I was clearing out pictures off an old camera yesterday when I found this one:
A random photo of Caroline at age 1, before alopecia, when she still had hair.
The picture itself wasn't anything spectacular, but I was surprised by the blast of emotions that imploded within me soon after it popped up on my computer screen.
I haven't seen that girl in so, so long. My tears quickly turned to sobbing. Marc rushed over to hold me. He, too, was surprised that a single picture could trigger such a burst of intense emotion.
"There's... been a... death since then," I muttered between sobs. I couldn't quite put it into words.
I don't know what it's like to lose a child. I can't imagine. I have yet to face death squarely in the eyes of someone very close to me. But when my eyes laid themselves upon this image, in a weird sense, the grief felt suddenly more than I could bear.
It's been years now since Caroline lost all of her hair. I am such a different person now and at such a different place with her baldness. Rarely do I look back. Rarely does anyone ask what it was like to watch my daughter's hair completely fall out. We live with alopecia NOW, and all the challenges that come with it in the present. I think about the future often, and wonder what affect alopecia will have upon her as she grows.
But what is behind us is behind us, right? Or so I thought until that picture, and a thousand memories washed over me. I remembered the little girl she was. I remembered the way I delighted in her adorable appearance and put little bows in her hair.
More pointedly, I remembered the way I thought my life would be, and how I wanted it to be.
A bald child wasn't exactly in that equation.
I know it's just hair, and I know it probably doesn't make any sense to anyone but me, but between the moment that picture was unknowingly snapped and now...
And yet, somehow a new life was begun, too.
Was it my daughter that "died"? I feel guilty admitting that the girl in the picture doesn't seem to be the same daughter I have now. (Though it makes sense in my head...) There are no pictures on my walls of that little girl. She is only a memory. Yet every day I love and wrap my arms around a young, beautiful, bald girl I see blossoming before me. It's hard to put into words this very real distinction I carry between these two girls. Before alopecia and after it.
But maybe it's not her that "died," but me.
When I think back to who I was before alopecia, I am a different person. As everything was literally falling apart around me and I feared my daughter's health was in jeopardy, it surely felt like death. I couldn't have survived without an older woman in my life who offered to sit in my living room with me week after week, listening to my fears and my cries, and oh-so-gently offering me the comfort that only Christ can offer when we are afflicted. She got down into the mud with me, and over a loooong period of time, helped pull me out enough to see me come to a point of acceptance with God's story for my life.
I know that our story with alopecia was not just for Caroline. It was just as much for me.
I came to church this morning still feeling very raw from the emotional trigger of that image. The sermon's title, "The Story Our Life is to Tell" particularly peaked my interest. Could there have been any better timing to hear the words of 2 Corinthians 4?
"We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us...For we who live are ALWAYS being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.... Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day..."
I couldn't believe my ears. The Bible was telling me exactly what I'd been feeling all night... that we are always being given over to death, that we are not sometimes, but always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that life may also be on display. It was confirming my feelings that with alopecia, I had faced a death (of some sort) and yet have been given new life through it.
Death and life.
The pattern of the Christian life is one of death and life.
I'm not speaking literally here (though that, too, is true for the Christian) and it's not necessarily one right after the other. The pattern doesn't need for one to end in order for the other to begin. Because in our stories, as we're taken through sufferings and "death," things usually don't wrap up nicely, just in the nick of time for there to be "resurrection," do they? Rather, there is always death, but yet it's IN THAT death(!!), we experience the resurrection and life of Jesus as God SUSTAINS us through it.
That couldn't be more true for my story with alopecia.
There are times of "death" in our stories where we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and we feel struck down. But God intends to use those things to put on display the dying, yet the life, of the Lord Jesus, both in ourselves and to others around us.
I don't understand all that God has done, but I need the faith and confidence to believe that He is telling a better story with my life than I ever could.