Letter #685: Initiating Community

img_2203Dear ‘community,’

I was in a wedding a couple weekends ago. It was one of those weddings you genuinely looked forward to and nearly knew every attendee. What a joy to be a part of!

As I chatted, and let’s be honest danced, my way through the reception, nearly every conversation came back to you. “Nobody prepares you for life after college.” “Making friends is hard.” “I’ve been in my city for a year and I’m just now starting to break through in some authentic relationships.” “I’ll never have community like I had in college.”

This got me thinking. You really can be challenging. I began assessing my own life in this area. I’m 29 and live in Branson, the “Mecca of the Elderly” as I endearingly call it, where three months of my year are spent at summer camp where 97% of the people I interact with are 12-14 or 19-23. Nearly three more months are spent traveling in a 15-passenger van recruiting college students to come work at camp, where I am typically in a city for less than 24 hours at a time. My life is inconsistent and my friends literally come from all walks of life: older, younger, engaged, married, single, with children and without, some who live near and other who live really stinking far. I’ve also grown immensely in knowing how to be alone and have learned to find contentment in solitude.

I give you my current life resume not to elicit sympathy, but rather to create credibility in what I have to say next. Community hasn’t been something that was handed to me. Rather, it’s been something I’ve learned about because it hasn’t been easy.

Reality check: college dorms, Greek houses and summer camps are not real life. Having hundreds, even thousands, of people at your fingertips in your same life stage to be friends with is a thing of the past. This will never happen again. Enjoy it while it lasts, create lifelong friendships with the people you get the privilege of doing these seasons with and work to keep up with them after, but don’t live in a dream world that this is normal. These relationships matter and can be ‘your people’ forever. But we can’t just have friends from the past or friends that live hours away. We must have you in the flesh and in our daily.

I’ve either been one or worked with college students for the last 11 years of my life, and I don’t think a single one I worked with was ready for what comes with graduation. Sure there is a learning curve concerning life skills, bills, retirement funds and insurance, but I’m simply talking relationships. Nobody prepares you for the dramatic shift that happens in forming you in a totally new way. Co-workers and neighbors come from every life stage. Intramurals, coke dates and socials/mixers are no longer handed to you. And if you’re brave enough to move to a new place entirely, there aren’t many mutual friends or connections to count on. Every coffee shop you enter, church service you attend, restaurant you dine in, or catch happy hour you catch is basically a cold call. You must initiate. Make the first move, there are no promises anybody else will.

You must be fought for. But what does that actually mean? I’ve decided it means three things:

  1. Change expectations: Friends are going to be different than you now. Stop thinking they can only be in your life stage. Single? You can have friends who are young and married, married with kids, single parents and even people who are decades older than you. Married? With kids? The same is true for you. You can, and I’ll even go as far as saying, you need to make friends outside of your life stage and comfort zone. People different than you make you better.
  2. Be an initiator: Nobody is coming to your front door with cookies, a dinner invite and an envelope with a letter inside asking to be their friend. This might happen, but chances aren’t good. Step up and invite someone you think has potential to be a friend to coffee or a meal. Everybody has to eat…and this is not strange. Everybody is looking for friends. Friendship has to start somewhere. Don’t be afraid to take the lead.
  3. Get creative: You’ve gone from thousands of people at your fingertips to maybe 20-100 you see on a regular basis. The girl working out at the gym you see three times a week, engage with her. The barista you order from who is near your age, talk to him. Get involved in something to open up an opportunity to meet people. The day of walking downstairs in your sorority house where 100 potential friends live to find people to hang out with is over. Think outside the box and engage with people…I think you’ll be surprised by what happens!

I have great friends, but it’s only because I’ve worked for it. And these three things have played a significant role in the process. I’m incredibly thankful for friends I’ve had for years, but I also know that as people come and go I’m going to have to continue to fight for new ones who can do life with me in the flesh.

Community has become a buzzword in our culture especially in Christian circles. I think most would say they want it, but are we willing to step up and create it? I don’t just want people to hang out with, but it has to start here. I want people to do life with. People who will celebrate the highs and mourn the lows. People who will walk through the best and worst of times with me. People who are for my good no matter how hard the conversations have to be in order to communicate truth. This is true community.

