Joel. My brother Joel turned... 18 this year. Yikes. What is he doing being so old? (He's only 15 in this picture of us.) Anyway, he and I haven't always gotten along. He's much more... intense than I am and responds to things much more strongly, both positively and negatively, and that's led to some loud conflict in the past. But that's died down as we've both gotten older, and I'm always impressed by his passion and enthusiasm and how much he loves to share the things he loves with other people. He's a pretty cool kid, and I'm sure that as he keeps getting older (because apparently my siblings do that now) and settles into adulthood, he'll get even cooler.
Lauren. I met Lauren my last year at Huntington, where she came in as a freshman when I was a senior. We worked together on one show before I left to do student teaching, but we chatted a lot that first year. She's an incredibly sweet, interesting, and funny person. I went and saw her in one of her last shows a month and a half ago, and I was struck by how much she'd grown as an actress since we first worked together. It's clear that she works very hard to do her best, and it's totally paid off. Whenever we get a chance to catch up, even a little bit, it's a joy, and I wish her all the best when she graduates this spring.
Josh. Josh and I first met in the Religion and Theatre class we took together, and it was clear from the beginning that he had extremely strong opinions. That has not changed. :-) Many of our interactions have been debating or disagreeing about things in class or on Facebook -- we definitely hold very different worldviews! But he's somebody I wish I had chatted or hung out with more often at school. One of the things I remember most about him is that he had a habit of giving really thoughtful, genuine compliments. For someone like me who often feels invisible and unheard, that went a very long way. I truly wish him the best now that he's graduated and figuring out the next step.
Ashley. My kind and generous friend Ashley, who caught the bouquet at my wedding :-) She was one of the very first people I met from NLDC, when she came with a team to my church a week or two before I joined. She went out of her way to make me feel comfortable, give me the rundown on what to expect, and welcome me into the group. When I arrived at homebase a week later, I think I felt comfortable with her first before anyone else, because she was so enthusiastic about having me there and helping me adjust to the very different world of the drama company. Even though we don't see each other much anymore, I still think of her very fondly and have no doubt that if I was able to make a trip to see her in South Carolina, she'd make me feel just as loved and welcomed as ever.
Angela. OK, first off, calling her that is very weird to me, because I met her online during a short period of her life where she decided to have people call her Anna. Then that stopped and only her parents and I kept calling her Anna. So now I call her Anna but everyone else in the world calls her Angela, so that's what I'll call her here :-) Aaaanyway, she and I have been online writer friends for ages. She's one of those people who I can not talk to for weeks or months, and then when we chat we pick right back up where we left off. She's also possibly the first online friend I met in real life. She was one of the first people I knew who loved Woody Allen movies as much as I did. She and I had long online chats about life and God and fear and all manner of deep things -- some in high school, when we were probably not NEARLY as deep as we thought we were, and then more as we got older. Now we live only a couple hours apart from each other, and some day soon I may just have to find a way to visit her, because it has been far too long.
Lisa. Oh, Lisa. Aside from Jacob, she is easily my best friend. We traveled together my first tour in NLDC, when she went out of her way to make me feel loved and welcome and part of the team, and I connected with her more quickly than I did almost anyone else in the drama company. I didn't realize how much I'd come to rely on her apparently infinite love until I traveled without her the next tour and missed her terribly. Since then we've stayed close, and I am forever amazed by how passionately she loves those around her and how just generally awesome she is. Just spending a little time with her is refreshing for me because I swear love and caring just radiates out of her pores. She also was a champion of me and Jacob long before we were actually dating, back when I just kind of liked him. Then when I decided we were just friends, she still kept being like, "You should date Jacob." When it happened, she may have even been more excited about it than I was :-) I seriously miss her, as she now lives all the way away from me in Texas.
Alisha. I didn't get to spend a lot of time with Alisha before she left NLDC, but the words I immediately think of to describe her as "grounded and stable." That may sound like faint praise, but in the drama company (and in life in general), that's like a breath of fresh air. She was always amazing to talk to because she would have such reasonable, well-thought-out ideas and would listen to you, carefully and thoughtfully, before responding. I wish I'd had more time to spend with her, because I feel like we could have really connected -- I felt so comfortable talking with her about deeper conservation topics.
