For years, before I realized I could do nothing well apart from God, I believed the answer to finding peace of mind and happiness was finding the perfect geographic location to plant roots. Although I do feel a sense of place is important, and know many who resonate more with sunny climates, and others who prefer London fog, and some the mountains and others the coast, it took me a long time to realize the place we live in itself will never bring contentment.
For the first nine years of my son’s life, we lived in idyllic Santa Barbara, California. I thought moving back to California after my career in New York city, a place I once enjoyed during my college years in San Francisco, was the ‘something more’ I needed that was missing in my life. Surely, I’d find happiness and contentment where the sun shins through wispy palm trees leaves, where birds-of-paradise bloom from branches even in the wintertime. With it’s majestic hills hugging the glistening Pacific, Santa Barbara was truly the American Riviera and a destination like heaven on earth.
It pained me to remove my rose colored glasses, but teenage Latino gangs plagued the tapestry of this beautiful, coastal town. Before we finally moved away, a 14-year-old gang member stabbed and killed another teenage boy on State Street. State Street is a jewel of California main streets dressed in Spanish architecture, where thousands of tourists flock each year. A trolley heads down to the beach, passing small quaint shops, Nordstroms, Macy’s, Anthropology and a string of bustling restaurants with street side seating. We spent a good deal of time on State Street during our years, riding the trolley, enjoying favorite restaurants, and frequenting the three story Border’s Books, no longer there. We loved Santa Barbara’s temperate climate, hiking in the foothills, sailing and running on the long stretch of beaches, and watching dolphins swim while we ate Sunday brunch at our favorite cafe, sitting at tables on the sand. After years of spiritual seeking, it was in Santa Barbara where my early faith in God took root.
After the teenager was killed in the gang brawl, we started searching for a safer area to live — what we hoped would be the perfect town. I still believed for safety and contentment, we needed to find the ideal place.
While we searched for home, we decided on a temporary move to Ashland, Oregon to be closer to my mother-in-law, and so my son could attend a wonderful alternative school on 42-acres of land with classes held in a yellow farmhouse. In the quiet country setting we could finish a documentary, refocus our lives and continue researching areas in the country to live.
Ashland, home of the renown international Oregon Shakespeare Festival attracts retirees, as well as families seeking a safe family oriented community and simple lifestyles. Although we enjoyed the world-class theater performances, summer lake swimming, Sunday drives through winding mountain roads with sprawling acres of towering pine trees blanketed by endless greenery, and the mild winters with occasional snow powering the landscape, we soon felt suffocated by the small town feeling and mounds of hills surrounding the valley. My husband is a city boy at heart, and I missed the ocean. The region’s limited resources for work, the high cost of air travel out of the area, and our incessant longing for California, squashed our souls.
We ended up living in Ashland for three years, yet the lush, green valley felt to me like an emotional desert. Lonely, always feeling out of place, without community or a sense of home, I relied on the a mustard seed of my young faith to find meaning in a place where I felt homeless. It was from my fragile faith I waited for God’s direction.
In the months before we finally decided to move back to California, finding a love for San Diego, a dark cloud sat over Ashland. Three weeks before we moved, something awful happened that shocked the town. On the bike path which stretched a mile down from our house to Lithia Park, winding past the town pool, the baseball field, and around through the quaint district known as the Railroad District dotted with older craftsman and Victorian houses, a young man we knew who worked at our local grocery store, was murdered, nearly decapitated in the prime of his life at 23 years old. They never found the killer. Shocked and terrified, the entire community grieved for the loss of this young man, and for the idealism of this small, lovely town. I still can’t imagine how the trauma-stricken family continues to deal with the horror that came upon their innocent son and this family tragedy.
It was here I started learning the long, hard lessen– that no place is perfect.That evil lurks in our earthly paradises. People are both lovely, and sick people murder even in lovely small towns.
Even though we have found a sense of place and home in northern San Diego county, in a beachy town that resonates with our souls — and I believe there are places that nourish our souls — it is my growing faith in God that brings contentment. Beautiful San Diego still has flaws. We have morning traffic during rush hour, high cost of homes, and of course the stresses of everyday living. We can never escape the imperfections of life.
One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house
of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD. Psalm 27:4
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