“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” –Philippians 4:13
With an alarm set for 3AM, I barely got any sleep. My mind was restless because I was now waiting anxiously for day 3 of hiking. The reassurance God had given me the night before was enough to replace my doubts with excitement. We left camp around 4AM and arrived at our starting point close to 4:30AM. It was still dark out as Nate started the hike with a short, but powerful message. He reminded us that this particular day would be the hardest, but if we just persevere and rely on God to get us through, the victory will be so worth it. That simple reminder was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Once again, I felt like God was speaking directly to me through Nathaniel. I’m sure many others in the group felt the same thing and before we headed out to start the hike, Nate asked us to take the first twenty minutes or so of walking and use the time to reflect on what’s in our hearts, the struggles we’re going through, and just give it all to God. Thus began Day 3 of hiking, which would turn out to be one of my favorite days of the trek.
We started our hike through a wheat field as the darkness surrounding us started to become lighter, signaling that the dawn was upon us. In the midst of it, we all walked quietly, truly reflecting on matters of the heart just as Nate requested. I thought back to the message he had given us minutes before. It resonated for me because my whole life feels like it’s been one long string of hard battles from the time I was eighteen months old and diagnosed with chronic atopic dermatitis. This resulted in me going in and out of hospitals due to staph infections or tests. I didn’t have a normal childhood because the smallest thing could cause my skin to flare up. In fact, I don’t remember one single day where my skin looked “good” or was painless. My doctors advised my mom to give me at least two baths a day which was often difficult for my mom to do because I would fight against her, crying and begging to not be put in the bath again because the water burned the open sores and scratches so bad. There were many times I’d just lay in the floor of my bedroom or bathroom, sobbing to God and asking Him the simple question of, “Why?”. Even though I would question His reasons, I’d always end up getting back to my feet by night’s end and accept whatever it was that God had in store for me. From a very young age, my mom always told me that God gave me this condition for a reason and that I was perfect in God’s eyes. My faith is what got me through the hardest of times.
When I was eleven years old, staph infection had set into my skin once again. The backs of my legs were so bad that I couldn’t even walk due to the pain. I had to be wheeled around from class to class in a wheelchair which prompted so many classmates to stare at me. I often just bowed my head, staring at the floor or closing my eyes just so I didn’t have to see their stares and whispers. This went on for weeks and the steroids weren’t helping at all. I would scream at the simplest movement of my body because now the infection had spread, especially into my back. This would lead to my last time being hospitalized for my skin. The staph infection had gotten into my blood stream. My skin was so bad, the nurses couldn’t find a proper vein to insert the IV. The only viable option was in a vein near my ankle. The first attempt wasn’t successful. The pain the insertion of the IV caused had me screaming and crying to the point I was barely breathing. They calmed me down and were finally able to get the IV in. I was put on two high powered IV antibiotics and fortunately within a few days, my skin started clearing up. I spent about a week in the hospital then I was released to continue certain medications at home.
It started to seem uphill from there. It was the following year that I was saved and baptized, solidifying my faith. It was also the same year that I started losing some of my hair. It started with just small bald patches and the hair would always grow back. Doctors thought it was just due to stress since it would usually start around the time of year I had ended up in the hospital that last time. My body and mind were getting anxiety over the possibility of that incident happening again. That made sense to me. I went through high school with no hair issues, but in October 2007, I had suddenly lost majority of my hair on top. It had gotten so bad that I made the decision to just shave it off. I called my best friend, Kimberly, who was in cosmetology school at the time, and asked if she would do it. She came over one night and as I sat in a chair in the kitchen while she cut the remaining hair off then used an electric shaver to do the rest, I could hear her sniffling. I knew she was crying and I told her, “It’s okay. Don’t feel bad.” I kept a positive attitude until I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. It was the first time I saw myself completely bald. With trembling lips and a saddened smile, I slowly slid my palm over the bare skin of my head while one tear slipped down my cheek. It’s been almost twelve years since that moment and though there were times of hair regrowth, I ultimately ended up with a bald head once again.
