I first laid eyes on you when I watched the very first episode of The Hills. It was 2006 and I was definitely too young to be watching it. However, I watched Lauren Conrad pack her pink suitcase and drive through busy highways adorned with palm trees, the sun was always shining when I saw you. I watched all of the seasons unfold and watched countless amounts of Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, fascinated by it all. During this year I wrote in my diary that I hoped to one day live in London, Paris and/or L.A. and I never dreamt that I could spend three months of my life in any one of those but here you were. Now, I watch the episode of The Hills reruns and think “I’ve been there” and admire the view pan over the city from afar.
You were not forgotten in my eyes
Growing up, I began to understand that L.A. isn’t just glitz and glamour. That is the very superficial icing on a beautiful + diverse cake. There was tension to hold with both a-list and trying-to-get-by-list. I saw headlines of shootings, new fad diets, fires and more. I saw people flee California like it was the plague. From all walks of life, I saw people lose homes and family members and wondered if the fires would ever subside. But when I saw that people wanted to leave, I ultimately wanted to go, stay, help and get rooted – to let you know that you were not forgotten in my eyes.
In the weeks leading up to you, I couldn’t stop watching videos and films about you. I researched places to go while I was there – captivated by every photo and film that was to do with you. I read a book called Hermanas written by Latina women that found themselves on this coast talking about deepening identity and growing influence in relation to women in the Bible as they navigate challenges of brokenness and suffering, being bicultural, and crossing borders. I read about the population in L.A. and how besides the glamour there is a thriving community of amazing, diverse people. But there is also poverty, hopelessness, mental health issues, people that are lost, gang violence, trafficking, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, inequality, racism and discrimination. In no particular order whatsoever, all injustices that affect the community – each area needing that one thing. That giant thing that changes everything. Flips the script, and changes the narrative…Jesus.
I wanted justice to flow like the river it says in Amos.
When I applied to do Anti-trafficking work and the Justice DTS I just knew that this was what God had called me to do. My younger self might have been confused by the actual reason why I was going to live there. Justice wasn’t on my 2006-year-old self but getting to be a fashion designer or young Hollywood star was. Now I wanted justice in the lands. 26-year-old me knew that this was going to be the best way to do it. I wanted to see it. I wanted to see justice flow like the river it says in Amos.
“But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!” – Amos 5:24
I wanted to raise awareness and love people well. I needed to do it without judgement and I know God had been breaking down my walls for years before this.
I walked your streets in the daytime. Sunglasses low, in beauty, awe and admiration of the stunning view of your beaches, the joy and laughter in its residents, of watching the sunset melt into the horizon from the Griffith Observatory, of eating delicious ice cream in Pasadena and pretending to be rich enough to walk the streets in Rodeo Drive. But I also walked your streets at night time. At 3 am in a place where wearing certain colours on the colour wheel could endanger your life. Where fear sometimes reared its ugly head and deemed me helpless as the car drove away and all we could do was pray. Of praying for girls in their teens looking lost and broken and telling them that they are loved. That things weren’t supposed to be this way. I’ve watched grown men keel over on the floor overdosing, the drugs eating away at their brain and mental state.
I’ve seen the enemy try his best at tricking the souls of so many people by captivating them into a trance into a hopeless delusion that will ultimately end in doom. I’ve seen encampments of poverty, miles of it and I remember the stench and mess that littered the streets of Skid Row but I also remember the guy on the corner. Who sat there, in a wheelchair, limbs missing, looking full of sorrow. It was his birthday and he was alone. I think of my friend Victor who had travelled here from Peru and told us his story. He was 75 years old and homeless. “Still so young!” I replied, which made him chuckle. He was homeless but not hopeless, he met God at 54 and had a dream of going to Turkey and Greece one day. I hope he made it, wherever he is. I remember sitting on the metro with Johnny and Addie discussing and getting (righteously) angry about the stronghold of addiction and how the welfare system was not set up for those who truly need it.
L.A. you are a place where glitz and glam co-exist with unfulfilled hopes and dreams. I saw basketball players arrive at church in sports cars and thought to myself…. famous people need Jesus too. I walked the streets of downtown L.A. hearing retired actors sing old songs and talk with a voice made for the silver screen. I imagined the famous people that would’ve walked in the same place I walked, with their names in lights one day, and fading into the darkness the next. I visited places some of my favourite movies were filmed, I saw stars under my feet of celebrities I will only ever see on a screen. I saw the performance and the humanity of it all, grasping for human recognition, applause, and attention.
We’re all searching for it. That void inside of us to be filled. No matter what path we’re walking on rich, poor, educated, uneducated, literate or illiterate, Black, White, Indian, Jamaican, Hispanic, Asian, addicted, clean, popular, lost, disabled, homeless, owner of a mansion, a beach house in the Hamptons, a semi-detached two bedroom house, a cardboard box beside the freeway. We all need Jesus, no one is exempt.
I saw a generation of revivalists hungry for justice to roll like a river and erupt like a fountain.
But there are pockets of people sold out for You there, Lord. I felt it in the wind, I felt the tide turning, I felt the shift of something. Not always, but sometimes. Most of the time though, it’s difficult to see God, who is working all of the time, in the small and the big things. But I saw it, I saw a generation of revivalists hungry for justice to roll like a river and erupt like a fountain. I saw the determination in their hearts, to know God and to make Him known and I walked part of a journey with them. Now I can’t ever unsee what I saw. And I don’t ever want to forget the eyes and the heart of the people I met. The anguish, the pain, their desperate need for hope, for someone, anyone to tell them that there is more to this life this side of heaven. I pray for the day when they meet You, Lord. I pray that one day they’ll find true freedom in You.
I thank You for moments that took my breath away. Moments like Malibu. If I close my eyes hard enough I’ll imagine being there again. Soft sand, a roll of the tide, the stillness and quietness, the murmuring of my friends around me, I wish I could go back to some of those moments. Playing Malibu by Miley Cyrus in the car on our drive there as the ocean view opened up a world of possibilities to us. I sometimes think that this, this is the place I’ll leave my heart I am convinced that Malibu is a slice of heaven on earth. I think back to eating churros on Santa Monica beach and walking around with a hot dog along the pier or paying way too much to ride the Ferris Wheel just so we could soak up the beach view from another angle. I thank You for sweet moments with the Holy Spirit on Venice Beach, praising You amidst the noise and the distractions. I thank You for moments like the Christmas service at Mosaic Church where we praised you in the streets of Hollywood Boulevard as confetti fell in celebration of Your name.
You are bigger than the moments we think we’ve failed, or not said enough, or said too much.
Lord, You are in the doors of those that we knocked on while we prayed for a young male who just got home from the hospital with his grandma, how he held our hands and gripped them tight as we prayed for a miracle. You are in the conversations that we had with dog owners and in the prayers, we pray over the women in dimly lit paths. You were in every picture we got of girls in the life that we prayed for in intercession. You knew them before we even started praying. And I surrender every moment I was hurt, angry or confused when things felt like we were defeated or we’d lost sight of a girl who had been taken away. You are bigger than the moments we think we’ve failed in or not said enough, or said too much.
I still wonder how I probably only touched the surface of who you truly were in just three months but I was able to know enough of you to know in my heart that one day, I hope to see you in person again.
I have said so many things and have so many more on my heart that I want to write about you in this letter, L.A. but I’ll leave it to these paragraphs for now. But know this, I vow to venture back into your arms one day, God-willing and I will again relish in the glow of touching down on Los Angeles soil.
May I always remember that You, God, are God of the small things as well as the big and I am grateful and thankful for the chance to have set my eyes, my heart and my feet on L.A. soil.