But this doesn’t just happen. You have to work for it. You have to lead with vulnerability. And it starts with finding people you can just hang out with. Then that has to transition into conversation of significance. But it all starts with you making the ask, “Hey, would you like to grab breakfast?” Odds are, they’re looking for friends too. They just weren’t brave enough to ask.

Don’t be afraid to ask,


Letter #628: Wicked Good


Dear Wicked,

I’ve been hoping to see you for years. I’ve heard countless people recount your goodness and watched endless middle school girls perform makeovers on their counselors to “Popular.” I knew a bit of your storyline and your major songs, but for the most part I didn’t know what I was walking into. When I heard you were in OKC, I jumped at my chance to see you.

And you did NOT disappoint! You were unbelievable, or as I like to say, you were wicked good! Like I didn’t check my phone for three hours good. But you are more than a good show.

wicked 3
Wicked with Brooke in OKC!

When I was in college, I did the Greek thing. Not the stereotypical sorority girl, I know. My time in the Kappa Delta house was eventful, fun, hard, formative, stretching, encouraging and more. I wouldn’t trade those four years for the world.

My junior year some far more talented members than I revamped our recruitment songs. If you’re not familiar with sororities, potential members go through a weeklong selection process called recruitment, aka rush. Each day gets a little more serious as houses display their personalities and why one would want to pledge there. Probably not the best explanation, but you get the point.

Fall 2007 204
Initiation and pref day whites! My Kappa Delta family: Kayla (my big), Mika (my little), Hannah (my grand little)!

Pref day is the last day, right before bid day where house destination is finalized. All stops are removed as each house tries to show its’ heart and depth of sisterhood one last time. Honestly, it turns into one giant cry fest because hormones are raging, nobody’s seen a boy in weeks (literally) and people are just stressed out and exhausted.

College-Sophomore year 048
The craziness of Bid Day 2007, sophomore year.

At Kappa Delta, all members wore white and stood in a giant circle around the seated recruits. A few girls read letters about the role this sisterhood had played in her life. This all sounds super sappy, and it is, but in the moment some of your best friends are sharing deep stuff. It’s emotional and does a great job painting a picture of what recruits could be a part of. The spoken words were intertwined with songs. Not just any songs, the kind you can’t hear without shedding tears. Remember, sleep and testosterone had been VERY limited!

Fall 2007 037
Kappa Delta Bid Day, “Luck Be A Kaydee!” Some of my pledge sisters and I junior year…what a fun crew!! I was the New Member Educator/Pledge Trainer this year…loved that job lots!

As I was saying, my junior year some songs changed. We added your song “For Good“ to the mix. Hello tearjerker! It’s your song that ties your whole show together because your audience is so enthralled in the storyline of Glinda and Elphaba. But for me, it’s bigger than that. I can’t hear “For Good” without getting taken back to my college days and the women who changed me “for good.’

Dear college friends Caitlin, Bria, Vanessa and I at Bria’s wedding summer 2012.

But it’s even bigger than that. Every time I hear this song, I can’t help but think about how many people I have been blessed to do life with in every stage. In a world where friends, true friends, seem to be more and more scarce, I am simply overwhelmed with thankfulness.

“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without the impact of the people surrounding me. From my competitive sports’ teams to college sorority days to my crazy days at Kanakuk Kamps, I am beyond grateful for the people who have impacted and changed me “for good.’ I have a LONG way to go, but you’ve helped in the process of where I’ve come thus far.

You were a great show, but you were also a great reminder of the importance of community. And not just any community, but friends that make us better. That change us “for good.’

Who’s helping you change for the better and ultimately for good?

Wicked recommender and advocate of solid community in our lives

Letter #513: Weekend of Fun!

Dear weekend,

You were filled with so many great things. I became a “Master,’ enjoyed an afternoon at the outlets because sometimes being a girl just wins out, spent time with friends, didn’t study!, took pictures at a friend’s engagement, danced the night away at a beautiful wedding and all around had a ton of fun!

You were filled with lots of old friends. Bodie, my Kanakuk Institute classmate, married Marissa, friend from the K-World, so tons of classmates and friends from other stages of life were in town. What a sweet weekend you were!

Thankful for a year with these people and SO many more not present! There's just something special about these friendships!
2010 Kanakuk Institute Class!!!
Lawson!!! My friends, the Schmidt's, baby!
Sweet Branson friends!