All of these memories filled my head as I started the hike that day. It was quite powerful to reminisce those moments with God as I walked through a wheat field that Jesus himself walked through. And in the midst of it all, we got to witness the sun rising above the Sea of Galilee in the distance. The view was breathtaking and so peaceful. I could feel His presence all around me. He was right there next to me just as He promised in my moment of clarity the night before. This was made even more clear when I was descending one of the steep hills leading down into the valley. Some of the group was ahead of me and others were behind me. I was perfectly content being on my own for a while because I knew I wasn’t truly alone. Then Nathaniel came up by my side, asking how I was doing. We exchanged some friendly small talk which led to him asking how I ended up on the trek. I knew instantly that this was a moment God had led me to. I told Nate how I felt the tug to come on the trip and that God truly did pave the way. I started opening up to him and as he led us to the side to stop in the middle of the hill so he could really listen to me, my testimony started spilling out in an emotional exchange. I mentioned how my mom always told me to embrace who I am because it’s who God made me to be and a genuine smile broke across Nate’s features as he said, “Wow. That’s so biblical.” He then opened up to me with a personal story of his own that was in relation to mine before reminding me that even though the world seems to only see the physical body, God doesn’t care about that. The vessel itself doesn’t matter. All that matters is what’s inside our hearts and if we have God in our hearts, then that is “true beauty”. As Nate took the time to pray with me, I could hear the emotion in his voice and I knew this moment affected him in some special way too. God was working in both of our lives and even though I didn’t get to tell Nate about the alopecia that I also deal with, I felt that it was enough for now. God would reveal the right moment for everything else to be said.
It was amazing to see everyone make it through the hardest hiking day with flying colors. We took in the sights surrounding us, aided each other in crossing small creeks, and even more bonds were created. It was a successful day all around and I have a feeling all of us that participated felt a bit stronger because of it. I know I did. The group was then given the rest of the day off so Cagney and I decided to take a much needed nap which turned into five hours of sleep. I woke up feeling so sore from head to toe and barely able to roll over. I knew I needed to get up and start moving around. Cagney decided to take some time for herself and God so she headed down to the lobby. After a few minutes of catching up on some things, I realized I had a tug in my heart to walk down to the boardwalk that ran alongside the Sea of Galilee. I wanted to explore our new location, but I also wanted time alone with God. I grabbed my bible and made my way out. I found myself looking out onto the water, watching as different boats set out and others made their way in towards the docks. I spent maybe twenty minutes doing this along with walking around until I finally just found a bench to sit on and start reading in my bible. I had started reading in the book of Habakkuk when a local woman, who I would soon know as Muna, came around and took a seat next to me on the same bench. I looked up to meet her gaze where she just smiled lovingly and greeted me. I could tell early on that she didn’t speak much English, but she tried. She asked if this was my first time in Israel. I nodded and smiled, “Yes. I love it. It’s beautiful.” Still smiling, she motioned towards the water and the scenery surrounding it. “Jesus is here. You feel Him.” It was such an interesting thing for her to say because she didn’t know anything about me or my faith. That fact only made me adore this encounter even more because I knew this would be something special. I nodded once again in response to her words, my smile getting bigger, “Yes. I really do feel him.” Her husband, George, then walked around and had a friendly smile as well. I never once felt uneasy around them. In fact, I felt a closeness with them one would rarely have with a stranger they just met. The couple were from Tel Aviv, but were on vacation visiting Tiberias. George engaged in conversation, asking about my visit to Israel and how I got the redness on my face. I chuckled and said it was due to a sunburn and he generously started giving advice on how to treat it. In the midst of this, Muna kept gazing at me with a soft smile and when I turned to meet her eyes, she said, “You’re beautiful. I love you.” She repeated this sentiment a few times before the conversation wrapped up, she gave me a hug, and they parted ways. It was an encounter that left my heart filled with so much genuine love. I couldn’t stop smiling the whole way back to the hotel. Some people would say that encounter was odd, especially for a stranger to say I’m beautiful and she loves me, but it didn’t feel odd at all. I knew down into the depth of my bones that she was yet another vessel God had used to speak to me. God started and ended this day as a reminder of what ‘true beauty’ really is. My reason for being on this trip was finally coming to light, but I still had no idea just how life changing and impactful the last few days would be for me.
