I have a confession. I live a whole other life. And it's online.
At first, my internet habit was just a casual reference. Almost two years ago, I was a new mother of one challenging little newborn. My google search history told the tale of my daily challenges when it listed "colic," "vaccinations," "swaddling," and sometimes, in late night desperation, "How can I get my baby to sleep through the night?"
Search after search led me to some helpful pages, and while I eased into parenting, and my baby finally learned to nap, I found myself often visiting an online mothering community. These women were just like me, clueless in so many aspects and experts in others. Posts ranged from the obvious, such as "What kind of stroller do you own?" but then began to go deeper, like "My marriage has changed since my baby's birth. What do I do?" Our babies brought us together, and as they grew out of their newborn clothes, walked for the first time, and threw their first tantrums, we were there for each other. Over time and many posts later, we marveled at our different lives all over the country, but also knew that we weren't that much different from each other.
One woman in particular stood out to me. Jennifer's posts were like mine in that they asked for advice on a myriad of subjects, but they also hinted at the isolation I also felt as a first time stay-at-home mom. Fortunately, my online forum was becoming my coffee shop full of friends, my shopping buddies, and even a place to ask for marriage advice. The computer became an escape from the fact that I, too, was having a difficult time transitioning into motherhood. One post of hers that brought me back to the reality of my situation was simply titled, "It's hard to be a stay-at-home mom." Her words could have been mine, and reading them drove me to emailing her to ask if I could call to chat on the phone.
It's a strange thing, actually hearing the voices of your internet friends. I guess I had the idea in mind that they weren't real—pen pals or imaginary friends. But my phone chats with Jennifer were everything that was real in a friendship. We complained when our babies weren't sleeping, encouraged each other in making new friends, and filled up the time while our husband's were out of town or working late. Our conversations over months ranged from everything and anything, and though I had never met her in person, I knew her.
One night, as I chatted with Jennifer online, she told me that she had finished reading a book that our online friend sent her after she mentioned her interest in reconnecting with God.
"What did you think?" I asked, as my heart pounded in my chest just like any other opportunity I had to talk about Christ.
Jennifer began explaining the anxiety she had always felt while her husband was traveling and that the book explained that she could have hope.
"I prayed the prayer in the back of the book," she typed.
Knowing that the prayer was a statement of belief, my mind raced ahead of my fingers on the keyboard. "This is huge," I wrote. "This is a big step in your faith, and God knows it," I furiously typed.
Jennifer then explained that she had started praying and thanking God for her blessings, instead of focusing on what seemed overwhelming in her life. "Oh, and something else," she added. "I was in the playroom, and the sun was shining on my face and just hitting me with its warmth. It was a cloudy day, but for some reason, the sun was shining on me. I thought 'This is God telling me it's going to be OK.'"
My hands didn't know where to move. To rub the chill bumps off my arms or to tell her that it was, indeed, God's Spirit. I agreed with her that He had given her a gift in unexpected sunshine.
"He is there, Jen," I wrote. "I agree that He was probably reminding you of that in that moment." And then, I knew that God was nudging me to believe what I had just written to Jennifer. His Spirit was there, even in an expected place like my little internet world. In humility and amazement, I didn't know what else to write. After a long pause, I finally just wrote what a friend would know if she was there with me. "I’m in tears," I typed.
"Me too," she wrote back.
I realized then, that this moment and friendship, although both unique, was evangelism. We may live a thousand miles from each other, never been in each other's home, and probably share the questioning looks from family and friends when we mention our online world, but this was real. The Holy Spirit was alive and moving through our conversations, whether they were online or on the phone. God wanted Jennifer with Him, and He used what was available, even if it seemed strange at the moment.
I still get funny looks when I mention my online community in casual conversations. I've finally learned the art of saying, "A girl in my mom's group said…" to dispel the questions that followed my previous mentions of my online friends. Their presence has become a critical helping hand along the road of parenthood, but more than that, they're a reminder of God's mysterious ways. He's used variety of mediums to speak to His children, from a burning bush to a talking donkey to an angel in a deserted tomb. This time, He used me and my DSL connection.
Like me, Jennifer is learning to keep going on her spiritual journey despite the fact that life's details can get in the way. Her honest statements from a recent email to me that say, "I miss my prayers. I felt more balanced," when she feels far away from God remind me of my own daily challenge of being faithful. It's not easy living out your faith and even explaining it to someone else. But it's a little better when you're in the company of friends. No matter where you find them.