Just above me I can smell the sweet scent of hookah. Cars are driving past as I sit outside one of the only coffee shops in La Jolla that not only seems to stay open past 8pm, but offers hookah in the lounge just above the coffee shop area. I don’t know if I am surrounded by tourists or locals, perhaps a little of both, as is the case with most cities, and I find it interesting to not know which camp to place myself in. In one sense, I feel like a tourist as I am in a new place, wanting to see all the sites and take as many pictures as possible, most likely getting on the nerves of all the locals who have seen all that is new to me many times before. In another sense, I feel like a local due to my extended stay that will last until September, my ability to keep up on the freeway (a skill I learned in Chicago), my knowledge of all the local, non-chain coffee shops, because let’s be honest, I goggled it well before I got here, and so I’ve already placed myself above all the week long tourists, or worse (as I’ve come to understand from Californians) Arizona tourists.
I’ve lived in California for less than a month and I have already found myself rolling my eyes at Arizona license plates because Arizonans clearly don’t know how to drive, or at least all the Californians say so, and true to my nature, I go with what everyone else says. I don’t say that proudly, just honestly. Plus, even if it is over some seemingly small matter like traffic, sometimes it’s just nice to have something to relate to someone with, and you gotta start somewhere. Maybe disliking an entire state for their snail-like pace on the freeway isn’t the best place to start, but I’m not going to beat myself up too much over the matter because nobody’s perfect. Especially in Arizona. Am I right, SoCal?
After an all girls sleepover last night with the high-schoolers I am hanging with for the summer, I slept in this morning until a whopping 7am. I found myself somewhat disfigured with a slight crick in my neck as I tried to fit my 5’6 frame in a cushioned round chair that while spacious was still made for sitting, not sleeping. I woke before the girls and grabbed a book to read so as not to disturb their slumber. I got a few sentences in before the dog disturbed their slumber and the day began earlier than I had expected it to for a group of high school girls after a late night sleepover.
We filled our bowls with cereal and fruit and sat outside by the pool of our host home. Most of the girls left by 11am, the scheduled time of departure. I left at 3:30pm. Yes, I have the gift of over-staying my welcome. While the house we were in was above and beyond any house I had seen before, it was not the house that had me lingering. It was the people, the family, who occupied the house that made it a home and made me want to stay longer (possibly longer than I was invited to). There I gabbed, almost with each family member at different times, feeling overwhelmingly blessed to be in the environment I was in, but more so to be talking to the people I was talking to. We could have been sitting in the 1980-something Buick station wagon I drove to their house (and felt somewhat bad for parking in their driveway) and had just as much fun and deep conversation as we did sitting poolside under palm trees.
Eventually, I let the family have their day back and I backed the Buick out of their steep driveway, somewhat panicked as I nearly took out a wall and any plant life in the surrounding area of the driveway. I made it out and made my way back home where silence filled the house. It’s an odd feeling to go from the sound of laughter bouncing off the walls to silence filling the room. I looked for things to do, I watered the plants, I checked my email, I ate melted trail mix, which for a chocolate lover is actually better than non-melted trail mix. I felt antsy, restless, and for some reason, unable to sit with myself. I put running shoes on my feet, Eminem in my ears (no judgement, please) and I set about to run down Pacific Beach.
I have come to love Pacific Beach, which is why I feel most grateful to be staying where I am. You know what they say in the real estate world, “location, location, location.” The house I am staying in is just on the edge of Pacific Beach and so for a born and raised beach girl like me who’s been estranged from the beach for the last seven years until a mere three weeks ago, I find myself to be right at home while not at home within walking distance to the beach.
Pacific Beach is where you find the tattooed, the bearded, the dreaded, the sandy and salty characters that get around by bikes, boards, or blades… yes, roller blades, they are alive and well along the boardwalk in Pacific Beach. Perhaps I am drawn to PB because it shares the same initials as my favorite food, peanut butter, and yes, I thought about this, but perhaps I am more so drawn to it because it reminds me of a beach version of Portland, Oregon, my home for the last three and a half years. There seems to be more tattoo shops than grocery stores in PB, and be it for surfing or skating, more boards than cars.
On a night like tonight, I felt very much like reminiscing about Portland, mostly because two dear friends of mine set about to get married round about the same time I put my running shoes on. They in Portland, me in PB, they experiencing the glory of God in the union of their marriage that will change the course of their lives forever, and me experiencing the glory of God as I ran along the ocean on what I could have been tempted to think of as just another ordinary night, but really, no day is really that ordinary when it is a day God has told the sun to rise and one in which I get to see that very same sun set over the Pacific.
I ran until I didn’t feel like running anymore and I plopped myself down on my knees in the sand, just a few feet from the ocean tide rolling in. I buried my head in the sand and before I knew it I was laying face down, making the bottom half of a sand angel with my legs. I laid there, quiet and still, something I seemed unable to do when I had entered the empty house just hours before I set out to run, and I cried. I whispered into the sand as if it were the face of Jesus and I cried, tears dripping into the sand and sand blowing back into my face as my whispers grew louder and my breath caused the sand to swirl about. I cried for a few different reasons, things worth crying about, things I’m prone to crying about when I sit still long enough, which perhaps is why I felt restless when I got back to the house… I didn’t want to sit still long enough to cry.
