“So… how do you guys know each other?” Awkward pause.

“From… the Internet.” Smiles and head shakes inevitably followed.

I’ve had this sort of conversation before, but this particular one was this past March, when some visiting friends of ours came to church with us. They were in town for SxSW Interactive, a well-known tech conference in Austin. We’d known each other about three years—online. But this particular week was the first time we met, face-to-face.

And it wasn’t weird at all, just like the many, many people I’ve been blessed to meet in the flesh after first knowing them online. Be it Simple Mom readers, a Twitter interaction, or some other virtual “bump in,” the Internet has exploded my world by shrinking it into shared tables at the local coffee shop; playdates at the park. Book clubs.

Facebook and Twitter don’t replace touchable, 3-D relationships, for sure. But they sure can be the start of them.

• When I think of community, I think of friends I’ve had since college, with whom I still love deeply. We hug each other when we can, even though most of us are scattered worldwide.

• When I think of community, I think of the local church, where I can know people in my own town, and they me. Together, we can break bread over the backyard grill and pour into each other’s souls as we watch our kids tumble together in the grass.

• And when I think of community, I think of the people I’ve grown to love—and know in the flesh, oftentimes—because of this relatively recent invention called the World Wide Web.

I’ve been blessed to veg in a hotel room, chatting with Nester. I’ve ridden in a chandelier-shaking bus on bumpy Filipino roads with Emily, Kat, Stephanie, Lindsay, Shaun, and Keely. And I’ve heard Melissa scream my ear off as I sat in her lap down an alpine slide in Park City.

The editors I work with daily have become so dear to me, even though we haven’t spent much time together in the flesh. I’ve met most of the people that write for my site—not all yet—and they each mean as much to me as local friends and neighbors.

And I look at the avatars of the many of you I’ve yet to meet—but long to—and I smile. I smile, because I know a small part of you, thanks to electric signals and a bunch of ones and zeroes. And even though I probably won’t meet most of you in the flesh here on Earth, we’ll eventually meet one day… Lord-willing.

Community online doesn’t replace community in “real” life. But it can enrich your life, both in breadth and in depth. While you love on your kids at home, a few clicks of the mouse can bring you encouragement from another mom, across the world, right in the trenches with you, too. And sometimes, the Internet also introduces you to friends—real friends, friends you’d otherwise never meet.

Today, I’m thankful for the Internet, because it’s sprinkled the community in my life with flavor. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

How has the Internet surprised you with a community you’d never expect?

By Tsh of Simple Mom

  • http://mythoughtsaplenty.wordpress.com/ Phronsie

    There’s a group of ladies I met online when I was pregnant with our oldest. Our “Due Date Club” has gone from being a “DDC” to a “Birthday Club” to a group of ladies who will always be there for each other. We’ve been through 2 member deaths, loss of a spouse serving in the military, and so much more. We don’t all have the same religious beliefs, but we’re still amazingly close.

  • Gennie

    It is where I met my husband! If it were not for the internet I would not have him nor my two beautiful children. We lived in the same city but we found each other online and got to know each other before we even met.

  • Amanda

    Great post! I have to agree–the internet can be such a blessing. A few of my closest friends are ones I met online. I have since been able to meet them in person at races and other events and to just get together and fellowship over tea. I am an introvert by nature, but God has used the net to draw me out into community with others I would never have met any other way. Now, here is the irony…I am sitting here reading this article of yours about meeting people online first and then in person and when I get to the bottom of the article and see who wrote it I realize that this post is the opposite for me right now because I remember you from the youth group at Grace–though my family went to HCBC and you knew my brother, Matt, better than you knew me. Still, I think this is quite funny. =)

  • http://hespeakstoher.blogspot.com Modupe

    Yes, yes, yes! I’m forever telling my hubby, sister, mum, ‘in flesh’ girlfriends thata wonderful lady from such and such blog said this that touched me etc {and of course the latest person to really impact me is Sara Frankl} … sometimes I am just blown away with the the encouragement I get when someone has written something right on point to what I’m facing.

    I often daydream about meeting some of these wonderful ladies (it may remain a daydream seeing as I live in the UK)…

    Praise God for the internet! :)

  • http://food-and-family.blogspot.com Kit

    I’ve met several of my online blog friends in real life now, and it is always just like catching up with a ‘real’ friend who I’ve known for ages – nothing weird about it, though non-bloggers think we’re all mad! You actually get to know people really well through their blogs, and even if you never do meet in real life, they can still be real friends.

