This Strange World of Cyber Friends


How do I explain these tears?
They leap out of my eyes, coming from someplace deep inside.
They are hot and painful, coming in waves,
sometimes accompanied by heaving sobs.
This makes no sense.
At least not in the way I have always experienced life,
relationships, connections, community.

Until, of course, I began exploring this thing called the ‘internet.’
‘The Web,’ we used to call it in its earliest days.
And that’s an apt description for what I have learned since January of this year.
There is an immense, tangled, wonderful web of connections
out here on the cyber waves.
Lines crossing every which way,
connections showing up in the strangest,  
most serendipitous places.
I have tried many times to reconstruct how it happened.  
How did I become entangled in this massive silken structure?
I simply cannot follow the threads back to their origins.
I think it started with Ann.
Voskamp, that is.
And Gordon.
One of them led me to the other and I can’t tell you who at this point.
But I know I was reading Ann a lot during the last year of my pastoral life,
printing off blog posts, passing them around at centering prayer retreat days.
And I know I sent the link to Gordon’s former website to my colleagues, saying, “Here’s someone who speaks the truth with love (and humor!) – check it out!”

So, when I discovered all this ‘time’ on my hands in early January,
I began checking out things like:
The High Calling and
And, in an effort to see what was really out there,
I’d follow comments I liked back to their author’s websites.
And somewhere, very early on, I discovered The Gitzen Girl.
Sara Frankl,
an angel in human flesh.
Living the most contained, boundaried life I have ever read about,
never leaving her condominium home,
(for the last three years!)
seldom leaving her bed,

Sara had the miraculous audacity to title her blog,
“Choosing Joy.”
Because that’s what she did, that’s what she does,
every single minute of every day:
she chooses joy.
Accompanied by the wondrous Riley, a white puff of a dog who always knows exactly what to do to bless his sweet owner’s daily life, this woman has written powerful truth, 

sometimes with tongue firmly planted in cheek,
sometimes with heart bleeding visibly on sleeve,
always with depth and truth and love. 

So I explored her blog, peeking into the three years she has been recording her life, 
 answering the questions of her readers, 
 posting photographs of her lovely small nest.
And I learned about her dreadful health situation.
And her amazing singing voice..
And her remarkable way with words. 

I felt my spirit brighten every single time I saw her name in my inbox, and almost always, I read her blog before any others.
Her story was simply remarkable, almost not to be believed –
and yet there it all was, in black and white and living color.
Using arm braces and immense powers of will and spunk,
she wrote life-filled words and took lovely, informative photos.
Though no longer able to lift her voice in song,
her written words sang to so many of us.
They sang of a good and generous God,
even through a life of constant difficulty.
They sang of a faithful Savior, a gentle Shepherd who worked in her a series of real, deeply true miracles.
Not physical ones, but spiritual, emotional and mental miracles,
helping her to discover, within the confines of her limited life
that the human spirit can indeed be limitless
when relinquished to the care of a loving and ever-present God.
The closest parallel I can come up with is Anne Frank –
both young, beautiful women whose lives speak of intense suffering.
Both writing of hope, with humor, vulnerability and love.

Her name didn’t show up a couple of weeks ago on Thursday night.
She is always among the first to respond to Lisa-Jo’s Five Minute Friday posts, and being a night owl (as I am), she generally wrote hers in the very early morning. When I didn’t see her smiling face, I got this funny feeling in my stomach:
I wonder if Sara is all right.”
Several days later, a friend posted that she was taking a
‘sabbatical’ to rest for a while, as her body was  struggling more than it usually did.
Yesterday, that dear friend, using Sara’s words from a previous post, wrote the most eloquent announcement of her impending death.
She is on hospice care,
friends and family have gathered,
she is peaceful, able to talk (carefully), and listening to her loved ones read to her from the hundreds and hundreds of comments that 

 ‘Heading Homeward’ post has received.
I subscribed to the comment feed and they are pinging with regularity, all last evening, all during the long night, all day thus far (nearing 600 at this moment).
Friends gathered outside her window with candles and sang hymns last night.
Sarah in Vancouver, Lisa-Jo in the suburbs of D.C., me in Santa Barbara and dozens of others lit candles during our own evenings, thanking God for this life.

I do not know this woman personally.
I have never spoken to her or seen her.
She has replied kindly to a couple of comments I left on her blog.
That is it.
And yet, finding those words late yesterday afternoon caused the most spontaneous and deeply felt grief – it literally hurt to read them.
I know she is heading home, home were she will be whole and free
and filled with joy.
And I am joyful for her and with her.
But I am also so, so sad.
I will miss her very much.

