"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart..." (Jeremiah 29:11-13)
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Our journey in life is made up of many different twists and turns; times of pure joy and laughter, other times of sadness and unexpected loss. It is in these times that we truly get to see who we are becoming as an individual. Our experiences help shape us into who we are intended to be. You are a part of an amazing and beautiful mess of a story, one God wants to tell.
This is my story, and this is me finding joy and faith in the midst of an inexplicable shift in my reality that would deepen my faith and introduce me to a new idea of normal.
All of my life I have been complimented on my unique look, one that was rare and different among the crowd. I grew up being known as the “cute redhead with freckles.” When I say I had a ridiculous amount of red hair and freckles, oh goodness did I ever! My hair was so thick and different in color that everywhere I went it was expected that I would get a slew of compliments.
I’m not saying this as a way to lift my ego, but it was an unknown itch on my heart – each compliment subconsciously defining my worth. Receiving compliments are not bad by any means, but allowing them to define you is dangerous.
I allowed the comments of others to run rampant in my mind and influence my views of my personal worth. I proclaimed my appearance as my crown of glory, and this soon developed into me becoming a perfectionist. When I entered my teenage years it became very apparent that my looks started to define my worth. You could say this was normal for a teenager, but my perfectionism turned into a way of life.
Perfectionism became my default-mode so quickly that I wasn’t even aware it had happened. I realized later that I was unapproachable at times, and caused others to feel intimidated because they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to measure up to my standards. I seemed cold and uninviting to others, and this continued into my early twenties. I allowed my outward appearance to define my character and how others perceived me until my world was changed forever in 2012 by an unknown health issue.
I was suddenly thrown into a new reality.
I had always wanted to go on a mission trip and I knew that God was calling me to serve in other ways outside the walls of my church, so I signed up and went overseas in the summer of 2012. While I was preparing for my mission trip a few months prior to me leaving, I had noticed that an abnormal amount of my hair was falling out. It didn’t faze me at the time because I had so much hair to begin with. Fast-forward to a couple weeks into my trip, and I had come to the realization that holding handfuls and handfuls of hair in my hands was not normal.
By the end of my mission trip, I had lost more than half of my hair and was working to conceal it the best I could. I would hide the bottom half of my head (which was now balding) with the top layer of hair to cover what was truly going on. The entire situation was crazy to me, and I had questions: Why would God allow something like this to happen to me? I am a good person, I just finished serving a month overseas, for goodness sake. Why would God allow this to happen to me?
After returning from the trip, I sank into a deep depression and spiraled down into a pit of hopelessness. I never doubted God and His capability of healing in my life, I just didn’t understand why. Why would a Father who loved me so much, and only wanted the best for my life, grant this to me?
After losing almost all of my hair and shaving the last patches off, it hit me that this was my new norm. It was a constant struggle to battle lies from the enemy who was saying that I could never be truly loved looking as I do. I heard another voice too, though – the faint scream of proclamation that I am beautiful and I am a beloved daughter of the most high King.
Doctors couldn’t understand it. They approached my hair loss with guesses and experimental treatments that left me poked and prodded and ultimately disappointed. Without the proper diagnosis I was without hope.
I finally stopped asking doctors for answers and instead started striving to make myself healthy; physically and mentally. I took what I knew and built on the knowledge I had gathered from the many tests and treatments. I knew I had a thyroid condition, and I knew the majority of my organs were at minimal percentages of functionality due to a parasite and allergies that left my body depleted of nutrients.
I took a stand and proclaimed that Christ has me and that He can heal me inside and out. I decided to visit an all-natural doctor and pursue alternative treatments. Thanks to my amazing grandmother and mother, I was also able to purchase a wig made with real hair to give me more confidence as I came to know the new Ashlie that stood before me in the mirror.
It is a long journey, and I am still taking in the new normality of my life. I am slowly embracing my new self, and honestly I did let myself become a prisoner for a time. I used to be so adventurous; loving anything that had to do with outdoor activities. I would go surfing, hiking, paddle boarding, snowboarding, do yoga on the beach, and much more. You name it and I have tried it.
But I let my lack of hair stop me.
For four years, I was held captive to being ashamed and scared of the rejection of others. I feared that a man would never find me beautiful or be capable of loving me. Even with my desires of wanting a future with a husband and children, it didn’t seem possible to me anymore. I was scared of rejection. I didn’t want to be looked at as “less than” or damaged, having others only see my appearance and not the real me. I made excuses to decline invitations and cringed at even the idea of the wind tousling my fake hair. I did this for four years until I finally said it was enough.
It wasn’t like I felt free overnight, and I did continue to struggle with others knowing about my hair loss. Even as I write this, I still am struggling with the fear of rejection, but I take active steps of faith to proclaim my new story because this is me. I am still learning to stand tall and see myself as worthy, bald and beautiful, known and loved. I pray for the healing power of my almighty God, knowing He is capable of things far beyond words. I refuse to allow my physical stance to have an emotional hold over me any longer.
This is why I tell my story: Not only to show that God is still good in the mess of it all, but also to proclaim worth and love over His children. I want to give hope to the hurting and confidence to the doubtful. You are loved!
I held acceptance from others and fear of rejection as ultimate in my life and it crippled my sense of worth, preventing me from being able to be the REAL me. My hair does not define me and the words of others do no’t define me either. God defines who I am and who I am meant to be.
I share this beautiful mess of a story to allow Christ’s light to shine through me for the world to see. I want others to know the real and raw version of me so that they can truly grasp how much they are worth and how much they are loved.
written by: Ashlie Israel