I could have avoided crying in public, but I am stubborn and so I avoided the cry in the silence of the big empty house and I ran. I ran away from the house, I ran away from what was sad, from what hurt and I ran until I couldn’t run anymore… literally, I hit a bay at the end of Mission Beach just on the other side of Pacific Beach and I could go no further. It was as if Gandalf himself, the white wizard from Lord of the Rings, put his staff down, or perhaps Someone greater than he, and proclaimed “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” I am stubborn enough to swim across, but also materialistic enough not to want to ruin my iPod. So when I say I ran until I didn’t feel like running anymore, what I mean by that is “a big bay got in my way.”
After turning around and walking to the ocean’s edge, there I laid, making amputated sand angels, face down, with sand caked to the edge of my nose that had started to run while crying. I joked with God while I cried that if I couldn’t run any further at least my nose could. I’m a sucker for a good pun no matter how dim the light seems sometimes. I think God appreciates this.
That was last Saturday. California is still beautiful and once again I find myself in Pacific Beach, this time at a little cafe whose foundations expose its story as having once been a house. If walls could talk I would be curious to hear the stories held within these walls. Walls do a good job of hearing stories and an even better job at keeping stories. Perhaps this is the bone I have to pick with walls, that they mask themselves as safe places where you can come and hide and tell all your stories and secrets to, but there those walls keep you, stuck behind them, hiding from life and burying your secrets further from the light and further into isolation. Isolation is anything but a safe place… well, perhaps I should clarify that, on the surface it is a safe place because people hurt people and when there are no people, yes, you will indeed find yourself in a safe place. But isolation doesn’t just keep you safe from hurt and harm, it keeps you so safe that you never really live life and you end up surviving your way to the grave. Isolation hurts you from the inside out, rendering it a completely unsafe place to be.
I have a bone to pick with walls because I have given into their lie that they will protect me, and so I have contributed to building my walls higher and higher, thinking I was doing the wise thing by functioning out of self-protection or other-protection (protecting others from me), all the while hurting myself and others as I shut them out of my life.
Laying on the beach, crying at the edge of the ocean was the most exposed I have felt in a while, probably because I was literally exposed. There was no where for me to hide, save a palm tree or a mound of seaweed, which I learned the hard way to never touch because my hands and feet still smell of it from a week ago when I tried to build a seaweed castle… yes, some thirty year olds still do this, at least until last week when I realized not doing it had more to do with the stain of the stink than it did with growing up. And so there I laid, fully exposed, praying out loud, face down, tears dripping into the sand. A group of guys were playing frisbee behind me, continuously landing the frisbee beside me, and seeing as how I wasn’t impressed by their tank tops and red cups of beer, I felt no need to impress them with perky smiles and dry eyes as if I wasn’t just having a deep moment with the Creator of heaven and earth.
I kept telling the Lord I was sorry, I was sorry for always trying to do everything on my own, for always trying to be better than I am, or at least always trying to present myself as better than I am. “I’m good at Instagram,” I cried, “but how good am I at life?” I love storytelling, almost to a fault. I love storytelling so much that I get caught up telling stories more so than living my own story. I lifted my head off the sand and looked out at the ocean. “I don’t want to sit on the edge of the ocean and tell stories about the surfers,” I cried, “I want to be out there surfing.”
Since arriving in California I have told a lot of stories to my friends, all true, but I have told those stories from behind the walls of my safe place… my safe place of not needing anybody. Getting out-surfed by kids more than 10 years younger than me (who aren’t actually kids but in their twenties) isn’t the best feeling, or the best story to tell, so I stick to the stories that present me better and talk about the glory of my location… because let’s face it, Southern California is glorious… when in doubt, talk about that. But what I’ve come to realize is that while this location is glorious, locational community does not replace relational community, and I need people in my life just as much as I think they need me.
And so my spade to reveal, which makes me cringe to reveal it, is the fact that I think people need me but I don’t need them. I flit, I float, I go from here to there, I venture out and pride myself on not needing anybody while deciding they could use a good dose of needing me. Who is it I think I am? God has always existed in community in the form of the Trinity (and please don’t ask me to explain that one because its about as over my head as the frisbee thrown by the guys on the beach), so who am I to think that I don’t need to exist in community!?! And don’t get me wrong, I am in community here, I am interacting with people, and I love the people I have met and spoken to, but “speaking to” is different from “talking with.” While I have shared parts of my story in speaking to the kids at youth group, I haven’t been as good at talking with someone about the fact that though my story of “once upon a time” involves a lot of recovery and restoration, I’m still in the throws of it, even as a leader, and it certainly isn’t “happily ever after” simply and solely because I’m not dead yet, which is the only time I think “happily ever after” applies to the ending of a story. And I don’t mean that pessimistically, I mean it optimistically, I will literally be living happily ever after when I get to see and hold in my hands the face of Jesus. And I’ll say it again so as not to confuse anyone with all of the new-agey spiritual stuff out there in which God is everything and everything is God…
JESUS. I cannot wait to see and hold the face of my Lord and Savior, He who walked the earth as fully human and who reigns supreme as the Son of God, which makes Him not only my friend, my king, my love, but as I am a daughter of God, He is also my brother… Jesus Christ. Sometimes when I know I’ve made a mess of things, I look up or over or where ever I think Jesus might be in that moment and ask, “you mad, bro?” He laughs and together we work on my mess. And call me a Thomas who is antsy to touch, but that is when my “happily ever after” will begin, when I can feel Jesus’ cheek bones in my hands, and exclaim, “free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I am free at last!” If, in fact, plagiarism is possible in our glorified state, that is what I will say, followed by a wink at MLK.