  • http://www.thehallahans.blogspot.com Kelly

    I’ll thank you again, for the friend who commented on your post Called to the Crazy… she and I both separately arrived in Kampala Uganda this year… and she is already a dear friend.

  • http://hikingtowardhome.com/ Sharon @ Hiking Toward Home

    As I sat on a mission field lonely and suffering depression, I began reading blogs. It was months before I ever commented on one. Then I actually started a blog of my own.
    I have been blown away by the friendships I have made with other sisters in Christ here in the electronic world. So many of those I consider to have become friends, I have connected with on levels other than blogging, forming richer relationships.
    In this past year I have been through a very deep long valley and Christ has loved me through so many dear sisters I met here in this space. That have been and are praying for me through this time of trial. I am thankful that many of them I have met face to face at Relevant last year and I am looking forward to meeting many more, new and old, face to face at Relevant 11.
    I am thankful for (in)courage and the community of Christian women who write (not just the regular contributing writers but also the daily guests) and comment here.

  • http://sally-drinkingfrommysaucer.blogspot.com/ Sally

    Amen, and amen! Great post.

  • http://eventsbydesignnc.blogspot.com melissa

    i’ve always been thankful for this community, but on saturday, when meeting fellow bloggers (that i didn’t know in real life) face to face, it finally made sense. it was such a gift, and i look forward to it continue growing!

  • http://ajoyrenewed.blogspot.com/ Brittnie (A Joy Renewed)

    The level of support and encouragement I receive from online friends is amazing. It’s so cool to see how God can bring people together, on the internet, to love on each other and support one another through the trials and bumps of life. To know that someone who has never met you in person, is willing to pray for you daily…now that is quite amazing as well.

  • http://thepleatedpolkadot.blogspot.com melissa

    i absolutely agree. meeting people and finding encouragement in their words has been a HUGE blessings. it’s like having pen-pals but its electronic now and so much more convenient!

  • http://modernmrsdarcy.com Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy

    “ ‘From… the Internet.’ Smiles and head shakes inevitably followed.”

    How funny! Ten years ago I would have shaken my head, too. Now I totally understand, and love the way the internet, of all things, is a tool that enables amazing friendships!

  • Lisa

    I have formed an online community/group on Facebook. Today is our first day starting the Good Morning Girls Fall bible study. I was going to join an existing group, but felt the nudge to start one on FB. It started with me invited some friends, who then invited some of their friends, and so on….we’ve grown to 33 ladies!! I am so excited to see what the Lord has in store for us as we jump into the 1st book of John. This post about community couldn’t have come at a better time, as we are also just beginning a sermon series titled ‘Community’. Just knowing there are 32 ladies I can connect with each morning is amazing to me!!!

  • http://dianewbailey.blogspot.com/ Diane Bailey

    There is nothing like friends, shared stories and laughter. You just wait, one day I’m going to be on that beach you all of you!

    Love hearing all of you stories. Thanks you for sharing such a sweet sisterhood.


  • http://olivetreeingodshouse.blogspot.com Betsy

    Thanks for your post! I’m new to the internet blogging world, but for me, connecting with other women serving overseas has brought a new dimension to community.

    In fact last week, a friend I’ve never met face to face offered her help to design a new banner for my blog! I was thrilled because I’m so “low-tech” and my banner had been bothering me for months, but I never got around to changing it. It was amazing that someone I hardly know from halfway around the world did that for me.

    Blessings to you as you encourage many via internet!

  • http://www.queenieslittlekingdom.com Wanda

    It’s a blessing to share in the lives of so many (thanks to the internet). I’ve found great encouragement from sweet friends that I’ve never stood face to face with. God is awesome, huh?

  • http://www.thegypsymama.com Lisa-Jo @thegypsymama

    I love this. My dream job – this serving the (in)courage community came to me entirely through the Internet. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift because it brought so many dear friends with it!

  • http://www.firefliesandhummingbirds.net Chrissy @ Fireflies and Hummingbirds

    I’ve long wondered, does it really matter where a friendship starts, as long as it does?

    The best thing about the internet is the fact that it shrinks the world enough to allow us to befriend people all over the world. It is an incredible gift, and I’m so grateful for the friends I’ve made because of it.

