#OurChicagoStories Spring 2017

#OurChicagoStories Spring 2017

Four times a year at Missio Dei Wrigleyville we take a pause, a time to quiet ourselves and look back on God's hand in our story- we call these Sundays Ebenezer Sundays. We remind ourselves of the story of Ebenezer in 1 Samuel 7:12; "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer, for he said, 'Till now the Lord has helped us.'" The morning is typically filled with more storytelling and some more time in worship and reflection. Each Ebenezer Sunday we roll out a scroll and we write prayers, praises, what God is teaching us- a visible way to remember God's providence over our journey. It's the same scroll each time, just rolled out further- so all of our small statements, prayers and stories are all rolled up within one single scroll, showing that it's a continuing journey and God is present throughout it all.

Back in January, Jameson Allen saw the heart of Our Chicago Stories aligning with the mission of Ebenezer Sunday's and asked Rachel and I to help design a morning incorporating what we are learning from OCS into an Ebenezer. It involved storytelling, photos, lessons learned & a whole lot of vulnerability. The responses and conversations stemmed from this morning have had God's hand all over it. It's been so amazing to see how he is using and transforming what started as a self focused passion project into a Gospel living, storytelling, beautiful, messy passion project.

The morning was so life giving, I have it on my heart to share a little bit of what Rachel and I shared to the congregation of Missio, in addition to all of the beautiful photos and quotes from Our Chicago Stories Part 2!!

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When Jameson first approached Rachel and I about sharing on an Ebenezer morning, and told us OCS was Gospel Living, I think we were both a little bit taken aback by what he was seeing in what was just a passion project for us. But from the moment he sat us down and spoke about what he saw in it, it transformed and unleashed all of the thoughts we had on OCS. The heart behind it, the mission of it, what we wanted to see it become- suddenly it was all aligning and make a lot more sense. There became a deep purpose within it, that I think was there all along, but it took someone pointing it out to make us realize it.

I think one of the most important things that is completely at the center of OCS is Vulnerability within storytelling. I want to start this by saying, vulnerability, although something I crave deeply, does not in ANY way come naturally to me. My natural urge and desire is to present a perfect life to all of those around me. I'm a girl of lists, goals, and determined planning- which can all be beautiful wonderful qualities. But with the lists lacks spontaneity and openness to what life hands me daily, with the goals comes the inability to sit in the celebration before setting the next goal, and with determined planning comes irritability and impatience. And with all of those comes a deep desire to be viewed as flawed, with a bow on top.

By that I mean, I share my story- my past, but my present is harder to share. Where I'm at daily, what my current struggles are- that's where I lean towards creating a pretty picture for those around me, the “okay so this is all hard BUT look at what's great!!!”  It's the inability to allow myself to accept struggle and lean in on God for my strength when I don't have it myself.

So as I'm writing about sharing stories and being vulnerable, I have by no means perfected it- far from it. God has been refining me over the last few years, specifically my years here in Chicago. Rewiring my outlook, showing me time and time again what beautiful things come from sharing the real stuff. Bringing me to a place where the thing I feel most passionate about is also the thing that scares me the most.

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In this world we are taught to candy coat our lives, to tell a story but then to tie it up with a bow. We are constantly in the spotlight, especially with social media at our fingertips. I think with that we are given a unique opportunity, that others before us didn’t have, to tell stories and put our lives on display. But with that opportunity, we present a highlight real, because we’re told the real stuff isn’t pretty and if it isn’t pretty we should hide it. This isn’t just present on social media, but it’s present in our day to day lives. We meet new people, arrive at an interview for a new job, join a small group, and immediately we begin to put a guard up. We candy coat our stories, we answer every “how are you?” with “good” or “busy”, and we only let people in on the very surface of our story. 

