Community, the Capitol, and Central Hall

Every time I meet someone from Hillsdale College while out here in D.C., they always ask if I know [insert their friend’s name here].

Most of the time, I fall back on “I know the name, but not the person,” but the point has been made. Even here, hundreds of miles away, the Hillsdale community is strong. And when I say it is strong, I mean it’s almost obnoxious how many other Hillsdale students and alums are working or interning in the nation’s capitol.

I know it’s because I run heavily in the conservative culture here, but it seems like my alma mater is everywhere I turn. I meet someone from my school almost every week—a speaker at a lecture, someone on the street, a fellow church member. And although Hillsdale’s ever-growing presence is a sort of running joke in town, I am thankful for it.

Community takes on a new meaning when you’re in a city for the first time, and I am lucky enough to have one built in. I haven’t had to flounder for friends, because there is a whole dorm full of them quite literally a block from where I work.

There is something to be said for going it alone, to be thrust completely out of your element, but I think it is only possible to thrive on your own once your roots have been firmly planted. I am only beginning to understand my roots. I am only starting to learn what it means to be grounded in people and places and moments.

Nearly three months in D.C. has only shown my heart has not been uprooted, only transplanted.

This isn’t a post about school spirit. This is not about cheering at football games. This is not about bumper stickers or class shirts or banners.

This is about how I have buried my heart under the well-worn steps of Central Hall. This is about planting my hopes among the flowers of Arb, rooting myself in the blue and the white, finding my purpose among bustling Midwest halls.

This is about unspoken allies in the city.

No matter what internship or job brings someone here, we both understand what is like to struggle through American Heritage, to see the glow of Central Hall at sunset, to have your heart jump in fear (or excitement) when Dr. Arnn rounds the corner. It’s a shared experience that is irreplaceable, unexplainable.

Knowing there are others—many others—in this town who share these roots is a comfort. Seeing where they are now is an encouragement. Meeting them is a joy, if only because the unspoken becomes the spoken.

The friendships I form at school might fade. Details of classroom lessons will be replaced. But the sense of community will never disappear, no matter where I go.  Once a Charger, always a Charger.

So charge on, Washington. Charge on.

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The Love Letter to Michigan I’d Never Thought I’d Write

Lake weeds have always been my least favorite part of swimming. They grab at your ankles, threatening to pull you under and suffocate you. I’m not afraid of much, but the thought of getting trapped always made my chest tighten.

It’s the same tightness I feel now. I never thought it was possible to feel claustrophobic in a city. It’s a strange feeling, cornered among endless buildings and held hostage by countless high-heel events.

Don’t get me wrong, being in Washington D.C. has been a whirlwind. It’s a classic Midwest-Girl-Meets-City-Life story. I’m learning what it means to network, to use the metro, to be yelled at on a street. I’ve been published, I’ve been lost, I’ve bought far too much expensive food.

But a few weeks ago, I tried to explain to some friends what it’s like to miss trees.  They looked at me like I was insane.

I stumbled over my tongue, trying to paint for them what it’s like to drive through the autumn canopies that make the pot-holed roads glitter gold. I showed them pictures of the lake at sunset. I tried to describe the feeling of grass between your toes.

But we have grass here.

Yes. But it’s not the same.

I guess I thought summer was the same everywhere. That golden sun didn’t need a sprawling field to be beautiful or that a starry night would be the same even without campfire lungs.

I forgot the stars don’t shine as brightly here.

I’ve spent most of my time planning how to get out of Michigan. Sure, it’s where I want to settle eventually, but I also wanted to see beyond it first. I still do.

But on summer nights, it’s hard not to miss the comfortable happy place that is my best friend’s backyard, with the fire crackling and crickets chirping. It’s strange that the dark now brings fear instead of fireflies.

I never thought I would miss these things about Michigan. That all the bug bites and dirt roads and occasional smell of horses would ever mean something. I was never an outdoorsy person, but paddleboarding and camping now sound like a slice of heaven served with a side of sunburn.

I have a previously-undiscovered love letter to Michigan scrawled on the palm of my right hand. It screams of lake water.

I never thought I would miss Michigan so dearly.

I never thought I would miss lake weeds.

The Inside Scoop

In Iowa, the smell of manure hangs in the air and the highway is sandwiched between two empty fields that disappear over the horizon. I’m a midwest girl, but spending two weeks in drizzling rain in what seems like one endless cornfield was a little too much, even for me.

