I was walking down the internet super highway when it was not much more than a dirt road. The chug-a-chug-chug of the dial-up modem is carved into my memory with the sharp broken edge of a free AOL disk. The patience learned from waiting for an image to load, line-by-stinking-line, still serves me well. I became obsessed. I visited every website I could find, coveted every update to my RealAudio player, and taught myself the strange language that made sites go. A skeleton of seemingly unrelated words and numbers called HTML. It all felt like discovering a new planet to explore. A really poorly designed planet.
My first web page was a Star Wars fan page. I can still see the background–a field of stars that moved toward the reader like 1990s magic. I abandoned it as quickly as I’d made it. The only good that came of that page was that my long-lost friend Scott found me again through it. We spent the next year bonding over the past and the anti-christ. (He’s the prince of wales, by the way. Not many people know that.) In that year, I learned about tracking chips, read a large chunk of the Left Behind series, and made an impressive binder of all of the better articles on the End Times. I also started a fairly popular website called Prophecy Update & Bible Study. (…Don’t bother looking it up, it was a Geocities page.) 16 year old Chad was an internet machine.
In the far too many years since then, simple HTML has added scripts and languages that go far beyond the simple stuff I learned back then. I just didn’t keep up. It’s like high school Spanish. I know enough to ask where the bathroom is, but Telemundo might as well be Russian. I also lost track of my anti-christ buddy (…you, um, know what I mean). Even with an internet that’s faster, smarter, and larger, he’s lost to me in a crowd of 1’s and 0’s. Even my faith, which isn’t as naïve, feels heavier in a way. For all the growth, experiences, and closeness that have happened over the years, I lost the wide-eyed optimism of that kid. That may be a strange thing to say about a boy who was obsessed with the bloody end of the world at the time, but it’s true.
The years that brought internet to phones, WiFi everywhere, and better ways to meet girls, also brought loss, bitterness, and not a little anger at God, and people in general. The language of trust, hope, and kindness I learned from the Christianity of my childhood seemed to get more complicated. It no longer flowed so easily as it had before. But I do feel myself moving back; unlearning my bitter ways, and growing again in joy. “Restore to me the joy of the salvation of my youth,” the psalmist prayed. I probably won’t ever become a webmaster again anytime soon, and I might never find my friend again, but I’m finding that God’s loving work in my life is somewhat like a time machine. He uncovers the buried joy, refreshes my soul, and is restoring that which was good; that which I thought was lost forever.