then the next, putting them in their box, from which they never emerged again.

At the time, I wonder if there will ever be a day when I don’t resent my husband or my kids or my organization for making me feel so unseen, for reducing me to a role instead of seeing me for me. My journal entry that night describes the chocolate I spend the evening eating and then contains a list of holiday meal items and office renovations. Our remaining time abroad, I become team chef and chief hostess because in these roles, at least, I am seen. 

Over the years, the metaphor shifts. Though the pink shoes remain boxed, my feet grow and my style changes. I find new shoes and my husband starts to notice them more readily. A child is added to the table, but my presence looms larger and, at times, I refuse to excuse us. We grow and the story evolves.

But the pattern remains. That familiar feeling that I’ve sunk my entire heart into these things, wiggling beneath the table, just screaming to be seen, to be noticed for what they represent: you are lovely in all your shed baby weight. You have offered us your truest self in these words. You ministered to us all in that talk. Your children will remember these moments for years. The situations are numerous and varied, but the cycle is a well worn path: I desire to be truly noticed. He misses my desire and then feels shame. I punish myself for risking, again, and withdraw. Unmet desire. Shame. Self-contempt. Repeat. 

Repeat.

Repeat. Slowly, our cycle shortens. Sometimes, we break it entirely. We hope again, and again, and again. We put words to the desire. We learn to name the shame. We risk replacing self-contempt with grace for ourselves. And we stay the course. 

It’s a story of pink shoes, and it has nothing at all to do with shoes. It’s a story of us: A story of a marriage unfolding. 

*To hear Beth and Chris process this story, listen to the Thrive Marriage Podcast, episode 15.

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