Day four of the hike reunited the group in completing the trek to Capernaum. It was clear that even though the other half of the group had gone to separate places, each individual saw what they needed in order to further their own personal journey. Everything was working out exactly how God wanted it to. We reached our first destination which was a nice place along the Sea of Galilee. Nate intended to show us a waterfall he had visited years prior, but due to the water having risen since that time, we were only able to hear it. But Nate continued with his message and spoke of how this particular place was known as containing “healing waters”. He then stated that lepers, people with a skin condition, would be seen here in hopes of being healed. This is most likely the place that Jesus encountered the leper on his way back down from giving the Sermon on the Mount and healed him. (Matthew 8: 1-4) Once again, a subject I could easily relate to. I couldn’t help but smile and silently say, “You got my attention, God.”
Nate and Moshe led us up a steep hill where we came across a small cave that contained handmade benches made of what looked like tree trunks. About twelve people could comfortably sit within the cave. Hm. Twelve people. Twelve disciples. How convenient, right? Nate led us further up the hill where we finally came to a flat surface in which Jesus gave his most famous sermon. (Matthew 5-7) We were actually standing on top of the Mount of Beatitudes and that simple thought caused a quiet sob of realization to escape me. Tears filled my eyes and I looked around in such awe with a heart full of gratitude. It was truly a moment to remember. We then took a seat and listened to Nathaniel’s message about the Sermon on the Mount, much like the people listened to Jesus when He first spoke the words. It all felt surreal and the presence of God was more palpable than ever. Many of us were truly rocked that day.
The group finally made it to Capernaum and then we enjoyed some time actually sailing on the Sea of Galilee. Later that evening, we had joined Moshe and his beautiful family as they showed us the tradition of Shabbat. Honestly just watching them interact so lovingly with each other, especially with their two boys was enough to fill all of our hearts with true joy. It was a blessing to be witness to. Once they were finished, Nate spoke to the group about what our last two days would consist of. He warned us that the next day would be emotionally “heavy”, but then our last day would be a time to have fun. He reminded the group that Sunday is when we’d be visiting the Jordan River. This would be when those of us that wanted to, we could get baptized in the same place that Jesus did. I suddenly felt very hesitant. About a month before the Jesus Trek, I had expressed my interest in being baptized, but I was also determined to find a wig that would stay on if dunked under water or at least something to put over my head. Not everyone knew that I wore wigs and I didn’t want to be faced with embarrassment of that being revealed in an unexpected way, especially in public. I had this fear because I experienced a moment truly mortifying at the beach one summer. I often laugh about it now, but it wasn’t until the Jesus Trek that I realized just how bad that incident had scarred my mind and heart.
When Nathaniel asked us in that moment who was wanting to get baptized at the Jordan River, I froze. All of these thoughts started flooding my mind, but then the realization of God’s purpose for me on this trip suddenly washed my fears away. Every significant moment that led up to this was finally falling into place. God wanted to remind me what ‘true beauty’ is, not just on the inside but the outside as well. I was suddenly faced with the reality that while I had always embraced my skin condition, I had never truly embraced the alopecia. I’ve lived every day with this subtle fear of someone getting a glimpse of how I really look underneath the wigs. With the exception of God, family and close friends, no one had seen that side of me. I could hear God whispering in my heart, “You’re beautiful. I love you. Be free, Lyncoln.” It was followed by this wave of calm that washed over me and the fear that was there had been replaced with understanding and excitement. I shared my revelation with Cagney that night before bed and the excitement in her own eyes was all the encouragement I needed. This was it. This was my reason for being here.
