When I was eight years old, I was rocking some seriously curled bangs. Every morning, my mom would faithfully take a tight curling iron to my bangs, puff them out, and hairspray them, per my request. I thought they were beautiful, that I looked just like my high-school-aged sister, which at the time, was my chief goal in life.
Easter morning circa 1991 was no different. A pretty dress, some ruffled socks, I walked into my parents’ bathroom to have my mom curl my bangs. And that’s when she saw it. A tiny louse, crawling near my scalp. I didn’t see her initial facial reaction, but I can still remember the whole-body shudder I had when she told me what she’d seen and what it meant. She is not a dramatic person; I’m sure her voice stayed calm, but what I heard was there are bugs crawling all over your head and our entire house is probably infested with them.
We took off my Easter dress, put on jammies, and saw the rest of my family off to church. I remember her calling the local drug stores, trying to find one that was open for Easter in an attempt to track down lice shampoo. Eventually she found some, and we sat in front of the TV; she listened to a balding preacher deliver an Easter sermon while, for hours, she combed through my hair with one of those special fine-toothed, lice-finding combs.
I remember thinking are there no cartoons on Easter morning?
For the last several nights, we haven’t really slept. Elsa is waking up coughing every twenty-five minutes and seems to be most comfortable when sleeping on my face. She is sicker than sick with a cough that sounds like it is coming from the very depths of her soul. Her nose is running, her eyes are watery, and all she wants is to nuzzle her drooly face into my chest all hours of the day and night.
She coughs, then whimpers. It’s basically the saddest thing you’ve ever seen.
Last night, in hope, I laid out her Easter dress. It is white with a pale flower print. A tiny white cardigan, some tights, and the girliest pink shoes to go with it. Everything ironed and adorable.
This morning, we thought briefly about dressing her up and taking her to church. We so rarely are at our own church for Easter; we were really looking forward to that…and that dress. It was meant for Easter. We thought maybe we could just hold her and she would sleep in the Ergo and no one would notice her barking cough because she’d be napping two-thirds of the time.
But after we’d wiped her nose for the thirty-seventh time and looked at her drooping eyes, we thought better: no amount of ribbons and ruffle socks could make this girl fit to be in public. So Elsa and I saw Eric and Owen off, dressed in their Easter Sunday best, while we stayed behind to snuggle with jammies and kleenex.
I think so much of life is like this: we are dolled up in our best dresses and curled bangs and Easter shoes, but we are crawling with lice. We have ruffle socks and flower dresses, but our lungs are filled with mucous. It’s not that we’re trying to hide the messiness; we just don’t see it for what it really is. Our imperfection is so often veiled by attempts at beauty that mimic – but by no means match – the goodness of the One who created us to be like Him.
I remember learning the verse “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” when I was young. It seemed unfair to me at the time, like how could God look at my best attempts at goodness that way. But as I get older, I see the beauty in it. I know myself so much better now; I know that even at my best, I still fall short. My love for Owen is punctuated by impatience; I sigh loudly when I get up with Elsa for the third time in a night. More than that, I know God so much better now. I have witnessed His unchanged faithfulness, received His unending forgiveness, been comforted time and time again by His words of promise. Comparatively, my Easter best is lousy.
But thanks be to God that His perfection fills in the gaps of my own imperfection. He is a God who washes the dirtiest of feet, who hears our barking coughs and sees our filthy heads and beckons us: Come! Be Clean! He does not shy away from that which is unclean, broken, or faulty but runs to it and longs to make it new, complete, and perfect.
He calls to us and tells us that He can make our scarlet sins white, that He can exchange our mourning for gladness, our filthy rags for a place in His family. This completely imbalanced exchange is offered to us in the death and rising of Jesus:
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe,
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed me white as snow.
And that is our Easter best.
Happy Easter. May your season be filled with messes made right.