Their story is awesome! Both early thirties and never been married. Both individually content and seeking the Lord fervently in their own unique ways. Both adventurous beyond belief. Each complementing the other perfectly. Together a testament to the Lord’s faithfulness and perfect timing. Likely not what either of them individually planned, but could never have worked out the way it did without the Lord’s sovereignty and perfection. What a great reminder and a super fun wedding!!!!

The happy couple!

I also got to take pictures at another Institute friend’s engagement. So excited for you two and can’t wait to break it down at that reception! Perfect weekend to the ending of grad school!

Institute friends at Nate and Stephanie's engagement!

Already excited to the weekends that lie ahead,

Lover of weekends

Letter #504: Unexpected Calls

Dear 6:45,

Receiving phone calls at your hour always sends my mind to the worst possible scenario. I’m not quite sure why because you’re not that ungodly of an hour in my world, but phone calls during you still aren’t very typical. Nine times out of 10, early morning calls equal some sort of negative situation. Death, illness, unexpected accidents, tornado damage, emotional distress. These phone calls always cause me to prepare for the worst.

This morning a friend of mine left me a voicemail at you. I didn’t hear my phone, but the message was so ambiguous it sounded upsetting. She was in small group until 7:45, so I couldn’t get answers for an hour. Literally, every worst case scenario went through my mind: death, car accident, job loss, family problems. You name it, I thought about it. I prayed for a good 20 minutes for my friend, for how I would receive her news, for wisdom in my response.

I should pray for my friends and people in general much more diligently than I do, but when I finally got to talk to her an hour after the message she informed me of the one thing my mind hadn’t thought of. It wasn’t bad news at all. She called to tell me she had gone on a date!!! I love my friends, but they make me laugh!! We had a good laugh about my dramatic scenarios then gushed on all the details!

Life really is fun and unexpected. This is the last thing either of us would have ever thought would have happened in her world this week. Literally, there was nothing even close to being on her radar when we talked Sunday. Bam, out of nowhere a date! Who knows what will happen or if it will go anywhere, but I am thankful my cynical thoughts about the phone call weren’t true. Date details are WAY more exciting than a death phone call.

Lessons learned: Don’t assume the worst. Pray for friends and people in general more often. Celebrate and enjoy the unexpected.

Here’s to a fun start to my Friday and weekend,

Cynic turned celebrator

Letter #453: Fayetteville, Arkansas

Dear Fayetteville/Northwest Arkansas,

You’re a neat little hotspot on the map that often gets overlooked. Lots of personality. College town offering other endeavors as well. Great culture. Healthy churches. Some of the most solid and fun people I know. Everything I would look for in a town, you possess.

Last week was my last week of trail for the traveling season. K-State. KU. Arkansas. Mizzou. Great week to end the year. Sure I was excited to visit the home of the Razorbacks, but K-West doesn’t have any U of A staff so my highlight wasn’t going to be a giant staff reunion at the camp movie. My highlight was, however, reunion with some of my absolute dearest camp friends. Of all the places, several of them ended up setting up shop in the same local and it just happened to be you. Purposefully?! Maybe. Coincidence?! Possibly. The Lord?! Absolutely.

I knew catching up with these folks would be a blast. I wasn’t prepared for my heart to be quite so full after my visit. Do you have those people in your life where it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since the last hang out, but you can just pick up right where you left off? These are the types of people I got to spend time with during my stay. The time was so good, I completely forgot to take any pictures! Almost instantly I was encouraged, challenged, provided wisdom and loved. All in the midst of great laughter with old friends. People who genuinely understand my current state of affairs. People who have seen me grow, fail and evolve from age 19 on. People who seek the Lord fervently. Who live their lives in a way worthy of modeling because they follow Christ before they say follow me. My heart is full; my mind is challenged; my level of thankfulness is overflowing.

These types of people aren’t abounding in life. When found, embrace every moment spent with them. Fayetteville area, you possess several of these types. Treat them right.

Look forward to meeting you again soon,

Thankful for old friends

Letter #418: Stillwater’s Finest

Dear Stillwater,

The number of friends I get to see when I come to you is insane. Friends I went to school with who will be friends for life. Friends I went to school with who are just really fun to see. Friends from kamp life who now have some crazy connection to you. Childhood friends I haven’t seen in years. Tons of family…it’s honestly ridiculous how many cousins I can run into in one town!

