The Heart of a City in the Heart of Girl

They say you ought to be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. Along the same vein, I’ve found that you also ought to be careful the deals you make with God, because one day, he just might ask you to pay up. No, he definitely will.

Eight years ago I packed my belongings into a couple of suitcases, cut off my long locks, bleached them blonde and boarded a plane. I was off to find some adventure and sunshine. I was off to create a new identity. One that did not involve single stop-light towns, cows or cornfields. Determined to leave small town life behind me forever, I informed God that I was never moving back. Or actually, I told him I never wanted to move back. Knowing at some level that with everything you ask the Big Man, you’re supposed to tag “but your will be done” to the end of it, just for good measure, I made a deal with God. I told him that if it were up to me solely, I never wanted to go back and I never would. I had found my home and Oregon was not it. But… if for some outrageous, unforeseeable reason that I could not yet comprehend, HE ever wanted me to go back, I told him I would go, but on one condition: he would first have to change my heart. I’m talking heart-transplant-status, because I am stubborn and I want what I want, and if left up to me, I would always find a reason to be anywhere but back where I started.

But I hadn’t just left a small town behind, I left the house that built me, three younger sisters, who were actually little at the time… I left a history that I thought didn’t matter. But history matters. Good or bad, it always matters. And it always comes full circle.

portland skyline

June 26th marked one year since I spread my city of angel wings and landed among the roses here in Portland.

I hadn’t seen that one coming…

And now, as I eat my own words, I’m finding what I expected to be bitter and contentious has turned sweet and fulfilling on my tongue. I don’t know how or when he did it… but it hit me like a wave the other evening as I was walking through the charming neighborhood of John’s Landing, overlooking the stunning city scape nestled so cozily among the green, bordered by the glint of a deep blue harbor, I love this city. I mean deep, invested love. And just as immediately as this dawned on me I found myself wondering out loud in amazement at how in the world he accomplished it… and when? Because he certainly didn’t do it all at once. It must have happened softly, gently, in the quiet moments. In the moments I didn’t expect to be significant.

My sweet mother came up to visit me last weekend. We went for a walk after dinner, and as we were walking through aforementioned charming neighborhood, my country-loving mother admitted that she really adored this part of town. That she didn’t even know places like this existed in Portland. She even said she could see the charm, why people would want to “live like this.”

Now let’s be clear, my family has never understood me. I am quite literally the only city-lover in my entire extended family [with the exception of one uncle]. So for these words to leave my mother’s mouth was history in the making.

But quite honestly, while I resisted the urge to say I told you so, I understood what she was saying. People who don’t live in Portland, or Los Angeles, or New York, or wherever, don’t know the first thing about the heart of the city. They don’t know the subtle charm, the community, the local hole-in-the-wall market that sits at the corner of Corbett & Curry with their Thursday evening Craft Nights. People who don’t live daily life here don’t know about that adorable coffee shop tucked surreptitiously away in that neighborhood on the East Side among the craftsmen-style houses and abundant foliage that’s so ubiquitous in Portland. They don’t know about the phenomenal meal you can get for 5 bucks at that long-standing, community favorite food cart that’ll feed you for a week straight. They don’t know about the body of believers that thrive there, the people who are dedicated to living life missionally; who will forego sleep night after night to stay up dreaming and praying with you about a shared passion to love a city well in fresh and creative ways.

Rather it seems that people who are unfamiliar with Portland come to visit with “downtown” as their only frame-of-reference, similar to the way foreigners intrinsically link “Time Square” with New York City as though they are one and the same. But ask any native New Yorker and they’ll tell you they avoid Time Square at all costs. Because despite popular belief, the heart of that city isn’t found in iconic streets lined by lights, billboards and tourists, but rather just left of center in that quaint little brunch shop in SoHo that only the locals know about. Stick around long enough and you’ll start to pick up on a subtle hum, an undercurrent to the deafening ruckus of this enormous, sleep-deprived city. There’s a pulse that beats just below the surface, filling the million little nuanced crevices with the genuine lifeblood of investedness.

Similarly, downtown Portland is the business district of the city, complete with high-rises, confusing one-way streets, innumerable, sprawling bridges and shopping malls. All things that can be had elsewhere with far less stress and free-parking. I get it. It’s not always glamorous, especially if you’re not used to crowds and traffic. If that’s all a city was, I wouldn’t like them very much either. But this, this is a far cry from the heart of any city. The face of the city, perhaps. It’s certainly the first thing you see. But just like getting to know a new friend, you have to sit in the chair across from them for some time, day after day, before you really get to know the heartbeat and soul brimming behind the eyes. There are layers and layers to be discovered. And if you are willing to invest the time and get your hands dirty, so-to-speak, you’ll certainly find more than just a face sitting before you, pretty or haggard as it may appear, you’ll start to uncover a story. As you peel back layers, you begin to learn the history that forged this person; where they’ve been and where they are going. You’ll learn their subtleties, what it is that makes them tick and come alive, what distinguishes them from a sea of faces in a crowd. There are caveats and sacred spaces that only the invested will ever earn the privilege of knowing.