  • http://www.jennadamsblog.blogspot.com Jennifer

    Blogging has opened up a whole new level of community for this girl! And I love it! I’m so thankful for this community, and I can’t wait to meet blogging friends one day!

  • http://www.givinguponperfect.com Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect

    “But they sure can be the start of them.” YES. That is so very true in my life! I’m eternally grateful for the amazing friendships I’ve begun over the past few years, thanks to the Internet. (However, it IS always awkward when someone asks me, “So, how do you know her? Oh…the Internet. Hmmm…”) :)

  • Beth W

    AMEN! The internet is where I met my husband. I communicate via e-mail & facebook with friends local & some only via net.

    I just love being able to share stories, pray for/with & rejoice with friends all over the world@

    Thankful for this community and others!

  • http://www.jumpingtandem.com Deidra

    The first time I had an in-person meet-up with one of my blogging buddies, my daughter made me take my husband with me…just in case. But these friends I’ve met on the internet? Wow! What a gift!

  • http://www.binaspad.net Bina

    I have met quite a few “buddies” online that are constants in my Tweets or emails…but there is one who is now as close as a sister and as dear as a life-long friend. We started out commenting on each others blogs, moved into cards and then phone calls…and eventually she flew out to Cali from Iowa to attend my church’s woman’s retreat. Within moments of finally meeting face-to-face, we were laughing and sharing like we knew each other forever… Amazing what God can do with hearts that are His :)

  • http://www.thecozynook.blogspot.com Lisa J.

    Agreed! Blogs, especially, have helped me feel encouraged with being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom. I email, from time to time, with a friend whom I met years ago on an email list, and we still have yet to meet in person.

  • http://carolinebyline.blogspot.com Caroline Starr Rose

    The kidlit community has been a wonderful find for me. Writing is such a solitary process, and it is lovely to find friends out there crafting stories for children and young adults. I’ve found critique partners, bonded with agent mates, and picked up a mentor or two.

  • http://breathe4just1second.blogspot.com/ Juanita

    I am not usually a cynical person, but I grew up in the country, on a party line and the year I graduated high school was the year they first got school computers. The only cell phone I have is an old pay and talk. I met my friend Shawntele of Rambling with Grace and she introduced me to twitter and the blogging world. She then promptly moved from Calgary to Denver. Surprisingly to me…our relationship has deepened since she left and my online community has expanded. I have found beauty and wisdom, grace and strength, honesty, transparency and authenticity in the lives of people I might never meet. What a gift..what a priceless treasure.

  • http://www.faithbarista.com Bonnie Gray | FaithBarista

    YOU, Tsh, with twinkles in her eye, heart full of ideas, are one of my community blessings through the blogosphere… now, I will always hear your voice telling your story under the moonlit sky, while sharing dreams about the future that bridge part of us with the past!

  • http://FamilyTrek.org Clark Vandeventer

    I’ve found that so many of the relationships that I’ve developed online have such a richness to them because the relationships are actually built on shared interests and values instead of just physical proximity.

  • http://www.scribblesfromemily.com/ Emily

    I’m so grateful for the blogging friends I’ve made over the last year and a half. They’ve encouraged and challenged me through the first year of marriage, moving across the country, and through various medical situations with my family. It’s so wonderful to know that they really do pray for me and my family. The internet can be such a blessing!

  • http://www.lovinghomemaking.wordpress.com Alta

    The Internet has helped deepen many relationships I was already working on cultivating or hoping to develop! My husband and I have a joint Facebook account, and every time we meet someone new, we quickly add them as a friend. Then it doesn’t take long for us to begin sending messages and making comments on each others’ posts. Because of this, I am able to have deeper more meaningful conversations with new friends than what we would normally have just after meeting. Then when we see each other again at church or something else we feel so much more connected than we would have if we didn’t have the Internet to fill in the gaps between face time. And it allows us to rather quickly feel comfortable with each other so we begin scheduling dinners and get-togethers. Building deeper friendships has come so much more easily since we’ve been utilizing Facebook!

  • http://anourishinghome.com/ vina

    Thanks for this post Tsh. It is SO true. Online communities have enriched my life in more ways than one.

