When I found the first one, I cried.

Me, the woman who has gone through awful breakups without tears.  Who has officiated countless funerals and weddings without so much as water in the eyes.  Me, who prides herself on her ability to contain her composure.  Sobbed.

anxiousIt was my 23rd birthday.  And there it was, in the midst of my long, curly, deep brown hair, a long gray kinky hair.  I pulled it out and held it in my hand.  My hair was the first thing that ever made me feel beautiful.

I grew up a tomboy.  I didn’t know girls were supposed to be beautiful.  Or, at least I didn’t think it important that I clearly wasn’t beautiful.  I had always sported a lovely bowl cut, since I refused to let my mother brush my hair.  I was too busy reading and playing and imagining.  Too busy praying and studying and being close to God.

Finally in middle school I decided I wanted long hair like other girls.  It was high school before my awful bangs grew out and any of my hair touched my shoulders.  It was college before a hairdresser showed me that my hair had decided to forgo the body wave I’d always known and curl.  Overnight I found out I had long, lovely, curly hair.

From that day on, I have pampered it.  I straighten it.  I keep it curly.  I love it.  Anything about me that was or is beautiful is my hair.  It is thick and a lovely deep brown with red highlights.  It is healthy and wonderful and long.  It was what gave me worth and beauty. And now, suddenly, I knew it was going to be gray.  Everything that was beautiful about me, suddenly disappeared.  I crumbled into a heap of tears.

After I regained enough composure to speak, I called my mother.  I sniffed as I told her about this awful reality.  I was too young to color my hair. Her belly laugh shook my soul.  “Oh Emily,” she laughed, “I have been waiting for this day.  I found my first gray hair at 16, and was fairly white by 18.  It’s nothing to cry over.” I quickly got off the phone and cried harder.  I wasn’t ready to be old.  I wasn’t ready for gray hair.

As I’m approaching my 32nd birthday this spring, I look back and still cringe.  You would think by now I’d be used to it.  No, my hair isn’t gray.  I have pulled out only a handful of grays in the years since, but it still scares me. I teach others that they are beautiful because God loves them.  That they are beautiful with gray hair or no hair or dyed pink hair.   And they are worth something because God loves them, not because they are beautiful.  That God’s love makes you beautiful not hair or eyes or weight or teeth.  You would think after saying it so many times I’d believe it.

I’d like to think that the years have taught me that I am beautiful because I am strong.  Because I am smart. Because I am loved.  And some days I believe it.  But then there are the days when I find that pesky, out of place gray hair, and I wonder.  Will anyone love me with gray hair?  Will anyone think I’m beautiful if it was gone?

That’s when I stop letting my fears and anxiety take control.  I take a deep breath in, pull the pesky hair out and throw it in the toilet with the other negative thoughts.  For I am beautiful—not because the hair on my head, but because of the God who knows how many hairs there are.

Emily Case

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Today’s Life:Unmasked post comes from Rev. Emily Case, the Associate Pastor at Kennesaw United Methodist just outside Atlanta, Georgia. She leads the unconventional Revive Worship Service and tweets as @PastorEMJ. Believing that the God’s light can shine in the darkest places, she is sure that if we love God and love people, that everything else is just details. She spends her free time talking to and giggling with strangers and friends at Starbucks. She’s simply a single girl trying to love and pray her way through life.

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Life: unmasked buttonOn Wednesdays I host a little link-up in which we take off our everything’s-FINE false front and write naked. We share how our humanness, our flaws, and our weaknesses are teaching us about life and maturity and wisdom.

If you’ve written anything unmasked lately, link it here (direct link please) and please do include a link back to this post so your readers can find the link-up too. Then please visit at least two others and leave a comment to encourage them.