Why not Tennessee?

“Oh God. This was a huge mistake.”

After driving five hours and schlepping my belongings from a U-Haul into a 1930s apartment in a city I didn’t know, these uncharacteristic words of doom crushed me.

Thankfully, my dad was standing nearby to pick me back up.

One year ago, I moved 360 miles south of my beloved Indianapolis to Nashville, a city where I knew only loose connections, a city where I never imagined calling home.

I know myself very well, which is why my sudden regret and gloom caught me off guard. I’m constantly gauging my emotions; up until that point, I had this undeniable, optimistic tug to link arms with opportunity and move to Music City.

Change has a funny way of presenting stark, stripped-down fear and dulling any other emotion capable of combating it.

After a summer of job searching, I was offered a position with Warby Parker, a company close to my heart where eyewear and vision meets giving back. After interviewing with people who exuded warmth and humor, my mom and I visited Nashville for the first time to see if I could imagine living there. I ate Jeni’s ice cream for the first time, stars aligned, and I became one of many who mosey on down to this magnetic, friendly, flirty town.

I did this before, moving 280 miles north to go to college in Milwaukee, a city much harder to fall in love with than Nashville. But college has a beginning and an end; after four years punctuated with holiday breaks to go back home, you’re done. Making a move after you’ve had the last 17 years of life relatively scheduled, without a summer break or timestamp or date of return, is scary. But I couldn’t be more grateful that I did.

After two days of unpacking the U-Haul, eating takeout on my small IKEA table (thanks, Zach), and making Walmart runs for extension cords and trash bags, it was time to drop my dad off at the Greyhound bus station. I sobbed, I searched the nearest Target on Google Maps (which, I later found out, was not the nearest Target), and I happened upon a Dunkin’ Donuts on the way. The sweet high school boy at Dunkin’ pretended not to notice my red, raw eyes and didn’t question me when I stuffed more brown paper napkins in my pockets than a medium coffee warranted.

Leading up to the move, I had the immense joy of working with the Indiana Writers Center again at St. Florian Leadership Camp through a program called “Building a Rainbow,” helping Indianapolis youth who are considered at-risk tell their stories and publishing them in an anthology at the end. During one of the last days of my internship, before I was trying to figure out my next move, I was sitting at a table helping our young writers fill out evaluations of our program.

The questions on the evaluation asked what the students liked and disliked about the program, what they wished they could’ve done, and what they took away from writing with us. One of the questions asked about the interns–what the students liked or disliked about what we did.

I was helping Jeffrey, an eight-year-old who lost his mom recently and who showed maturity and bravery beyond his years, fill out the evaluation. I worked with Jeffrey consistently all summer, helping him tell his heartbreaking and hilarious and profound stories. One day in particular, as I held the microphone out to him to read his story for Author’s Chair, he asked me to read it for him instead. (Sometimes the kiddos love the attention of reading their own work at the front of the room, and sometimes they’re microphone-shy but still want to be heard, so the interns read it for them.) I wasn’t sitting at his table that day, so I didn’t know what his story was about. As I began to read his handwriting, my stomach plummeted.

His words told the story of the day he found out his mom died.

I read his heart out loud to a room full of curious kids. When I finished, some shared sympathy and some asked how she passed away. I looked at sweet Jeffrey, inspiringly and bewilderingly composed, and told him he didn’t need to answer any questions if he didn’t want to. Understandingly, he shook his head. I tried to explain to the group how brave Jeffrey was for sharing a story that was so incredibly hard to share.

As we were filling out the evaluation, I asked Jeffrey what he thought about the interns and if there were any of us in particular who helped them. He looked at me and told me to write, “Miss Lauren gave me courage and helped me be brave.”

I have never held someone’s words more closely to my heart than what Jeffrey said to me that day. I looked at this little courageous boy in front of me and said firmly, “Jeffrey,  you taught me how to be brave.”

Weeks later, I felt far from brave when the reality of being alone in an unfamiliar city hit me. My first week of my new job, I got a flat tire on the way to work and a man from a nearby shop lectured me about female emotions when he noticed I was crying. My bed’s box spring came unhitched, and for the first time ever, I didn’t know a single soul to call to help me with the task. (In an act of inexplicable strength and sheer desperation, I somehow managed to hoist my mattress onto my back and fix it.)

