I moved to Hanford in 2002, which seems like forever ago. My father is in the military and when we got our orders to move here we were living near the coast of Virginia Beach. It was beautiful there! But I thought to myself, California has beaches and Hollywood, so it’s probably gonna be the same if not better. When I arrived here, I was disappointed by more than a few things.

Remember the title of this article is I heart Hanford, which is absolutely true! But if I could be totally honest, especially as a young teenage girl, I was totally annoyed with living here. It was small, frankly a bit stinky, and way too far from the beach in my opinion.

As I grew up, and opportunities began to present themselves for me to leave, escape, run away, get a fresh start somewhere “cooler,” I was so ready. Yes I had found an incredible group of people to call mine I was still not in love. Literally weeks before I was to move to Santa Barbara, a series of events forced me to stay. Key word: forced. During that next season of my life I felt stuck and therefore began to resent my town more than ever.

During this stuck season, I did some really dumb things. I made shallow friendships just to have a good time and eventually burned those bridges when those individuals got too needy. I spent a ton of money on nothing at all. I stopped trying to push myself to grow, learn, and help others.

Have you ever felt stuck in your situation? Celebrating our nation’s independence day reminded me of Galatians 5:13 “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” We are free. Freedom is such a powerful thing. About a year into being “stuck” here, I made a choice to stay, at least until I finished my first two years of college. Making the decision to stay made me feel so different than being forced to stay. I began to love my town.

This is one of the powers of choice. God has given us choice in loving Him or not. We are not forced, or stuck in situations and therefore coerced into relationship with Him. When we get to chose to love, even though it’s not easy, or perfect, or the obvious choice, it can deepen our devotion.

I did end up leaving Hanford for a short time. But I chose to come back. I don’t think this area is perfect, and I head to the beach and the mountains as often as I can. But choosing to live here, grow here, and invest here has changed my heart. I now see the good more than the bad. I now want to help the things that need some attention. Apathy is diminished because choice has given me freedom to love this community.

Take a moment today and sit in your freedoms. Some of you may be stuck in your situation. Your job, marriage, home, or finances may feel like areas of force or confinement. But some of being stuck is more of a mentality than an actuality. We still have choice in so many ways. Make a choice to love someone today. To love your neighbor, the person in line in front of you, even if they are not choosing the same for you.

I am so thankful to be free. I am free to choose love.

Candace Cortez is the Youth Pastor at Koinonia Church. Any comments can be sent to: candace@kchanford.com.

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