In 2016, I guess it’s not a strange thing to say you met someone via the internet, but it still seems a little odd to me….the way I met some of my friends.

About 9 years ago, I started a blog. I had always loved to write. I had met some people in an online forum for the Clarion Ledger and before I knew it, I had made several internet friends. I cut my teeth on you all, so to speak. You were my first readers. You didn’t know me, but you encouraged me. You gave me great feedback. And after a while, through our forums, blogs, and facebook connections, we became actual friends.

Some of you I’ve met in person. Some of you, I have not, and may never. But to me, that just goes to show you how powerful the internet can be.

They say you can make your online presence be whatever you want it to be. And that’s true. But I’ve always strived for honesty and authenticity, and all of you? You are the real deal. How do I know? Because I’ve weeded out the ones who were not, or the ones that I didn’t continue to feel some type of connection to. Some friendships take root, some do not.

Some of you have become DEAR friends. The kind of friend that, even though we don’t see each other but maybe every few years, there is a genuine bond between us. A relationship that continues to grow.

People make fun of social media, and oftentimes, it is a complete waste of time. But when I think about how it has allowed me to connect and keep in contact with people from all kinds of different places, both in the world and in your lives – it really is an amazing thing.

I’ve seen some of you go through terrible heartbreak, scary and uncertain situations with your families, and seen wonderful things happen in your lives. In turn, I have felt your support and prayers through many different seasons of my own life.

I think that one of the best things we can do for ourselves in life is to surround ourselves with people that share a common heart with us, but may be completely different from us. Those are the types of friendships that stretch us and grow us and make us better people.

As I take this opportunity to say thank you to the people that have inspired me and had an impact on my life, I have to thank you. By connecting with you all the way I did, I discovered a passion for writing that continues. When I went back to college in 2011, I would have been LOST if I had not been in the habit of writing for those previous months and years. I’ve learned from all of you. I have listened to your perspectives and your insights and seen how situations in your lives have made you stronger.

I feel like we’re The Breakfast Club of my life – this strange assortment of different people in different places doing different jobs, but brought together by a common interest of some kind.

There’s the former journalist turned public education employee that loves his hometown of NOLA and has 3 beautiful kids and an amazing wife and one of the best senses of humor that I know. When you were laid off from Gannet, I really missed your blog. You’re one of those writers that can make people’s senses come alive by what you’re describing. I personally think you should be a food critic.

There’s the mom of 2 fabulous daughters. You’ve beaten breast cancer and are the biggest fan in the stands during your kids’ softball games or church or school events. You go to Crossfit at the buttcrack of dawn and every time I see you “check in”, I give you a little cheer of my own because I know how hard it is to commit to exercise when you’ve got a job and a family. 

There’s the woman who has run the gamut from crazy in love to crazy heartbroken. I know at times you feel like you’ve lost everything and have hit rock bottom. But you’re climbing out. One step at a time. I’m so proud of you for going back to school. You’re going to look back on this time in your life and laugh that infectious laugh and be amazed by your own strength and beauty. I know you miss your mother and sister so much – they would be proud of how you’ve picked yourself up and dusted yourself off and are going to be cheering from heaven as you triumph over this crappy hand you’ve been dealt over the last few years.

There’s the woman who was a caretaker, lost her husband, found love again, and is now finding herself in the position of being taken care OF. You have had quite the journey of faith as well, having been through some very trying and tough situations. Your love for God, your love for other people, especially grieving women – it’s beautiful to watch. You have been such a kind encourager to me and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.

There’s the mom of 2 young men who doesn’t seem to have a single mean bone in her body. You inspire me to be kinder. More patient. You remind me all the time, through your example, that it’s the little things that mean the most to our spouses and kids. Just taking the time to make them a cup of hot cocoa or whip up a favorite dessert or taking time out to completely focus on them – free of distractions – your ways remind me of that song, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

And there’s my friend that’s become so much a part of my heart that I gave her a ticket to my graduation. You, along with a TINY handful of people, are the kind of friend to me that I have always tried to be to others. I think if we didn’t have anything else in common, we could talk about books until we die. But there’s so much more. You have been such an encouragement to my growth as a human being – from politically to spiritually to educationally. And we met in a political cartoonists chat forum?! Who knew that amazing, wonderful, life-long friends could be found in such a weird place? Your kids are beautiful and I’m loving watching your daughter grow up and be so much like my own. Boy you’ve got some fun times ahead of you! And I will be right here for you, just like you’ve been for me.

As I reflect during this time of the church season, I think about the journey that Jesus took throughout his life and ministry that ultimately led Him to the cross, to the fulfilling of His life’s work and mission on this earth. I think about my own journey. How the people that God has placed in my path have shaped me, given me perspective, encouragement, and simply enriched my existence. 

 Like I said before, some of us have only met once, or never at all. But know this: you have enriched my life and made it more special just by being in it and being yourselves. And whether it was for a season or a lifetime, I thank God for allowing our paths to cross.