Days passed and courage began bubbling up inside of me thanks to my home team. I’d probably still be wiping tears off my face with Dunkin’ napkins if it weren’t for phone calls to my mom and dad, encouraging texts from one of my oldest best friends, reassurance from my trailblazin’ musician BFF, and FaceTiming with my college roommates who let me cry and ask silly questions like, “Why do we grow up and move away from our mamas?”

Mat Kearney, one of my favorite musicians, has a line in one of his songs that goes “Said why not Tennessee // got fire in my bones, boy, got words to say // Lord knows I’m not home but I’m on my way.” This little mantra stuck with me on the first drive down I-65. A few weeks ago, my brother was visiting Nashville and we ran into Mat at a coffee shop in a blissful storm of serendipity. Exactly one year ago, unloading that U-haul felt like a bad nightmare, and I desperately wanted to wake up in my old room back home. Hindsight is 20/20, but looking back I feel so grateful to see the dots connecting. I’ve met some of the most amazing people, I’ve eaten the best BBQ and hot chicken pizza of my life, and I’ve grown in bravery along the way.




Remembering How to Fly

A few months ago at St. Florian I was sitting at a table with three of my writing buddies when we got on the subject of the president. After Aniyah expressed frustration about our current leadership, I agreed and expressed my own. She looked at me, surprised, and said something along the lines of, “You don’t like him either?” I accidentally let out an enthusiastic, “HELL no!” which I promptly followed up with an apology for my language, unsure if the ten-year-old audience in front of me would be offended by the H-E-double-hockey-sticks word. I was surprised that she seemed surprised. I’m sad that she seemed surprised. I didn’t ask, but maybe to her young African American self, a white person like me might be more forgiving of our current commander in grief–oh excuse me, chief.

Then as she was procrastinating, another writer at the table, Bayleigh, started talking about everything she would do if she were president. Very practical things too—extra time for lunch at school and an hour put aside for reading. I told her she should run for class president, since most of her solutions were school-related.

I wish I would’ve just left it at president.

Lately, this line in Chance’s song “Same Drugs” has jumped out at me:

“When did you start to forget how to fly?”

I spent the beginning of the summer reading job posting after job posting, scrolling past requirements and qualifications way beyond my scope. I’d come across cool opportunities and send my resume and cover letter into the cyber abyss with an amused chuckle.

Thankfully, my internship with the Indiana Writers Center and St. Florian started and reignited my sleepy soul. This internship—writing with youth in Indianapolis—has made a profound impact on my life. (A window into the program that I wrote last year here and one from this year here.) Earlier that week, our session was cancelled and I pouted. Have you ever pouted when your workday was cancelled? See what I mean?

A few weeks ago–as the Building a Rainbow program with St. Florian was winding down, making me grow sad and antsy and directionless–I was working at my other job at Nicey on a rainy Friday night and a two familiar customers stopped by. They work for a local business that makes the most divine almond butter that has ever graced my taste buds, which is why we got talking in the first place. As we continued chatting, I told the girls, who are about my age, about St. Florian and my desire to do that kind of work full time—but also the need to provide for myself. Rossi, who was preparing to move to Paris, simply said, “You can.”

Weeks later, one of them invited me to go bowling with her crew. A few strikes and gutter balls later, I marveled at these encouraging customers-turned-friends and the universe’s uncanny knack for sending people when you least expect them but most need them. That night, as Rossi and I were about to leave after bowling, we noticed a praying mantis on her car windshield. I couldn’t recall the last time I saw a praying mantis–a symbol of stillness and patience and moving at one’s own pace, according to a quick Google search.

Later that week, I was walking downtown with Rossi and another friend during the evening. Along the Cultural Trail, Rossi and I spotted another praying mantis.

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I could liken decoding a Bon Iver song to a lot of things:

  • Trying to braid sand
  • Reading IKEA instructions in Russian
  • Understanding college statistics class (only me?)

Et cetera.

