I love being out on my porch in the morning, with a light California breeze and the sun shining, sipping coffee and staring at a blank page. I have a fleece jacket on with a comfy long sleeve tee, and leggings. The weather is perfect. There are church bells chiming in the background from the Catholic church around the corner from my house. Those church bells that have been alerting me what time it is for the past 10 months, and reminding me that in a place that seems nontraditional and far from what I know, there are people filing into church on Sunday mornings here too. They remind me that when everything changes, there is One thing that remains the same. Looking around my little neighborhood, it seems so nice and beautiful and quiet. It’s really easy to take in all the beauty of a place when you are so close to leaving it.
I wish that I was from California. I wish that my family was here. I wish that my friends that I love more than words, who are maybe the single most important part of my life, were here. If they were then I would feel like this place was made for me. It’s wild and rugged. It’s beautiful. It sets my spirit free. Running into the freezing cold pacific ocean every time my toes hit the sand, knowing the icy water was going to wash over me and leave me feeling refreshed and almost cleansed in a way, that was made for me. Riding my bike to Manhattan Beach and reading books all day then getting a Popsicle only to have it mostly melt all over me while I’m riding, that was made for me. Waking up every weekend morning knowing that my skin and hair are about to be soaked in sunshine and salt, that was definitely made for me. Having a bad day and being able to go sit at the edge of the ocean and watch the sunset, that was made for me. Sitting a ways off shore on a surf board on a hot day, staring at the mountains to my right and left, enjoying a still moment in the water before the next set of waves rolls in, that was made for me. I’ve felt closer to God this year purely based on moments like that, where I’m mesmerized at how many things are speaking to my soul at once, and feeling so thankful that He put me there. But while I was being marveled, healed, restored, carried, and tenderly loved this year by God, He was also changing the direction of my heart.
I am confident that I could chalk this year up to be the most significant year of my life. The parts of me that needed to change, changed, and the parts of me that are good were refined and made better. I am so beyond thankful that I’ve experienced this place and that I got to be on my own. I think I’ll crave that crisp sense of adventure for my whole life, the feeling of going some where entirely new completely on your own and then letting things unfold. It made me feel brave and strong in a time when I felt like I had no courage or strength left. It’s crazy what a new, wonderful place can do for you.
Moving to California is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because leaving is the only way I could’ve ever opened up my hands and surrendered everything I was clinging to in my heart. This year and this place have been more than I could’ve imagined. It’s brought more healing than I thought possible, and brought God’s perfect and unique plans to the surface. It’s opened up my eyes to understand the intricacies of my own heart even more, and to also understand that God actually, like really, knows what I need more than I do because once the surrender happened and I gave up everything that I thought would fill me, my heart became fuller and fuller.
I realized along the way that eventually I have to make a choice between comfort and discomfort. I know that seems redundant and obvious. Why would someone choose discomfort over comfort? But comfort to me makes me feel like I’m living less. In the comfort of Atlanta where I know the history and the street names, and I have a friend around every corner, where the wildest thing there is the unpredictable weather patterns, being too comfortable makes me feel stifled. It makes me feel like I’m passing through life, crossing one day off the calendar at a time. What am I actually doing?
Being in California, in a constant state of discomfort, made me feel like I was really living. I was experiencing something that most people I know won’t ever experience. Every place I went, every person I met was new. Do I want to take an impromptu trip to Mexico this weekend – yes. Do I want to jump into the water when the waves are probably too big for someone who just learned to surf – absolutely. Do I want to jump in the water when it’s entirely too cold – mhm. Do I want to try this new food that is so spicy it might actually burn my tongue off – you bet. All of this newness made me feel like there was something to do, an adventure to be had every day without having to work really hard to make that happen. Living in discomfort is fun, but it’s not sustainable for life.
Life is when the bottom falls out and the people you love are there to walk you through it. Life is watching the bachelor on Monday nights with a bottle of wine and your best friend. Life is dinner on Thursday night after work at Barcelona. Life is a wedding this weekend where you’ll see everyone you know from college. Life is driving to Athens to watch Georgia get beat by Alabama, and driving back home that night in misery. Life is church on Sunday mornings and a smile that won’t leave your face. My life was happening 2,000 miles away. What am I actually doing?
About two months after I got to California, for some reason, I started reading in the middle of 1 Kings. I am not exaggerating when I say I spent a lot of time staring at chapters 17-20 trying to figure out what in the heck they meant. I remember laying in my bed at night thinking about the words, shutting my bible in frustration and thinking, I guess the meaning of this one just isn’t supposed to make sense to me yet. I looked at those verses in 1 Kings on and off throughout the next several months. In September, I started really considering the possibility of moving back to the East Coast in March of 2016. I went back and forth, mostly forth, deciding I’m staying in California for at least two years because what was the point of going back to a place that I decided I didn’t want to be. I went back and forth from early September to late November, getting confirmation after confirmation that I knew where God was leading me, but still needing more, too afraid to go back and face everything that I left behind.