John. I traveled with John for two NLDC tours, one where he was my peer and another where he was my leader. He became one of my very favorite people during those two tours. He was one of the most positive, optimistic people I ever traveled with, and that helped me to be positive and optimistic too, even amid the chaos of the road and that week where we couldn't ever sleep because the hosts stayed up all night with us playing card games. Having him there, always enthusiastic and always ready to take on the next challenge, I felt happier, bolder, and more adventurous myself.
Christy. Christy and I did youth and drama together at my church, but more than that, we were just general hangout buds. One of my fondest memories with her is our all-night movie marathons, where we'd go to the local video rental store on a weekend, pick out five or six movies, go to one of our houses, and watch and snack all night long. We'd generally get loopy around 4 or 5 in the morning and there would be lots of giggling and chatting rather than watching movies, and sometimes we wouldn't even get to a final one before it was morning and we parted ways to sleep. She was a great person to just *do* stuff with, because she was always up for an adventure. We haven't really chatted a lot in the last few years, but I still love reading her Facebook statuses and knowing that life is going well for her.
Lindsay. My last year at Huntington, Lindsay jumped into the theater program -- or, that is, jumped back into the theater program, as she'd completed several of the classes awhile back and had returned to finish up and graduate a year after me. I'm glad we were at school together, even for the short time we did classes and shows together. She was friendly and funny and easily tapped into my weird mix of humor. (I remember one instance where we were watching some show about gangs and spend a good 15 minutes making fun of the strange member names, most of which sounded like cute pet names.) More than that, though, Lindsay was great to work with. We did several projects together in our directing class, and she was constantly encouraging, giving very specific compliments that meant a lot to someone like me, whose love language is so clearly words of affirmation. Every so often we see each other after graduation, and even though we seldom really sit down and talk, the short bursts of hang out time are great fun, and I wish her all the best.
Jane. In my family's home church and the church where I grew up, Jane is the head pastor's wife and also co-taught the girls' middle school Sunday school class. She is one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I've ever known. She was especially good at seeking out the quiet, shy girls who felt unnoticed and unloved and being someone for them to talk with. Even after I graduated high school and was attending college or traveling with the drama company, she still set up occasional lunch dates whenever I was in town to chat with me about how life was going. She attended my wedding shower in Illinois and wrote me an incredibly sweet card that recalled conversations we'd had in my insecure middle school years and looked at how far God had brought me since then. I'm so thankful to have known her and I can only imagine how many other people's lives she's touched like she did mine.
Brittany. Brittany and I only had one tour together, but it was one of my favorites. What I love most about her is very specific -- she is fantastic at encouraging other people's passions and using them to connect with those people. I've always been pretty nerdy and liked some odd things, and I was often a little hesitant about openly gushing about them because when I love something as much as I do Derek Webb or Jason Robert Brown, it makes me sad when other people don't care. But when I shared my hopes and dreams and loves with Brittany, she got excited on my behalf. It never felt fake, it felt like she was genuinely interested in what I loved and what I was passionate about. It's easy to lose focus or be discouraged in pursuit of the things you love, and Brittany was amazing at not only letting me love things, but helping to fan the flames and leave me forever more encouraged and more excited and more ready to go and make things happen.
Alicia. In my first year at Huntington, I took a Voice and Movement class with Alicia, who was a graduating senior then. That was an incredibly difficult class for me (as I thought it might be -- I'm pretty reserved physically and find it hard to let go), and I often found myself uncertain and unsure. In the midst of all that, Alicia was one of the few upperclassmen who actually went out of her way to get to know me a little. She scheduled lunch dates with me and send me encouraging notes about my work during class. I always take a little (OK, a long) while to find my niche in a new group, but having Alicia there to warmly welcome me into the fold did a lot to help while I found my way.
Erika. I am surprised and very saddened that I have no pictures of me and Erika together! She is one of my favorite people from NLDC, despite the fact that we never actually traveled together. One of the things I appreciate about her most is her... let's call it steadiness. She doesn't fly off the handle or have over-the-top reactions to things because she's having a bad day. Even when she is frustrated or upset, she looks to find reasonable, calm ways to deal with that. This makes her one of the most comfortable people for me to be around and talk to. No matter whether we agree or disagree, I always feel like she hears me and sees where I'm coming from. While this is less important in establishing our friendship, she's also funny and nerdy and likes all sorts of cool things, so she's just awesome all around :-) I love Erika very much and wish we lived closer together so we could hang out more.