However, I feel pretty good about drawing parallels between Justin’s first verse in 00000 Million to how I feel post-grad:

Must’ve been forces

That took me on them wild courses

Who knows how many poses

That I’ve been in

But them the main closest

Hark! it gives meaning mine

I cannot really post this

Ah feel the signs

I worried bout rain

And I worried bout lightning

But I watched them off

To the light of the morning


decoding Bon Iver’s 22, A Million album cover. again, braiding sand.


Post-grad and post-St. Florian, worrying about rain and lightning, I’ve been asking incessantly for clarity lately–to the point where God is probably like, “DAUGHTER, CHILL.”

Thinking about the wild courses that we’ve all been on to bring us to different places and people in our lives is enough to make any head spinny–and can only be explained by forces. Looking back on this summer, all the poses I’ve been in (popsicle seller! child writing editor/encourager! caretaker! interviewee!) are beginning to make sense. Nicey has led me to these new friendships. Writing with my buddies at St. Florian is life-giving in and of itself, but also led me to helping out with my awesome supervisor’s sweet son Will, who has Autism and cerebral palsy. 

With friends old and new as well as little signs here and there–like reminders to have patience from some serendipitous praying mantises–I’m regaining my sense of remembering how to fly.


An Ode to The Tin Can

What exists beyond a red door marked 917 is measured not in square footage or room numbers. It cannot be appraised by the quality of the water, by the faulty doorknobs, by the popcorn walls, by the ever-beeping fire alarms.                            

Despite the full capacity, unwelcome fruit flies colonize the house when winter draws near. The basement—a heinous, dank cellar—has served as a scary laundry room, a compost site, and a storage area for friends who need to stash furniture while studying abroad. A floral sectional in the family room has seen many visitors; it belonged to one of the tenet’s grandparents and takes care of all who rest upon it, much like a grandparent would. An unrelated—but still floral—love seat dubbed “Flo” after Florence and the Machine is notorious for enveloping people in her comfortable, velvety cushions. It is the first place to look for lost keys, lost wallets, and lost hope.

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all photos by Timothy LaRose

The house has seen tears and triumphs along with dance parties and debate viewings. If Bon Iver or sister band Joseph isn’t playing from some corner of the house, it’s safe to suggest that someone should call some sort of authority, because something isn’t right.

A chameleon at the mercy of the changing weather, the house transforms into a brick oven in the blistering heat of the summer and an icebox in the cold Milwaukee winter. Air conditioning didn’t exist when the house was built. Its old, drafty windows have seen better days. The front stoop—arguably holy ground—is the best feature of the house where you can find most of them congregated during “Stoop Season,” either drinking coffee or cracking open PBRs. If Stoop Season isn’t upon them, a gathering around the kitchen island with Cermak chips and salsa or Flamin’ Hot Cheetos will do.

Lovingly dubbed “The Tin Can” because of the words spray-painted outside on the back brick wall, the century-old row house near Marquette University’s campus is home to eight or eleven tenets, depending on who you ask (i.e. the landlord). It’s an eccentric house that takes special people to call it home.

Maggie hails from Minneapolis and proclaims the spirituality of bees fervently, practicing what she preaches through a social movement called “Bee the Change.” Her love for certain things—bees, bicycles, sloths—earns her a smattering of bee-, bicycle-, and sloth-related gifts, a testament to her unwavering devotion to what she finds IMG_0629important as well as a testament to her impact on others. She shares a room with Lauren, who defends her hometown Indianapolis as loyally as she stands by John Mayer’s music and would much rather bake cookies for her roommates than do homework (something that has become a bit of a habit). An aspiring storyteller, she wants to help others tell their stories as much as she enjoys writing her own.


In the neighboring room, St. Louis native Molly is most likely not there since most of her days are spent studying at the EngineeringHall. She is no stranger to all-nighters—IMG_0662whether she’s planning a trip to Nicaragua as chapter president of Global Brigades or choreographing an Airband dance for her winning sorority or working towards saving Milwaukee’s water—but if she’s ever tired, she doesn’t make it known. Confidence pours through her every step and a can-do attitude serves as an electric current for the house. She shares a room with Nicole, the queen of hugs and snuggling, who has more love to give than she knows what to do with. A talented singer, Nicole performs with her beloved a capella group called the Gold ‘N Blues and always draws a supportive crowd, where just her family alone will take up an entire row. Her signature spiral curls are no coincidence—her last name means “curly” in Italian.