The same is true for a city. There is an immense amount of character that exists beyond the superficial layers of traffic, brazen pedestrians/cyclists who pay your thousand-pound-hunk-of-metal little, to no mind, impossible parking, and countless coffee shops. I mean, how much coffee can one person really consume in a day anyway? You’d be surprised…

A dear friend of mine was keeping me company the other day. This specific friend moved up to Portland from Southern California the same exact time that I did just over a year ago. We share a kind of kindred-spirit in this regard as we both settle, in our own little ways, into the rhythms [and layers] of daily life in this beautiful corner of the world. She posed a great question: Okay, one whole year later and we both love this city. So what’s your favorite thing about Portland?

I actually had to stop for a moment to sort through a list of things I love… favorite?

[Pause:] I simply must note: I count it a crazy-cool blessing that this was not an easy question to answer due to an abundance of possible conclusions.

[Resume:] Truthfully, I love all the little things. The freckles that pepper the face of this city. At first glimpse, easily overlooked, known only by those who get close enough to really see. But at the end of the day, I have to land the plane on this: size. Portland is a small “big city,” naturally giving way to genuine and intentional community. Since I moved here, I have bumped into innumerable friends from all stages and walks of life. I have a number of friends I went to school with in California who are now scattered all throughout the city, and I run into them at coffee shops and food carts and intersections and church… all of the time.

One of my favorite instances of this happening occurred when I was leaving Fox Tower one afternoon in late January. I turned the corner when BAM: I nearly plowed over a dear-old friend from college standing on the corner stuffing his face with authentic Portland, food-cart cuisine. The craziest part? This particular friend lives in Vietnam. In fact, he has lived there for the last 5 years. He was in Portland for one day. One day! What are the chances? I mean seriously…

But it doesn’t take long to realize that this is not an uncommon scenario for seasoned “Portlandians.”

Worlds collide here in Portland.

The community is tight-knit. I know full well that I can’t walk around this city by foot without bumping into someone I know. That’s just Portland, and that’s just the way I like it.

Portland often gets a bad rap. The street corners and bridges are regularly thronged by a young homeless population, “weird” free-spirited hippies and weed. But again, this is a first-glimpse kind of take-away. What you just missed was the story playing out behind the scenes. You missed the kind-hearted coffee cart owner who just pulled a hopeless looking young man back behind his cart to hand him a hot cup of coffee “on the house” before proceeding to speak truth into his heart, breathing life [quite literally] back into this young man’s vacant and void expression as evidenced by the welling moisture that eventually breaks the brittle dam, carving out a fresh trail down burdened cheeks. You just missed the broke med student who stopped to shake the hand and look into the eyes of a man who is used to being ignored and treated as sub-human. You missed him handing him the last few dollars in his pocket… dollars he is accruing interest on. Sure, you saw that group of runners on their early a.m. jog as you drove to work this morning, but what you didn’t know is that they were praying for you as they tread the landscape of the city they love, covering it with so much more than their footsteps.

Okay, I recognize that these stories are not strictly Portland-specific. Kindness and the nuances of a community are found in every city. In fact, they aren’t limited to “cities” at all. Even single stop-light towns, like the one I come from, possess stories all their own. Because at the end of the day, the true heartbeat of a city isn’t found in any particular place per-say, but rather intimately bound and fashioned to the hearts of the people, the community that inhabit it. And only once you dig deep into the heart of a human will you uncover the true heart of a city. And then one day, like me, the realization will likely hit you like a freight train as you sit back in wonder and awe while it all comes to life around you, unfolding right before your eyes, burrowing itself deep within the sacred-most spaces of your heart. There’s no question, we will certainly have to brave a little traffic and congestion from time-to-time, walk the dark and lonely streets and enter into the stories of others in any given city before we will ever earn the right to bear witness to its truest beauty. And the most pronounced miracle of all? The transformation of your own heart in the process.

A New Year: A Neglected Need

There is something undeniably cathartic about a blank page, regardless of the medium. Something invigorating about the possibility of the words that might fill that space, and ultimately, something profoundly healing that occurs deep down in the sacred most spaces of my heart when possibility is transformed into written word: something with tangible form, something with purpose. It’s therapy. When I think of the times I do my best writing, it’s nearly always when I find myself in a state of desperation. When significant change is threatening to shake my foundation, when relationships get rocky, when the daily grind becomes unbearable [welcome to the last 6 months of my life]. When the weight of the emotions I’ve so actively and tirelessly attempted to suppress start to effervesce to the surface, forcing their way through my thickest skin, my most convincing face, corroding my nerves of steel, that is when I find it most critical I write. It is always beneficial for me to write, but there are times when it is simply and absolutely necessary I do so. The reality of this truth has become a much more prominent theme in my life in the last few months. This likely has a lot to do with the manifold, fundamental changes my life has undergone in the past year which have brought me face-to-face with a soul-craving I’ve let lay dormant for far too long. But as the New Year casts its many bright and hopeful promises and projections over the impending months ahead, making its presence known with every new gym membership, undertaking of previously put-off projects, and hopeful declarations for change, while I’m not big on resolutions, I am inclined to take a step back and reflect over the past year and dream about the things I long to see come to pass in the year ahead.

