By Anna Anderson
I have worn my hair short for over 40 years. But In 2019, with a college reunion plan and a late year family wedding, I decided I wanted to “do something different with my hair.”
Always, a most certain kiss of death. You don’t just “do something different” with coarse, thick, naturally wavy/curly hair that, more than anything I have ever known, has a definite life of its own.
But change I wanted and change I pursued. I began with my stylist by telling her I wanted to let my hair grow out a little so that I could look at a different kind of hairstyle. She responded that it would take a lot of time. And that, because my hair was so short, and since it grows only about a half-inch every month or so, we would just trim the ends a tiny bit whenever I came in.
And I was on my way. Whereas previously in my short-haired life with a stylist, I made appointments to see her every three or four weeks (sometimes every two weeks when I had a particular event coming up), this crazy stylist was suggesting I come in only every six weeks! What??? I thought. You’ve got to be kidding me. My hair will surely defy all the odds and most certainly will be an unruly terrible mess if I wait six weeks.
But she was speaking from her professional opinion and recommendation. I hesitantly trusted her. I therefore began this most exciting yet unsure journey of growing out my short hairstyle.
As 2019 went on, I began to see places in my hair that grew a little longer and longer than I had ever remembered my hair in my previous lifetimes. Every time I would see my stylist outside the salon somewhere, I would say, “Don’t you think it’s time to cut my hair? It’s ready, isn’t it, for the new style I want to pursue?”
Her reply was always, “it’s not time to cut your hair, Anna.”
It’s not time. Those were words that just left me with such disappointment. We were rolling along and then . . . March 2020 came and all salons were closed by ruling of the virus that paralyzed the world. I wondered if, in my desperation, I might at some point just take out my scissors and do something crazy myself.
When we finally saw that salons could open again, my stylist texted me to say she would have an opening on a certain day and she was sure that I would want to come in.
I jumped at the chance. I nearly beat the door down when I could get in. Masked and ready for the next best thing, she cut my hair into a style that I wasn’t really sure I liked. I had waited all this time for something different, and I had gotten something different all right. But it was not exactly what I had dreamed of and pictured I would get.
The next appointment, it was a little longer and a little bit different still. And so and so on, never quite getting to what I had imagined I would get to by this point.
Each time I sat in her chair, and she asked me that ubiquitous question that most stylists do with their loyal clients, “So, what are we doing today?” I would pull out a picture of the style I liked yet again, and I would ask, “can we do a little something less over the top, or more over the sides, or keep the back a little longer or fringier, or change this here?”
Finally on one of those visits, she said to me: “Anna, every time I see you, you don’t want a cut, you want a transformation.”
Ouch. That stung. But it also opened something up in me that I cannot stop thinking about. Transformation. Whenever we speak about our work as CBF field personnel, we use this word because it’s one of our mission distinctives, or goals, or guiding principles of our work and ministry.
We also use this word because it particularly characterizes poverty-focused work. And that work always involves moving, changing, acting, planning. It’s doing something towards getting you somewhere else.
We saw a gentleman recently who had gotten behind in the mortgage payments on his home because he had sent a payment by money order and the mortgage company said they never received it. It had been over two years since this had happened and, rather than doing something about it, he had given up and had thus accrued large penalties and late fees all relating to that one month’s payment/non payment.
One of the questions we asked him, in trying to get to the bottom of his problem and searching for some action towards resolution, was, “What do you want us to do?”
He was quick to answer. “I just want you to help me with this one month I’m behind. And then, can you help me know how to proceed with getting this problem fixed? Can you just help me know what to do next?”
He didn’t want total transformation because he knew better than we did how long he had been working on this problem and trying to resolve it. He had just reached the end of his rope and he needed something immediate. He needed a trim, not a total transformation.
Often in life, we can’t see the end result. We can’t even see the end of this short road sometimes. What we can see, what we can begin to help with, is immediate, for today, a way to get past the hurdle.
Transformational ministry doesn’t seek to bring about total solutions. I think, rather, it seeks steps along the way. It seeks daily bread for the journey. It seeks what can be done realistically, acknowledging what will require more time to complete, more information, more commitment to going forward.
When I really look at that, I don’t get nearly as disappointed or discouraged. We help sometimes by just acknowledging and naming aloud what the problem really is. And other times, we can help with a mortgage payment just for today.
Transformational ministry looks different in different contexts. But in poverty-focused ministry and in dealing with people who have never known anything in their lives except generational poverty, particular problems are very short-sighted and immediate. The solutions, however, can take lots of time.
And although you want to celebrate the outcome, the time it takes to work on getting there cannot be ignored or by-passed. We are privileged to walk alongside people sometimes in brief encounters and sometimes in more broadening relationships. All are seekers. All are hoping for some level of transformation in their worlds.
Change is hard. It takes lots of patience and there are setbacks and failures and disappointments and curve balls along the way. But there are also celebrations and accomplishments and encouraging reminders that we can go on. All of us. Whether changing hair or lives, we can go on.
Anna Anderson is a CBF field personnel serving alongside her husband, LaCount, in Northeastern North Carolina with Together for Hope, CBF’s rural development coalition, focusing on providing poverty relief and finding more sustainable solutions to systemic poverty. Learn more about her ministry at www.cbf.net/anderson.com.