Under That Red Velvet Dress

My Daughter Elaine and Me. 1990.

No Place to Hide

“Let me zip your dress,” I said to my daughter as we wriggled into our velvet dresses in the photographer’s dressing room. As I ran the zipper up its tracks I marveled at the soft, perfect texture of her seven-year-old skin. Such a beautiful child…

We slipped out of the dressing room and into the studio. The photographer adjusted stools, showed us where to sit. The flash attachment lit the room like lightning in the night.

Contentment overflowed, escaping my lips in a sigh. I’d just completed my master’s degree; these portraits were a gift from my parents to commemorate the occasion. My cheerful, cooperative daughter stood beside me, hugged me, leaned against my knee, obediently taking direction from the photographer. She smiled, placid under the volley of exploding lights.

“Up on your mom’s lap–that’s a good girl,” the photographer instructed.

“I don’t want to! It’s HOT in here!” Tears suddenly welled in her eyes and a deep scowl carved itself a home on her forehead.

“Elaine!” I cried, startled and embarrassed by her outburst.

“I don’t want to!” she wailed. I turned to the photographer, apologetic, as my child sobbed into my shoulder.

 I gathered my crying girl to me. She did feel warm. Those lights must have been too much for her. “Well. I think we have enough shots now. Thank you.” He dismissed us.

We returned to the dressing room to change into our everyday clothes. By now her sobs had subsided to sniffles. I wiped her face with a tissue, then unzipped her dress.

That beautiful, tender skin had erupted in lesions! I couldn’t believe what I saw. We’d been in the studio no more than fifteen minutes, and during that time, chicken pox had popped to the surface of her skin like tiny buoys bobbing on the waters of a still bay.

I took her home and took her temperature. Then I ministered to her with a warm bath, calamine lotion, chicken soup, her favorite blanket. Ensconced on the sofa with her favorite gingham quilt, a few books, and her stuffed panda, she relaxed.

When the proofs arrived, she and I studied them together. “You look so pretty,” I told her. “Nobody would guess you were coming down with the chicken pox right there in the studio!”

“I didn’t feel good that morning, Mommy. But I knew you really wanted to go make the pictures,” she said.

I bit my lip, hugged her hard. “You didn’t have to do that,” I told her. “We could have gone another day.”

“I wanted to make you happy,” she said.


Today is my fifty-third birthday, but when it comes to sharing my real self, I might as well be seven. I want you to see the red velvet dress, not the lesions marring my soul underneath. I want you to think I’m fine, not in need of your ministry.

I still long for you to assure me that I’m a pretty girl. I cling to this childish notion, you see.

I think I’m only acceptable when I’m smooth, unblemished, pretty.

Today, I give thanks to my mighty God, who knows every flaw concealed beneath the party gown, and loves me anyway.

1 O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
3 You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
5 You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
 7 Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
9 If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
12 Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.
 13 For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
 17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with You.
 19 O that You would slay the wicked, O God;
Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.
20 For they speak against You wickedly,
And Your enemies take Your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
22 I hate them with the utmost hatred;
They have become my enemies.
 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
Psalm 139 (NASB)