Her hair is falling out.
Every time she touches her fingers to her head, they return with a fistful of hair. “It started yesterday,” she says. “They said it would happen soon after the chemo started, but this is faster than I expected.”
We walk through town, and spend longer than usual looking at hats. “Maybe someone will teach me how to wrap a scarf around my head so that it looks pretty,” she says. I nod, mute and marveling at her resolve.
I am wiping down a counter, watching her play with her children. Matt Redman’s song based on Psalm 103 is playing overhead:
“Bless The Lord, O my soul, O my soul.
Worship his holy name.
Sing like never before, O my soul,
I’ll worship his holy name.”
I’m humming and wiping, humming and wiping, and next thing I hear her singing along to the final verse:
“And on that day when my strength is failing,
The end is near and my time has come.
Still my soul will sing your praise unending,
Ten thousand years and then forevermore.”
I am undone. I turn to hide the tears in my eyes, marveling at her resolve.
She is standing behind a microphone, the first speaker up at the conference. Her hair is cropped close to her head, and from where I’m sitting she looks like a model: elfin, ethereal, radiant.
She tells a story from a dozen years ago: how she called a work contact on the phone and introduced herself, “Hi, I’m R’s wife.” The gracious voice at the other end of the line said, “I know who you are. And you are not just his wife. Your identity is found in Christ.”
She tells how later that evening, her husband of three years came home and announced that he didn’t love her anymore, and wanted out the marriage. The strange phone greeting from earlier in the day rang in her ears. “I am not just his wife. My identity is found in Christ.”
I sit with a room full of women, breathless as she continues her story of how, in the months that followed, she delved into the Scriptures and sought the arms of friends who could act as conduits of Christ’s comfort. Clinging to Psalm 62 and the promise of a strong and loving God, she made it through. The years that followed brought travel, growth, a wonderful new husband and three gorgeous children.
“Six weeks ago,” she continues,”I found out I have breast cancer. It is not what I wanted. But….” (you could hear a pin drop) “… I am in that place once again of needing to trust God through this. Once again, I am learning that I am more than a wife. I am more than the Mom of three little ones. I am not the-tragic-story-of-the-young-mom-with-cancer. Above all, I am a child of God and deeply loved by Him. I’m clinging to him.”
I nod, mute and marveling at her resolve.
It is my turn behind the microphone, and I am teaching about being a daughter of the King. I talk about how Jesus has rescued us from the marketplace of slavery to sin. I talk about how he has moved us out of the courtroom of condemnation, and brought us into the family room of God, where we now stand as adopted and beloved children of God.
In the sea of faces, I keep finding hers. “There she is,” I think to myself, “the daughter of God.”
She is my friend. She is a wife. She is a mom. She has cancer. But those are not her taglines. Each of those relationships, while real and precious, are temporal. If one has to have a tagline for one’s life, it should be one that will outlast the seasons. Cancer is not her tagline.
Above all, she is the daughter of God.
This morning she is wearing a hat. “I washed my hair,” she explains. “It all came off. Eventually I had to get out the shower because there was no end to the shedding and I was clogging the drain.”
Her hat is cute, but this is not the time for admiring her fashion-sense.
I am fighting the urge to cry. I fight the urge to make a lame pun and let laughter mask the awfulness. I swallow my words, “hair today, gone tomorrow.” I nod.
“I didn’t realize it before,” she says, “but it’s true what the Bible says about a woman’s hair being her glory. It really looks terrible. We were made to be with hair.”
I look at my friend and imagine her glory lying in clumps in the shower drain. But then I look at her and Psalm 103 comes to mind again:
“Bless The Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits….
…. he crowns you with love and compassion.” (Psalm 103:2, 4)
She may not be crowned with hair, but her head is covered with glory. She is the daughter of the King, crowned with His love and compassion.
She may have cancer, but cancer does not have her. She does not belong to chemo, she belongs to Jesus; and His glory is written all over her.
I watch her walk out the door, sporting a diaper bag and a different, cute hat. She is on her way to church to worship her God.
For the first time, I’m beginning to feel her resolve.