Emptied of Me to Be Filled with Christ (New Adventures and a Missing Sock)

Sometimes life doesn’t feel real until the bags are packed and unpacked, the boxes are taped up and ripped open, and you’re sitting in the middle of the bedroom floor wondering how you’ve accumulated so many socks and realize that one is missing—potentially stuck to the wall of the dryer in your old apartment 1,700 long and looping miles away—and there is no possible way you will ever see that little pink Nike sock again.

Sometimes life doesn’t feel real until you have one of those trippy moments looking in the mirror, when you really see yourself and realize "this is me... This is my life. I'm a person. I'm living" (Does everyone have these moments? Nope? Just me?)

Life has a way of having long days and short years, with months that drag on and decades that whip by faster than you can say “Beanie Babies” (or Furby, Skip-It, BopIt, or HitClips—I swear we’re still in the ‘90s). I still write 2012 on the headings of my school papers, which was the year I graduated high school (I’m currently a junior in college), not able to digest the fact that we’re almost halfway through 2014.

It didn’t feel real, buckled into my little hybrid, the back window plastered with my sorority letters and the back seat stacked high with Tupperware bins and random, single shoes (we got to the point where my car was so full that we had to stuff clothes and shoes into every pocket of air available—very Tetris-esque). It didn’t feel real as we drained giant cups of sweet tea in Texas, Sonic slushies in New Mexico, and In’n’Out pink lemonade in Arizona (such a California tease!). Even the lease paperwork, endless roadside gas stations/rest stops, getting whistled at by scary truck drivers, and the multiple hotels didn’t really solidify the fact that I was leaving Texas for good.

The road signs kept me updated as to how many thousands, hundreds, and tens of miles we had until sweet California welcomed warmly (literally), but even the giant blue “Welcome to California!” sign in a dusty corner of my favorite state didn’t make it feel real. I wasn’t reciting some sort of Texas eulogy, or caught in the thick of emotions from goodbye and change and a new hello. I was just driving.

It wasn’t till I was sitting on my bedroom floor, exercising my inner obsessive-compulsive, domestic, perfectionist goddess, surrounded by socks and sorority shirts and a pair of brown leather cowboy boots, that I began to physically feel one chapter of life closing and the next opening. It wasn’t a sad feeling at all—just a sweet reminder that God’s hand is guiding me every day, and that I’m back in California for His purpose and by His grace.

I went to a beach bonfire with a friend last week.

After digging a fire pit in the sand (disclaimer: there was no sign saying it was illegal...although the cops showed up eventually), the fire was crackling and the s’mores ingredients were passed around (including S’moreos—s’mores Oreos—my new friend’s creation). After prayer, we all ended up singing worship songs led by a girl with a guitar and a voice that sounded “somewhere between Elvis [...or female equivalent] and angels,” to quote Hannah Brencher. With bare toes buried in the sand, a disposable camera in hand (I’m bringing them back), and the mingling song of the ocean and Jesus-loving voices, I felt the loving sovereignty of God, as he began to tie together all of the loose ends and frayed edges of my life, giving me new adventures, new hope, and new purpose. 

 

Joyfully,

 
 

From Fashion to Philosophy: Goodbye Texas

“The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving. I didn't want to destroy anything or anybody. I just wanted to slip quietly out the back door, without causing any fuss or consequences, and then not stop running until I reached Greenland.” | Elizabeth Gilbert

God is doing some pretty radical stuff in my life--challenging, humbling, life-changing, heart-opening, anxiety-inducing stuff.

Every day I am finessed and shaped and molded by God's hand. I have been growing, blooming, and evolving. I'll think my life is headed one direction, and God smiles, throws his head back, and laughs warmly: "My child," he says, "you're going the wrong way!" And he helps me readjust. He holds my hand a lot. We take baby steps. We talk constantly about the concept of direction... especially lately.

My best friend texted me this quote last week, which I knew was God's doing: "I think God passes by me a lot, and it serves to show me the direction he's going. We don't always know where he's headed or what to expect along the way. But I think direction is the point, the part, and whole of it...Plus, I think God knows that if I found out more than just the direction He was going, I'd probably try to beat Him there." | Bob Goff, Love Does

My life path has been a fragmented yet loopy journey from point A to point B—I’ve never done well with simple or linear.

 

When I came into college as a freshman, I was a little 18-year-old with too-dark hair and too much makeup, wanting nothing more than to study fashion merchandising and have a "real" college experience. I wanted to work for a magazine—TeenVogue was the goal—and live in New York City or LA. I went to mixers and parties and formals, held a can of beer in my hand just to blend in, and spent more time on my phone than in my physical surroundings. With my heart stapled to my sleeve, I was completely consumed with the thought of southern boys. I thought they would be so wonderfulso gentlemanlyopening doors and calling me miss or ma'am with a crooning, twangy accent. They would all sound exactly like the nonexistent lovechild of Scotty McCreery and Josh Turner.

