Announcing to the Mainsprings girls that we were leaving was one of the hardest things we’ve done while living in Tanzania. We knew the date we had to do it by, but just weren’t certain about how to do it. What could we say?
I had a rough idea of the sentiment I wanted to have and a few key points I needed to hit, as I sat there during prayer waiting for the time for announcements. I don’t know where the idea came from, but it was one of those situations where it landed in my lap fully-formed minutes before I needed to say something. When the time came for me to speak, I knew exactly what I was going to say.
“I have bad news,” I told them. “And I will give you that news now, but will follow it with three other facts that may help.” Concerned looks filled the dining hall.
“Bethany and I love you all very much and will miss you deeply, but we are moving back to Canada at the start of December.” I remember specifically the change of mood that took place. One girl I was watching in particular physically turned away from me.
“Now for the three things: First, we’ll have as many movie nights as we can before we leave. Second, we’ll make sure you have a special Christmas present this year. Third…” I paused. “Third, before we leave I will shave off my beard.” The mood in the room changed back. The girl I was watching whipped her head toward me excitedly.
Why this was significant was twofold:
First, I grew my beard when I was 16 and can count the number of times I’ve shaved it off on one hand. Each time it’s come off was because a girl I was dating at the time wanted to see it and I immediately grew it back. Bethany has never seen me without a beard and specifically never wanted to see me without a beard. When the idea hit me, I considered whispering my plan to her, but thought she’d put up too much of a fight, so concluded I should just throw it out there.
Second, beards are not the norm where we live in Tanzania and ever since arriving, the girls have told me to shave it off.
Well, three weeks later, after we’d climbed Kili, I shaved off my beard. As I did it, I had to remind myself that I was not my beard and I’d still be me without it. I felt like Samson knowingly shaving his head.
The girls’ responses were mixed: wide eyed stares followed with comments ranging from “You’re so handsome” to “You’re ugly.” I was told I looked like the founder and I got to chase around the youngest girls who were confused by this stranger living at the Hill House. Bethany kept staring at me creepily and saying, “You’re not my husband” or something to that effect. For me, I didn’t feel different other than how cold my chin now felt as each breath from my nose was like a little breeze on my chin.
The beard is on it’s way back and is entering that awkward stage where it’s not yet long enough to be a beard, but too long to be stubble. What we do to make people happy!