The year twenty-twleve has forever staked its claim for permanant residency in my memory and upon my heart, similar to a scar: painful in the moment, but ripe with the one hell of a good story. In April of last year, we received the perspective-altering diagnosis of cancer for quite possibly the sweetest woman I’ve ever known: my mother. I say perspective-altering, because lets face it, when that thing that always happens to everyone else finally happens to you, paradigms shift, perspectives change. Period. And more specifically, for me, when we got this news, all the things I’d been on the fence about were no longer worth fence-sitting over. It was time to choose a side, to quit living my life as though I am the only one affected by the decisions I make. Because you can bet that when perspectives change in this way, a reorganization of priorities will follow close behind. And so I packed up and moved. I moved back to the place I left, back to the place they say you can never return to: home as I once called it. And it’s true what they say you know, you really can’t go home again. But you can create a new one. It takes time, and imagination, and a little ton of work, but you can create something new in an old space. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do for the past 6 months… it might be a bit early to call, but I think it’s working.

To backtrack a bit, in late June of last year, I left my life in L.A., my incredible community, my job, my life, uprooted and officially moved. This is significant to reflect on and not skip-over because the choice to do this left me trudging through a mess of emotions, the likes of which I still have not yet mastered. While many of the questions I had been wrestling with for months suddenly became crystal clear in light of necessity, the emotional whiplash that followed wasn’t something I was familiar with, or knew how to navigate. I won’t dive much more into this now- feel free to read more about that journey here, here, and here. The point being, I went from a stable, steady, confident 20-something year old young woman who more-or-less had life figured out, to the precise inverse-of, in a matter of mere days. It was all business and planning and future until it wasn’t anymore, and suddenly the U-haul was packed and my cube was empty and the gas-tank was full in preparation for the 914 mile drive that, until then, had been but a hazzy point on the distant horizon. I was hugging friends goodbye when it hit me: everything I’d been preparing for was now present tense. There was no more planning to be done, no more items on to-do lists to cross off. There was only God, a long stretch of pavement, some really bad pop-music, and a critical dependence upon a calling I knew I’d received despite my best arguments. And it seems, there’s been no looking back from that moment.

As luck would have it, or more likely the divine kindness of the Lord, I rather quickly met a really amazing man who helped take the edge off something otherwise quite daunting, and seemed to possess this effortless talent for putting a smile back on my face, and a sunrise back in my mornings. And as life seems to normalize, at least in terms of that relationship, it seems as though all the chaos of the past 6 months is catching up to me with maddening force… and while I, in my best efforts, have tried to convince this really bright, talented and thoughtful man that I am “in fact, not very emotional…” [because until now, I really have not been one to process the world through the lens of emotion], in a hysterical, divine-comedy sort of way, it seems that this poor man ought not draw any other conclusion than to think of this frenzied girl he’s dating as nothing short of incredibly self-deluded. I feel like I’ve been lambasted by a vast array of emotions that I can confidently say I’ve never encountered before. I feel them deeply, each one with distinction and an acuity that is piercing and threatening. And on top of that, I feel an additional sense of guilt that this incredibly decent man [poor soul] had to enter my life during a time when I’ve felt so profoundly unlike myself. And yet the stability his friendship has provided me throughout this season has been one of the most outstanding blessings I could have hoped for. In fact, in my indubitable lack of futuristic giftings, I dare say it’s all the things I never even bothered to ask for, which makes it all the more bittersweet in context. He has pushed me at times when I didn’t believe I was capable of processing it, he has challenged me on perspectives I thought I had nailed down, and in time, he has encouraged me to be the woman I had almost forgotten I wanted to become. I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to help me identify remember the things that make me come alive, make me tick, make me hope. And then he encouraged me to pursue those things. I don’t mean to sound trite, but no one in my life, save a few kind professors, has ever truly encouraged me to go after what I am actually good at. It’s always been impracticle, irresponsible, asking too much, and not enough at the same time, and always, fundamentally, misunderstood. And so, for years I let go of my dreams. I decided to live someone else’s in the meantime. But in the past 6 months, amidst the chaos and dissonance, I’m finding I’m beginning to rediscover my voice, in more ways than one, and I am finally ready to say: I hate that dream. The one I’m living. The one that’s not mine. And I’m done.

So I quit my job on Monday.

And there’s nothing lined up to take its place.

And that’s frightening.

And I feel like a crazy person.

And I feel liberated.

And I am choosing to trust the Lord.

And right now, from where I sit, despite all logic… that’s a pretty damned good start.

I’m reading this book right now, and among other influences in my life [see above], it’s really challenging me to think critically about my life beyond the places I seem to be stuck presently and all the events that have led me here.

