by Sharyn Kopf— Cedarville, Ohio
Martin Luther called it “the richest ornament of women.” Others refer to it as her crowning glory. Many a female has cried over an unfortunate haircut or mourned a bad hair day. We cut it, color it, curl it or straighten it, all in pursuit of that illusive “perfect” style. Yes, we take our hair very seriously.
Like most women, Emily Poling takes her hair seriously, but from a different perspective, as God used it to show her where true beauty comes from.
It wasn’t until she turned three that her parents realized Emily’s hair growth — or lack thereof — was not what it should be. Doctors soon discovered she had a genetic condition called ectodermal dysplasia. Though the effects of the disorder differ by person, for Emily it meant very thin hair that would only grow a certain length.
“I didn’t realize I looked different,” she says, “until some kids made fun of me at the pool one day. I became really self-conscious after that.”
For others with ectodermal dysplasia, it can be much worse. “They can have problems with teeth, nails, even their hearing and vision,” Emily continues. “I was blessed to only have the hair issue. Believe it or not, I have never had a haircut. I’ve been told that’s saved me a lot of money!”
That easy-going sense of humor colors much of Emily’s attitude toward her condition. But it hasn’t always been that way. It took her many years and various struggles to begin to see herself through God’s eyes. She remembers lying on her bed at night as a young girl, praying for a miracle, certain she would wake up the next morning with long, flowing blond hair.
In response, God pointed her to the apostle Paul, who prayed three times for the thorn in his flesh to be removed. But the Lord responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Since then, God’s grace and faithfulness have been apparent to Emily throughout her life, including the “great time” she had in middle and high school. She came to Cedarville in 1997 to study elementary education and fell in love with the University, working as a tour guide and joining a singing team for a missions trip to Australia. But after two years, she felt God calling her to transfer to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
“Funny,” she says, “but after I left Cedarville and before I transitioned to Moody, I went through a summer of insecurity. I hadn’t dated much and wondered if it was because of my hair. That’s when God taught me an important lesson about doing something for the wrong reason.”
Emily decided to get a hair weave. Finally, she would have the long, beautiful hair of her dreams. She had it attached just days before the trip with Cedarville’s Missions Involvement Services (MIS) … and discovered she felt more insecure than she ever had before.
“It wasn’t me,” Emily says. “And I didn’t know what to do with it or how to take care of it.”
But more importantly, she felt she couldn’t minister and realized God wanted to use her hair as a tool that He would shine through. Emily returned to the beauty salon and had the weave removed just in time to hop on the plane for the MIS trip to Australia.
Ironically, once Emily landed at Moody — where she studied educational ministries — God revealed an important truth in light of the relationships He placed in her path. She says, “I realized that godly men care more about how you fix your heart than how you fix your hair.”
Through it all, the Lord birthed in Emily a desire to help middle and high school girls see what true beauty looks like, as opposed to the media’s distorted image. A teaching job in North Carolina soon resulted in an opportunity to lead a Bible study for six sixth-grade girls.
“It was a place to ask questions and talk about girl issues like body image, eating disorders, purity and modesty,” Emily says. “And it grew.”
It didn’t take long before Emily needed help with the ministry that, in 2003, they named Daughters of the King, now known as HIS Daughters. They hold home groups and once-a-month gatherings — such as a recent outreach bonfire where they shared the Gospel. And they recently devoted a whole evening to the topic of body image.
Since her ministry took off, Emily has been working part time at Faith Baptist Church in Youngsville, N.C., as choir director and music assistant. The rest of her time she devotes to HIS Daughters, speaking at camps and conferences and reaching out to middle and high school girls.
“You often hear people ask, ‘If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?’ and I used to think in my head, ‘Oh yeah, that’s obvious; I’d change my hair,’” says Emily. “But what would God say? ‘Oh, I would definitely change her hair … I totally messed up on that one.’ No! That’s absurd! He says in Psalm 139 that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Emily recognizes that how we see ourselves is often quite different from how God sees us. We see the pieces of the puzzle, while God has a clear grasp of what that big picture looks like.
“I can’t throw out the piece that represents my hair,” she says. “I have learned not to cover up what God is doing in my life.”