A former travel magazine editor, 29-year-old Midwest native Jess Hoffert is taking a 6-month break from the cubicle life to become immersed in the colorful culture of Southern California.

'Tis the season for sharing and eating—and running off carbs

'Tis the season for sharing and eating—and running off carbs

After my 5 day, 30-hour trek to Southern California, I was pretty exhausted. All I wanted was a bed to lie in and a place to call home. But until I arrived, I didn't know what my home would look like. All I knew was that I was going to be living in a room in the educational building of a church. Would it be like a classroom with a bed? Would there be a shower? Would I have to commute 25 minutes to the pastors' home every morning to get ready for the day?

It was twilight when I parked the car at Iglesia Príncipe de Paz on the day of my arrival. Daniel, the cleaning guy, opened the gate for me and Pastor Becky. Becky led me through the industrial-lit hallway. She unlocked the door to what was my new home. It was freshly painted with pastel yellow trim. New, homey lights were installed. A desk sat in the corner. Chairs, a table topped with a starter kit of snacks and a mini-fridge sat in the opposite corner. A few men carried in a dresser drawer a few minutes after I started unpacking my bags. And there was the bed I was dreaming of, perfectly made with fresh blankets and pillows and a towel neatly placed in the corner. (You can see all this in the video tour of my previous blog post.)

All of my pre-arrival jitters came to rest the moment I entered the room. Becky's tour of the facilities—complete with a spacious restroom and shower in the basement of the church—assured me that I would be well taken care of. The feeling of being welcomed so warmly as a relative stranger overwhelmed me. And I continue to feel like I'm living the Orange County edition of Eat. Pray. Love. each day that I'm here.

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I'm not used to being so heavily placed on the "receiving" end of life. It has felt uncomfortable at times. Pastor Richard took me to Target on the 2nd day that I was here and purchased everything from a microwave to cat treats for me and the boys. This generosity came from a church of well over 100 members with an annual budget of about $75,000. That includes a paid staff of four people and about $5,000 that goes to missions around the world. Paying for an initial Target run felt so unnecessary and yet so selflessly generous.

This generosity has manifested itself in a myriad of ways, but mostly through food. One of the neighbors brings me tamales some mornings, along with a warm cup of champurrado (like Mexican egg nog...it's amazing). On Sunday, a church elder with minimal English skills handed me a bowl of refried frijoles (beans), gave me a hug, and managed to utter the words, "I am so happy that you are here." I've received numerous invites to families' homes for a dinner of tamales (which seems to be the comfort food of choice during these frio 65-degree days). And Servando, in charge of security and all those keys I'm slowly figuring out, took me to a favorite Chinese restaurant yesterday. It was fun to navigate our Spanglish together and even share a few jokes and laughs.

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All of these calories have been provided for me and I haven't done much beyond introducing myself to the congregation. It's all been so humbling and I've sometimes felt unworthy, but the experience has helped me find deeper meaning in the Ecclesiastes 3 scripture: "To every thing there is a season..." Here it is with a personal SoCal twist:

To every thing there is a season.

A time to give and a time to receive.

A time to eat tenderloins and a time to eat tamales.

A time to pray and a time to be prayed for.

A time to have a plan and a time to go with the flow.

A time to rest and a time to rock.

A time to be home and a time to explore.

A time to listen and a time to speak.

A time to sit and a time to leap.

This is my season to leap. I'm blessed to have been given a warm bed to land on and call home.

Making connections with the housed and homeless

Making connections with the housed and homeless

Unlocking the doors to a new journey

Unlocking the doors to a new journey