Saturday, January 1, 2011

What a Difference a Culture Can Make

Many of you already know that I have had some struggles with my self-image mostly centered around my beard. Until we became missionaries, I was unable to have a beard.  In high school and college I played on football teams that had a no facial hair policy.  Immediately after my play days, I started working as a police officer which limited one's facial hair to above the bottom of the earlobe to the corner of the mouth. If you are wondering, YES!!!, I sported the typical cop/Tom Selleck stache.

Just so you know, it was quite a dark moment in my life, 3 years to be exact.  A time I would rather not talk about, much less remember.  However, given the right set of circumstances, usually involving a pint of my favorite Irish stout, I have been know to show the occasional pic.

Anyway, I can tell you the exact last day my chin saw the light, May 26th, 2007.  That was the last day I worked as a cop, that was the last day I wore the uniform, and that was the last day I shaved, my chin at least. Since than I have had a variety of beards ranging from a simple goatee, to the amish chin curtain, to my current full beard. 

For the most part my facial stylings are well received, but when I start approaching ZZ Top length, I start getting the stares and the comments back home.  Its a pattern at this point.  I let the beard grow to epic proportions, I get made fun of, I get bummed out, then I shave it off.  The best part of the shave off are the reactions.  The last time I shaved off my beard, friends who only knew me with the beard didn't recognize me at first. 

So I was getting close to losing it. The constant looks of my newfound Costa Rican countrymen, the overt reactions as if a Yeti had crossed their path, the jokes, the sneers, it was getting to me and I made the decision to cut it, today as a matter of fact, New Year's Day, but something has happened.  Something unexpected, something magical, something wonderful.  

I started getting compliments.

It started at the Houston airport.  A TSA screener told me the beard was "impressive".  Then some kid at a skate shop called it "epic", one of his coworkers, without hearing, called it "the most manly beard" he had ever seen.  I bet about a dozen people have stopped me in the past 10 days to tell me how great the beard is. 

You know something?

It feels GREAT!

Which reminds me.  We visited a church back home.  A "gringo' church.  We have a church that we attend, but we were looking for a place to make some new friends.  Anyway, while sitting in church we got stared out, whispered about, and I'm pretty sure a fair number were doing a little judging. After the service no one came to say hello.  No one stopped and asked our names.  No one even acknowledge our existence. 

Had I been a real visitor,a real seeker, a real person hurting and looking for comfort, I would have felt like shaving off that church, that denomination, and if we are being honest, God all together.

What a difference a culture can make.