Paige, whose tidy room features her mother’s childhood furniture, is a dependable img_0581.jpgChipotle buddy and can devote as much energy in the library as she can at Soldier Field, cheering on the Chicago Bears. Her self-awareness makes balance between exercise physiology student and fun student look easy. For a while, during football season, she was the sole reason the television was used.



At the end of the hall, Allison’s room was most frequented for her great closet despite the IMG_0586.jpghardly-visible (but recently cleaned!) floor. Allison channels her journalistic talents into building community in her beloved Milwaukee in a number of ways—she started Youth Rise Magazine, an online publication written by young students at Urban Underground. A Racine native, she knows which who makes the best Kringle in her hometown and is the go-to source for fun events happening in Milwaukee on any given weekend.

Travel up to the third floor and you’ll find Abe, whose tireless devotion to his engineering studies is matched only by his devotion to Beyonce. Whether he’s delivering an epic speech peppered with powerful Spanish mantras, giving tours to prospective Marquette students, or making his unbelievably moist orange cake, Abe spares no ounce of passion. He shares a room with outdoorsy boyfriend Connor, who is the king of composting, stovetop popcorn, and—more recently—“Want You Back” by Haim. He lives up to his Portland, Oregon, hometown as the most avid biker and thriftiest of the bunch. He can make a mean curry dish and one time the mayor of Milwaukee called him “the man” after leading a meeting at work for Milwaukee Succeeds.


Down the hall, Kate’s room has a small window alcove that serves as a great corner to watch a storm. A coffee enthusiast and avid runner, Kate not only completed the Boston Marathon but she also did so raising over $8,000 for trauma research. Her profoundly strong heart provided a constant supply of awe throughout the house and the fervor with which she sings “Goodbye Earl” by the Dixie Chicks is undeniable. She knows the best songs to listen to, always.


Rose, another St. Louis native, is most likely to either want to go out dancing or watch a documentary on Scientology. No one in the house can figure out how she balances her steadfast commitment to VETS Place and WYSE, her political science studies, Netflix watching, AND consistent early bedtime. Her sweet name and favorite color make complete sense; appropriately enough, a yellow rose signifies joy and friendship, two things synonymous with her.

In order to reach Rose’s room, you must pass through the Harry Potter room—a roomIMG_0591 that wouldn’t normally be a bedroom if you had a regular amount of people living in the house—which is where Gina lives. A mountain girl from Colorado, Gina is arguably the coolest of the cool. She can be found sailing and hiking through beautiful Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in the summer as well as writing intelligently hilarious (and viral) content for satire publications and Twitter. It won’t be surprising to find her byline on the Onion or see her as a writer for SNL, using her wit to advocate for social justice issues, no less. She also knows how to emotionally level the entire house with a beautiful letter sent from her summer post in the mountains—a piece of mail more reminiscent of poetry than a pen pal post card.

They call each other “angels,” a term of endearment that slips off their tongues as naturally as their first names. The Tin Can is a symphony of heartbeats, each dweller with his or her distinct rhythm. They harmonize, they let each other play solos, they sound beautiful together. The beauty is amplified as they constantly allow others’ hearts—friends from home, family members, neighbors, fellow Marquette students—to beat along.

There’s a doorjamb in the dining room with more than 50 names and heights recorded only by Connor, the master measurer, with the words “Y’ALL GET MEASURED!” at the top. Usually, when homeowners measure the height of their children, it tracks the growth of each individual child. Looking at all of our beloved visitors over the last two years, I’d like to think that our height chart tracks the love that grew in that home.

As they—we—graduate, the Tin Can does not exist solely inside 917 N. 14th Street. It is within each of the hearts that called each other home.



all photos by Timothy LaRose


waiting for the lamb

About a month ago on the first morning of my spring break, in the middle of March, I woke up to flurries.

Growing up in Indiana I’ve learned to adapt to Mother Nature’s whimsy—sixty degrees and sunny one day, polar vortex the next—and going to school in Wisconsin has taught me what cold really means.