As I mentioned previously, I am not especially futuristic. I tend to live every day as it comes. At best, my future planning capabilities might venture out a few weeks in advance in the case of a really special occasion. Take for example my decision to move back home. When it happened, it was an instantaneous decision. Seriously, ask my roommate at the time. She nearly had a heart attack when I came home from work to announce I had put in my official transfer request that afternoon when I hadn’t even known I’d do so that very morning. And in true me fashion, I made the move just one short month later, once again with very little vision of what awaited me at the other end of that 17-hour drive North, or what I even hoped to accomplish once I got there. And it’s the same reason I find this part of the entry so much more difficult to write than the last: it requires me to consider that which is not yet.

And while at face value this way of living may seem appealing or ideal, glamorous even, what I rather find is that it leads me to living in the present, but with very little direction. But it is important to know where we are headed… how else will we know when we are lost?

Your life can look a lot of different ways when you’re twenty-five: single, dating, engaged, married. You are working in dream jobs, pay-the-bills jobs, and downright horrible jobs. You are young enough to believe that anything is possible, and you are old enough to make that belief a reality.
Now is the time to figure out what kind of work you love to do. What are you good at? What makes you feel alive? What do you dream about? You can go back to school now, switch directions entirely. You can work for almost nothing, or live in another country, or volunteer long hours for something that moves you. There will be a time when finances and schedules make this a little trickier, so do it now. Try it, apply for it, get up and do it…
This is the thing: when you start to hit twenty-eight or thirty, everything starts to divide, and you can see very clearly two kinds of people: on one side, people who have used their twenties to learn and grow, to find God and themselves and their deep dreams, people who know what works and what doesn’t, who have pushed through to become real live adults.
And then there’s the other kind, who are hanging on to college, or high school even, with all their might. They’ve stayed in jobs they hate because they’re too scared to get another one. They’ve stayed with men or women who are good but not great because they don’t want to be lonely. They mean to find a church, they mean to develop honest, intimate friendships, they mean to stop drinking like life is one big frat party. But they don’t do those things, so they live in kind of an extended adolescence, no closer to adulthood than they were when they graduated college.
Don’t be like that. Don’t get stuck. Move, travel, take a class, take a risk. Walk away, try something new. There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither. This season is about becoming. Don’t lose yourself at happy hour, but don’t lose yourself on the corporate ladder either.
Bittersweet by Shuana Niequist
Excerpt from chapter: Twenty-Five

The entire book is like this: rich with insightful, and for lack of a more appropriate word, bittersweet truths. I read this very chapter to a friend the other day. A friend who also just quit her job, the same job I just quit, to move to another state where she knows no one in order to fully pursue her dream with one-hundred percent of her effort and heart. She came over to say goodbye actually, and when I finished the chapter, she looked me square in the eye and said:

How could you ever read that chapter and not quit your job?

I have no idea. Honestly. Obviously…

She also expressed upon the close of that chapter how she felt reassured and more confident than ever she was in fact making the right decision. And I’m so glad.

She’s training for the Olympics by the way. No big deal. Something tells me the world hasn’t even begun to see all that my sweet friends beautiful, fiery spirit has to offer. But we can revisit that point in about, oh I don’t know, say four years…

And so in this season, I dare say, I am asking myself less questions that sound like:
what are you going to do?”
and “how much money will it make?”
and more questions that sound like:
“how will you accomplish the becoming?”
and “who will you be when you get there?”
and “where is there anyway?”

I certainly don’t have all the answers. I’ve only just begun to ask the questions. However, what I do know, I will strive not to forget in this season. The things I’m discovering about myself, re-learning and embracing about myself, they are valuable, and they are worth pouring my heart into. In this season, I plan to explore the things that make me come alive. The things that make me feel grounded and unfettered too, make me feel hopeful and inspired. Even when it’s not glamourous, even when it’s humbling. Call it naivety, call it stupidity, but I am still young enough to believe anything is possible. And I am finally old enough to believe that I am capable of turning hope into reality. Because it’s the only way I know how to not get stuck. And so I’m taking a risk. I’m walking away, trying something new. Hoping against all hope that my terror will keep me on my toes, keep my eyes on God and my spirit determined.

Perhaps I was wrong. When I’d said this season has left me feeling “so profoundly unlike myself,” perhaps what I’m feeling is instead something far more resembling my self than anything before and I’m only just gaining the clarity to recognize it. It is certainly possible that in all the time I spent investing in someone else’s version of me, I lost sight of the real thing. Perhaps I’m just now taking the time to notice.

My prayer is that at the close of 2013, as I reflect back on yet another year that’s flown by, I’ll see the bittersweetness of this season in all its rich context and the fruit of the tears that brought me to this vulnerable and healing place.

Happy NEW Year. May it prove to be nothing less.