And that, my friends, is a very good thing.
Can you see it?
This wonderful, amazing web:
it can most assuredly be used for much that is evil and wrong.
But, oh my – it is being used by our God for
the sharing of beauty and grace, courage and hope;
there is a real and meaningful co-mingling

 of laughter and of tears,
there is community.
I don’t understand it.
I just know it’s very, very real.
Thanks be to God.
 I wrote this post this afternoon because somehow – I had to. But I’m sending it over to Bonnie the Faith Barista’s link today, the one on friendship. This is not exactly that – my relationship with Gitz was not two-sided in the traditional sense of the word friend. Yet, I am indeed gaining friends via this unique and expressive information highway. Some of them I will actually sit in the same space with in just a couple of weeks. And some of those dear folks ARE actual, real-life friends with Sara. 
So call me a shirt-tail friend – I’m proud to be one!
Also sending this one out via Richella’s Imparting Grace and Emily at Imperfect Prose: Imparting GraceFaithBarista_FreshJamBadgeG

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  1. What a great tribute, Diana. I haven’t read much of Sara’s work, but it’s obvious what her impact in other’s lives has been, an amazing servant of Jesus.

  2. Oh, Diana, I send a hug. I read only a few of Sara’s posts, but my heart goes out to her and to you and those who love her. May God comfort you with His love and peace. What a blessing that the Internet allowed her to be part of your life.

    The Lord bless you and keep you,

  3. I only “met” Sara yesterday. I’m almost afraid to read more and become too attached to her. What you wrote here is so lovely, and such a good reminder that yes, there is good out there in the web. All the bad can be so discouraging–enough to make me want to shut the whole thing down forever. But it’s the good–the shining ones who are piercing the darkness like Sara that keep me on here.

  4. You said what I wanted to say. You said what I feel in a deep place, and this here is what I talked to God about, just this afternoon. Thank you for tapping out words that many of us feel right now…

  5. oh, dear sister, i didn’t know this girl until tonight, and how i wish i’d known her sooner… this tribute you’ve given her, so beautiful, and to think of all of those candles shining… what an angel, this woman of God… thank you for sharing her life with us.

  6. Absolutely moving and inspiring – to anyone no matter what their present situation is. Thank you for sharing this, Diana.

    God uses any means He sees fit to enable His people to connect and lift each other up. 🙂

  7. Thank you all for reading, thank you all for commenting. This has been a strangely wonderful, and yet also deeply sad experience. And I am grateful for all of it. If you haven’t explored her site, I urge you to do so. It is wonderful in every way I can think of. Honest, quirky, deeply felt and real.

    And I am also grateful for the connections made with all of you over these months – each week, I make a few more discoveries. Kinship/sisterhood/brotherhood/laughter/tears/inspiration/challenge. Amazing grace. EVERYBODY has a story, many of them about pain and struggle, all of them reflections of beauty in the midst of it all. Thanks for being part of that.

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  9. This is a beautifully written ode to cyber friends and to the wonderful Sara. I did not know her but checked out her blog after reading your tribute. I’m so glad she left such a positive mark on all her readers and that you left such a lovely tribute to her. It brought me to tears. Blessings.

  10. This is such a beautiful piece, Diana. It reminds me how much our true stories of life, bless each other.

    I am sad for your loss of this dear cyber friend.


  11. How beautiful! How wonderful that neither you nor Sara were stingy with your love…

  12. The presence of God in Sara’s life has made such an impact, it causes me happiness to know that these distant connections are God ordained. I’ve only been blogging for a short time, hesitant at first, untrusting, and a bit fearful at allowing strangers in. But then, something wonderful happens … like encouragement, support, understanding, etc. and connections grow.. building community. I so appreciate your insight and your words. Still a bit hesitant (ok, at times fearful) it will be me you hear loudly sighing in relief at the privilige of meeting you in person in a few weeks. =)

  13. A beautiful post about a “friend!” A friend is someone who has touched our soul and she was one to you. I am sorry for your loss and others who have grown to love her through her blog. It fits exactly with Bonnie’s topic at Faith Barista!

  14. I am a “shirt-tail” friend as well, never having had a relationship with Sara but overwhelmed with both sorrow and joy at her homecoming…

    There are connections forged here on the “web” unlike any other, and as many have written, Sara touched lives and lives touched her without any face-to-face encounters…

    God has been it all along.

  15. This is an amazing piece of writing about a beautiful woman and the deep friendships forged over waves. And definitely perfect for Bonnie’s prompt. My heart aches and rejoices.

  16. Your post brought tears to my eyes and hope to my heart. I don’t think I could ask for much more than that. Thank you so much for sharing these blessed words of love and friendship and connection–mysterious but real. Thanks be to God.

  17. Diana, your post just made my heart so tender and aching for Sara. And it is a good thing. We love what is beauty, pure and good. And our Sara is that, isn’t she. And will miss it. Who doesn’t want to stop a sunset from finishing it’s amber, warm descent, dipping into the horizon. Our Sara is so beautiful!!!! *tears* Good tears that say she has touched us with God. Thank you for this beautiful tribute, Diana!

  18. This is incredibly beautiful, Diana. I have only been following Sara’s story these last couple of weeks. I pray for her and her family every day. She is indeed an angel in human skin. Bless you for this eloquent tribute.