For a number of years now, I’ve used the worldwide web as a way to maintain old or create new relationships. I suppose it began back in the mid 90’s as I moved thousands of miles away from my home and all that was known to me – I moved from Western Canada to the Eastern United States to begin my journey into Seminary and eventually into ordained ministry.
At first I simply used the internet to send email messages with those who I loved and who I wanted to continue to be in relationship with. Calling Internationally during that time was expensive and it seemed to take forever to send a card or letter that distance. So almost on a weekly basis, I would send emails to my family and friends. Updating them on my new found life, the ups and downs of seminary education and soon I used emails to inform my girl friends of my friendship with a special man that quickly stole my heart.
Communication by this medium was simply by text as digital camera’s didn’t exist and certainly there was no such thing as social networks. The greatest words to hear upon booting my computer where “You’ve got Mail!” and soon AOL was transforming communication again as instant messages became an everyday means of communication. I remember sitting in my office at the first church I served and becoming involved in multiple conversations at once – some with friends from high school (all the way back in Canada), some with Seminary friends (now scattered across the United States and Canada), and some with church members. At the time it totally blew my mind that such conversations were taking place.
Little did I know that it wouldn’t be long till Facebook and other social networking sites would emerge. It soon was common for folks to say “I’ll Facebook you, with that information”. I never dreamed that the day would come that friends from all aspects of my life, who had never met each other, would be entering into conversations because of a picture I posted, a place I had “checked into”, a status update I had posted, or a prayer request I had made.
Email, instant messages, and even Facebook up to this point in my life had been all about maintaining relationships with people that I knew: people whom I had face to face interactions with at some point and folks whom I had been blessed with giving or receiving a hug. Then entered the world of Ravelry, Ning, and Facebook groups formed around common professions or interests. One didn’t have to have meet someone in the flesh to form a relationship anymore.
I didn’t ever think that I would form relationships with people that would become so a part of my everyday life. I began to look forward to conversations with some groups in Ravelry and on Facebook and it wasn’t long until I talked about some of these people in conversations with my husband at the dinner table. I cared about them, I prayed for them, and we even on several occasions exchanged gifts as we reached certain milestones in our lives or because we saw something (often Yarn) that made us think of each other. When my littleman graduated preschool he got Legos in the mail from someone he had never met. Very real relationships were formed and my life was blessed in indescribable ways.
In the fall of 2012 I sat with some of my brothers and sisters in ministry in a retreat on Sabbath keeping where these relationships were called into question. Computers, internet, and social networking sites were blamed on part for the demise of our culture. Some vocal folks stated that relationships on Facebook or other sites were not “real” and there wasn’t any authenticity to them. I know that there are folks on the internet who claim to be someone they aren’t but aren’t there people who you work with or live next to that do the same thing? Yes there is a risk you take when you “put yourself out there” and yes one can be hurt if they are not careful. No relationship comes without risks!
The emergence of social networks has allowed me the joy of relationships with people who understand the extremes of ordained ministry and with folks who have helped me feel connected when otherwise I felt isolated. My littleman has encountered some rare health issues for children and without Ravelry, I might never have met a friend who has twins who as children and young adults also suffer from pancreatitis. I myself suffer from a chronic condition that leaves me with widespread pain most days and I’ve been blessed with friends who listen to my rants and offer encouragement, encouragement that I need as I seek to be an encourager in my vocation. I have friends because of Ravelry and even Facebook that have insights on how to raise a little boy and teachers who offer words of advice as I’ve encountered issues (good and bad) as he’s entered the world of public schools. Need I say, my knitting skills have been greatly aided by the numerous knitters who I interact with pretty much every day. And of course, I can’t begin to tell you the vast amounts of times when I have laughed so hard I’ve cried at folks status updates, blog posts, emails, or message board comments. Virtual relationships have indeed been “real” to me and have allowed me to be “real”.
About a week ago, a group I belong to (yes on Ravelry) lost a member after her courageous battle with cancer. She left behind young children, a husband, and other family members but she also left behind a virtual group who was profoundly touched by her whit and her strength. As I read post after post and message after message I couldn’t help but recall that conversation I was a part of back in the fall and I couldn’t help but want to stand up and say it is indeed possible to have REAL relationships with people that you meet online!