Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Facebook Fairytale

all images courtesy of Google :)
Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure stories? Well, we’re going to play that game now, except I’m going to make all the choices and you will be my hapless victim. Ready?

Once upon a time, you are a lowly carpenter living in a small village at the edge of an Enchanted Wood. Although you are no genius, you have worked hard to polish your skill, and running your hands over pine, oak, ash, and birch gives you great pleasure. You are content and happy to serve your village’s carpentry needs and they respect you greatly for the services you provide. You make enough money to get by, you have a house with a roof that doesn’t leak, and you are your own master. Yes, all is perfect in your world…except one thing. You’re deaf.

It came on in your mid-twenties…the scarlet fever had swept through the town, and although the doctor had stayed awake for three nights, it looted through the streets, killing several children and stealing your precious hearing. In the beginning, the loss was difficult—you could no longer hear the cheerful “good mornings!” of your friends or the business queries from your uncle. The birds chattered in silence, the rain trickled from the sky in quietness and the daily familiar hawking in the marketplace was an eerie hush. When soldiers rumbled through the town square, shouting about an uprising on the southern border, your world contained an anguished peace. But, you are resilient, and soon you opened the doors of your carpentry shop, determined that a loss of hearing wouldn’t be reflected with a loss of skill. The villagers were hesitant at first, but you were their only carpenter, and so, after a week or two, you had customers sitting on your bench once again. No one knew how to talk to you—although you could read and write, only few in the village had those skills, so most used an intermediary or waved their hands expressively. The loss of your previous social life didn’t bother you too much…you retained a few close friends comfortable with silence, and the rest of the time, you poured your matter-of-fact energy into your work.

One day, you realize that you will not have enough rosewood to complete your latest order, an exquisite rocking chair. There had been a miscommunication with the peddler who usually supplied your finer woods (trying to mime a rose was more difficult than you realized), but you have just remembered there   was a trader who sometimes frequented a cottage in the Enchanted Wood. He was usually there at this time of year, so you pack a lunch, your list of measurements, and start off toward the forest. Few villagers ventured into the forest…it was a dangerous place full of strange happenings, but you, as one of the intrepid few, courageously stride onward.

You come to a small river and notice a little old lady in a black cloak attempting to cross the fallen oak which served as a bridge. Being a helpful sort of person, as well as one with good balance, you quickly dart across the bridge, and offer her your hand. You gesture that you’ll help her across the bridge, and she quickly agrees.

As she steps off the log, she breathes a sigh of relief. “Thank you for your kindness!” At your modest nod, she continues, “Such character must be rewarded. What is your wish?” You look away and bite your lip; speaking scares you because you aren’t sure how you sound, but your desire drives you to words. “I’m deaf –I’d like to hear again.”

“Aha!” The little old woman narrows her eyes for a moment, then smiles. “Walk 30 minutes west until you reach a cottonwood tree. You must arrive by 9am—no later! At that time a brisk wind will blow seeds off the cottonwood. Catch them, and you will be able to hear again.”

Your eyes light up in hope and incredulity—was this woman crazy? “But,” she waggles her finger at your nose, “there is no holding onto hearing.”

You open your mouth to thank her, but suddenly, the woman is gone, and it’s just you and the silent river.

Being a curious sort, the next day you set off into the forest, walking 30 minutes west of the river and sure enough, reaching a giant cottonwood just before 9 am. It’s branches are wide and sweeping and the green of its leaves is so intense you feel as though sunglasses would be useful. Your hair ruffles, and suddenly, a great wind attacks the tree, raking through its branches, and sending a shower of seeds whipping through the air. You brace against the gale, and leap to catch the bits of fluff. Hundreds and thousands float past you, but you finally snag a seed… and wait…it’s the voice of your mother! You can hear! At this moment, she’s discussing today’s midday soup with your sister, and apparently it’s too spicy. Elated, you to turn to run back to your village…but the feather-like seed slips out of your clutches and spirals up to the sky, and the silence falls like stone. But you had heard for a moment!

So, you leap forward like a cat, stumbling into the cloud of seeds, finally pouncing on another wisp. This one is a dear friend from childhood…and you can hear him grumbling about all the wedding plans. Wedding? You didn’t know he was planning on getting married… The seed darts from your hand and the deafness returns, but you don’t care anymore. You dance like a maniac, attempting for one then another… there’s your king discussing trade routes, another from a councilor announcing a new holiday. But wait, you’re confused—and you try to ask… but the seed has slipped from your fingers and your question falls silent. Hundreds, thousands fly past you—your keys to hearing love again, and you strain upwards, backwards, but they slip past you tickling your hair and face, moving too fast, too foreign, like a blizzard in midwinter. Your head spins with dizziness and you flail in a frenetic desperation. Please! I want to hear!

You stop a moment, your chest heaving, watching the shower of seeds slow and the wind cease. It’s getting late, and you still need the rosewood to finish the rocking chair, but to turn away is to leave the snippets of life behind you of the people that you love. But you must, and you do. As you walk through the village, the piece of the wood under your arm, you see the baker—he was a good friend once, before the fever, and now you know that he is elated about his son getting high marks at school. But what can you say? You turn toward your house and trudge onward, heart aching, because once you were deaf and content in your ignorance, but now you know the sweetness of voices again.

Will you go to the tree tomorrow? You don’t know. You can’t be both deaf and hearing at the same time.

And that, my friends, is what Facebook can be like for a missionary.

The other week, I was asked to teach a seminar on “Becoming Friends with Facebook”—how to help missionaries navigate this social media tool so that we can better communicate with you all, both to share the amazing work God is doing here in our lives and to be a part of the work He is doing in yours. But, as you can imagine, we have a love-hate relationship with it. It is, of course, an amazing ministry tool that can be used to love, encourage, strengthen, and empower so many people. And, it can also be a terrifying, intimidating, frustrating, obnoxious medium that makes trying to stand with one foot in each world feel like Roman riding when the horses are going at different speeds (as exemplified when the other day it dawned on me that you guys might be having daylight savings time, and I had no idea when it was starting…).

But we press onward, attempting the balancing act that is characteristic of so many aspects of our lives, appreciating the grace you give us for being both deaf and hearing, and ultimately falling back on the knowledge that prayer is the one language that manages to transcend both.

Disclaimer: I'm not trying to make sweeping generalizations about the feelings and experiences of all missionaries (so if you are a lucky one who hasn't been affected like this, that's great!)...instead, I'm trying to give a taste of the fears, challenges, joys, and other emotions I've seen, experienced, and have been expressed to me, especially with the recent seminar that I taught.