What was the most important event in your life? What is your biggest regret? What obstacles have you had to overcome? Whenever people ask me questions like this it always takes me a long time to answer, and usually people laugh at my response, or say “that’s it?” The things in my life that have shaped me as a person, aren’t as serious as a physical or mental illness or a family hardship, but they are still the reason that I am who I am. So what are my regrets? What’s important to me? What makes me who I am? Well I dug up a few I’d like to mention, maybe this will answer your question.
Young Life is relatively new to my life. I went to Wyldlife in middle school a few times, but I had volleyball most nights the same time as Wyldlife so I just kind of put it off. But this year I went to the very first Young Life, and have only missed one (if any) since. Young Life is a Christian program through the school you go to, led by people involved in the community and college kids. We meet every Monday night at 7:27, hang out and talk about Jesus. This program has honestly changed my life. I have grown closer to God, my friends, and my classmates because of this. Just recently, Young Life was hosted (sort of) at my house, and it was toilet paper club. Once everyone was there we had a toilet paper dance party, and then went crazy throwing the remnants at each other. At the end we were all covered in toilet paper dust from our eyelashes and hair to our clothes. We then proceeded to drive to Calvin Young Life at First Reformed to TP them. But as people drove there, a tornado warning was called. It was pouring rain and very hard to see anything while driving. My friends (and me) that were in the car with me were freaking out. We were all yelling about how we’re going to die. In the moment it was scary but looking back I see now that it was another Young Life adventure that I was glad to be a part of. Once we got to First Reformed Church where Calvin’s Young Life was, we all gathered at the door, soaked from head to toe from rain. Then we bursted through the doors yelling and throwing toilet paper at them. The gym was a mess with wet toilet paper. After we did some good damage we ran back to our cars and all drove to Wedgewood Park. We ran under the pavilion as the lightning lit up the sky, and proceeded to sing songs. Standing there on picnic tables with the rest of Grandville Young Life, arms wrapped around each other despite the rain and mud, with tornado sirens just beginning to sound, I had never felt happier. Young Life is a new chapter in my life story, but it is already a huge part of who I am today.
Unlike Young Life, softball has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’ve been playing since I was three; started the Dawgs travel team; played all-stars three times, and went to states every time placing 1st, then 3rd, and then 2nd. But the first time is the one I will never forget. I was on a team with girls that I’ve been playing with since Tee-Ball, that I knew like the back of my hand. We had beaten Hudsonville to get to states, which was a mini victory in itself. A few days after that game we all got together and decorated our car windows with window paint that read, “District Champs”. After taking the eight hour trek to Escanaba, Michigan, we settled into our hotel that would be our home for the next week and a half. On the softball side of things, we basically blew everyone out of the water until the championship game. We ended up winning 7-5. It was surreal. There were interviews and T.V. networks and pictures and smiles and hugs and tears. It was a rollercoaster of emotions. I remember walking back to our car after about 45 minutes of pictures to find out that the older siblings and crossed out “District 9 Champs” and wrote “State Champs” on our cars. Then was when it hit me that we were really the State Champions. It was amazing how one tiny little town could make me feel so much joy. From hiding in a hotel basement from a tornado, to racing around the go-kart track of a wannabe Craig’s Cruisers. From eating warm, fluffy waffles at what is still my favorite breakfast restaurant, to camping out in the concession stand drinking hot chocolate while it poured during our semi-final game. These moments sparked my love for softball, I always knew that I liked it, but after states I grew passionate. I loved to play, and I loved the girls I played with.
This next one is emotional, so hang in there. My parents both work full-time jobs, so to help watch me, and my soon-to-be brother, I was watched by Janie. She took care of me during the day while I was really young, and then once I was in preschool she picked me up afterwards and I stayed at her house until my parents were done working. The connection we had was special. We had little things we would do every week that never changed. For example, once I was in preschool, every Wednesday after school Janie would take me to Steenstra’s Royal Dutch Bakery and every time I would get a puppy cookie. You know those ones that have cute frosting faces and ears? Yes. They’re fantastic. She also fed me grilled cheeses and sandwiches made with that fake cheese that come individually wrapped in plastic. They were terrible. I still can’t bring myself to eat them to this day, not that I’d want to anyways. She also always had those cheez-it duoz, that was how I grew to love the sharp cheddar and parmesan ones. I say these things so you know how close we were, and how much I was around her. That’s why when Janie was diagnosed with melanoma cancer a few years ago, I was heartbroken. She was given a few months to live, but she defied the odds and made it to her final son’s graduation. But after that, stretching into summer and fall, she kept getting worse and worse. We knew there was only a matter of time. Then one day last fall, I was getting in the car after volleyball practice, and my mom was crying. Just broken down crying. And she never does that. I immediately knew the reason. I got in the car, shut the door, and rode home looking out the window without an expression on my face. Once I got into my bedroom, I fell apart. I was beyond broken, and I was so so angry at God for taking the person who practically raised me away. I still cry at the mention of her name, or when I think of those things we shared, but I will always remember the person Janie shaped me to be. She will forever be a part of me.
