By the time I was 21, I had moved away from my hometown to a city brand new to me… twice! The motivation was mainly to follow my dreams of modeling, but I was also just hungry for adventure and excited to feed my wanderlust. I never would’ve expected it but both times, moving away on my own to the city strengthened my relationship with God.
About a year after graduating from high school, I quit my job on a whim. My boss had treated me terribly for too many months, so crying to my sister one day after a bad shift, she gave me an ultimatum. If I didn’t quit, she was going to go in and quit for me. With a threat like that, of course I obeyed!
With no plan B, I wasn’t quite sure what to do after that, but I knew exactly what I wanted. I had been modeling as much as I could since I was 15, but opportunities were limited in North Idaho. As a creative, I loved the art of it. I loved the idea of creating something beautiful that evokes emotion out of nothing but clothes, props, good lighting, a camera and just the right facial expression. On top of that, I was constantly being encouraged to pursue modeling from nearly everyone around me, including total strangers and people I knew that were already in the industry. It just made sense and of course, I really couldn’t think of a more exciting or adventurous career!
Three weeks after quitting my job, I decided to move to Portland. It was the closest city to home where I guessed was big enough for me to pursue modeling in. I found a job as a live-in nanny for a couple with three wonderful boys! I didn’t know these people beforehand besides a few facetime interviews (I know, I know. I’m too adventurous for my own good). But God protected me, as He always does, and they turned out to be really great people.
Moving to Portland, Oregon
If you’ve never been to Portland, its just BEAUTIFUL. It rains a lot like Seattle, so all of the land is lush and vibrant. I didn’t fit in to the culture (go figure), but that never bothered me. The people and their cultural quirks absolutely fascinated me. Oh, and we can’t forget about the coffee shops. I think I could go to a new one every day for a year and still not experience them all. Heaven!
My wanderlust was definitely being fed, however my life in Portland wasn’t all that I expected it would be. Between watching the boys at home and the second job I got just to get by, I ended up working about 60+ hours most weeks. I took modeling jobs when I could and even booked a runway show, but I was too busy most of the time to really pursue it like I wanted to.
Living in Portland- in this whole new strange world-was so exciting to me. My sense of adventure was at its peak, I was constantly inspired, and I really did feel as if the world was my oyster… but sometimes I felt lonely. Usually whatever free time I had, I spent recharging in my bedroom. I had made friends that I loved, but it was hard for me to find time to see them. I’ve always been relational if nothing else, craving quality time and conversation; so it didn’t take long for the need for connection to catch up to me.
Thankful for the Lonely Times
There’s a song I just love by Elevation, called Great Things. The second verse says,
“Thank you for the lonely times when I learned to live in the silence. As the other voices fade I can hear you calling me, Jesus”.
THIS was my experience.
I needed relationship, and I knew God was calling me to Him. I opened up my Bible one day, beginning in Genesis. And for every continuing day of the six months that I lived in that big strange city, I read God’s love letter to me. It was the first thing I did when I woke up in the morning, and the last before I laid down at night.
God is incredible to us in the way that He anticipates our needs and meets them – often in unexpected ways. Moving back home that December, (a story for another time) I was changed. The new me was more grounded, confident, content, and less self-absorbed. And I was closer than ever to the God I grew up with.
I never would’ve thought that moving to one of the seemingly most Godless cities in the country would strengthen my relationship with God. I also didn’t know that a new life in LA was just around the corner…
Moving to Southern California
In the fall of 2018, almost two years after coming home from Portland, I started all over again. I was still pursuing modeling, so when the opportunity to move to Los Angeles arose, I was thrilled! Chasing the sunshine and smelling the roses, I spent a lot of my days going to the beach or exploring new cafes. For the first while, I did a lot of solo exploring, and this time around, I wasn’t lonely. In fact, joyful is the best word I could use to describe that season. I’ll tell you why.