Dear friends!
Best two Oklahoma additions I know of!
It's super cold and somehow you manage to look awesome while I look bald!

There are so many great things about you, but the people who I get to connect with when I’m in your city limits is at the top of the list. Thanks for providing four of the best years of my life, but maybe more importantly, thanks for allowing me to stay connected with friends for a lifetime.

So much more than a college town,

Lover of Stillwater

Letter #407: ‘I’ll Be There for You’

Dear Friends,

For 10 seasons you produced millions of laughs. You defied all odds. Shows don’t last 10 years. You did and are still going with re-runs on multiple channels. You were quite the success. You’re distinct. Every character in the show will struggle to shake the label of Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler or Joey for the rest of their careers. Central Perks, Monica’s apartment and that purple door with the gold frame on it will never be forgotten. And your theme song, I’ll Be There for You, is a classic because of you.

That song is iconic, likely The Rembrandt’s one hit wonder. While we can all sing along to the beginning of it, how many of us ever think about what it’s actually saying? Not me. As I was thinking through what I’m thankful for, my friends came to mind. Anytime I hear the word friends, I think of you. When I think of you, the “I’ll Be There for You’ lyrics begin to play.

So no one told you life was going to be this way.

Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, you’re love life’s DOA. 

It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear, 

Well, it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year.  

But, I’ll be there for you, when the rain starts to pour. 

I’ll be there for you, like I’ve been there before. 

I’ll be there for you, cause you’re there for me too.

 What do you know?? What began as a theme song to some random TV show, turns out to be a smashing hit and actually has great truth to it! I always say my life’s a joke, and Lord only knows that nobody told me life was going to be this way. Not that it’s bad at all; it’s just way different than expected. Maybe the best unexpected of all…dear, lifelong friends who truly are “there for you’ just like the song says.

Laine, Valerie, my Branson roommate, Brooke and I at a Branson show...'The Miracle of Christmas!'

I am a firm believer in the importance of friendships. People you can laugh with, cry with, talk about absolutely nothing with and have life-altering conversations with. People who you can enlist to pray with you in the middle of a big decision. People you know are praying for you before you ever even ask. People who no matter where they live or how long it’s been since you’ve seen each other, it’s easy to pick up like no time has past. People willing to call you out when you’re not making the best decisions. People who over time basically turn into family.

Just a few friend pics from this past weekend...sorry I didn't get to highlight all of my sweet friends...come see me!!!!
We LOVE Big Cedar!!!
This pretty much just sums it all up!

Today I’m thankful for all the sweet friendships the Lord has blessed me with. New ones just beginning and old ones that have been around for years. I’m convinced friendships are important for the health of individuals. Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler and Joey, were never my friends, but you guys did life together for 10 solid years. You genuinely cared about one another regardless of circumstance. Thanks for the reminder of how thankful I am for my friends today!

“I’ll be there for you….,’

The one she’s thankful for her friends (if only one of your episodes was really about me!)

Letter #399: Ole’ Friends

Dear rivalry,

There is just something about you that makes life more fun. Lawton High v. Lawton Eisenhower. OU v. OSU. Auburn v. Alabama. Red Sox v. Yankees. Mac v. PC. People have their loyalties and crossing them just isn’t going to happen.

Last week I walked into one of you I never realized was so tense. Mississippi State v. Ole Miss. The loyalties of those Southerners run deep. While I was visiting both places, I heard multiple people throw the other under the bus. Comments that make Rick Perry’s debate remarks sound kind. It wasn’t until I heard all this trash talk that I realized how crazy these Mississippians are about their alma maters.

If I had to compare, Mississippi State would be Oklahoma State and the University of Mississippi would be the University of Oklahoma. Starkville seems to have a college-town feel much like Stillwater while Oxford feels more like Norman. Both schools have tons to offer and have very different feels, but more than anything I was reminded of two things while I was there. First, I was reminded just how excited I am for Bedlam! Mississippi’s loyalties might run deep, but our version of you does too and there’s a ton riding on this year’s December 3rd showdown.