Fast forward 365 days, and I’m in the first semester of my sophomore year. My halfhearted study of fashion, coupled with a wonderful Religious Studies professor and newfound love for my freshman bible class (general ed religion requirement—private Christian school, mind you) leads me to change my path completely. No longer was I studying lighting, consumers, textiles, or illustration—suddenly it was second semester, and I was immersed in Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions.

I traded my sketching pencils for the Torah, fabric swatches for karma, dharma, and bodhisattvas. The designer names on my flashcards became deities, transliterated words, and meticulous sketches of the afterlife (this week's notes are peppered with drawings of the Mormon afterlife, beginning with the premortal world, stretching to the celestial kingdom). No longer was I examining fabric under a microscope or identifying it by its warp or waft (which is truly such a pain). Instead, I was examining relationships, ethics, and doctrines through the lens of a scholar of religion.

Suddenly I found myself on the floor of my little apartment, surrounded by cracked open textbooks and thick stacks of notes, exploring the complexities of the question: "what is religion?" and loving every soul-searching moment. It's a native category, meaning it's so elemental to life and society that people feel like they know what it means without having to define it. But at the same time, it's like explaining colors to the lifelong blind, or describing how water tastes. 

Fast forward one more year.

I’ll be a junior, but no longer in Texas.

My fragmented yet looping path has led me back to the place where my heart overflows—California. It’s been a long process, a quiet process, and a painful process. I believe, with every cell in my body and hair on my head, that God brought me to Texas for spiritual, emotional, and academic boot camp. It was here, and only here, that he could turn this little freshman girl, purposefully spilling warm beer into potted plants at parties to make the cup gradually empty, into a girl with a heart for philosophy and religion, dedicated to meditation and prayer. He knew that Texas could be the only setting for this radical, internal, gritty, and graceful change. It was here when I finally learned to listen to Him and to my own soul.

I had become so apathetic and victim-like. I saw my circumstances as permanent, not temporary. Texas was the place of my first B- (in a class called “fashion illustration,” of all things), my first severe tornado warning (yesterday, actually), my first time being set up on a date (blind dates work better in movies and books), and my first time getting 100% on a science midterm (only after a weekend of crying in the bathtub with my flashcards and eating my feelings in chocolate chips).

I loved studying religion, so I knew my sharp academic shift was part of His plan.

Academics aside, everyone talked of my school like it was this magical and beautiful utopia. And although the campus is gorgeous, I didn’t think these people had ever seen palm trees, tasted an acai bowl, or fell asleep on the sand with a book on their face. I didn’t think these people had ever wandered through a vineyard, climbed a mountain so lush and emerald that even Ireland is green with envy. I didn’t think these people have done yoga on a paddleboard, picked citrus from their backyards, or had a pool party birthday for every single year of their life (and every year, the wet footprints on the pavement, cannonball splashes and homemade birthday cake were even better than the last). I didn’t think these people had surfboards and boogie boards and skim boards in their garages, or had a guitar for home and a guitar for the beach, its wood coated with sand and mottled from saltwater. I didn't think these people knew California like I did. And that was okay. Maybe all of that wasn't magic to them. Who was I to assume that my paradise was theirs as well?

Maybe what was magical to them were the honey-leather cowboy boots, the buzz of the crowd on game day, all yelling and screaming at the ref in unison. Maybe these people were captivated by tall, sweating glasses of sweet tea and line dancing past midnight, hunting on the weekends, and tailgating in the back of a truck. Maybe to them, the Texas sky was a symphony, the clouds wringing themselves out at the end of the day—pink and lavender watercolors dripping down from the atmosphere. Maybe the humid nights and bright stars, the country music, and lake days made their hearts overflow with love and pride.

And that was okay too.

One of the sweetest blessings here in Texas was my book club—a small, deep-thinking collection of happy spirits, each with a dog-eared copy of Eat, Pray, Love. Unbeknownst to these girls, our tiny, monthly book club helped me come to terms with the adventures waiting at my own fingertips. This handful of creative, Elizabeth-Gilbert-loving souls, along with Elizabeth herself (via her book) gave me the courage I needed to pursue true joy.

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.” | Elizabeth Gilbert; Eat, Pray, Love

 

And so I’m traveling for it and swimming to it. I’m headed back to my Californian roots where my soul can run free through nature and the sunshine can warm the tips of my toes. I’m headed back to a gentle yoga practice, uncharted beaches (for I won’t be in my well-loved yet thoroughly explored San Diego this time around), and a continuation of my religious studies, with the addition of philosophy. I’m headed back to a barefoot heart, farmers’ markets, and a strand of sea-glass-encrusted possibilities.