One day in October, after a one millionth conversation with my friends about moving back and still not being able to even give a 50% yes or no, I picked up 1 Kings again.
In this part of 1 Kings that had been vexing me for months, Elijah is basically being hunted by the King Ahab and his wife Jezebel, so Elijah runs away. He goes out into the wilderness alone. He tells God that he has had enough, that he is exhausted from the struggle to survive that his life has been, and asks God to take his life and prayed that he would die. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel like this at several different points throughout the past several years, that the struggle has just been enough. I’m sure you can relate. Elijah falls asleep under a tree in the middle of the desert where he is fed by angels. God providing in a way that only He can. The angels tell Elijah, “eat because the journey is too great for you”. In reading this originally I was just annoyed that the Lord wasn’t going to end the journey and end the work and end the hardship right there, as Elijah is laying in the desert wishing for death. I was annoyed that He would just keep Elijah alive to tell him you’ve got a long way to go, you’re going to need this sustenance. I thought, how discouraging. The food provided by God gave Elijah enough energy to wander into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights until he got to a place that was called “The Mountain of God”. God asks, “What are you doing here Elijah?”. When God asks a question, it’s always rhetoric. Obviously He doesn’t have a question, so that just left me thinking shouldn’t you just be telling him what he’s doing here since you are the one who brought him here? He definitely doesn’t need more question marks right now, Lord.
Elijah prays earnestly here, at the mountain of God. There is an earthquake, a fire, a tornado, but none of these major “signs” or catastrophes were from God, and Elijah had the discernment to see that. After these things, He hears a “still small voice” that is God’s. Not some undeniable sign, not a hand written letter, not an angel, not a dream, but a still small voice I imagine that was resounding in his heart. Elijah is distraught through this process. He tells God multiple times that these people are trying to kill him and destroy the faith of God’s chosen people. God asks Him again, “What are you doing here Elijah?”. Elijah says again in so many words, they are trying to kill me, and this is the only place I’m safe. Then, after this back and forth between God and Elijah, God tells him to turn around, and go back where he came from, go back through the wilderness; go back to the place and the people that you are running from. I read this over and over and over and finally it was speaking to me. I didn’t need Jesus to descend and tell me to move back to Atlanta. It didn’t need it to make complete sense. It didn’t matter that I was making a return that would inevitably be hard. It didn’t matter that I had come to this place only to be sent back from the place that I came from, like Elijah.
Through this story, God was asking me to consider what am I actually doing here in California. When I considered that, I realized that the work that needed to be completed in me here was finished, and that I was not mistaken in thinking that God was pushing my heart back in the direction that I came from: Atlanta. The next step in the long and arduous journey for me would be to turn around and go face what I was running from. I was terrified to step into that decision, but it was becoming clearer and clearer that that’s what I needed to do.
I’m moving back to Atlanta at the end of next month. So far in my decision to move back, God has showered, no – bathed, completely submerged me, in His grace and faithfulness. Jesus has brought my life full circle. He has completed things in me and in my life that looked like a pile of ashes just a few months ago. I feel full and loved and known. I feel like He took every fear that I had, that I stared at and said I will face this with you, and alleviated it entirely. He plucked me out like a delicate flower that needed extra attention, made me bloom on my own while fixing up the garden I left behind, and then put me back in the garden that He had pruned to become more beautiful, a garden that could then be a home to me. The pruning part is never easy, but when you see how well things grow after the bad pieces are sheered away, you would do the pruning all over again. As He tells Elijah in 1 Kings, the journey ahead is long but I’m giving you sustenance, I know this is what He has done for me. I know there are things ahead to work through and figure out, but this year has been a year of sustenance for me.
California has been perfect, and I’m going to try as hard as I can to live a bi-coastal life because there is still a little part of me that feels like I belong here. But I know when it comes down to seeking adventure, or being able to swim in the ocean every day in comparison with loving, and being loved by the people who are most important to me, there is no contest. I’m coming home because I have people that I love, people that know my heart, my quirks, what makes me laugh and what makes me cry, and I don’t want to replace them with new ones. When my best friends have their babies, I want to be there. When one of them is struggling, I want to struggle with her. When one is celebrating, I want to dance in the living room with her, not face-time about it. When the boys have a flag football game, I want to be on the sidelines cheering. When the Dawgs have an away game, I want to be playing corn-hole in the backyard surrounded by them. When the sun starts shining in May, I want to be laying on the beach, and doing low country broils in St. Simon’s with them. These might seem like the most insignificant things to anyone but me, but these are my things, things that I love and hold dear. These are the things that make up my life. It’s not Hollywood events, or traveling to every continent, or having a house in Malibu one day that my life is made up of. It’s made up of the people that I love, and getting to celebrate and mourn and live with them. Of the billion things I’ve learned this year, I’ve especially learned that it doesn’t matter where you are, but it’s the people that make the place. That’s what is bringing me home. My place is with my people, even if it is a little land locked…