  • http://clutteredhouse.blogspot.com Cluttered Mama

    YES, YES, YES!!! I wrote about this ages ago on my old blog. Three years ago when I was agonizing about having to go back to work after my first son was born, I found a group of women on my birth board at Babycenter who were all going through the same thing. We were a group of moms who were all lugging our pumps to work in order to continue to breastfeed our babies. At first we were just posting about ounces and fenugreek and clogged ducts, then it grew to anything and everything. Three years (and several more babies) later, we’re the best of friends. We send each other Christmas cards and when someone is due to have another baby, we do a “shower in a box” for her. We text each other and chat on line, and a few of us have actually had the chance to meet. It has been an amazing journey together.
    Prior to meeting these women, I would’ve been an awkward “oh that is nice” responder who put quotation marks around the word friend. Now I get it.

  • http://www.pitterlepostings.blogspot.com Pattyann

    I have learned to be so grateful for the online community. I have met wonderful women whom I consider my friends. I think that I am a hard person for people in my community to be friends with. I moved to a very small town. Most of the people here have lived here all their lives. I work all day, and sometimes I run on the ambulances at night. I have children at home and children who are grown. There is a lot of demand for my time and it makes finding opportunities for friendship just a little bit challenging. I have found that it eases the lonliness by having friends online. Whether they are email, blogging or even telephone friends, they all can make me feel not quite so alone.

  • Jan

    How does one start a blog? I’ve thought about how fun that would be. You’ve all inspired me to be free and be who I am! And that everyone has something special to share that they know about and that is dear to them (mine is the love of worshipping God through music…singing, flute, etc….and the love of people). I don’t have a gift of writing, though! Eeks!! I do love studying words and sentence structure, so maybe I could get better at this, who knows! You all have such a gift of this and it amazes me how you are able to put your thoughts into such beautiful words and sentences!

  • http://hislovenduresforever.wordpress.com/ Sharon

    I met my husband online. We lived about an hour from one another and I don’t know how we would have ever met otherwise. Surprisingly, my husband doesn’t really get the whole making friends online thing though. I often pray for someone and he asks who it is, and when I say it’s a blogger that I follow, I know he thinks I’m crazy. But, I know I’m not :) I’ve also recently joined an online Bible Study that has been fantastic for me. You can check it out here http://www.marlataviano.com/book-of-james-read-along/james-read-along-nice-to-meet-you-post/ if you’d like to join in this time around, or the next time.

  • Teresa

    The. Congregation I belong to is 45 minutes away. There are great people there who love me, but I count on the Internet for day-to-day community. I also work with some terrific Christian gals.

    My 2 closest friends are out of state, one in another country. We stay in touch by email, Facebook, phone and skype.

    Thanks for what you do. It is great that you have a team of writers so that we always have fresh content.

  • http://theinspiredroom.net Melissa

    I’m blessed to be in that picture of what it means to have friends made on the Internet! You all are a blessing to me.

  • kimmie

    I joined a message board a zillion years ago….OK….11 years ago when my daughter was little and we’d just gotten the internet. I made a lot of friends on that board and got to meet some of them when they all met 45 minutes from my house. Through that same board, I joined an email loop. Those are still the friends I go to when I’m freaking out about something. Most of us have middle schoolers now and time is slim but, if an email goes out in a panic, we all respond.

  • Dawn

    Ahh! So, I’ve been on the internet so long I can’t remember the year { *cough* 199x! } But anyway! The sense of friendship and community is very real! In many cases, for me some of the friends I’ve made online have been better friends to me than my real-in-the-flesh-friends! Sad? Maybe, but true! I met my husband on the *gasp* internet, not via a dating site, but playing online games. We were friends for several years before meeting and today, ironically it’s our 4 year wedding anniversary. When we got married, the very first RSVP I got, was from a friend of mine { via online } that I had never actually met in person. That is, until our wedding. He flew into another country to come to our wedding! And he’s one of my very favorite people ever. Imagine, all from online! The relationships we make online can be true and lasting if we want them to be. I know that the online communities I participate in have enriched my life, from the friendships I’ve made, to the knowledge I’ve gained, and the experience in having to interact with people who might see things different than I do. Great post! Thank you once again for sharing. You are amazing.

  • http://www.flow-now.com Nicole Wolf

    I enjoyed the post and am tweeting it given it fits in with the theme I’m writing about this month – Relationships & Communication. I certainly believe that online connections shouldn’t replace face to face interactions when possible but it is definitely a way to genuinely connect to a wide range of people all over the world and that is awesome.

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