My first interaction with Anna Lothe began with finding common ground. She was from Iowa, and in the fifth grade, my family traveled to Iowa to ride in their bike ride. From our initial conversation, I knew that she loved her state, but over the next year I would learn just how much. She now has a slew of stickers and shirts that proudly display her love.
“Iowa, 75% vowels, 100% awesome.”
“Is this heaven? No, it’s just Iowa.”
And she’s quick to remind her friends that the truest form of English can be found in Iowa. I highly disagree, but then we get into arguments about the proper way to pronounce Reese’s and we digress. Also, I don’t know how many times I’ve seen pictures of the Butter Cow from the Iowa State Fair or pictures of her friend’s chicken who was apparently the best chicken in the whole state, but I love it. I love it because it’s a part of who she is. It’s a part of her story.
Here’s the beauty of Anna’s story: It’s messy. It’s full of ups and downs. It’s full of times of celebration and times of mourning. It’s normal in every sense of the word. But at the same time, it’s extraordinary.
Every relationship is littered with moments that will never be forgotten. For Anna and I one of those moments happened her freshman year. I was a sophomore and a leader on the floor. It was only a month into school so my interactions with her had been brief. We were still trying to get to know each other. She was new and going through the shock of college. And in the midst of this, her grandmother passed away. I still remember the night she walked into my room. I was insanely excited to see her because it was a secret goal of mine to be her best friend.
“Heyyyyy buddy!” I remember shouting.
And then I saw the tears trailing down her cheeks.
That night a foundation was laid on our friendship. A stake was drilled into her story. That night marked the beginning of a long and incredibly challenging freshman year. What I appreciated most about Anna last year was her authenticity. Surrounded by Christians, I began to feel that I was living in a very inauthentic place. In my mind, there was no way 2,000+ students could be this perfect all the time. Anna reminded me that it’s OK to be a mess. In fact, it’s an honest way to live because 90% of our days go by, and they are messy. Anna will tell you that she’s a messy person. Her story is not perfect. It’s got a lot of crap in it. But it’s her story. It’s the one God has given her.
Her story is one of intense grief. After losing her grandmother, she spent the next eight months separated from her family. Not only did she have to sort through the pain of loss, but she also had to carry on with life. This is normal in any life event. But she did it separated from those who knew her best. In this new world of Upland, Indiana, she had lost all of the people who truly knew her, who truly understood her.
She had to learn what it meant to be real with people she barely knew. She had to learn how to make friends when all she wanted to do was go home. All of a sudden, the complexity of freshman year of college got worse.
Through it all, though, Anna reminded me then, and still reminds me now, to love. A common phrase from Anna is “Love me.” This is usually said as she attacks me with a hug. I’m not a hugger. I’ll give you a million high fives, though. But Anna hugs. Anna loves. She sees past her needs to love those around her. She loves with joy. She doesn’t merely throw out the word. She shows it through her actions. She loves fearlessly. She loves endlessly.
And she’s reminded me to laugh. She’s taught me appreciate those little things that happen in a day that are weird and awkward. She’s taught me to sing at the top of my lungs while also singing with a southern accent. She’s taught me the beauty of looking like a fool.
When I think of Anna, I think of determination. I think of perseverance. I think of doing hard things. Because of all the freshmen I’ve ever known, she had the worst first year, and she had to go through it eight hours away from her family and friends. It was a year of tears. It was a year of tough times. But she persevered. She continued on. Because of who she is, she is impacting the lives of those she comes in contact with. It is impossible to walk away from an interaction with her and not feel loved and cared for.
She listens well.
She loves well.
She thinks Iowa is the best state, but I try not to hold that against her.