But when you get the opportunity to work with some of the best Christian journalists in the country, you go anywhere, including the cornfields.

World Journalism Institute is a program for young Christian journalists (like me). This year’s program focused on “backpack journalism” and was essentially a crash course in print, audio, video, and photo journalism.

And although getting to work with experienced writers was amazing, one of my favorite parts of the trip was something much less grandeur.

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These girls are as sweet as the dessert

It turns out that just a few towns over from Sioux Center, Iowa, is Le Mars, the ice cream capital of the world. The program director had promised to take us there to visit the Blue Bunny parlor. So, we put a pause on our finals presentations and stuffed ourselves into vans. The Blue Bunny store was cute, with a penny press and a little gift shop.

But this story isn’t about ice cream.

After a cone and a quick photo-op, we piled back into the vans. With 26 students to get back to Sioux Center, each van was packed tight.

As the van rocked back and forth past the dark cornfields, I realized I had fallen in love with these people.

I listened to the row of girls behind me scream-singing to pop music and watched a boy marvel at the country stars. One girl had fallen asleep with her head rested against the seat in front of her and her blond hair was spilling over her shoulders. The guy next to me saved space by sitting on the floor, wedged between the seat and the van wall. It was a mix of chaos and joy and exhaustion and maybe a little too much sugar.

And I loved every second of it.

Two weeks is not very long to fall in love with someone, let alone 25 other someones. Yet that was somehow what had happened.

Perhaps it’s the fact that we are all connected by our love of stories. We all take some form of solace in words. We all want to be better Christians, people, and writers. We all want the same thing.

I’m trying not to paint this as a profound moment. This wasn’t a life-changing van ride through the country or the first step on some sort of journey.

It was a small slice of community, a taste of joy.

And, sometimes, that is the only story that needs telling.

A Letter to Boardwalk and Everyone in It

Today I move out of the little brown house on Manning Street and into the newly-refurbished Mauck Dormitory. 

It will be nice to have a properly-heated room. Less nice to have to share a bathroom with more than two other people. 

Still, I will miss this house, run-down as it was. Not because of my larger room or the abundance of community tea nestled on the top shelf of the kitchen, but because of the aggressive positivity that turned it into a home.

I am not used to having an abundance of female friendships. Growing up, I had my mom and a few close girlfriends. I have never been the girl that hangs out with 10 other girls at the same time. I’m not in a sorority. The last group of “girlfriends” I had was in early middle school. 

This means I have more intimate friendships with the girlfriends I do have, but it also means I spend a lot of my time with boys. 

Girl friendships are difficult for me. I despise doing the weeks, even months, of awkward friend-flirting, only to have the friendship fizzle. Sometimes, it’s because Things Happen. Sometimes not. Either way, it’s a wooing process, tiring and often fruitless. It’s left me a little jaded toward the idea of reaching out to make new girlfriends.

Living in Boardwalk changed that. 

I hadn’t originally planned on living in the house, but was offered a spot after my planned roommate bailed at the last second. I’m grateful now she did. 

I have never seen a house get along so perfectly. The living room was always littered with twinkle lights and candles. Some sort of baked good cooled on the kitchen counter at least once a week. When I wandered into the kitchen in the morning, still blurry-eyed and bed-headed, I was always greeted with at least one cheery “good morning!” 

Twelve girls in one house seems like a lot. It is. Every space in that house was crammed with something. Books, food, and homework, but also joy, laughter, and love. 

Don’t get me wrong. We weren’t gathering in the living room every night to giggle and swap makeup tips. But knowing there were others just down the hall who would be there for me, who would let me vent, and who I could support equally, that was exciting.

The women in Boardwalk showed me why female friendships that are unequivocally and passionately positive are of unmatched importance. Having such a positive experience with 11 other girls at once gave me the desire to once again pursue female friendships. They made me a better person, a more confident person, in just a semester.

So thank you, Boardwalk. A few twinkle lights and a little bit of a laughter made a little run-down house feel like home. 

Here’s to a new dorm, a new semester, and new friendships. Welcome to Mauck. 

Good Morning, 2017

The year 2016 is finally (finally) over. I rang in the new year with friends and family and way too much dessert. The past year brought the beginning of my sophomore year at Hillsdale College, a goodbye to my elderly dog, and a lot of summer on Portage lake in Pinckney, Michigan, which surprised me. I used to hate swimming, but my waterlogged boyfriend convinced me to get on the lake more. Now, you can’t keep me off the boat. 