Beauty in the Body

“The body is one unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink… Now the body is not made up of one part but of many… The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
-1 Corinthians 12:12-26

———

It never takes long before reality abruptly drags me back down to earth as the twinkle in my eye is met by a vacant, disbelieving stare, and I am quickly reminded of the rare form that exists here in this particular, obscure vein of LA. I suppose I ought to just keep it to myself sometimes, but it’s so difficult once you’ve tasted and seen just how beautiful it can be. You want everyone to know, to experience it too. But in the same breath, I do recognize that I might fare well to spend more time praising the beauty of my present circumstances rather than always harping on what was like some broken record. What can I say… I’m working on it.

I just got back from 5 days spent in L.A. [and by ‘just,’ I mean like 2 weeks ago- which is how long I’ve been writing this stupid post... but that’s besides the point].  This was my first visit since I moved to Portland 4 1/2 months ago. In many ways those past months feel as though they’ve stretched on and on, and yet, sitting back in that familiar territory surrounded by so many dear heart-friends, it somehow felt as though I’d never left and very little, if anything, had changed at all. I was right back in the same room where I had spent the last two months of my time in L.A. with my sweet roommate, Emily, next door to our dear friends Rachel & Jon, directly behind the sweetest southern couple you have ever had the privilege of knowing who also happen to lead our community group, and just a few blocks away from several other great friends, with the number ever increasing. Mornings easily filled up with last-minute invitations to coffee & breakfast, frequent barbecues seemed to plan themselves, and life, in all of it’s chaos and brokenness seemed to just unfold effortlessly, together.

life in community

life in community

I did not grow up “in the church,” or perhaps you might say, with specific, consistent exposure to a body of believers in any way. My parents were believers and raised us kids under the guidance and instruction of the Word as best they knew how, but it did not extend much beyond the boundaries of our property line. With that said, I have always had a very strong conscience toward the Lord, however, it wasn’t until mid-way through my college years that I discovered for the first time the genuine, authentic, unsurpassed beauty of the active, thriving Body of Christ by way of the Church. I’m not talking about a building where people gather once a week and sing songs and guzzle down coffee to stay awake during the sermon to then head promptly back to their *normal* lives. No, and if that’s your experience, while it’s not all bad, I’m genuinely sorry. When I make reference to the Church, the images that spring up in my mind and heart are not of checklists and placating some distant God for yet another week, but rather of a group of people who intentionally, by the abundant grace of God, find a way to come together to meet each other’s needs, to carry each other’s burdens, to share in joys and sorrows, laughing together, mourning together, eating together, serving together, learning together, and especially forgiving together. Simply put: to do this crazy, broken, beautiful thing called life… together. It’s an incredible concept really once it sinks in that through all of life’s ups and downs, no matter how dark the valley, no matter how steep the climb, we never have to journey it alone. We were created for community. Perhaps this sounds elementary to some of you, but for me, I was genuinely unaware of this beautifully intrepid way of doing life all throughout my adolescence and well into early adulthood.

I remember the first time someone expressly explained the concept of the trinity to me. Yes, God is One, and there is none other. However, our One God exists in three parts, you might say… that is [in a way that is still difficult for me to wrap my mind around], God exists in community with Himself; always has [see John 1:1-5]. And when God created Adam, he created him in His own likeness, to be an image bearer of his glory and character. With that, God deemed it not good for him to be alone. It was necessary for man, as image bearers of the living God, to exist and thrive in the context of community, just like God. Insert Eve, and suddenly, as the two began dwelling in communion with God and one another, creation was deemed by the Creator, for the very first time to be very good.

With that said, somehow, by the grace of God, I discovered this reality in college and have not since let go of the concept. In fact, it just keeps getting better.

When I moved out to the west side after graduation with my fun, adventure-loving, [did I mention beautiful?] roommate Jill, we searched for quite some time to find a community we could dive into. And to be honest, it took more time than we would have liked. Several months went by before we even discovered Reality L.A., and then several months more beyond that before genuine community and deeper friendships began to take root and spring up out of that dry season. This is the second lesson I had to learn about community in my life [the first being that authentic community exists and is essential for gospel-centered living]: it takes work, it takes investment, risk and time. Community doesn’t just happen to us… it’s something we collectively build, literally. So invest we did, and over the course of the next year and a half, the incredible friendships that developed are unlike anything I could have ever anticipated. I spent seven years of my life in Southern California, and yet, the people I met in my last year and a half down there are some of the dearest, most authentic friendships I’ve ever known. They are the people I book last minute flights to go see, simply so I can sit in their presence while sipping hot coffee, soaking up life’s little joys along the way. And they are the reason I love L.A. They taught me what genuine community really looks like in all it’s rare and lovely form, dysfunctions not excluded. Joys celebrated together, and disappointments cushioned by a blow of grace, every time. It’s not perfect, but it’s real, and it’s always worth it.

