Before my daughter was born, I hung a quote from The Velveteen Rabbit above her crib. I have no emotional connection to that book; in fact, I’ve never read it. But the second I read the words printed on that beautifully distressed canvas, my eyes welled up with tears because I’ve lived it out and thus learned the very lesson I suppose this soft, tattered bunny is sharing.
“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
It was an impulse buy. One of those Instagram ads did its job and diverted me from scrolling to purchasing in a handful of thumb taps. When the cylinder-shaped package arrived on our doorstep, I opened it with zero reserve. I was so excited to see my online find in real life, hoping I would connect with it as much in person as I did on screen. I did—even more so. I think I even shed a few tears (I was pregnant, give me a break).
Power waddling into the other room, I presented my new treasure to my husband.
“I don’t get it,” he said.
Horrified and borderline offended (remember, I was pregnant), I tried to explain the feelings it elicited in my swollen heart. The funny thing is that I resonated with that rabbit—I knew exactly what he was feeling—but I couldn’t put it into any other words than the ones that were already so perfectly written.
I think that shows the beauty of the message. You don’t “get it” until you experience it, and then you just know it in your soul like an ancient truth that you wouldn’t think to question… like the Earth being round or the presence of gravity.
The Struggle to See Inner Beauty
Maybe it’s different for men; they don’t worry about being beautiful the way women do.
Growing up, all I ever wanted to be was pretty. I never cared about being strong until I had to be. At 21 years old, I developed an autoimmune disease called Alopecia Areata and lost all of my hair over the course of a year. It was a long, traumatic process.
Running my fingers through my hair and pulling out 10 strands at a time (every time)…
Feeling it fall down my arms all day long…
Dreading every shower because I knew how much I’d lose…
Finding seemingly endless amounts all over my floor, no matter how much I swept or vacuumed…
Fearing the next bald spot might develop in a place I couldn’t easily hide…
Feeling the diameter of my ponytail shrink daily…
Accepting the fact that perhaps it was time to find a wig…
Holding back tears every time a friend harmlessly complained about her “bad hair day” (I never realized how often women talk about their hair until I was losing mine)…
Have you ever dreamt that you lost your two front teeth? Your eyes snap open as the panic jolts you awake, and, instinctively, you press your fingers to your mouth. Relief sweeps the fear away as you realize those precious pieces of you are still intact—a part of you that you take for granted because they’re so basic to your daily life… That’s what having Alopecia feels like, except it’s not a dream, and you don’t feel better when you wake up.
At first, I felt ugly, and I grieved the loss of my beauty. In hindsight, I see that it developed an internal beauty that I could never lose. And that beauty is called strength. (Read more about Ashley’s journey with Alopecia here.)
You Learn From Your Challenges and Weaknesses
Strength is only gained through our weakness. First, we must acknowledge and embrace our weaknesses, and then we must train them. This is true of our bodies, but it’s also true of our minds. Whatever hard thing you are walking through, dear reader, I want you to know that it is teaching you experiential knowledge that will serve you in the future. You’re building the muscles that will carry a future load with more ease. You’re conditioning your heart to be able to run the race that is set before you with grace and endurance.
Now I’m losing my hair for the second time (it did grow back and stayed with me for seven years!), and it’s exciting to see how my strength and faith have matured. This time, I don’t feel like I’m losing my identity. I know who I am. This time, I don’t wonder if a man would want me in spite of my condition. The only reason he fell in love with me is because of how this condition has shaped me into a woman of grit and grace. This time, I’m not afraid of the worst-case scenario. I know God will see me through.
But, this time, I did feel sad over something new…
This time, I’m a mom. And I started to grieve because I wanted my daughter to grow up thinking her mother was beautiful. The easy lie to believe is that Alopecia will steal that from me. But I learned a lot about lies and fear through the first loss, and I deal with them much differently now. I think differently (a gift that only comes from walking through the fire), and I perceive the challenges that lie ahead of me differently.
My heart is steady because it’s held by grace. My mind is sound because it knows the truth.
Your Strength Is Your Beauty
So, my daughter may grow up with a mother whose “hair has been loved off,” but she will also have a mother who doesn’t “break easily or have sharp edges;” a mother who doesn’t have to be “carefully kept.” Her mother will be Real, and I believe that will make a bigger impact on her than a mother with beautiful hair.
Of course, I want my daughter to grow up thinking I’m beautiful, but I also want her to look at me and think, “My mom is brave. She presses on even when things are hard. My mom is gracious. She shows compassion, even when people are unkind. My mom is strong, and I think that makes her beautiful.”
But what I care about more than what she thinks of me, is what I teach her about being a beautiful woman.
I want my daughter to be brave. Does that mean she can’t cry? Of course not. I hope she’ll always be honest about her feelings and share them, rather than keep them inside, allowing them to plague her mind or harden her heart. Only brave people face their fears and feelings.
I want my daughter to have courage. Does that mean she won’t feel the blood pounding through her body as she takes a stand for something? Of course not. I hope that she will be keenly aware of that feeling, because oftentimes it’s the signal that what we’re about to do is right. Only courageous people move forward when the unknown seems scary.
I want my daughter to know that strong people have weak moments. Yes, I want her to stand for what is right, but does that mean she will never do what is wrong? Of course not. I know she will make mistakes and fail in ways that make her want to hide—from me, from the world, and from God. But I want her to know that everlasting, unconditional love will always take her back and forgive.
I want her to know that going through the hard things develops inner strength. I want her to look at the battle before her and say, “This is going to make me beautiful.” Because strength is synonymous with beauty.
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