For someone who grew up in the suburbs of slow and simple North Idaho, this was a huge change. Especially for a Christian. A lot of people think that living in the heart of LA would put a strain in a relationship with God. While that could very well be the story for some, this move did just the opposite for me…
Somehow, God used an overpopulated city full of distractions and people striving for fame, money and self-glory, to bring stillness in my own life. Similar to my experience in Portland, I was less distracted in LA than I’ve ever been. Amidst hustle and bustle, my life slowed down and quieted enough so that I could hear God’s voice louder than I ever had. So while I walked alone on the beach, sat alone in coffee shops, and spent hours in traffic and in waiting rooms for modeling auditions, I was deeply connected to God and my spirit was satisfied.
Falling in Love with LA
I adored my life in LA. It didn’t take long for me to sign on with a modeling agency and a week later, I booked the LA Fashion Week runway show! I fell in love with a church and became a regular volunteer for their youth group. And of course, I made friends that I loved to spend time with. My cousin, who’s 30 years my elder, was more of a friend to me than I could’ve ever asked for, and I moved into an apartment with a roommate that turned into a sister. God completely surrounded me with people I loved. Even still, so many of my memories from those days are of quiet moments spent with God between palm trees and street lights.
Sometimes I felt like I didn’t belong one bit, but that’s part of what made it so magical. I’ll never forget what was said about me on a date once. I went out with a guy I met in town, and after we had dinner together, he took me to a bar to meet some of his friends. This is how he introduced me:
“This is Ariana. She’s the nicest person ever and she’s absolutely nothing like us.“
I busted up laughing! In his defense, he seemed to me like a pretty nice guy and treated me very well that night. His friends were great too. Yet I knew exactly what he was talking about. When you’re walking through life with Jesus, you kind of just stick out like a sore thumb.
I moved back home to North Idaho about 2 years later, when Covid changed the world as we know it. As happy as I was in California, I knew that my time there was done, and I felt that leading from God.
I gave control of my life to God a long time ago, and part of that is letting Him call the shots. He brought me to LA. It couldn’t be more clear! And while I thought the goal was to be a model who represents Christ in the industry, He had even greater plans to pull me away from everything I knew in order to work on Him and I. It went a little differently than I planned, but what I’m left with is better. God opened my eyes to adventure in Portland. Then He fulfilled dreams of mine in LA, and gave me a life there that I loved. Then, He brought me home, only to give me so much more than I’ve ever had before.
I’m so sure that life lived in relationship with God is far better than doing it on our own. Sometimes He does take things away from us – things we adore. Sometimes He does it without our permission. Other times He asks us if we are willing to give it up. Both times, I left what I loved by choice, when I felt the Holy Spirit prompting my heart. I didn’t know what He had in store for me on the other side, but I knew that it would be good.
The Moral of the Story
When I chose to do something as big and unusual like moving to a massive city by myself, people had a lot to say. And while there’s wisdom in listening to input and heeding people’s warnings, if I had let fear control my decisions, I never would’ve left home. I’d say at the end of the day, my greatest guide was the Holy Spirit who ultimately charts my course.
A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.Proverbs 16:9
In my experience, moving to the city both times strengthened my relationship with God. I truly believe that in both of the moves I made, God was pulling me away from the comforts I’d always known to teach me how to find comfort in nothing but Him. It was all part of His perfect plan for my life. It’s hard to imagine who I’d be today if God hadn’t led me into the wilderness of the city to reveal Himself to me.
Fast forward to today. I’m married to my best friend, here in the town that we met. We bought a home that feels like our own little slice of Heaven. We have found friendships more authentic and deep than either of us have ever experienced before.
In this season, I feel removed from old feelings of loneliness and unfamiliarity. And I truly thank God for that! Yet every once in a while, I’ll realize I’ve been too busy and haven’t made time for God. And I’ll miss the way I used to yearn for His presence. So I’ll go for a ride down a new road, take a walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood, or visit a coffee shop I’ve never been to. And there in the comfort of solitude and stillness, I’ll draw near to God and be reminded of how He is all that I need.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
I hope my story blesses you! If you have a similar experience to mine, or have been thinking of making a similar life change, I’d love to hear about it. Let’s chat in the comments!
P.S. I have a similar blog post up about contentment! If you enjoyed this one, then I’m sure it’ll be right up your alley. Read it here!