The next morning I woke up feeling doubtful again. It was clear the enemy was trying to mess with my mind and make me close myself off again. I confided in Cagney and Sam about this and once again, they encouraged me and prayed for me. I had decided that I needed to talk to Nate about this. It wasn’t because I needed his approval, but I was seeking more guidance. It was also a big step for me to be vulnerable and open about this subject with a guy. It made it easier that Nate was not just an acquaintance anymore, but someone I could confidently consider a brother in Christ. Once again, God provided the moment for us to talk and as the others went into the dining hall for lunch, Nate and I stayed in the foyer as I emotionally confided in him. I told him everything I had endured with my hair loss, including the embarrassing incident at the beach and how it’s led to so many times where I’ve always had this self-conscious thought about my wig, how it could easily fall off, how it’s almost completely disabled me from enjoying myself in certain situations. I didn’t even go swimming at the place we stopped at earlier in the week because of this. I told him I wanted to get baptized and take this leap of faith for God, but that I felt absolutely terrified. There was genuine empathy in Nathaniel’s eyes and as we both shed some tears, he said, “Lyncoln, do you not realize how powerful this is?” He then mentioned that there’s many people in this world that wouldn’t be able to go through what I have and maintain the strength and faith that I have. He also reminded me that even if I don’t go through with this, God would not be disappointed. He would not be ashamed. It’s a big step in simply having this revelation. Having said that, he pointed out that he believes I’ll get clarification in the Garden of Gethsemane. Remember what Sam told me the night at the camp site? Yea. I got chills too. Needless to say, it was quite hard not to have expectations for what was to come in the Garden. Still, what actually happened surpassed any of my thoughts.
It had already been a tiring day after walking around Jerusalem in the 100 degree heat and getting in the midst of the bustling crowds within the Holy Sepulchre. By the time we made it into the Garden of Gethsemane, we felt very drained. It didn’t help that the consistent sound of car horns blowing in every direction interrupted what would’ve been a peaceful environment. Even with all of this going on, Nathaniel led us into a much needed prayer before he began the message and it was just what we needed to release any prior stresses we had and fully open our minds and heart to the Word. Nate opened by saying to imagine how Jesus felt when He came to the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing what was to come the next day. (Luke 22: 39-46) This was a moment where Jesus showed just how human He really was because here He sat praying out loud to our Father, asking if there was another way out of the impending death, but if there wasn’t then let His will be done. Jesus had worked himself up to what we would consider a panic attack with drops of sweat spilling like blood. As Nate described this moment and broke it down into those terms, I realized I was in a similar situation. It wasn’t anywhere near the physical and emotional impact Jesus’s sacrifice had, but here I was feeling terrified to present myself in the purest form the next day at the baptism. The more I thought about it, the more it stressed me out, thus leading me to an increasing panic attack of my own. Jesus faced a crowd and He was put through mocking, torment, pain, and suffering. He knew everything that would happen to Him and yet He willingly took the walk His Father put in place for Him because He loves us. He laid down His own life for us. Once He knew it was God’s will, Jesus went with no hesitation. Yet here I was battling with myself, allowing the enemy to put worst case scenarios in my head to try and prevent me from making a personal sacrifice for my almighty, loving God. How weak of me to question this path He’s put before me and fear the most superficial things when He’s kept me going my whole life! He has been nothing but faithful in guiding me, in holding my head up when I wanted to shy away from people’s stares, and in giving me the strength to keep going when I’d find myself crumpled on the floor sobbing for relief of the pain. God has been there every step of the way and here He was, holding His hand out once more and asking me to trust in Him. This revelation is what broke me. Here I was sitting in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus sat thousands of years ago, crying out to God for guidance and ultimately giving into the purpose God had for Him. Just as I finally gave into my God given purpose.