Still, the sick of winter blues and restlessness tends to hit me with angry force during the “in like a lion” stage of spring, when my freckles are dull and I’ve forgotten what warmth from the sun actually feels like.

While waiting for the lamb, I was thinking a lot about timing. There’s of course time in the literal sense—setting our clocks forward an hour for daylight savings, which suggests this weird idea that humans think they can control time. Then there’s the climate’s clock—which humans seem to be manipulating and destroying at an alarming rate, but I digress—which includes the inevitable change of seasons.

And then there’s the proverbial universe life clock. If anyone has a better way to wordsmith this idea, let me know.

Life’s timing can be uncanny, wonderful, and awe-inspiring to the same degree that it can be frustrating, heartbreaking, and downright confusing. There’s sometimes a graceful, manageable ebb and flow; other times, you find yourself in the epicenter of a disastrous coming-at-you-from-all-sides tornado one second and then waiting for anything at all to happen in a comfortable sitting place the next.

The proverbial clock has a rhythm we don’t understand during the present; sometimes I am so in tune with life’s events that the clock might as well talk to me like Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast. Sometimes I wonder if the clock is ticking at all.

Now, the trees in Milwaukee are growing green and the weather has begun to tease us with warmer days. During spring, you can usually find me flinging open windows and breaking my hot Americano streak in favor of a triumphant cold brew. Up until this point in my life, there has been a pretty reliable schedule: finishing a school year, summertime, back to school. This spring is obviously different, with no set ticking; rather than a clear, predictable digital clock, I feel like I’m using an indecipherable sundial. I’m trying to look at the future with more of a Natasha Bedingfield “Unwritten” spirit rather than a blank-Word-document-despite-looming-deadline sort of dread.

The trees shed their leaves and make themselves vulnerable in order to grow. Now they’re blooming. They will become vulnerable again. Then bloom.

We go through periods of decay, growth, and bloom too. Our human clock isn’t dependable or predictable, just like sometimes the climate’s clock doesn’t make sense (see aforementioned blizzard in March). But the cold does melt away to spring eventually—the lion passes the torch to the lamb—and with warm cheeks and blooming senses of self we look back on the confusing timing of our personal winter—our personal periods of vulnerability—with forgiveness and understanding and trust.


And Lord knows if clocks do start talking to me, I’ll have a completely different problem on my hands.



Pumpin’ Iron

There’s been a lot of heavy lifting going on around me lately. My mom moved houses and after an exhausting 72-hour marathon of pack and haul and pack and haul, I was about ready to put marinara sauce on my noodle arms.

She moved the weekend of the presidential inauguration and the Women’s March—it was funny to think of Obama moving from the White House as we were moving from our house (a very small brick bungalow, sans-Oval Office, but still). I was bummed that I couldn’t march with my fellow brothers and sisters in downtown Indianapolis, while people everywhere across the world lifted each other up. While I carried heavy boxes, strangers carried burdens as they marched through cities nationwide. While we were lifting our belongings into trucks, my friends in Milwaukee lifted the dignity of those whose arms are being tied behind their backs, whose hearts grow heavier as they’re crushed by the unwelcome mat.

There must be a lot of sore arms in this country. That’s a good thing.

After most of our belongings were moved into the new house, I was sitting at my kitchen table at home listening to the deliverymen grunting as they carried a washer and dryer into our new house. I felt bad that I was uselessly sitting there, so I busied myself with making brownies and texted my sister in a fit of unnecessary worry. She reassured me that heavy lifting was their job. They’re fine. She also probably called me stupid.

It got me thinking, as I’ve witnessed people marching, holding signs, calling senators, offering support, and engaging in meaningful conversation, isn’t heavy lifting all of our jobs? Shouldn’t we all be lifting each other up?


My friends at the Women’s March in Milwaukee. (Also not my photo–one of my sweet friends took it but I regrettably have no idea who.)

After a weekend of carrying boxes the weight of small eight-year-olds, I felt profoundly strong. There’s something powerful and emotional about packing all of your belongings—donating half of them along the way because why do I still own my grubby Converse low tops from eighth grade—and planting new seeds in a new neighborhood. You might find yourself playing “Closer to Love” by Mat Kearney over and over again in the car as you transport your grandmother’s china set down Meridian. You might catch a glimpse of the skyline—even when you’re miles north of it—reassuring you that your zip code might change but your original home turf doesn’t.

