"I just want my God-hair back," Sarah says. "I feel like a fake."
Sarah’s good friend and trusted stylist, Elizabeth, runs her fingers through Sarah's short, blonde highlights. Both women recognize the larger issue hiding behind Sarah's decision for a hair-color change.
Three and a half years ago, Sarah Sutton left an abusive relationship and returned to Austin from New York City after reclaiming her faith. She was struggling with an eating disorder and an addiction to smoking, and her hair - something she admits she idolized - was badly damaged from a perm. Sarah needed a hairstylist and a believing friend.
"The only hairdresser I knew and the only safe person I knew and the only Christian I knew at that time was [Elizabeth]."
As Elizabeth nurtured life back into Sarah's damaged hair, she also actively loved her damaged friend. Elizabeth invited Sarah to attend Austin Bible Church (now The Austin Stone West Campus).
"She just really became my family. She was the only person I would let near me," says Sarah.
Many of Elizabeth Gidden's clients could make similar statements about the influence of this talented stylist and her downtown salon, Solace. Since its opening thirteen years ago, this small studio has been a refuge where Elizabeth's clients can rejoice, confide, cry or simply escape to feel beautiful.
Although she has experienced her own share of pain and suffering, her clients testify of her willingness to share her joy in the Lord. She claims this joy has nothing to do with her, and her believing clients recognize it as the work of the Holy Spirit.
“She could totally take the glory and she could completely have had me fooled that she just had this crazy ability to love me because of her great works,” Sarah says. “But she loves because she's been loved.”
Living on mission, according to Elizabeth, means living in the in-between of the earthly and spiritual realms. It means never missing a chance to love the individual in front of you and constantly looking for God at work here on earth.
This desire to never miss an opportunity recently led Elizabeth on a trip to Rwanda to serve with Africa New Life. After her initial trip this past July, her passion for the work of Africa New Life spilled over onto her clients, and together they bought 10 sewing machines for Africa New Life’s vocational training program and raised more than $10,000 for the organization. Elizabeth went back to Rwanda again in December with her two children, and she plans to return in June to assist in setting up a teaching hair salon. She is overwhelmed by the response of both her believing and non-believing clients to the project.
Stories of redemption, hope and love pile up quickly when you listen to Elizabeth talk about her work.
“The things that happen before me, I'm slack-jawed,” says Elizabeth. “I sit back and say, ‘Lord, what are you going to do today.’”
Sarah’s confession during her hair coloring stands as one more reminder to the depth of God’s transformative powers found at Elizabeth’s salon. Sarah is now a part of what Elizabeth calls her “heart community.” She is passionately seeking freedom in Christ and is a committed participant in the Women’s Development Program at Stone. She feels strongly that God’s use of Elizabeth was crucial in her return to faith.
“This place and this woman, it's just this little story,” says Sarah. “But it’s such an amazing story of redemption. I'm just one of many that are lost that have come through here and have been blessed."