And now, as my bones are readjusting to the deep chill that boasts its dominion over the air here in Portland, soothed by copious amounts of hot coffee, I am reminded once again, that the Church is not confined by city limits or building walls or demographics or anything at all. And if that is true, then neither is community.  4 1/2 months later and the blessing of this sweet truth has already been poured out over me in more ways than I can count. This is the lesson I’m currently learning about community… it exists wherever you choose to build it. Furthermore, most everyone is longing for it, whether they cognitively acknowledge it or not. So when jaded expressions from those who think me a bit hyperbolic attempt to dissolve my joy, I shall choose instead to invite them to take part in the irresistible revolution that exists right here. For as the Lord has kindly been revealing to me in fresh ways every day, our joy as children of the King is not circumstantial. I won’t find it in L.A. or in blue skies, stunning beaches or sun-kissed skin [although these things certainly don’t hurt!]. But as I lean into the beauty of the body that is all around, glimpses of eternity reflected in every pair of eyes that meet my own, I know that then and only then will the words of Paul begin to be fulfilled in our city and in our world: that there may be “no division in the body.” And when this is true, there is more than enough joy to go around.

So let us all bring our varied gifts, talents and shortcomings alike to the table. Then by the grace of God our Father, may we find the strength to stay at the table. Invest. And thrive. Because “life is a gorgeous broken gift, six billion+ pieces, waiting to be fixed.” May we make our way through the shards of glass together. May we heal together. And may we usher in the Kingdom of God here on earth… together.

Grace & Peace

The {Art} of …Slowing…

For the last few weeks I have been wandering around Portland, feeling lost and far from home most of the time, but trying amidst my culture shock to jump into city life here with both feet; to immerse myself in Portland culture. Eating at local food carts (something I’d never dare attempt in L.A.), venturing into the multifaceted world of public transportation, and even trying to wrap my head around the whole “live local” concept that seems to permeate this city, because lets be real people, I am a Target girl to my core. There is so much to learn and adapt to. But what I’ve found to be one of the most challenging aspects of life to adjust to here is the rhythmn that this peculiar little city hums along to. Just imagine- everyone on the street is a Sunday driver (walker, biker, whathaveyou) every day of the week… Now there are many contributing factors, but from my observations thus far, it is life by way of public transit that makes everything slooow.waaaay.dooown.

Okay sure, the public transportation system here has a great reputation. Apparently it’s said to be one of the best in the nation. And after just a week of exploring it, I could see why. But for an L.A. girl like myself who is used to jumping in her car on a whim whenever I need something, and knowing I can get right to where I need to go when I need to get there, it’s been rather strange trying to adjust to a lifestyle which requires so much, well, waiting! At first glance, it seems crazy to me how much longer the most menial things take when you are forced to rely on public transit. Even if you would like to drive, generally you will find it’s entirely impractical because there simply isn’t any free parking (not to mention this city, while easily navigated as a pedestrian or cyclist, is abnoxiously frustrating to try and navigate by motorvehicle due to obstinant one ways and “no turns permitted” signs on practically every street. Ummm… I’m sorry, what?). Consider this: you want to go out to eat? Pay for parking. You need to go grocery shopping? Feed the meter. You want to go to the gym? Swipe it. You want to go to church on Sunday? You guessed it, cough it up. I mean honestly people- it’s legitimately more difficult to park in Portland, a small city in a state with more undeveloped land than almost anywhere else I can think of, than it is to park in Los Angeles (maybe you’ve heard of it?) Anyway, it didn’t take me long to realize that driving to work everyday just wasn’t going to happen. And so I learned quickly what the Max was and what a Transit Center is, and that there is indeed an app for that. 

Over the past few weeks I have observed the life of one of my roommates, and I am constantly amazed at how she gets by. She doesn’t have a car, a smart phone, a computer, or basically anything that I would dub a necessity from my privileged perspective. Most astonishing to me though is that when she recounts her day, it seems that most of it was spent traveling. Walk a mile to the bus stop, catch the max, connect to another bus, catch a street car, all to finally end up where you needed to be 45 minutes to an hour later (and that’s if you’re staying in the city), a drive that would have taken me 10 minutes… maybe. It seems very inconvenient to me to say the least, but what is most surprising to me I think, is that people here generally just don’t mind. It’s just part of the rhythm of daily life. And so it dawned on me, that the very ability to slow down is in fact an art form: The Art of Slowing as I call it. And so I take a moment and pause, close my eyes, breathe in deep (because the air is clean here and when you take a moment to pause, you notice such things), and remind myself that life is not a destination so much as it is a journey. And as cliché and hackneyed as I know that sounds, I legitimately need reminding of this. I am a very destination oriented individual by nature, and as frustrated as it makes me sometimes, I am clinging to the truth that this is a valuable lesson/art form to learn & perfect. And so I bought a monthly transit pass, and I listen to funny converstations on the bus and catch up on some reading, and I crowd in next to quirky people on the Max, and I have walked this city up and down, six ways to Sunday, and I’m buying a bike, and I haven’t filled up my gas tank in over two weeks, and you know what? I’m beginning to be okay with it. I might even start to like it.

