Sunset as seen from Grizzly Peak in Berkeley, California.

I’m having an anniversary this month. It’s a celebration!

Twenty years this month, perhaps even to this very day as I write this, I set up my new home in California and I haven’t looked back.

I remember quite vividly making the trek into Oakland, California in a caravan with my dad. He drove the Uhaul truck with my belongings. And, I followed behind in my blue-grey Toyota Cressida packed with even more of my belongings…because, I have never mastered the art of traveling lite.

We drove through Walnut Creek, down highway 24, and parked our vehicles in the driveway of 4268 Howe Street at the house that I would call home for the next 2 years while I was in graduate school.

But wait…I need to back-up here and tell you my how-I-came-to-California story. Because, it’s a good one!

See, there I was after graduating from college, living in Baltimore, Maryland. I’d grown up all my life in Maryland. Never saw anything past the Mississippi River. But I had this longing to see the western half of the United States. I spent many an evening sprawled out on the couch in my upstairs Charles Street apartment, dreaming of an imaginary life on the other side of the country.

And so a year after college, a year after working an administrative job at our local utility company (because what else does a theology graduate do after finishing her Bachelor’s degree with no real sense of direction?), I concocted a plan. I decided that I wanted to see the West Coast. No, I wanted to live on the West Coast, in California.

So I signed up for a series workshops and conferences that summer, moved my furniture back home, packed up my belongings in my Toyota Cressida (back when they all really could fit in one car), and somehow managed to string along a road trip for an epic summer journey across the country.

That journey took me from Baltimore to Indianapolis to Chicago (where my older sister was living and joined me on the adventure) to St. Louis and Kansas City, out to Denver and Boulder and the Rocky Mountains, then across to Utah and Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, down to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, over to San Diego and up to Riverside. Along the way, we climbed high mountain peaks and hiked down deep into dessert valleys. We saw rainbows in the high desert air and drove highways with saguaro cactuses that stood like lone towers in the sand. We pitched our tents every night in a new natural wonder. Then made our way up the southern coast of California where my sister and I parted ways as she flew back to Chicago. And up the coast of California I drove alone.

I will never forget the epic experience of traveling the Pacific Coast Highway for the first time ever, the fog parting in Big Sur to reveal the most breathtaking coastal views. I’ll never forget driving through Saratoga and South San Francisco, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge and lovely Marin County, playing my favorite tunes over and over in the car, the volume turned up so that the music swirled around in my head as it echoed from, yes, cassette tapes!

But that was not the summer that I settled in California. No, for reasons that require another blog post, I headed back to Boulder, Colorado, where I settled for a year and took voice lessons and studied music and met AMAZING people and fell in love with mountains and snow and “came of age.” I worked a small retail job. I got hired (and then fired) from administrative work in a psychiatrists office. I handled accounts payable for a tiny handbag manufacturing business.

And then, because I was still figuring life out and life was still figuring me out, I was presented with an opportunity to return to California and begin my graduate studies in theology at the Graduate Theological Union (because what else does a theology student do after finishing her Bachelor’s degree in theology but go on to study more theology!). I made a phone call that turned into an acceptance letter that came with a scholarship. And before I knew it, I was leaving Colorado, driving in a caravan with my dad ahead of me in the big Uhaul truck, making my way to California.

That was August 1998. Twenty years ago this month. I was 24 years old. I felt like the whole world was opening up to me.

And now, twenty years later, I realize just how much I love this beautiful state. I look back at twenty years of amazing memories and still more AMAZING people whom I’ve come to know and love, and I am filled with gratitude. I can trace my growth as a person from that 24-year-old girl to the woman I am today and every corner of California that I’ve been graced to step through, every terrain and season that has changed me and formed me.

I feel that I am standing on a precipice contemplating the next 20 years of life ahead. I look back and think of all that made the past 20 years of my life rich — friends, sunsets, seasons, opportunities, milestones, finding my soul mate and marrying him, finding fulfilling work and making a career of it, knowing the love of my dad and losing him, being keenly aware of the transience of life. I look ahead at the next 20 years and want to do something with utter and complete intention. I don’t just want to live, I want to LIVE. I don’t just want friendships, I want COMMUNITY. I don’t just want to rent a home, I want to OWN a place that I can set down roots and grow old in.

I don’t know where those next 20 years of life will take me. But standing on this precipice, this 20-year milestone of life in California, I know that I will likely live out my days in this great state and cherish it for all that it has offered me in this lifetime.

Here’s a little ditty that I heard in a commercial a while back that made me smile at life in California (perhaps better suited for an ad for an electric vehicle or bicycle instead)…