I remember asking that simple, one-word question.
Dordt’s Athletic Director Glenn Bouma had stopped by my office and told me to take Natalie Sakuma off the basketball roster in December 2015.
She was the leading scorer on a soccer team that fall that I felt was on the cusp of being a real player in the GPAC title race.
Turned out she had been thinking about this for quite a while and when I heard she was dealing with some sort of home-sickness I felt sympathy for her. I’ve never done it, but I’m sure it’s hard to move a thousand miles from home.
I’m sure there are things you miss about home and it turns out she was simply missing home. Nothing more, nothing less.
As I tell many, I have a unique vantage point. I get to watch 18 year old kids become young men and women. It’s a formative four years.
Sometimes you get to watch a kid become comfortable in their own skin.
That’s a big part of becoming an adult.
When I called Natalie into my office and asked her if she’d be willing to share some of her journey I really didn’t know what she would say.
Would she be embarrassed that I was asking? Would she rebuff the request and want to keep that time in her life private?
What I was met by was a broad smile that lit up the room and her reply was “Yes, I’ll write about it.”
I’m glad she did and I’m glad she was able to be a part of our Senior Day a couple weeks ago….that’s the featured photo with this story.
It’s a good thing to be comfortable in your own skin.
Here’s Natalie’s story.
I’m calling it, Home.
When I was in grade school, I visited Dordt College for my brother’s graduation. All I could remember from that visit was the infamous flat landscape and never-ending cornfields. I was only in elementary at the time, so the featureless geography and humid Midwest summer stood out most vividly in my mind. I was there to see my brother graduate, never considering Dordt College as a destination for me later in life.
I hail from the evergreen and mountainous state of Washington, between Lynden and Seattle. With the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other, I swore I would never find myself in the middle of the country, so far from home and family. So strong was my fire for the northwest – or perhaps it was my aversion to the corn! – that I maintained this position until my senior year of high school! Four years later, though, here I am… a senior… back at Dordt College.
Yes, that’s right. Back at Dordt.
I started at Dordt as a freshman, but left after three semesters. Spring semester, my sophomore year, I left to answer the call in my heart to return home to family, Washington, and mountains. I honestly had the purest conviction that going back home for college would solve the heartache that I had been feeling. I had the opportunity to play with a ranked NCAA soccer team, be near to my family, be closer to my cherished grandfather, and live in a beautiful city. I had it all figured out. And the truth was: nobody would be able to tell me otherwise. My dad felt strongly that I should finish what I had started; my mom ached for me to be happy and whole.
What is a 19-year-old to do? I was in the middle of my basketball season and the soccer off-season, my professors and friends here at Dordt, and my preconceived yearning to go home.
In the end, I packed up my bags, said my goodbyes, shed more than a few tears, and left Dordt behind.
In the end, I packed up my bags, said my goodbyes, shed more than a few tears, and left Dordt behind. I started my next term at Pacific Lutheran University, located just south of Seattle. I joined their varsity soccer team, loaded up my course schedule, drove home often to see family and friends, and immersed myself in the beauty of Washington State in the shadow of Mount Rainier. I felt I was finally experiencing “big city college life”! Yet, by the end of the semester, I found myself requesting my PLU transcripts to transfer back to Dordt College.
I think my family thought I was going through a midlife crisis.
And yet, while I was at PLU, I was discovering what I really needed. I had time to reflect on my decision to leave Dordt, the people, the city I had called home – this spiritual hub of a town – and the community that had taken me in. I had grown there spiritually, intellectually, physically, and it might sound a little corny, but I realized that I had even missed those beautiful cornfields.
I had finally had the epiphany I needed for so long: I took this small college in Sioux Center, Iowa for granted and Dordt College had everything I needed and more.
Dordt is where I needed to be. Although PLU is one of the finest schools in the country, Dordt College is unmatched in so many ways. I have had the privilege of being a student and an athlete, to be further interconnected and linked with the community here. Dordt’s classes are small and personal. The professors know every student by name and care more deeply about each student than I ever thought possible – they would cross the world for any of one of us. The students genuinely find joy praising God and enjoy everything Iowa offers.
The academic and spiritual leadership at Dordt is second to none. I find it humbling and so encouraging that the president continually expresses his genuine love and care for the school, the students, and the community involvement in Praise and Worship and inspiring chapels.
Don’t get me wrong – I am competitive and I strive for the win as much as anyone else, but Dordt finds a way, year after year, to send out the most talented, Christ-loving athletes I have ever encountered.
I have had the privilege to play on the soccer and basketball teams and I am a better person for those experiences. The coaches at Dordt care more about us as people than they ever care about athletic prowess. Don’t get me wrong – I am competitive and I strive for the win as much as anyone else, but Dordt finds a way, year after year, to send out the most talented, Christ-loving athletes I have ever encountered.
So, here I am… four years later… having experienced so much at Dordt and writing a letter to no one but myself. I know my experience might be similar and near and dear to others, and I am hoping to say just this: Don’t take the little things for granted, no matter how little they seem. Dordt College has changed me in more ways than I could ever have hoped for. I will be forever grateful for the people that have stood by me and that God guided me back to this beautiful little town. Dordt College will always be a part of me.