This was made even more clear when we were all sitting with our heads bowed in personal prayer, letting Nathaniel’s words resonate within us. As if I wasn’t already a sobbing mess, Nate spoke out asking the group to pray for someone. He then called out my name and asked if I could join him up front. I opened my tearful eyes and looked over to see Sam standing there with a big smile on her face and extending her hand to me. I took it and we walked to where Nate was standing and he put his arm around me in a comforting embrace before asking everyone to join us by placing their hands upon me for a healing prayer. I’ve experienced many things in my thirty one years on this earth, but I’ve never been witness to anything like this powerful moment. I felt the love and compassion from my brothers and sisters in Christ surrounding me. Most importantly, I felt the love from God consuming me. I knew without a doubt that my journey so far had been leading me to this very moment. And what an incredible moment it was to be standing on the same soil as Jesus did so long ago at the same time that I finally accept God’s purpose for me.
When the healing prayer was finished and everyone in the group took turns to embrace me and encourage me for what was to come, I finally felt like this burden had been lifted. I didn’t know if my skin and alopecia would be physically healed in a miraculous sense, but I knew the most important thing was assuredly healed: my soul.
From that moment forward, I felt so light and free. I couldn’t stop smiling and I couldn’t stop the excitement that was bubbling up within me. When we visited the Garden Tomb, a potential site where the crucifixion happened, I didn’t hesitate to share my testimony with the whole group. It felt so liberating to finally open myself up to everyone that hadn’t heard my full story and at the end, I was facing nothing but loving smiles all around. A few of them even told me privately that my testimony was something they needed to hear. It’s those small moments that make all the pain and suffering worth it. Then came the celebration…
I woke up the next morning with no doubts whatsoever. I put on the clothes I decided to wear for my baptism and threw on my Keshet hat, no wig underneath. I was more than ready to let my new family see the real me. I was greeted with bright smiles and hugs of encouragement through the morning, all leading up to my big moment. My name was third on the list and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a bit nervous as it got closer to my time to be called, but the moment it happened, all bets were off. I took my hat off without hesitation and tossed it aside as if to say, “This is for you, God. I love you.” The applause and excitement from the group had me feeling so unbelievably loved and as I descended the steps into the muddy Jordan water to greet Nathaniel and Robert, I was completely overcome with God’s beautiful grace. I was an emotional wreck, but in the most amazing way. Nathaniel’s words about my journey summed it up perfectly. I remember feeling myself trembling as he spoke, but as soon as I was laid back into the water and brought back up, an unwavering sense of peace blanketed me. I was baptized and came up out of the water completely renewed with purpose.
When I made my way back up the steps with the sound of my brothers and sisters cheering on my new self, Sam hugged me and told me that I looked like Jesus’s pearl emerging from the muddy waters. It was a symbolic statement that has remained in my heart since that day and it will remain as I continue on in this exciting and hopeful chapter God has placed in my path. I have felt so motivated in ways I never have before. I actually get excited to speak to others about alopecia and my personal journey. I’m definitely looking forward to September, which I recently learned is Alopecia Awareness month, and I plan to bring awareness to the medical office I work at in fun, creative ways. That includes going the whole month without wearing my wig!
I love sharing my testimony with anyone that wants to listen because it’s such a pivotal part of who I am. All the things I’ve endured have molded me into the woman God meant for me to be. It wasn’t easy and I know there’s more to come, but my time during the Jesus Trek only solidified my strength and most certainly my faith. That’s all thanks to God and each person He placed on that trip. I’m willing and ready for the next chapter that will only add to my story, one that I will continue to share as long as I can because it’s a testimony of pain transforming into purpose. Most importantly, it’s a story that encompasses God’s true glory and just how GOOD He truly is.
Thank you for reading. God bless!