With raw hands from packing and carrying cardboard, I picked up Small Victories by Anne Lamott and stumbled upon an excerpt that I underlined a long time ago:

“The welcome book would have taught us that power and signs of status can’t save us, that welcome—both offering and receiving—is our safety. Various chapters and verses of this book would remind us that we are wanted and even occasionally delighted in, despite the unfortunate truth that we are greedy-grabby, self-referential, indulgent, overly judgmental, and often hysterical.”

Anne goes on to say that this book of welcome isn’t written yet—that we have to write it ourselves. Luckily I was sitting in my bed because reading these timely, relevant words made me a little weak in the knees.

Whether we’re lifting our pens to write the book of welcome, lifting spirits, lifting dignity, or lifting washers and dryers, I pray that our arms grow strong but stay soft enough to embrace each other tenderly.

Better start doing some more pushups, huh? (After all, just because Mrs. Obama isn’t in the White House anymore doesn’t mean she isn’t our bicep queen.)

(Also here’s a song to lift to.)


Full Circle

If you’re reading this and want a laugh to kick off 2017, please know this:

I once created a Word document titled “Why I Suck Right Now.”

I kid you not. It was December 31, 2013, and I was home for Christmas break after a rocky first semester of college. Here’s the thing about first semesters of college: usually, they aren’t great, but everyone is trying to pretend like they didn’t just fumble thousands of dollars on a stressful, clunky semester of school. Either you lie about how college rocks so you can appear to be thriving or God loves you more than the rest of us and you met really great friends right away. Or your parents kept you on a four-foot leash your whole life and you partied so hard that you can’t remember if your first semester sucked or not.

I had too much momentum going after my senior year of high school and backpacking through Europe before leaving for college. I went from hiking through the Swiss Alps and drinking my first cappuccino in Italy and seeing the Pope in real life to failing my way through biology class and completely relying on my smarty-pants chemistry lab partners. I went from Italian wine, Münchner Weisse beer in Munich, and Parisian street gyros to Natty Light kegs and dining hall food. I had lost that momentum.

To give you a window into what lost momentum looks like, here are a just a few items from the “Why I Suck Right Now” list:

  • “I don’t have a job”
  • “I am a complete failure at biomedical science”
  • “Journalism might not get me any money”

Other items from my now-laughable downward spiral were less palatable, more absurd, and uncharacteristically negative. There is, however, a second page to this three-year-old document. The second page is titled “Why It’ll Get Better:”

  • “I’m ditching biomed science and switching to journalism”
  • “Which may be my dream”
  • “Especially if I can work for NBC” (ok lofty, I know, but lofty is good when you think you suck.)

And the bigger picture persisted:

  • “Nature changes but lives”
  • “I’m healthy”
  • “I can read and write”


I spent Friday morning at the healthcare office, waiting for an expert to treat my goopy cough, gunky throat, and sweaty, cold body. A delightful, older Indian doctor gently checked my symptoms and prescribed me medicine and–unbeknownst to him–inspiration. After asking about my schooling, I told him that my major was journalism. “Journalism!” He exclaimed, eyes lighting up. He then proceeded to tell me how smart journalists are, how they sometimes ask the best questions, and how integral (good, honest) journalists are to democracy.

He expressed a genuine awe at my major, something no one in the health field has ever voiced to me before. Certainly not my fellow peers back when I used to study biomedical sciences freshman year—in fact, their competitive nature and cutting remarks about all other majors in general played a huge factor in my despise for and switch from the biomedical realm.

Three years later, I have studied what I knew was my passion all along and graduated with a degree that gives marketable wings to my mission to write. I’m invigorated by the possibilities within reach as a writer–possibilities that naturally and eloquently align with and weave into my mission as a human, not just as a professional. It’s fun to shake hands with your gut instinct and invite her over for tea.

This doctor’s delight and praise and encouragement brought happy tears to my sallow eyes. Exactly three years ago I spit poison at myself–for supposedly “sucking,” for giving up the medical path. Little did I know, a much more enriching path awaited–a collection of unconnected dots that would create a much fuller circle. And wonderfully so, it would take a nasty case of sinusitis and an appreciative, praiseworthy doctor to clue me in.


