It’s the time zone that’s the killer.
I live in Greece, seven hours ahead of my family and most of my dearest friends on America’s east coast. In theory seven hours aren’t too bad… After all, our waking hours overlap for more the half the day, right? But the earliest I can reasonably call is 8 AM for them, 3 PM for me. Right when my four kids get off the bus and fall into my kitchen, bursting with volume and activity. The chaos continues till my last one’s in bed at 9:30 PM; at that point I’m far too spent for catch-up phone time with my people.
So we didn’t talk, my heart friends and I. Or at least, we rarely talked. The connections were slipping… and my heart was suffering.
Eventually the time zone challenge became, as challenges so often do, an opportunity. A doorway to a new and beautiful thing.
Several months into our overseas stint I realized that I could leave voice messages for my friends through my international texting app, WhatsApp. And in reply they could leave voice messages for me. I began doing this with several of them. It wasn’t real-time voice to voice, but it was the next best thing – sequentialvoice to voice. A big chunk of words from me, followed by a big chunk of words from them… usually with an interval of days or a week between. Before long we got used to this and got into a rhythm, like audio letter-writing.
The voice messages became a gift and a lifeline to stay connected. I would listen when I had the five minutes to devote to their messages. I would often laugh out loud as they shared their stories and vignettes. I would enter deeply into their worlds. And perhaps best of all, I would ponder.
I was surprised to find that the pondering was the most powerful part.
Free of the constraints of the traditional phone call, the messages would conjure pictures in my mind of the landscapes of my friends’ lives. The dream of a garden, and the struggle to realise the dream amidst time constraints. The effort to connect with spouse at the end of long days when both are exhausted. The delights - and moods - of the increasingly capable preteen. The hilarious toddler, adding zest while draining energy from days. The hopes and plans for the family, being worked out slowly and often amidst fretfulness – family vacation, new pet, school play. And all of it, all of it, so relatable to what I face in my own life.
As each message wound down, a flame would blaze up in my heart. I would see my friend against the backdrop of her life, pushing the broom across the floor of her small sphere, and I’d feel warmed. As the details of her life tumbled from her heart into my ear, they painted a picture of a woman brave and committed. A woman with eyes on the eternal and diligence in the day to day, walking out what it meant to get there.
She is valiant, I would inevitably think as my listening session came to an end. She is noble.There is dignity and honor in her actions and efforts, in all that she’s undertaking. I saw it so clearly, so starkly.
I almost felt a part of the great cloud of witnesses we hear about in Hebrews 11 – watching from the sidelines and beholding the big picture. Like the witnesses I was privy to the mundane, day-to-day details but with a sense of scope and objectivity. I could behold the sweeping trajectory of life, in its glory, visible from this distance.
Years ago a dear friend said that when she prayed for me, she saw a picture of Joan of Arc, riding her horse out into battle… but with her helmet off. Her head, bare and exposed, displayed her beauty and also her vulnerability. She was at once brave and determined, a warrior engaged in the fight, but also exposed. The visual inspired and cheered me for the particular circumstances I faced in that season.
I see this same Joan of Arc image now when I reflect on my friends after listening to their WhatsApp messages. They are courageous and persevering, pressing into the specifics of their life with faith and nobility. But at the same time they are beautiful and vulnerable, wrestling out their struggles with God and submitting to him through the challenges.
And I realize, when I think on this, that I am too. And so are you.
We are each of us beings of fierceness and beauty, living out our lives and callings as we following our good, warrior God. I’ll always be grateful to WhatsApp, and to Joan of Arc too, for giving my heart eyes to see this.