Secondly, I was reminded that while one school talks trash about the other, both places in reality are filled with great people. I guess that means I have to admit the Sooners really have some good folks down there! 🙂 This being said, I had the opportunity to hang with lots of fun people from both sides of you. Catching up with old friends is always a treat!

Lia...who's going to be Belle at Disney World upon graduation!!! So excited for you! My friends are famous!
Katie, Kathryn Rose and Leslie in front of Ole Miss Kappa Delta's Christmas tree!

Evey week I’m amazed by the people I get to spend time with throughout my travels. How the heck do I know people all across the country?! I’m truly humbled by the relationships I’ve been blessed with over the years. I’m also blown away by how quickly friendships can pick back up after not seeing each other for years. It’s unreal, but I’d argue the main reason this is true is because of a single common denominator: the Lord. You definitely make life more fun, but life long friendships are better.

Grateful for friendships even in the midst of you,

Enjoyer of healthy rivalry

Letter #395: Small Town Girl

Dear small towns,

There’s just something about you. Everywhere you walk or drive you see an old friend. Going to the grocery store can’t be a short trip because it’s inevitable you run into someone you know. The cop that pulls you over actually knows your dad so he lets you go. You provide something endearing that big cities just can’t.

The Quade's...all three of them!!!

This weekend I went back to good ole’ Stillwater, OK for the game. When I reference you, I would include my alma mater’s hometown. I knew a few people I’d see for sure during my visit, but I had no idea how many old friends I’d see along the way. Literally every 10 steps I took I ran into another person I was excited to see: sorority sisters, camp friends, adults who I knew for various reasons. You name the connection and I had the reunion, and remembered to take pictures with just a handful. Even Mama and Papa Roth came up just to say hey since I was so close…golly, I hope I’m as good of parents as them one day.


I haven’t had the feeling of actually knowing people from where I live since I was in college. I currently live in one of America’s tourism capitals which means it’s very far from you. I go weeks without ever seeing anyone I know when I’m out and about in Branson. Stillwater provided a great change of pace!

The Towns Sisters!!!!
Callie, pledge sister, and our G-Bigs, Melody and Melinda, all ran into each other at the same time!
Hideaway Pizza with sweet camp friends...Kelsy, Jon and Derek!
Old School Bagel with camp friends!!
What's Stillwater without a run in with Spook?!?!


I’m not sure I’ll ever live in one of you again, but I do know I miss the feeling you provide sometimes. There’s just something about feeling known. Not in an arrogant way, but in a being connected way. Most of your people complain about you, but these past few days I’ve really embraced what you bring your people and honestly miss it a little bit.

Love everything about Stillwater,

Small town girl at heart

Letter #364: War Eagle!

Dear Auburn,

In my 13 months of employment, you are the biggest whirlwind destination I have taken thus far. After waking up at 5 a.m., departing Dallas at 6 and driving across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, we finally arrived to you about 6 p.m. With two masters’ assignments due by midnight, I had to utilize the few spare minutes, find Wi-Fi and get the papers I had written during the 12 hour trek uploaded. With virtually no time to spare, I was back in the game of being social and engaged in the people surrounding me…half way through the trip I had to responsibly isolate myself or I would never have finished.

We quickly set up our staff show, told Auburn students about camp and started to roll through interviews. Finishing up at midnight, this was the only time I would be able to see friends. Sacrificing sleep to spend time with people has become my anthem for trail. I spent a total of 20 hours with you. Work for 10, sleep for 4, people for 6. I may never visit you again, so getting to spend good time with your people was priority.

I’m not sure if you know, but you have good people, some of the best I know. Your interviews were solid and encouraging. They give a good vibe even upon meeting them. I’ve never met one of yours who I couldn’t have been friends with in everyday life. This is saying a ton!

Last year was my first opportunity to visit you. Read here. People often ask what my favorite school to visit was. You are always in the top three. I never even set foot on your campus in my 20 hour whirlwind, but my statement still holds true. You are the Oklahoma State of Alabama. Good people. Beautiful, red-bricked campus. College town feel. The only thing missing this year…Cam Newton! You’ve got it going on, and if we’re lucky maybe I’ll get to spend more time with you in January.

You were an absolute whirlwind. You absolutely exhausted me. My time with people was sweet. Every second was worth it…eh, maybe a little more sleep would have been nice!

War Eagle,

Still a fan of you even after round 2