Until then, I am still very much in the middle of my story, no matter how old I get, or anyone of us get for that matter… while there is breath in our lungs and earth under our feet, we are still very much in the middle of our stories. And being in the middle of my story means I need people. And perhaps even more honestly, I want people. Yesterday, after hours of talking and processing with my friend, who also happens to be my boss and apparently my therapist, I laid down my pride, much like how I laid down on the beach on Saturday, sat down and wrote an email to a few friends. I told them this truth, that while I knew they knew I loved them and even that I missed them, I was, even more honestly, lonely without them. “You’re weak,” I heard the enemy whisper, “and you’re doomed in the name of Jesus,” I said, “so get on outta here… I ain’t asking, I’m commanding,” and I hit send.
Telling my friends I was lonely was less about how they would respond and more about me needing to be willing to tell them my truth. I am not an Island, I am not God, nor am I above His design in it not being good for man or woman to be alone. To try and live above that is to say to God, “nice idea, but I got this.” And that mindset doesn’t compartmentalize itself, it plays itself out in other areas simply by letting it in that one area and before I know it I believe it in every area of my life, making it damn near impossible to say I need a savior… which is a dangerous place to be if the whole foundation of what I believe and who I am is based on the fact that I do need a savior.
I will never forget the beauty of this place as long as I live. I love being covered in sand all day, stumbling into a coffee shop in the early mornings to write with yesterday’s salt water still on me. I love climbing trees and smelling flowers I’ve only ever seen in books. I love the site of the coastline littered with palm trees and surfers, visible from nearly any road you find yourself driving on. It is sunny all day long and having been in the rainy Northwest for the last few years, my heart sometimes feels like it is going to explode from gratitude for the heat of the sun. This place will forever be seared in my memory and my heart will smile every time I think of it.
And I while I often pride myself on being able to love people where they are at, I will never forget how God brought me to a beautiful place to reveal to me that I am not just loving people out of duty because they are messy and need it, but out of love because I am messy and I need it too… to be loved where I am at. God brought me to a beautiful place and reminded me of how messy life is, especially life with people, and the beauty of this location has got nothing on the messy life I have with the people I love.
I’m choosing people over pretty and asking them if we can do this thing called life together. I’m still here for now, in the pretty, getting to know the people, and God has recently blessed me with a woman to share my messy life with. The funny thing is, as I am honest about my messy, I learn more and more that we are all messy, no matter how pretty our environment. I find honesty, even ugly honesty, to be a much better place to do life than pretty isolation. And I say that well aware that I still fail at it miserably… but I am trying. I am trying to live honestly.
Though God blesses us with relationships here in this life, when I stand before Him, I will stand on my own, no one to hold my hand or make an excuse for the choices I made, and so living honestly is up to me. Right now, living honestly looks like not lying to myself, which leads to lying to other people and eventually to God. And to not lie about where I am at is to say that I am living in the tension of absolutely loving where I am at and I am feeling the heartache of loneliness. Whether that makes me weak or not, I don’t care anymore, it makes me human, which is what my Creator made me to be, and so I’m going to glorify Him simply by not trying to be better than Him anymore.
Life is beautiful, and not just because of the pretty scenery. Life is beautiful because of the pretty people… the pretty, messy people.
I will be as present here in sunny Southern California as much as I can be, getting to know and love the people God has placed in front of me, hoping for lasting relationships to be forming here as well, all the while knowing there is a people I also love that I left behind for a time, but long to see again soon.
I love these new adventures God has me on, and I love meeting new people, but I am learning and realizing, even just now, at thirty, that new people, places and things, new nouns, I suppose, have not taken away my love for nouns of old… but more specifically, friends of old.
And so, I will end this quite simply, knowing that relationship maintenance doesn’t stop at a mere blog post, but it’s a step in a direction I want to take toward not completely disconnecting from people…
Dear friends of new or old, be you near or far away, be you from this season or another, I have not forgotten you. I have carried you with me all over the place, and though you may see me gushing over the beauty of where I am on social media, the one thing I haven’t been very good about posting is fact that the beauty of this place pales in comparison to how much I love you.