Hello dear ones! I am, at this moment, not in Rankin Inlet. I am in a Starbucks, in Langley BC, in the middle of the trip of a lifetime.
For the last three years and three months, I’ve been part of the Wool n’ Spinning community. I’m sure you who are regular readers have observed me refuse to shut up about all the inspiration and learning I have received through Rachel and others in this community. For the last 2+ years, I have been looking forward to an opportunity to confirm those relationships.
This week I got to come to Vancouver to hang out with these peeps. I haven’t written about it here because frankly, I didn’t want to jinx it.
Online spaces are so incredibly strange. I have been isolated at different periods of my life, and so from an early age online communities have become important to me at different times. The other major season was when I was a homeschooled teenager who for various reasons couldn’t get out much. I was part of a big online community, supervised by an adult my parents knew in person and trusted, and through that adult I got to meet some awesome friends in person. One of them I’m still in touch with from time to time.
I’m probably in the oldest age bracket of people to come of age with the internet. We learned the language of the internet as we were becoming adults. We learned how to express ourselves in the language of instant messanger, texting, videos, facebook, etc. When we came across the limits of the written language, we found ways to work around them. A delicate syntax, not yet fully analyzed, arose around these new media.
Just like in person, on the internet you can choose to be authentic, or you can choose to put on a persona. You can be an open book or you can be discreet. Just like in person, you can learn how to read people, whether they are being honest and open or whether they are putting on a face.
So it was with a certain amount of confidence that I scheduled this trip out to Vancouver to meet my online friends. I felt as if I knew them, and I could tell from how they conducted themselves that they were being genuine.
Still, there was definitely a certain amount of apprehension. Traveling thousands of miles to meet a bunch of people, none of whom I had any other connection with, is a risk. I was a little nervous about it. Some people don’t intentionally put on a persona online, but they are more comfortable there, so when you meet them there are extra hurdles to overcome. Sometimes you get really close online, but when you meet in person you find you have major differences that just never came up in discussion. When I was a teenager, meeting online friends, of course there were big differences. As a teenager, you don’t even know who you are. But these friends and I are at a stage of life where we’ve got our feet. There’s a fundamental connection between our inner and outer lives. We can be ourselves in a variety of contexts, and know how to relate authentically with people who are different from us. All that to say, I was confident enough to make this trip, but I was a little nervous on my flights here. What if?…
But it was all real. Every single friend that I met in person has been exactly who they are online. I now know them better and have a more complete picture of them – after all, discretion is also the mark of wisdom in an internet age. But there were zero discrepancies.
The official reason for my coming was Fibres West, a big fiber festival that was supposed to take place this past weekend. Unsurprisingly, it got called off. Unfortunately, it happened right at the last minute, the evening before, when the vendors were already practically set up. The really tough part has been watching my new friends struggle with the financial and practical disappointments and hardships brought on by the pandemic. That is on top of the unique personal and family hardships people face because of the pandemic. For me, the festival was always an excuse; I am so mildly disappointed for myself that it doesn’t even register. To be very frank, it is an honor to be allowed to be here for my friends during a tough season. To me, the sweetness overwhelms the bitter, but that does nothing to alleviate the very real hardship folks are facing.
So what can we do? We can do what we do best. We make. We support. We laugh. We come together, even if we trade elbow bumps for hugs, online chatrooms for coffee shops, for a little while. We find creative ways forward. Those of us who are doing better find ways to help those who are struggling. That’s what we do and who we are.
There is, or was, a little part of me that feels guilty for how blessed I am in this situation. If anything, I got more of what I really wanted out of this trip because of the unique circumstances we face. But guilt is 100% not necessary, for two reasons. One appeals directly to Scripture, the other is, if you will, “secular.”
The first: when faced with hardship, the Bible is clear that it is appropriate to respond by giving thanks. My favorite instances of this are in the Psalms of complaint. David gets really dark sometimes. If you are ever wondering if you are having the wrong feelings, go read the psalms: David has had all of them. Sometimes, he just tells it how it is, and it ends in darkness. (See Psalm 88 especially). You don’t always have to see the silver lining. Most of the time, though, he finds a way to praise God in the midst of whatever he is going through. Some of my favorite verses this year have been from these psalms.
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,[b]Psalm 50:14-15, ESV
and perform your vows to the Most High,
15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
It was Martin Luther who said something along the lines of, when you feel like you have no faith, but you choose to believe anyway, that is the moment of strongest faith. Finding things to be thankful for, choosing to believe in the goodness of God, in the midst of total crap, is the sacrifice of love that God deeply appreciates more than any other. He treats such an offering tenderly, as the exquisite gift that it is.
The second reason I am kicking that guilt to the curb is the same reason that I have learned to stop feeling guilty about my white privilege. That reason is: the gifts I have are for sharing. If I am doing better than someone else, that’s because it’s my job to lift them up. If I am unaffected by the novel coronavirus, that’s because I will have opportunities to help and bless those who are. If I have extra food in my pantry, that’s because it belongs to someone else. If I have been called by God, that’s not because he likes me better than anyone else; that’s because he wants me to share his love with others.
I hope I’m not being too repetitive here, and I am definitely not meaning to toot my own horn – I have come to these conclusions because I have spent a lot of my life being really bad at loving the people around me, and quite often I still am. But I want to encourage you. You have a mission in all of this. If you are suffering, your mission is to receive. If you are doing well, your mission is to lift up.
This isn’t really where I thought this blog post was going. I intended to share with you a little of what we actually did on our trip, and I’m sure I’ll do that soon – as well as sharing some of the ideas I’ve had to lift up those I’ve met who have been impacted by present circumstances.
It makes sense, though. What I have received most from this trip is the gift of friendship and encouragement. I want to share that encouragement with you.
I’ll check in again soon. Tomorrow we have a couple more fiber-related stops, and then I’m heading to Winnipeg for a week with the family. (We are having the sort of spring break vacation that should be very safe and reasonable to continue, with slight amendments, during the current crisis.)
Be well. Share in the comments how you are doing, and how I and others who read this can pray for you and your neighbors.
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”Psalm 37:4