Some moments I’ve had time to appreciate while waiting for the MAX

This morning I got invited to a Happy Hour Bike Ride with some people at work that’s taking place next week. It’s some big organized thing some people in our office are doing with a client of ours or something of the such. We are all hopping on our bikes after work and riding 8+ miles to our destination- some brewery somewhere. And it’s funny, because I would have laughed if someone asked me to do this in L.A., who has time for something like that? But here, it’s entirely commonplace for a group of strangers to come together like this as a community who share a common interest. And one of the beautiful things about moving to a new city is, chances are, you know very few people. So when you get depressed looking at your usually over-booked social calendar to find a row of empty squares on a page, you tend to say yes to things you never would have before. And of course, this is how you make new friends and discover new hidden gems and create new social circles. And so even though I have never been a bike rider (except for my morning spin classes of course), and even though I can’t drink beer because of my gluten alergy, and even though I probably won’t know anyone, I’m saying yes. Yes to a little adventure. Yes to new opportunities and the possibility of new friends. Yes to the potential of discovering new passions & hobbies. And ultimately, yes to whatever surprises the Good Lord has in store.

So in the spirit of community, I hope you can find your own little way to join me on this journey toward the Art of Slowing. Maybe just today, for an hour, or maybe for a week or month. Who knows, we might just discover through the practice of this discipline that the spirit of slowing begins seep into our pours causing our souls to expand a bit to make room for all the beauty and colour in the world surrounding us that we so often overlook on the way to our next destination. Or maybe that’s just me…

Happy Journey!

Into the Wilderness

“But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made. But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies.”-Acts 7:34

This morning I was preparing breakfast and coffee thinking of all the things I need to get done today (a task exhausting enough itself to make me want to go straight back to bed), and as I was about to sit down I felt a strong desire to grab my Bible and crack it back open. Sadly and honestly, it’s been awhile. I opened it up to the place where it was bookmarked in Acts and began to read.

If you know me, you know I’m not hyper-emotional. Generally speaking, I’m pretty even keeled across the board. However, reading through chapters 6-8, I broke down twice in reference to things I read. It was the strangest thing. Words I’ve read a million times, but this time affected me so deeply. Reading these words I felt as if I’d been sitting in the desert for weeks, craving salt when what I needed all along was water. And suddenly I was drenched in water.

About a month before the big move I went through a really dry spell Spiritually. Sadness and bitterness began to seep into my bones, and it began to obscure my vision. The reality of everything I was leaving behind was suddenly right in my face, and in those moments I did exactly what I ought not to have done, I stopped seeking the face of the Lord. Partially, I think I was taking my bitterness out on Him for leading me out of something that was so comfortable to a place so foreign and new (sound familiar?) And while this was not entirely intentional, I was aware that it was happening. I had stopped reading the Word, had missed a significant amount of church services and just allowed myself to be consumed in all the chaos of “necessary preparations” for the move. Essentially, I just lost myself in “busy.” Of course, nothing could have been more detrimental.

On Sunday, I had a going away gathering. This was on the eve of the big move; the day I would drive 16 hours straight through from LA to Salem, Or. There must have been well over 20 people packed into our little home in Culver City. Friends brought wine; we had snacks and amazing company. I floated around between work friends and church friends and was feeling a surge of energy after an exhausting day. We had spent the day loading up the u-haul, running last minute errands, and catching lunch with a dear friend for the last time, but in that moment with all of the people I love so dearly surrounding me, I felt nothing short of overwhelmingly full. With all the things that had brought me to this point, I had not yet cried or gotten emotional about the impending move. I just went on with life, business as usual, crossing off items on my to-do lists, being productive. But when the last person left that evening, as we hugged goodbye only to assure each other it was not goodbye, and made promises and cracked jokes to ease the hurt, as we both turned away and headed in opposite directions, it finally hit me. I went from feeling completely full to utterly and astonishingly empty. Of course my dad and sister were still inside about ready to pass out from exhaustion due to the high-paced day I had made them endure, so I crept quietly back in, went to the bathroom, turned on the water and wept. I don’t think anyone was fooled, but there was no comfort to be had from either of them, so I wept alone, and that was my last evening in LA.

I probably got all of 3 hours of sleep that night. I woke up around 3:30am and couldn’t get myself back to sleep. My mind had switch right back to task-manager mode and I couldn’t stop thinking of all the final items I needed to be sure I grabbed, and all the loose ends that needed to be tied up. So around 4:30 I began my morning. I hustled around gathering, packing, scrambling. And around 5 my dad and I had to unload the u-haul, load up my couch, which had not yet been packed, and then re-load it over again. We were finally on the road by 8am (about 2 hours later than we had hoped). 16 hours later at midnight, we pulled into the driveway of my parent’s house. Totally wiped out, I went in and got ready for bed. But when I lay down, I couldn’t suppress the hot tears. And once again I wept. Why was I here? However, this time, I did not cry alone. I reverted back to childhood ways and crawled in bed with my mom and let her hold me as I cried.

I have now been in Portland in my new apartment for roughly 3 days now. Everything is still chaotic here, especially my room. But it has definitely helped having my own space and having all the heavy lifting out of the way. And thank God for believing roommates. This simple reality inevitably creates a space for mutual encouragement and for the Spirit to move, and it reminds me of the Lords kindness regardless of our faithfulness, or lack thereof.

