“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.
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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 wonderful–so gentlemanly–opening 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 (baby lock them doors and turn the lights down low… ♫ ♪ ♫).
Fast forward 365 days, and I’m in the first semester of my sophomore year. My halfhearted study of fashion merchandising, coupled with a wonderful religion 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 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
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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,