As Rumi said,

“Respond to every call that excites your spirit.”

 

And so I’m responding. I’m taking my fragmented, looping, beautiful path to California. Find out what excites your spirit. Seek peace and happiness and chase it--literally run to it and for it and alongside of it. If you don't like where you are or where you're going, pick up your roots and the hems of your pant legs and go somewhere else. Pursue all of the world's light and love. You are your own limitations.

(Extra) Joyfully in Christ-

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California, My Hippie Heart, and a Beachy Buddha

Being San Diego bred, my soul is naturally infused with those hippie, sea-salt-encrusted, save-the-whales, be-one-with-the-earth type of beliefs.

“You’re so Cali,” people in Texas tell me.

I cringe and stare down at my mint Vans or chocolate brown Rainbows. Never say Cali in my presence. It is truly not a real word, but it is the best indicator of who is not from California. I can just feel all of my California readers fervently nodding their heads along to the rhythm of this paragraph. Cali is a horrible, horrible word. But alas, we are all rooted to different corners of the Earth, and so things like this are forgivable (when I push my little California attitude aside).

I cannot, however, push my California soul aside.

I am a free spirit, a dreamer, and a happy soul seeker. I crave sunshine as others do richly hued wine. The ocean nourishes, recharges, and refreshes me; it is my medication and meditation. Wading to my knees or slicing through waves, the ocean is everything—a place for solitude, gathering, thinking, laughing. The ocean is core work, balance and breathing techniques, subtle scares of seaweed around the ankle, and melting layers of sunscreen. The water is liquid magic. It is like this icy radiance that swirls around my body, enveloping me in sloppy, lapping hugs and salty kisses. Navy water is stitched with white foam, spilling over from wave to wave.

Overcome by the brilliance of creation, I think of the artist Himself: “The Earth is full of His unfailing love. By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars. He puts the deep into storehouses.” (Psalms 33:5-7)

I am (unabashedly) a Christian. I am also a religion major, and so it is my “job” to examine a multitude of religious traditions utilizing epoche, a way to bracket off personal biases. Being so firm in my faith and my adoration of Christ, I am able to see other people’s religious traditions as just that—other people’s religious traditions, which neither offend nor threaten me or my beliefs. There are certainly practices that I am uncomfortable with or don’t understand, but the beauty of Christ is that he loves everyone, so I strive to cultivate the same loving, open mindset when I explore these traditions. 

As a scholar of religion, I delight in drawing similarities between Buddha’s teachings (500 years before Jesus), and the teachings of Christ—my rock and salvation and gentle shepherd. One of the things I love about Buddhism is the Eightfold Path, as part of the Fourth Noble Truth (the path to the end of suffering). The Eightfold Path is divided into three sections:

-       Mindfulness: Meditation practice

-       Virtue: Morals and being a good little earthling and buddy to others

-       Wisdom: Learning, blooming, growing, and evolving every day

The other thing I love about Buddhism is the strong emphasis on the Earth—preserving it, loving it, nurturing it. Way back when (and potentially still in some areas), Buddhist monks and nuns were not allowed to travel during rainy season, for fear that they would accidentally step on insects and other creatures lodged in the mud (the same is true in Jainism; Jains believe all sentient beings have “jivas,” or living souls).

About a month ago, I was browsing through Mind Body Green and came across this explanation of why “om” (or “aum”) is significant to those who practice meditation and chanting.

“Everything in the universe is pulsating and vibrating – nothing is really standing still. The sound Om, when chanted, vibrates at the frequency of 432 Hz, which is the same vibrational frequency found throughout everything in nature. As such AUM is the basic sound of the universe; so by chanting it we are symbolically and physically tuning in to that sound and acknowledging our connection to all other living beings, nature and the universe.”

(Radical)

The way I see it, living beings, nature, and the universe are all created by God. This element of creation binds us in relationship with the Earth—just as God cares for us, he cares for how the lilies grow.

And so, in a sort of "Beach Buddha" manner, I leave you with this nugget of wisdom (let’s say crystal of wisdom, and make me even more of a hippie soul):

“With each inhale, lift your heart closer to the sun. With each exhale, root your feet more deeply in the ground (or perhaps... the sand).”

Be in this world, not of it. Believe in the magic of creation. Be gentle to the earth. And while you’re at it, eat wholesome and clean foods, seeds instead of grains, lots of leafy greens, and meet me at the beach.

Namaste.


Joyfully in Christ-

(And happily en route to California for spring break)