My heart fluttered in anticipation as the waiter led me and my parents to a secluded table at our favorite Italian restaurant. I still remember exactly what I wore that day—a blue button-down tucked into a navy blue skirt, my hair tucked back above my ears in a low-maintenance version of Victory rolls. Even at 16, my love for vintage fashion had already bloomed, along with my hopes and dreams for my future.
As we sat down at the table, however, I squirmed in a mix of joy and nervousness. As the eldest of many children, I rarely went to dinner with my parents by myself. But this was a special day…and a special birthday. The waiter brought us a crispy loaf of bread, shiny with egg wash and sprinkled with rosemary. As my mom and I tore bits off the loaf and dipped it in seasoned olive oil, my dad presented me with the gift I’d been waiting for all day.
“What do you think?” Mom asked eagerly.
What did I think? I thought I was the luckiest girl alive. For there, nestled inside a small red box, lay the prettiest ring I had ever seen: a band of white gold with nine tiny diamonds. My dad knew me well. I’ve never been a girl who loved jewelry, preferring to keep my personal appearance understated and elegant. Both words, however, could be used to describe this ring. In other words, it was perfect.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” I breathed, slipping it onto my finger. “I love it!”
“I’m so glad,” Dad said, smiling. “You know what this ring means, right?”
I nodded, listening intently as he expounded on this particular and very lovely ring’s symbolism. These days, such rings have fallen out of favor. Certain camps have sworn them off entirely, decrying them as symbols of patriarchy, oppression, and purity culture. But for me, it was never any of those things. For me, it was simply a tangible sign of my beloved father’s solemn promise to me, a promise to care for me and give me a place where I could flourish and safely rest my head until or unless someone else took my hand and led me to a new home. And anyone who knows me knows that I am all about tangible signs of sacred truth.
For fourteen years, I’ve loved this ring. Thankfully, I’ve only lost it once: four years and thirty lost pounds after that day at the Italian restaurant, it slipped off my finger while I was putting away groceries. One of my younger sisters found it at the foot of the refrigerator, and Dad took me to the jeweler’s to have it resized posthaste! Now I hardly ever take it off. Over the years, I’ve even developed a callous beneath my right ring finger where the band has rubbed my skin. My sisters call it “the Lothlórien ring,” on account of the fact that all our rings bear some resemblance (in our opinion) to one or another Lord of the Rings location.
Every time I look at this ring of mine, I still remember my dad’s promise. But a few years ago, I bestowed upon it another meaning, another ounce of symbolism, one I might never have embraced were it not for a certain British TV show about babies and nuns.
I was 27, and my world has shifted on its axis. The startling beauty of the Incarnation, the wisdom and guidance contained in the writings of ancient heroes and heroines of the faith, and a transformed view of my own role as a single woman offering her chastity to her Heavenly Bridegroom had left me in a state of grateful elation. Yes, there were hard, bleak days and nights where I’d cry myself to sleep over unrealized dreams, helpless prayers, and lonely thoughts. But as that year advanced from hopeful spring to blazing summer to my first real celebration of Advent, I was more at peace with who I was and where God had me than I’d ever been before.
Enter—or, rather, re-enter—Call the Midwife, the award-winning TV show about the midwives, nuns, and mothers of London’s East End in the mid-20th century. I’ve loved this show for years; in fact, as I write this, I’m in the process of rewatching it with my parents and introducing it to my youngest sister. I was on my third or fourth rewatch by 2019, and I enjoyed it as much as ever.
It was different this time, though. I’d always focused on the young midwives in times past—Jenny, Trixie, Cynthia, Patsy, Barbara—but now I found myself utterly captivated by the Anglican nuns. Sister Julienne, Sister Evangelina, Sister Monica Joan…these women, all brilliant and endearing in their own ways, had consecrated their lives completely to Christ. Call the Midwife has always startled me with its positive view of the religious life, but this time I followed Sister Julienne the way a baby follows her mama with wide, watchful eyes. I craved what she had. I didn’t necessarily want to leave my home, my family, my church, or my writing, convert to Anglicanism, and become a nun (though in the name of full disclosure, I did think about it). But oh, how I longed for Sister Julienne’s single-minded devotion to Jesus and her willingness to serve Him and the people He placed in her life.
