California, the unlikely gift.

I traveled to Southern California wearing a baggy white t-shirt with the words, "found at sea" printed on the front. A TSA agent asked if there were more like me where I came from. He motioned to the three word phrase. Bewildered, I said I didn't know and hurried along.

Minutes later, this shirt had me laughing. If you were to find me, you would only need to try the bookstore or notebook aisle in Target.

But by the water? Unlikely.

— 

I'd been wanting to visit friends in California for a year, but didn't think it could happen while unemployed. With no savings in place, a trip 2,577 miles away sounded fit for dreams, and dreams only. I penned it in my prayer journal anyway, coming back to it now and then.

God had abundantly provided tickets and spending money for mission trips in the past. I knew it was possible, yet I wondered if a getaway like this—to visit friends and have fun—would matter to Him as much.

You can imagine my shock when at the end of July, roundtrip tickets were generously purchased on my behalf. I was set to leave in eight weeks, with that much time available to gather up pennies, pray, and see what God might do.

Besides the overdraft fees charged by my bank, five weeks passed and nothing budged. I wondered again—did this matter? God? Should I stop asking? Deep down, there was this assurance:

No, don't stop. I like it when you ask.

While I watched babies and prayed and waited, He was making a way where there seemed to be none. It took awhile, but my gratitude and trust were deepened as He provided every last penny.

It came together, just in time.

 California 2016

The trip was a gift.

I got to stay with precious friends who moved to Long Beach last fall. They are missionaries, making home in a new city while constantly pointing others to an eternal Home. The gospel is lived out daily in their family. I witnessed grace poured out, teachable hearts, and a love that is inclusive, championing, enduring. 

Inspiration was there, as I walked by houses and landmarks bearing stories of the past. Laughter was there, found in the friends I made over tacos and games. Refreshment was there, thanks to slow mornings and reminders of truth. It felt like a new city I, too, could make home.

Once in San Diego, I reunited with my best friend I've known all but six months of my life. We made sure to fill up on food healthy for the body and conversations necessary for the soul. We visited Balboa Park's botanical garden and a marvelous used bookstore. We crossed an item off our bucket list and spotted a celebrity on the beach.

But more than that, we heard each other. Tell me more about this; help me to understand. FaceTime was now face to face time—irreplaceable, treasured, and rare for our friendship. I witnessed my friend's resolve. There's this perseverance in her that exists all because of God's grace pouring over pain. Our sufferings have become the other's. But so has our celebration.

— 

A week later, my best friend saw me off as I boarded my red-eye to Florida. Nestled in that window seat, one thought filled my mind. The thought of Him. God, the kindest Father. 

Below me was blackness draped in city lights. California grew further and further away. 2,577 miles of distance again. When I landed the next morning, I realized I'd asked God for over two months if this trip mattered. He confirmed something better with a singular message:

Erika, YOU matter to me.

Every morning, there was an invitation to set my eyes above the pain felt nearby. To look to Him as my hope and strength. There was not a day riddled with pressure. Illness never ruled or told me who I was. My thoughts—they were unclouded and centered on Jesus. I was free from proving myself to friends and those they introduced to me.

It was a simple trip enriched with connection. Yes, with people. But most importantly, with God. No outing, relationship, or ministry east or west could be what the Father is to me. 

Sometimes, like the TSA agent to sea, we pine after fantasies. We go places in our heads and in planes, searching for relief, security, answers, or anything—often coming up empty.

I get it. I spent a year imagining up ideals. If treatment works, how would I then serve God? Whom might I meet? What job to secure? Where could I travel to?

I'd been looking elsewhere when God surprised me. He brought me to California, by the water, without a healed body or employment. My ideals were not in sight. Of all places, He chose the unlikely one to remind me of the strength in His power, sufficiency of His grace, and faithful love through His Son.

There is none like Him.