I love to travel. I love the ocean, and the mountains, and I love the big cities and the country sides. I love watching the sun sink beneath the clouds on a plane, and I love planning stops around where the next Chick-fil-a is during car rides. I love learning about the history of my destination, and I love exploring the scenery. To some people, I have traveled a ton, and to others I’ve barely even scratched the surface. But to me, all I feel is desire. Desire to go breathe the air from all the corners of the world. This desire was sparked in me at a young age. From when I was about six years old until just last year, I had gone to Disney World once a year. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am aware that Disney does not count as traveling the world. But it’s moments there that made me want to. My favorite parks at Disney have always been Animal Kingdom and then Epcot. Animal Kingdom is home to my favorite ride, Expedition Everest, as well as Kali River Rapids, a safari ride, and a chinese stand with the best egg rolls you’ll ever eat. These things made me want to experience them outside of Disney World. I loved them there, but I wanted to go to Everest, go white water rafting, go on a safari ride in Africa, and eat egg rolls in China. In Epcot one of the main attractions is their giant circle of different countries of the world. In this you can enter into one “country” and there will be a few buildings and restaurants, maybe even a ride. Each country looks like you were just placed right in the heart of it, decorated like it would if you were actually there. The food at the different countries is spectacular, in Great Britain there is my favorite place to get fish and chips. It’s here that my love for travel grew even more because I loved my small pieces of each country. But I wanted more. I wanted to actually be in England tasting the vinegary fish and salty chips while standing next to Big Ben listening to the music of people going about their everyday lives. Not just England though, I wanted to go to every single country in Epcot and more, taking in the culture that is so different from my own.
But probably above them all, is family. And the true definition of family lies in my Grandpa. My Grandpa is brings me some of the greatest joy in my life. He loves his family so much, and it means so much to him if I’m just there with him. He and my Grandma go down to their house in Punta Gorda, Florida every winter to escape the cold. And around the start of the year my Grandpa gets into this funk. He hasn’t been able to do the things he was always able to, and it’s frustrating him. He doesn’t go fishing or get as involved with the committee of the park they live in. But the thing that always makes him better is when we go down every spring break to visit him and my Grandma. When we walk in the door and he sees my family, his face lights up. He is just so beyond happy to have us here. We know he is okay again when he does certain things. The way he’ll ask my brother if he wants to go fishing. The way he’ll make some joke about me having a boyfriend. The way he treats my father, like he’s the best version of a son he could ask for. The way he and my Grandma fight about the smallest things dealing with our comfort when we’re in Florida. The way he tells us to “sit right down” when we try to clear our plates or help with the dishes. The way he always has ice cream in his fridge (Moose Tracks and Amaretto Cherry) that we eat at night on the porch. The way I wake up to him and my brother yelling at the T.V. about their 10 a.m. game show that’s on. The way he doesn’t go a morning without having two windmill cookies with his coffee, and always offers us one with a look on his face that even my parents can’t say no to. The way that after morning coffee he asks me to take him on a golf cart (or buggy as we like to call it) ride to check his boat, get the mail, and say hello to his buddies at the park. These little things that my Grandpa does make me love him even more. He is my best friend, I can always count on him to make me laugh, to be cheering for me at every softball game (I can practically hear him yelling “Go Sam!” right now), and to tell me just how much he loves me. I am so unbelievably thankful to have someone like him in my life. My Grandpa means everything to me.
So there you go. That’s what makes me who I am, that’s what is important to me. These things each help made me who I am today. Through times of laughter and joy, to times of tears and anger, I wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for them. These aren’t huge, monumental ideas, but they are enough for me. I hope they were enough for you.