Letters From An MBI Student – 10/15

Dear Parents,

I think this is going to be the sort of letter that every parent dreams about receiving. Did you two talk about getting a letter like this after another day of rowdy kids who didn’t get their schoolwork done and had bad attitudes and didn’t listen and didn’t obey? I seem to recall a few “someday” conversations. You know: “Someday you’ll realize/understand/experience/thank us/etc.”

Well, consider this my someday letter (sort of). Because while, over the past few years, I’ve come to the gradual-and-instantly-terrifying realization of how much I’m like you both, school has been an opportunity to realize a few of the little things. And here, the little things mean a lot, because in the big overwhelming-ness of college life, these small understandings have felt a lot like gifts from home.

Yesterday I was thanked for cleaning up the kitchen after cooking. For simply wiping down the stove and counters and behind the faucet. Please don’t laugh at me, because I know very well all the times that I haven’t done that and I know I won’t always in the future. But I know how, and that’s thanks to you, Mom. I know what a clean kitchen is supposed to look like and how important it is, regardless of how consistent I am in doing that. You said that good cooks were good at cleaning up, that the work wasn’t done until the kitchen was clean, and I never knew how much that meant to you.

Last week I was thanked for being honest. I don’t think of the students here as being dishonest, but apparently some types of honesty are more rare than the rest. I wish I could claim that I was always honest, but I know that whatever level I am, it’s because I learned to love it in all those hours with you, Dad. I got to learn that to be best friends with someone requires honesty in all things: in love, in argumentation, in confrontation, in apologies, and even in fun.

Two weeks ago we sang “Be Still My Soul” in chorale. I’m at a Bible school where hymns are rampant and the words are sometimes taken for granted, but, Mom, I still remember those evenings singing “Trust and Obey” and “Be Still My Soul” and while I may not remember all the words, you gave each of us kids a love for music and the meaning in it. Maybe it’s the sweetness of the memory, maybe it’s the seasons in which I’ve encountered those hymns, but mostly I think it’s because I never saw you get tired of them, so I never have, either.

Three weeks ago I got in a conversation with a student about politics, and I realized the breadth of untaught education I got from you, Dad. You may not always have been right (shocking, I know), but you did make it seem absolutely important to be and stay informed on this world and its decisions. Here at school, the opportunities to do that are harder to find, but thanks to you I’m keeping up. Because it is so ingrained in me to know and understand and acknowledge the economic, political, societal, and spiritual impacts of the decisions we have abandoned to a secular world.

Four weeks ago I started reading aloud with a student here. A girl like me, with a love of stories and hearing them. So I get to read aloud to her, going through a classic children’s story. Did you know, Mom, the way I can hear your voice in crowd because of the way you say you “s’s,” and that I love that? I’m finding my story voice, the voice and pitch and tone of a narrator, and I hope it sounds like you. Because in my head, I hear you in those hours after lunch when you taught us to love both story and sound.

Five weeks ago I met someone else who loved math. It’s kind of a rare thing here, and I’m nervous to claim that love because I’m not fantastic at it. But, Dad, you never said I had to be good at it, but you did want me to understand it. You always described math as this unexplored, extraordinary thing that was waiting for me to delight in. You and Mom both managed to do that with all of my school: yes, I did it because I had to, but you thought there should be joy in it. That if I could just get to the other side–beyond the bad attitude and nagging frustrations–then I could discover how meaningful every piece of learning is. So now I get to experience that at school; the absolutely joy of learning.

There are many more of the little things, but here are a few. Please understand that I will not always be thankful like I am today. I will probably forget some of these next week when I have a Spanish exam and two hundred pages to read and a week’s worth of dishes and dirty laundry piled around my room. I will be crabby and hate the learning and sing a joyless version of even the most beautiful of our chorale songs. But someday I’ll write Version 2.0 of this when I remember it all over again.

Missing you,



Letters From An MBI Student – 10/13

Dear Family,

Sometimes I know why I love this city.

On Friday night I drove back to school with a friend, getting off Interstate at almost 10. We stopped at a light next to the driver of a lovely black Lexus, a normal-looking guy in a neat button-up and classy felt fedora. We both watched as a taxi came from the right and turned into our street. Hanging out of the back seat window, upper half completely out like a dog tasting the air for the first time, was a young man in a full suit. I have no idea if he was hungover or just seeing Chicago at night for the first time, because he held up a hand and smirked at us. The Lexus driver awkwardly waved back at him as the taxi pulled through the intersection, because what are you supposed to do? Then Lexus looked over at us, and we stared back, and we all lifted our hands in a “what the haystacks?” shrug at the exact same time. And then burst out laughing and shaking our heads. It was one of those lovely moments when you have no idea what is going on and the world is crazy and hilarious and you’ve found another stranger who is as clueless as you are and you get to enjoy it at the same time.

Then the light turned green and we drove on our way down another beautiful Chicago street where you can’t see the stars but that is okay because there are many other things to find joy in.

Maybe missing you,


Letters From An MBI Student – 10/10 – postscriptum

College is also hard because my dearest friend, coworker, confidant, shoulder-to-lean on, giver of my favorite hugs, stubborn, caring father is 130 miles away with my mother, my everlasting cheerleader who makes the world’s best coffee and demonstrates a level of grace and compassion that I can only hope to touch someday. Not too far for a phone call, but yes too far for a hug. They don’t make them the same here, Dad.

Letters From An MBI Student – 10/10

Dear Family,

Does everyone truly remember their college years as the golden age? Do people really think it’s all rosy skies and a few chapters to read and a party every Friday night? Because holy buckets, college is hard.

