All day, I’ve had “…because happy is what happens, when all your dreams come true” stuck in my head. And after I figured out where it was from (Wicked: “Thank Goodness”), I decided that another line from that song would fit well here, even though I didn’t write this blog today or with that song in mind.
One late morning in August, three years ago, my dad and I pulled out of the driveway in my little gray car and headed east. We were Indiana-bound, but we had one important stop to make along the way.
Two days later, we were in Colorado Springs. This was my first time in Colorado. These were three of the best days of my life.
I was in Colorado Springs for the 20th anniversary of Focus on the Family’s much-beloved radio drama, Adventures in Odyssey.
Then, what filled my heart to overflowing was the unexpected time with various members of the Odyssey cast, the heroes and role models of my childhood. I expected minutes; they gave hours.
Today, those memories are still very precious to me, but their legacy is just as significant. They sparked in me a renewed interest in Adventures in Odyssey, which eventually culminated in an Odyssey internship (’09) and club (’09-present). I can also trace the beginnings of several dear friendships to this.
Since then, my life and the world of Adventures in Odyssey have overlapped in new, exciting, and often humbling ways.
The Adventures in Odyssey Club is the most visible example of this. It started out as a wispy dream, and now, when I see the faces of those united by this shared interest, I treasure what we are to each other and what we’ve gotten to experience together.
I graduated from Taylor University in May, but the club lives on. A few weeks ago, I was able to rejoin them to help welcome Odyssey voice actress Katie Leigh to my alma mater.
The story of how Katie Leigh ended up with us in the cornfields is one I love to tell, because it truly shows God’s hand at work.
When contacting Katie on another matter this spring, she happened to mention her dream to speak to college students. All I did was have an idea and send it to Taylor’s campus pastor. It was a long shot.
Little did I know that Katie was already looking for colleges to speak at. Little did I know that she already had connections with Indiana and even Taylor. Little did I know that our campus pastor was already planning a trip to southern California (Katie’s stomping grounds) when he got my email.
Little did I know that the timing was perfect.
A few weeks later, I found out she was coming to speak in chapel. It shouldn’t have been that easy, but God had other plans.
As the preparations began for Katie’s visit, I did as much as an absentee alumna could do to help out.
My long-awaited return to the Midwest preceded Katie’s by about a week, and I stayed as long as I could justify staying.
We danced in cars, we laughed, we stayed up late talking, we prayed together, we relived the “glory days,” and, on November 6, we surprised Katie at the airport.
I was the only one who had met her before, and, therefore, the only one who could attest to Katie’s similarities to her character, Connie Kendall – in voice and in personality. Until that night.
It was an absolute privilege to be able to spend so much time with Katie over the following two days. I loved getting to know the friendly, spontaneous woman behind the character. Katie is easy to talk to, and I admired her openness, her strong faith, and the ways she sought to include everyone.
On Monday, we had a full slate of activities lined up for Katie, starting with chapel and an autograph session, and continuing with an informal round-table discussion in the Student Union.
But back to chapel.
I was the one who introduced her. Who would’ve thought that my biggest public speaking experience at school (at least in terms of audience size) would take place after I graduated?
I don’t remember the first song we sang in chapel, but I remember the second one: “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” Despite my nerves, I was able to sing loudly and joyously and be reassured. They couldn’t have picked a more appropriate song.
And then I was on stage. I had to pause after saying “Adventures in Odyssey” to make way for the cheering that erupted. Then it was Katie’s turn. After sharing part of her life story, she spoke about the need to trust God, the Director of our lives, even when we can’t see how everything will fit together. It was hard to believe this was her first time addressing an audience this size; she was engaging, and seemed comfortable up there.
Several of us took her to a favorite local spot for lunch, which was one of my favorite parts of the day. In an otherwise busy schedule, it was wonderful to have such a leisurely, relaxing time of fellowship. Dinner was a little faster-paced, but it was at our ice cream shop, Ivanhoe’s – our “Whit’s End.”
We spent most of the rest of the afternoon and evening in the Student Union, first for the aforementioned round-table discussion and Q&A session, then for “Adventures in Odyssey Club Live!”, a fun-filled evening of recordings and reader’s theater, of microphones and multimedia, of interactions and impersonations and elucidated inside jokes.
For those of us in the Adventures in Odyssey Club, it was also a time of reunion. I can’t remember a day when I gave and received as many hugs as I did on that day. All of us club alumni were able to return, which lent a sweetness to the evening; nothing could go wrong, not really.
It was a wonderful evening of sharing, both of things we’d done and could do, and of things we felt and appreciated. We were among friends. Even I was reaching for the microphone by the end of the night. I don’t think I would be mistaken in saying that every one of us was exhausted by the time it was over, but we were happy too.
I remember sitting on the floor afterward with two of the guys, reflecting on the events of the day in a sort of relaxed debrief. We were the three who had done the most to make this happen, and we were completely spent. And it was good.
Katie was our most special guest, but she wasn’t the only one. Over the course of the day, she introduced us over the phone to three of her Odyssey co-workers: Will Ryan (Eugene Meltsner), Chris Anthony (the host of Odyssey), and Phil Lollar (one of the writers). Thoughtful gestures … unexpected blessings.
On Tuesday, Katie led a couple workshops on voice-acting, and later, spent some time in one of Taylor’s recording studios. I had to smile as a couple media production students eagerly asked Katie if she would lend her voice to their audio projects. She said yes. That’s another thing about her that I admired: her willingness to engage with us students during her entire time here.
If Monday hadn’t been surreal enough, Tuesday took me to new heights. I got to play production engineer as Katie treated the microphone to more than half a dozen different character voices while recording lines for an audition. Oh, the exciting life of a voice actor!
For me, however, the best parts of Tuesday were getting to spend time with her one-on-one to talk about some of her memories of Odyssey actors who are no longer with us … and getting to pray for her.
The other alumni left on Monday and Tuesday, and I followed a few days later.
Leaving Indiana after graduation hadn’t been so difficult; I knew I would be back soon.
But what about now? Leaving was hard. It is hard. I don’t know when I’ll be back in Indiana. I don’t even have a car there anymore to anchor me to the Heartland.
“Thank you for loving me,” I told my friends right before I left. The tears didn’t come until I was halfway out of the parking lot. Those dances in the cars, and that laughter, and those late nights we stayed up talking, and the times we prayed together, and all the other things that brought us closer … they were the greatest blessings of this trip, and of the last couple years. That’s why the “glory days” never truly end.
These were the fullest, richest three weeks I’ve ever experienced.
But it wasn’t just the club. I got to spend time with several other friends in the area, and meet new people, and reconnect with professors. They were blessings too.
One of my friends, whom I first met at the Odyssey celebration in Colorado three years ago, flew out from California to drive the more than 2500 miles back to the West Coast with me. She was a blessing, and a joy.
As I pulled into my driveway again, I was struck by the realization that, in many ways, this was the end of a journey that started three years ago.
This was my closure with Taylor University, with the club, and even with Adventures in Odyssey, to an extent. It’s time for this chapter to close, but the characters will remain, even as others join them.
The best is yet to come.
*photos courtesy of Cara Strickland