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Things You Learn When You Stop Coloring Your Hair

Silver Lining

I made a bold decision last year to stop coloring my hair. I’d been playing whack-a-mole with the gray that wanted to crown my face. It was a personal revolution in my eyes, seeing as the women in my family resist aging at every turn. Except they are blonde; I am brunette. White hair is more dramatic on me. My last coloring was for a high school reunion. After nearly 30 years, I didn’t want them to show. But just a month later, something tugged at me — the Lord and my authentic self.

In 2008 I published a novel, Trouble the Water, about a reimagined last year of my Aunt Bonnie’s life. She died of breast cancer at 46. We were kindred spirits, fellow artists, and sensitive, empathetic souls. So intertwined were we that I just wanted to make it past the dreaded age 46 and not share in her fate. So turning 47 was a moment of liberty. I’d done it. To celebrate my new acceptance and appreciation of my age, I decided not to cover the white anymore. Bonnie never got to go silver. I would wear mine proudly.

The problems, though, were many. In my transition phase of color versus none, I looked untended. I watched as people’s eyes went straight up to the shock of white. My husband: “Wow, that’s really white.” My father: “What are you doing? You look like an old granny.” When I went to holiday celebrations about nine months later, my brother marveled and said I looked “distinguished.” “Old” is what I heard. Day after day I had to face other people’s glances. I felt like a rebel. Some days I felt like a fool. It was an internal battle waged each day in the mirror. I began to enjoy the curious first look. I decided my hair was not gray, but silver. I was growing silver threads and felt blessed by God to see them. I began to feel my decision to stop coloring wasn’t just a decision, it was a call.

And in loving mercy, the Lord let me see in short order why he had been calling me there.

One year after I stopped coloring my hair, in February 2020, a month before my 48th birthday, I was told I had breast cancer. I won’t tell you it was easy. Just two weeks later, on my actual birthday, we were all sent home in quarantine from a global pandemic. Mammograms, biopsies, MRIs and waiting for results. Coming to terms with my mortality, with the “dadgum it, I did follow in her steps after all” feelings, and finally the acceptance that this was the obstacle now in my path, my current mountain to climb. The worst was worrying I wouldn’t get my surgery because of COVID-19. But by Friday, March 20, as the email went out to cancel surgeries, I was there at the hospital having mine. I got in just under the wire. Others weren’t as fortunate.

Having breast cancer, exposing yourself to doctors and nurses, poking, prodding and cutting on the breasts—body parts we associate heavily with being female—is a struggle for identity. I imagine every woman with breast cancer experiences that crisis in some form or another. But, praise God, he had been slowly dismantling my false identity for a while now. 

I am not my hair color. I am not my youth. I am not my looks nor femininity.

I am his.

Gray hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained by living a godly life.

Proverbs 16:31
I dare to say I was one of the most prepared women to enter a lockdown with no access to hair color or salons. I felt for my friends, family and coworkers who had to begin seeing their true roots for the first time. I know the shame, the embarrassment, the shock of seeing what’s underneath. But blessed be to God, I’d already dealt with that and come out a conqueror. Now I was facing a much greater battle.

I am, today, more authentically me, more authentically his, than I was just over a year ago — silver hair, scars and all. It hasn’t been an easy road, but I’ve never had to walk it alone.
God willing, I will get to the other side of this mountain, my cancer diagnosis, and I will continue on. Cancer doesn’t define me. God does. He says I am beautiful and of value to him just the way I am. And I can’t wait to go all white because every new silver hair will mean another glorious day of living, another thread in my “crown of glory.” Proverbs 16:31
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