My husband looks at the number of "friends" listed on my Facebook page and laughs. "Those aren't all your friends," he quips. "How come I've never met most of them?"
And, he's right. He hasn't.
I have 955 friends on my Facebook feed, many who I have not seen face-to-face in years, even decades. Some were friends who I grew up with in the little south suburban, quarry town of Thornton, Illinois, where I was born. We were classmates together at Parkside Elementary and Wolcott Junior High. I rode my bike to school with Amy and went to birthday parties with Jill.
Still others are friends who I sat in Sunday School next to and ran the Awana circle with back at First Baptist Church in South Holland. We played four square in the church basement and had lock-in nights playing capture the flag in the church lot. We sat in the back row, left side of the church sanctuary, and went out after the service for pizza.
I have friends who went to college with me in Chicago and Normal, Illinois. They sat in class with me, took long walks along the Chicago River, and ate at Bagel Nosh. Amanda, my only lasting Columbia College friend, remembers evenings spent avoiding creepy men lurking in the south Loop while waiting for our ride home. My "Normal" friends remember our blinding fear of Dr. Tarr and his Intro to Research class intended to make us resign from grad school. Together, we survived late nights and final exams.
My work friends are sprinkled across the list as well. Carolyn was one of my first bosses - and I remember getting both of us our afternoon coffee as we rented out actual "films" - in the days before VCR technology. My other Caroline boss is now an installation artist - and I stand amazed at her creativity. My crazy friends from our creative team at Moody. My professor friends.
Many of my friends have moved cross country. My friend Beth is on the other coast in California. Her work on behalf of women and charities continues to inspire me. I have international friends like Amy and Michael who live in Ireland, and Adelina in Romania.
Many of my former students are on that list... Because of Facebook, I get to see them marry, become parents. I have watched some walk away from the faith. I have seen their careers flourish. I have spoken into their lives during times of crisis. I have sent recommendations and advice.
I have new friends on my list. Some of them are in the fledgling stage where we have said hello in person or interacted only on social media. They are people who have common interests. They are people I would like to know better.
And there are so many others. I am friends with relatives - near and distant. I've gotten to see my cousin's daughter's children. I am friends with my parent's friends - people I knew as a child. I am friends with my childhood pastor's wife - Mrs. Shirley Rice - a woman who prayed with me to commit my life to God and continues to inspire me.
The variety of people connected to me on my Facebook page keep me honest and real. It is also challenging. One of my friends says that some days reading her fb feed makes her blood pressure spike. I can relate. When reactions to the legalization of gay marriage erupted on social media, I had friends speaking passionately to both sides of the issue. There are times I'm tempted to block or unfriend someone whose ideas I don't like. Most of the time I think better of it.
My Facebook friends challenge me. I am glad they aren't all like me. I have friends who are vegans. I have friends who love guns. I have friends who fight injustice. I have friends who post hilarious videos. I have rockabilly friends, feminist friends, literary friends, parenting friends...
They all matter.
Facebook friends are not fake friends to me. While I may not see all of them face-to-face, Facebook allows this parade of people I have known and loved to continue to speak into my life. It allows me to stay current with who they are and where they are going. It lets me hear them in a way I hadn't previously been able to do. I can know what they are thinking. I can watch how they change. I can weep with those who weep. I can rejoice with those who rejoice.
As I scan my Facebook list of faces and names, I see people who have meant something to me. And we are connected still.
I am grateful for my Facebook friends.