PS. During my second semester of freshman year, some divine dots connected and I crossed paths with some of my soulmate friends–ten of whom I live with in a century-old house. They are some of the best people I have ever known and loved; if I knew back on December 31, 2013, that I would have met them, then this blog post and my dumb list would have never existed. (So if a lost, downtrodden freshman in college is reading this right now, keep the faith and once you get back to school, agree to go to McCormick Hall to meet your friend’s other crew of friends! It gets better!)

PPS. Shoutout to my good friend at Marquette, Jake, who shared this insight of connecting the dots with me: “You cannot connect your dots forwards, only backwards.” It has clearly stayed with me.


Our Own Kind of Merry & Bright

Before I say anything, let this be known: I love Christmas.

But during this time of year, if you feel like roasting more than just chestnuts on an open fire or if a certain song by Mariah Carey sends you running for cover screaming, “MAYDAY!” let me gently provide reassurance: You are not a Scrooge.

With the joy of the holidays comes plenty of stress and anxiety, especially if your family isn’t cookie cutter mom and dad plus two children and a golden retriever housed under a lovely brick Tudor decked out in icicle lights. One look at a Williams and Sonoma holiday catalog can make you feel like an utter failure and a stroll through Pottery Barn can quickly turn into a downward spiral that’ll leave you wondering why the heck you don’t have cashmere tartan throws to match your tartan table runner.

Some years, it can feel like our family members are crumbly gingerbread men and leave us feeling a bit like figgy pudding: confusing and out of touch. After an avalanche of things seemingly going wrong in the past few days, I took to the Monon Trail and quite literally ran away from my problems. I won’t explain to you the healing sensation of running because chances are, if you run, you already get it. And if you hate running, then that sensation isn’t a healing one. After stopping on a bridge overlooking the White River, I tried to caption the beauty of the half-frozen, half-rushing water flanked by trees, peppered with snow. I was struggling to make sense of all that seemed to be working against me during a time that should be joyful and merry and bright, when the word “seeking” popped into my mind. I often go to that spot on the Monon seeking peace, seeking clarity, seeking anything.


I typed the word into my phone and looked at it, wondering if I had spelled it right, and then realized the two words within the word:

see king.

See king. See the King.

It should be obvious at this time of year, when the entire holiday is centered on Jesus’ birth. But sometimes the Higher Reason–whatever the reason for the season means for you–gets lost in this pressure to be joyful and move the Elf on the Shelf to the best hiding places and bake better cookies than Donna at the office and bring the most coveted Secret Santa gift. Sometimes, unmet expectations and feelings of inadequacy can leave us slipping on ice, willing to grab onto anything in order to steady ourselves during what can be a turbulent time. Let me tell you, societal standards of what makes for a good Christmas won’t steady you.

I’ve had plenty of beautiful Christmases as a kid to know the magic of the season. As I get older, become keenly more aware of just how painful the holidays can be for some: the absence or sickness of loved ones, juggling between families, the inability to afford presents, travel snafus, lonely friends, inability to worship, lack of basic necessities.

I guess it helps to remember that the first Christmas ever started out with a young pregnant woman traveling on a donkey and giving birth among farm animals.

However this season finds you, be kind to yourself. Turn inward and journal or put on a cheesy Hallmark Christmas movie (if you want something absurdly fluffy, predictable, and uncomplicated). Turn outward and extend a kind hand to someone else struggling through the season. Allow yourself, and this season, to be redeemed. Wherever you find yourself this holiday—whether you’re alone at a church far from home or balancing between parents or missing a loved one or working the late shift or stuck at an airport or drunk at a Chinese restaurant—Jesus will meet you there. He might come in the form of angelic airport employees, nurses, a stranger at the grocery, a kind Cracker Barrel waiter, a stable owner when there’s no room at the inn. Or maybe his presence won’t be apparent at all, and you’ll look back on this season as the time when He taught you what it meant to hope.

After all, it is his birthday.

And what kind of savior doesn’t show up to his own party?



“Epiphany” by Janet McKenzie. (Thank you for this, Nicole.)