This past semester has especially been full of joy. Due to some dorm renovations, I spent the last semester in an off-campus house with 11 other girls, which is way more fun than it sounds. I also got the hang of being an assistant editor, including the two-hour upload session it takes to get all the pieces on the newspaper website. I’m looking forward to getting back into the office next semester.

Like many, though, I use the new year as motivation to set new goals for myself. And, like many, I tend to get a little over-ambitious. I want to form so many new habits, everything from exercising (haha) to sleeping right (hahaha) I start to get overwhelmed. I even paid for–yes, paid for–a habit-tracking app. It’s working so far, but we’re only a week into the new year, so time will tell. 

Although I have many smaller goals, I especially want to work on having peace and being content. In the past, I have put far too much energy into worrying about what others are doing or saying. Focusing on their successes made me lose sight of my own goals. This year, I want to focus on who I am and where I want to go. I want to be secure in my own path and not worry where others are going. 

Part of striving for peace means unplugging some. Social media is one of of the biggest ways I become discontent as it’s too easy to compare myself to others. This is part of the reason I also have to goal to read more.

I used to love reading when I was younger. I would walk out of the library with a pile of books towering above my head. But with the pace of school and the abundance of television shows on Netflix, reading has been shoved to the wayside. It’s easier to scroll through Instagram and Facebook than dive into a book. 

I realized how much I missed reading when I had time for it again this summer. Not only does it give me something new to do, it also helps me unplug for a few hours. This is why I plan to read one new non-school book each month. I have already started in on Yes Please by Amy Poehler, and have picked up another memoir and took suggestions from friends. Still, I am eager to see what else I find throughout the year. 

I’m looking forward to these next twelve months. I turn 20 soon. I will be halfway through college. I’ll spend my summer doing what I love. I could write a multitude of metaphors about dawn and fresh starts and clean slates, but such things are trite and overused. I will simply say this: 

Good morning, 2017. It’s going to be a good one. 

I’m still looking for books to read this year, preferably shorter, easier books. What are your suggestions? Why do you like them? Comment and let me know!

Your family is a Christmas tree 

 

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A newsroom argument over whether colored lights or white lights look better on the Christmas tree:

“Colored lights make a tree look messy,” I said.

“Christmas trees are like families. They’re supposed to be messy.”

It effectively ended the debate, and those words have been jingling around my head since.

Family drama can place a strain on this mistletoed holiday. When people bounce from house to house, relative to relative, old arguments are dredged up, new ones spring to life.

As we near the cusp of Christmas, remember this is a season of great love, of the greatest love. No earthly thing can overwhelm that.

I encourage you to remember the reason we gather these next two days (or, for those with larger families, for the next week, repeatedly). This is a time based in love. It is a time to put aside squabbles and arguments and drama. The homemade ornaments on the tree are far more important than what is under them.

A Christmas tree is like a family. It may be big or small, messy or neat, picturesque or haphazard. No matter the kind, it is twinkling and loved all the same.

Merry Christmas. Peace on earth.

 

Try it Tuesday: Complimenting Strangers

Year sixteen was rough for me. It is for everybody, but a bumpy couple months had left me feeling particularly self-conscious and down. So when a random girl about my age told me I was pretty, it made my day.

Words are powerful, and, for better or for worse, words stay with you.

Words, ironically, had been causing my troubles in the first place. For that brief moment, though, words distracted me from it.

Compliments have a way of sticking with you, and compliments from strangers have a way of sticking with you for years.

It is easy to feel invisible running errands or doing homework or going to class. The daily drudgeries of life can leave us feeling unimportant and unnoticed. We live in a world of anonymity, and we often don’t care to pay attention to those around us. At the same time, we are all striving to be noticed, even if unconsciously. People thrive off positive attention, and many are not getting it.

So I like to give it to them. One of my favorite things is to compliment people I don’t know—telling them I like their shirt or hair or shoes. Most of the time they look startled, say thank you, and go on their way. Sometimes they tell me where they bought the item. Occasionally, it starts a conversation.

Perhaps it’s partly selfish. I feel like I am making some sort of impact in their life, that I will stick around their mind like others have stuck in mine.

At the same time, what does it hurt? You never know what someone is going through or what kind of day they are having. If one compliment out of a hundred does brighten someone’s day, then it was worth my time.

This post comes with a challenge: Be a positive light. Tell people—strangers and friends—what you like about them. It can be something as simple as you liking their shirt, or it can be something more personal.

Words are free. Be liberal with the kind ones.