So I was on my way to work the other day and, judge me if you want to–I checked my iPhone at a red light. I saw an email from Kristi with the subject line “Hannah’s Post On Facebook.” (For those of you that don’t know, Hannah is my little sister–a beautiful & talented freshman in high school, and I’m posting this with her permission.)
Seeing that I’m always trying to keep her away from boys and dreading when she’s dating a new one, I immediately clicked on the email & read the post.
And then, well, I burst into tears.
But before I post what Hannah said on Facebook, a little background:
Like I said, she is a freshman in high school, 14 years old. I’m 26, so we’re a bit off in age. Growing up, I had always wanted a sibling, so I was thrilled even at 12, when most of my hopes were extinguished, to hear that I was getting a baby sister. In the hospital, my dad off-handedly nicknamed her “Hurricane Hannah,” and as she grew she lived up to the nickname with quite a set of lungs that intruded on many a night’s sleep.
But she was precious. Adorable. My little sister. As I went through my teenage years, I watched a baby grow into a toddler–a toddler grow into a rowdy little girl. I cherished her like little girls are supposed to be cherished, and I wanted to protect her with everything in me.
Then I went off to college and moved to Columbia and, unfortunately, got to see her less often. But the times I did get to see her grew more and more special, and I was amazed each time I saw her at how much she had grown up.
That fiery, reddish-blonde little girl is now a beautiful young woman. A fact that I still cannot get used to.
Backtrack to several years ago, when I got a call from my mom–one of those where you can tell something is wrong. She said that Hannah’s hair was falling out. I was confused, so it needed a little repetition.
Again, she said: “Her hair is falling out. All of it.”
I had no idea why a person’s hair would randomly fall out, and of course was terribly worried because that doesn’t really seem like a good thing, you know? In time, we learned that it was a condition called Alopecia. A fairly rare disease that is not necessarily dangerous or life-threatening (which I was thankful for), but that did often cause all of a person’s hair to fall out.
Completely random. No known cure. Will it ever grow back? Who knows, they said. Maybe, maybe not. It might randomly grow back when she’s 20 or 60–or it might not. Ever.
Over the next little while, all of her hair did fall out. And I mean all of it.
A little girl entering middle school with no hair. We fitted her for a wig and she started wearing it. And honestly, it looked great.
But I was still afraid. And I wanted to protect her from asinine, mean middle schoolers who might say stupid things.
But I couldn’t fix this, and I couldn’t protect her.
I prayed, fervently.
“God, please…please please please make her hair grow back. I know that this is not the worst thing in the world, and I’m so thankful that it’s not life-threatening, but she’s in middle school. Middle school. And kids are mean. She’s a little girl. Please. Please make her hair grow back. Give the Alopecia to me instead–I’ll gladly take it.”
And then I would hear something about some dumb little kid saying something cruel. And I would have daydreams about throat-punching middle-schoolers, about cutting them down to size and saying things so mean to them that it would scar them for life. (I know, not my finest moment.)
And well–her hair didn’t grow back. For years. We tried to encourage her to tell people about the Alopecia, but she was afraid and wanted to keep it hidden as much as possible.
Over time, my prayers drifted to something different:
“God, please make her hair grow back. But if it doesn’t, please don’t let this make her bitter and cynical towards You. Please don’t let this drive her away from You, make her think that You are not good and for her good. I can’t imagine being a middle school girl & having to deal with this. Please, go after her heart, use this to draw her closer to you & grow her faith and maturity. Please…”
She would have patches of hair come and go–give hope and then fade, for years.
Then, about a year ago, it really started to grow back. We were hopeful, but still weary–realizing that it could start falling out again at any second.
But, it didn’t. It grew back, full and dark–still with some gaps, but enough where she could ditch the wig.
And it was wonderful. I teared up over the Lord’s faithfulness and thanked Him repeatedly, begging for it to stay. Such an incredible relief.
When we go back to the Upstate to visit, Hannah and I often go on coffee dates. Several months back, we were on such an adventure, thrifting and stopping to chat & get some caffeine.
While looking at her full and beautiful hair–the grace of God sitting on top of her head–I asked her how she was doing with all of it.
She proceeded to get watery eyes. To tell me that having Alopecia in middle school was really hard. That kids say stupid things. That she didn’t know what she would do & how she would make it if it fell out again in high school. She said that she knew it had made her a stronger person, but that she was tired of it.
I cried with her. And then I told her that I loved her–that I was proud of her. I told her that, contrary to logic and popular belief (and even what’s taught in much of American Christianity unfortunately), God has not promised us an easy life. That in fact, He warned us that things were going to be difficult.
I told her about Hebrews 11, the great “Faith Hall of Fame” as it is called–how all of these people were faithful, and yet got very different outcomes. In the same paragraph we see people who were faithful who put foreign enemies to flight, and people who were faithful who were tortured. People who shut the mouths of lions, and people who were sawn in two.
And that although that might not make much sense to us, that it held a much deeper truth:
That both groups get Him.
That He is the ultimate prize at the finish line.
He is such a great reward that the significant differences people experience on the way to Him actually become inconsequential.
That if her hair stayed in forever–she gets Him, and that’s what really matters.
That if her hair fell out again in high school and never came back–she gets Him, and that’s what really matters.
That a full head of hair is not the promised land–He is.
And I prayed that it would take root. That she would see the glory of the Lord and feel the presence of Him sustaining her, holding her through difficult times, never leaving or forsaking. That she would come to value Him more than anything–more than any other blessing that could be offered to her. Even at her very young age, where most kids are worried about much, much lesser things.
And now, back to the Facebook status she posted (and please don’t miss the fact that she posted this on Facebook).
Alopecia: my story.
Alopecia is a disease that makes your hair fall out for no reason. I had alopecia, for those of you who don’t know. I wore a wig for 4 years of my life. A lot of hurtful things were said to me during this period of time, but my faith has reminded me that what they say doesn’t matter. I can’t say I hate alopecia because it has made me a stronger person, and it has made my relationship with God a beautiful, beautiful thing. I’m thankful to have a full head of hair now, and for all of the support given by my amazing friends and family. This is my story, and i wouldn’t trade it for the world. ♥
& thank you Jesus for walking with me all this time.
And now you know why I cried.
I am in awe of the Lord’s goodness & faithfulness, and I don’t know that I have ever experienced such a profound answer to years and years of prayer.
Hannah Mae, you are such a strong, gorgeous, precious young woman. I praise God for the maturity He has worked in you and I am so thankful for you. I am very, very proud of you little sis.