So as I sit here, in what feels like the wilderness (quite literally actually, so.many.treeeees!) I am struck by the words Luke wrote in Acts to the Sanhedrin. As foreign and frightening and desolate as the wilderness feels right now, I absolutely do not want to allow my heart to turn back to Egypt, away from what I know God has called me to. (Please note: this is not a direct parallel so as to suggest that my time in LA was like years of bondage in Egypt, certainly not. But to turn back, and continue living my life here wishing I was there, would be a) unhealthy, and b) a far cry from faithful to the God who is in fact constantly bringing me out of bondage daily, and bringing me closer and closer to the promise land with each new day). I of course have the ability to choose to create for myself idols and worship what I have created with my own hands, and in His kindness, the Lord would give me over to my choosing. But more importantly, and much more profound a thought to dwell on, is the gift that I may rather choose to surrender my life and plans and heartache to the Lord. Furthermore, in so choosing, there is a promise that waits for me which assures me that over time I will witness the grace of God as he turns my mourning into gladness, transforms sorrow into comfort and joy. For He has said, “my people will be filled with my bounty.” – Jeremiah 31:13-14

So in this time of wandering and finding my feet, I will be thankful for the tears, because they mean that where I am coming from was a fruitful place and is worth mourning. And they mean that I am feeling and not hardening my heart. May they water the soil beneath me now so that new blessings may spring up out of this dry ground.

Fears, Blessings and Promises

I don’t know what has gotten into me in the last couple of weeks, the closer I get to the eminent and ever approaching move, the more I’m filled with anxiety and if I’m totally transparent with you, a little bitterness. Not bitter at any one or any thing in particular really, I don’t believe it’s directed at anything specific. It’s more realistically just a byproduct of my sadness. I’m always a little surprised to see the shock that crosses people’s faces when I tell them how much I love LA, how much I love doing my day-to-day life here, and how much I love calling it Home. Maybe I was the only one who dreamed of life in a big city growing up. But it seems like even those who live here don’t really enjoy or prefer it. I really don’t get it. And now that I’m leaving, it feels somewhat like the culmination of my dreams is about to come tumbling down around me. Okay, okay, that was a little melodramatic, I agree. But in all seriousness, I have achieved so much of what I always dreamed of, and now I’m leaving it all behind… that just seems, well, sad.

Home

In the few weeks I have left in this city I instinctively call home, I am doing my best to take advantage of all the things I never really did while living here. So basically, I’m spending a lot of time at the beach. Not sure how I managed to bypass this simple pleasure so often, especially considering I live just miles from the the ocean. But there’s just something about the ocean and the beach and blue skies and nature in general that forces you to reflect. And I’ve been spending a lot of time under the sun (I have the sunburn to prove it) reflecting on my life and the impending transition that feels like it’s about to swallow me up. I feel like every cell in me is in perpetual dissonance- I have one foot in two places and the gap is widening. Makes me feel like I really just need to practice some intense yoga, breathe in calm, breathe out all the swarming chaos. Yet we all know that realisitically, it’s never quite this simple… instead, I have decided that I really need some goals. Life gets busy, and for whatever reason, it never really seems to slow down. So I’ve been spending some time brainstorming things that make me feel whole; make me feel like… me. And on top of that, I’ve been contemplating my desire to remain intentional regarding all the incredible relationships in my life currently, and ways I can continue to nurture those while still allowing my heart to move on and live fully present in my new surroundings. I really want to be intentional and thoughtful about my actions and how I invest my time and effort during this transition. And I need those in my life to help keep me accountable. So here is my Bucket List for Rainy Days… which is, every day as an Oregonian (this is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a start!):

In order to stay connected to LA family:

-Write 1 hand-written letter/post card a week to a friend back home (LA)

-Blog regularly… through my joys, frustrations & apathy alike

-Commit to visiting often. Especially for any special event

-Host friends (any and all) who ever pass through the Northwest

In order to live in the present (and maintain sanity):

-Get plugged into The Solid Rock  family. Volunteer/join a community group

-Develop a daily rythmn that is shaped by time spent in the word and in prayer 

-Say yes often/whenever possible to opportunities presented to branch out

-Find a hot yoga studio (or gym). Join. Go

-Have frequent slumber parties with my sisters. Get to know them again

-Go frequently to live concerts/shows

-Help my family explore the joys of city-dwelling by taking them on new/fun adventures

-Reach out to old friends and reconnect

-Get a bike and explore the city in a new and fresh way

-Learn public transportation, don’t always rely on my car

-Find a mentor

-Cook often. Explore new/healthy recipes- fully quit sugar! 

-Host frequent dinner parties. At least 1 a month.

In the name of Adventure:

-Take full advantage of the sunshine WHENEVER it’s out

-Go to the lake this summer at LEAST 5 times (bare minimum)

-Go camping (preferably at the lake)

-Learn a snow sport

myhappyplace

Grace & Peace