I wrestled with these things, thought long and hard about Sister Julienne, and yes, researched a few Anglican convents along the way. In the end, I knew that wasn’t where the Lord was calling me. But I did know He was calling me to follow Him with my eyes fixed on Him and on nothing—and no one—else.
At some point during that significant Call the Midwife marathon, I noticed the simple gold band on Sister Julienne’s right ring finger. I was suddenly reminded of a book I’d pored over as a child about Mother Teresa (see, I’ve always loved nuns!). The next morning I raced upstairs to find that book, and sure enough, I found it: a paragraph describing how nuns wear these rings as symbols of their “marriage” to Christ.
I closed the book and put it back on the shelf, my heart fluttering as hard and fast as it had at that Italian restaurant so many years before. I looked down at my ring—my promise ring, my Lothlórien ring—and ran my left thumb over its tiny row of diamonds.
What if I could give this ring a new meaning? It wouldn’t invalidate my dad’s promise or my identity as a beloved child of our house…but it could also remind me of my truest identity. It could symbolize something great and eternal, something that would never change no matter where I lived or whether or not I ever knew the joy of pledging my life to another.
And so, for the last three years, I’ve cherished this ring for not just one, but two promises: my dad’s promise to care for me, and my Savior’s promise that He has redeemed me, and I am His own. Except for the time I broke my arm and my hand swelled like a pufferfish, it’s never left my hand. It’s a constant reminder of my identity as Daughter and Bride.
But it isn’t the only ring I wear these days. On my left hand, a new ring now sparkles as bright and pure as my love for the one who gave it to me. In October, God willing, my long-held dream of being the wife of a good man will finally come true, and my life will change forever.
Someone asked me if I’d stop wearing my Lothlórien ring once I got married, or if I’d at least use it as my wedding band. I answered with a pretty emphatic “No.” The sacred meaning of my first ring is not invalidated by the equally-sacred meaning of my newest one. Lest I forget that I’m both a beloved child and devoted to Christ before anyone or anything else, I’ll keep that ring right where it’s been through the waiting and growing of the past fourteen years.
After all, who I am deep down in my soul hasn’t really changed. As Sister Julienne gently encourages a frightened mother in one Christmas episode, love is never halved; it only grows. And isn’t it the same with my identity? I’ll soon be a wife, but I will always be my parents’ child, a Daughter of my Heavenly Father, and a Bride of Christ. Love is not halved; it only doubles. And so it is with who I am, who I am becoming, and who I always will be.
So if ever you wonder why the girl who never had a thing for jewelry now wears two rings…today you know the answer.
I am, after all, a storyteller at heart, and I bear on my hands the tale of two rings.
It’s a tale worth telling to myself again and again and again. When I’m discouraged, when I’m lonely, when I loathe myself, or even when I’m so full of joy that I can hardly stand it, I have these Ebenezers, these constant reminders of who I am and what the Lord has done for me.
Maribeth Barber Albritton is a small-town Southerner captivated by stories, the beauty and love of her Savior, and the power of the active-contemplative, Christ-centered life. During her years as a homeschool student, she developed a fierce love for history, literature, and film. These passions inspired her debut novel, Operation Lionhearted, as well as her blog, A Writer’s Tale, where she often reviews books and movies from the angle of the Christian imagination. She and her pastor-husband Casey, both hobbits at heart, live in southwest Mississippi in a red-brick manse they’ve affectionately named “Crickhollow.”
A Field Guide to Cultivating ~ Essentials to Cultivating a Whole Life, Rooted in Christ, and Flourishing in Fellowship
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