This Christmas, my hair took center stage. Not that it hasn’t just about every other day of my 58 years. So here, let me take you back in time and bring you up-to-date with some stories of hair horrors and how to head into the New Year on fire for the Lord.
Tony Parlamos called me Bozo on the first day of third grade—my first day in my new school. All because of my hair. The nickname stuck, all the way through high school. Others thought calling me Bozo was funny. I didn’t.
I hated my hair for making me stand out. Not only was it curly. It was red. Not carrot orange. Not strawberry blonde. Just red. Like Bozo. But not quite as bright.
I tried everything short of chemical processing to straighten that hair during my teens and 20’s. Big, fat curlers. Scotch tape (for those bangs!). A blow dryer with a big round brush. No matter what I tried, the least bit of humidity turned smooth to frizz. But I kept trying, every single day of my life.
And then it happened.
The day that changed my life forever—or at least my hair.
Paris. 30 years old. Right there in the bathroom. My blow dryer died. Burned out. Went POOF. As I stood there, my curls wet, I realized I had no choice. My hair must dry (gasp!) NATURALLY!
I was mortified.
How could I go out in public, in PARIS, the fashion vortex of the universe, with BOZO hair?
The Louvre was calling! The Eiffel Tower was calling!
Notre Dame was calling! Café au lait was calling!
I had to venture out, me and my massive head of red, curly hair. I had to risk the worst!
Miracle of miracles!
On the Champs-Elysees, an attractive French man (aren’t they all?) told me my hair was “spectaculaire”, which was pretty easy to translate. The other words were not. He might have been calling me Bozo right to my face but the language barrier caused me not to know, or care. Plus, everything in French sounds beautiful, even insults. So . . .
Suddenly, I went from BOZO to BEAUTIFUL! A caterpillar to butterfly! Cinderella to Prince Charming’s chosen! Suddenly, BIG and CURLY was a blessing! Suddenly, I cared only about one French man’s opinion! Because if HE thought my hair was grand (and I’m not talking size), then to heck with the rest of the world!
Back in the States, people started looking at me, even approaching me, wherever I was.
In the grocery. At the mall. In the park. At the gym.
Sometimes men dared to compliment me. Mostly women dared to invade me—that is, my personal space—with two questions:
Is your hair natural?
And . . .
Can I touch it?
I rehearsed my answers, in order, in my head . . .
Yes, it’s natural.
And . . .
No, you can’t touch it.
At least that’s what I hoped to have guts enough to say. (I’m still praying for guts.)
The attention has been appreciated, if not always desired. But then there’s the negative attention that began happening with big curly hair. Not as bad as being called BOZO, but pretty embarrassing.
Like that day in the department store—Marshall Fields, State Street, Chicago, to be precise.
I leaned down to pick up my purse I had set by the rack to try on a coat or some other garment I can’t remember. On my way up, a hanger lurched at me and grabbed my hair, refusing to let go. Hunched over, unable to stand straight, I pleaded.
Help! I’m caught! Help!
Salvation came from the Clinique counter. (The Lord does work in mysterious ways!)
The caring woman dressed in a white lab coat (you know, Clinique is oh, so CLINICAL!), offered empathy in addition to her two perfectly manicured hands that pried my hair out of the hanger’s death-grip. I ended up buying a lipstick from her out of sheer gratitude. After all, what could be worse than being bit by a coat hanger?
One hot and sticky summer day, I had my hair piled high in a poof ball while grooming my horse. I wanted that mass of curls off my neck and out of my eyes. Suddenly, I heard a buzzing quite close to my ears. A bee!
I tried to swish it away but instead of flying out, it flew in—into my poof ball. The buzzing became frantic, at least I think. I was quite sure the bee thought it had flown into insect Hell where bees enter but never leave. I tried to rescue the poor thing but it stung me right between my thumb and index finger of my left hand. I don’t know whether my stronger batting due to my pain killed the bee or saved it. All I know is the buzzing stopped.
So much for hair dryers and hangers and bees. Who knew my latest hair hazard would be fire?
Christmas Eve, 2017. (Yes, that would be last Sunday.)
A church packed with people. Standing in a circle. In the dark. Singing Silent Night. Holding real candles with real flames.
As the last candles were lit, I turned my head ever so slightly to the right. And that mass of curls caught flame. I didn’t see it at first. A friend standing two down from me yelled,
HEATHER! YOUR HAIR!
In the middle of Silent Night.
All had been calm. Then all became bright.
I don’t remember handing my candle to one of the TWO volunteer firemen standing next to me, one being my son. All I remember was batting my hair frantically trying to put out the flames.
Then came the smoke. Who knew how horrible burnt hair smells? Certainly not a pleasing aroma to the Lord, I don’t think. Or to anyone else, for that matter.
The fire extinguished (along with all the church candles), I assessed the damage. Only about four INCHES of the outer layer on my left side sizzled and disappeared. It will take only about four YEARS to grow back! (I’m not kidding.) But it will grow back. Thankfully, only hair went up in smoke. Nothing else caught fire. (I’m thinking battery operated candles or the pretty awesome Virtual Candle HD app on cell phones might be a good idea in the future?)
So considering all these true stories, which is my hair?
A curse? Or a blessing?
Sometimes, what I think is painful or embarrassing is God’s invitation to humility—to letting go of what I think/want or what others think/want and just letting Him use everything in His way, in His time.
As for my hair?
God changed my perspective about a gift he gave me that others intended for harm. What others teased me about so long ago has turned into the greatest visual aid for the wonder of God I’ve ever been given. My hair attracts lots of attention that can get others thinking about the One who created this huge (well, maybe just a bit less huge now) head of unusual hair. What I once thought was awful, I now view as special. And you know?
We all have something special that draws us to God and that God can use to draw others to Him.
Special, wrapped in humility, brings great opportunities.
Sometimes, the things we most dislike about ourselves can be those “burnt offerings” the Lord uses for good, one way or another. Isn’t this a great reason to sing His praises? Isn’t this something that can set us on fire for the Lord, once again, in this coming new year?
For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.