College is hard because the homework wheel never stops turning, and there are always, always more chapters to read, more papers to write, more projects to complete, and more tests to take. It’s like a rat race with homework; you want to get out and the only thing you can change is your perspective. The gameboard never changes – only your place on it does.

College is hard because you’re thrown into the same pool with a thousand other peers and there are no swimming lanes. Everyone has a different direction, some are just treading water, and some are changing direction every length of the pool. We’d like to think that we know exactly what we’re doing, but each professor is like an individual swimming coach, changing your stroke a little bit each time and sometimes you feel like you’ve completely forgotten how to swim. And finding someone to stick with you the whole time? Whew.

College is hard because everything normal suddenly isn’t. You say tuh-may-toe and they say tuh-mah-toe and you wonder if you’re the weird one? No one understands your quotes or “you did it, Dahhhling.” There’s no one to have inside jokes with; or not the sort of inside jokes that mean the most to you. And that’s just symptomatic, because no one truly knows you down to your core.

College is hard because you have the opportunity to start over and fill out that new person walking around campus. You get to pick and choose the parts of you to stuff into that new person, and that’s who you’ll introduce to the world in freshman orientation. But the stuffing happens irrationally. Some of the parts are your best ones–the things in you that you like. Some of them are just there because you crammed them in during that panicked moment when someone asked about them and you gave an answer based on familiarity. You’re not sure if the new you should really like that, but the old you would and that’s what’s come out. Along with all of that are the bits of the old you that will lay dormant until someone gets hurt on them when they poke out unexpectedly. And what rounds you out and makes you feel fit to burst are the pieces and parts and edges everyone and everything gives to you.

College is hard because you’re surrounded by people that you don’t know who are changing you and filling you and wanting to know you right in that moment when you are no longer certain of yourself. It’s pieces of them that strain your stitches when you act like someone else and belatedly realize they don’t fit. It’s edges of them that bump into you and make you realize the parts of you that you don’t like. It’s also those same people who wonder who you are and you spend most of the time imagining what they think of you, until you realize that’s simply how you see yourself. You truly have no control over what or how people think of or respond to you.

College is hard because there are new people to let down and disappoint, new relationships to stumble through, new introductions every-single-freaking-day, new, new, new, and it should be rosy and beautiful but it can be as exhausting as the hampster-wheel of homework.

College is hard because the only way to survive is to deliberately claim joyful things every day. The optimism feels false and flimsy but it is the only way you will not race for the hills at the first sunrise. It will be work until one day it isn’t and you realize that college is hard but not impossible.

So no, not all sunsets and roses, but maybe that’s because you remember college on the other side of impossible, when it was finally transmogrified into something gilded. I think I might question your sanity if you said freshman year was your golden age. Maybe I’ll understand it in four years.

Maybe missing you,



Letters From An MBI Student – 10/2

Dear Family,


No Campus Thor involved, no Friendly CPO Guy #1 to confirm my combination, no Friendly CPO Guy #2 to come do the combination and have it automatically open, and no magic spinning of the wheel. Just very careful counting, occasional swearing (euphemisms only!), and possibly a closing of my eyes and holding of my breath on the last turn.

Now that I know how to open it (mostly) please feel free to send all those things I know you’ve been waiting to send. Like peppermint tea, chocolate chips, highlighters, coffee, sticky notes, yarn, stuffed animals, books, my sister…basically, all those things I really don’t need but just feel like requesting.

(Except my sister. She’s non-negotiable.)

Maybe missing you (and her),


Letters From An MBI Student – 9/29

Dear Family,

You should congratulate me! I just graduated from NEXT, a.k.a. MBI’s extra-orientation-for-freshmen sessions. Because every freshman is away from home for the very first time and requires extra orientation, poor kiddos. On the plus side, curfew is now extinct. Which is strangely satisfying, even though I was exempt from day one because I’m oooold.

We were supposed to learn things and bond as freshmen, but I don’t think I learned any of the things they wanted me to learn. Call me old or cynical or what-have-you, but it made me realize some things about being a newbie that was not on any of the Discussion Questions that Honorary Abe asked. Here are my top three:

  1. Freshman are the most over-questioned, over-analyzed, and under-reached people on campus. Yes, it’s a sweeping generalization and is totally different for every school and every school tries very, very hard to reach their freshman, but 90% of the time it does not work. Because…
  2. Contrary to popular opinion, freshmen do not open and share deeply on command. Why is it that every school thinks they just need to ask a specific [set of] questions and the deepest parts of our hearts will come gushing out? And why are the questions the same and/or rehearsed and/or repeated ad nauseum? It’s like Mozart’s 12 Variations in question form. (For the record, people: it’s not innovation when all you did was had a run-in with a thesaurus)
  3. Going to college is rough. I don’t care if you’ve lived on your own for twenty years and have eight letters after your name already. We’re freshmen, and we’ve been dumped into a new place: new privacy, new rules, new traditions, new expectations. And we’re at MBI, so we get slammed in our collective face with “The New Shallow”, which is another blog post for another time. Let me just say it again: it’s rough, and it’s not always because “we’re away from home for the first time, poor dears.”

So, yes, I survived NEXT, and no, I’m not sure I learned anything new, and yes, I’m surviving just fine. I’ll write you later. Tonight I’m going to stay out late in honor of my newly-revoked curfew and ponder the mysteries of the universe. Or my universe as it is right now: the little world of MBI and co.

This freshman maybe misses you,