I think because of living in a society that encourages that so much, we are all craving spaces to be vulnerable, to let go, to tell the real stuff. So often we aren’t even given a space for that. But, the moment we are given that space, for a real true genuine connection, beautiful things can happen. I’ve been learning that my love for people deepens in moments of real, true, vulnerable storytelling. There’s something beautiful about sitting there hearing about the messy brokenness of someone’s life and seeing your love for them stand still, or even grow.

To be perfectly honest, I think as a Christian I so often fear telling my story, this fear that I have a standard I have to fit. Which is actually funny if you think about it because Christianity is centered in on our brokenness and the grace that we didn’t deserve being given to us. But what's truly amazing amongst that fear is that the moments I have allowed vulnerability to takeover are the moments where people have told me they see God working in me more than ever. When we tell our stories, we are revealing all of the little, or big, ways that God is working in our lives. If we can’t see it, the community around us is often able to point it out. None of that would happen if we didn’t truly do life with one another, and a huge part of that is being vulnerable, sharing your story, and letting people enter into the messy with you. 

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Jesus listened. He went to those who weren’t given opportunities to tell their stories, the ones who were silenced, the ones on the outskirts, pushed to the side. He heard them, He loved them, He reminded them of the truth.

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Throughout Our Chicago Stories, both Rachel and I have learned so many lessons, both as a pair and individually. As we spoke about what we were going to talk about on the morning of the Ebenezer Sunday it was certainly clear that we needed to speak on the lessons being learned. The lessons show the imperfections, the challenges, and truly the lessons show how God is at work in the midst of all of it.

What I feel I have learned most throughout OCS is the reality of the fluidity of stories. This is a challenging topic for me to write about, because honestly, I'm in the midst of truly learning what that looks like. How to trust God amongst the changes, the reality of God's provision, God's plan, God's hand amongst all of the daily events, big or small. 

So many of the people very dear to me in my life, myself very much included, are learning what it looks like to have your story rearranged, your journey adjusted. So many of people in my close community are facing challenges, are experiencing a sea change, are asking questions. There are conversations constantly surrounding me about these things. I think the most beautiful part of all of these conversations I've been having is how often the conversation ends in, “But. I see God's hand in this. He’s got this. I've just got to lean into Him.”

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When we started Our Chicago Stories I had this vision that the photos and quotes would last forever. That they would be timeless, something we could share for as long as we wanted. What I’m learning is that the stories change, evolve, take turns we would have never expected. I look at the quotes from people’s answers in December and January and at least half of their stories have taken a turn, have changed direction, have altered. Some in joyful wonderful and exciting ways, and some in messy confusing and challenging ways. But what I’m learning, is in all those changed directions God’s hand is making things beautiful. If you look, He’s in it all, weaving the stories together, making beauty out of pain and clarity out of confusion.


I believe that’s why we need community surrounding us. Because our stories ARE changing and if we don’t have someone by our side doing life with us, pointing us back to God and the truth, it can be a lonely road. If we don’t open the space for people to share, be vulnerable, drop guards- then we will all just do what the world tells us and hide.

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What are some of the reasons you love it? I think the answers to these questions tend to be some of my favorites. Reminders of the beauty you already know, or things you've never noticed before. As I read these answers my eyes are opened to everyones version of this city, what they find beauty in, what make there heart beat for Chicago.

I love Chicago because it challenges me; I am at home, but I am not too comfortable. I love the diversity, the fact that you can see and experience so many different things all in within the boundaries of one city. Each neighborhood is unique, with it’s own history and culture; I feel like I could explore Chicago for years and still not have seen or known everything about it.
— Bethany Squires
Chicago is the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, but with each day, it starts to feel a bit smaller, it grows on you more, you begin to notice the small things and find a beauty that’s been right in front of you the whole time.
— Becca Surles
This city is full of challenge and opportunity. There is more room to take creative risks here and a greater reward for doing so. This city is so full of raw talent and insanely creative people that it’s impossible to become complacent. I love Oklahoma but, creatively speaking, a little bit of talent was all it took to become a big fish in a small, backwater pond. In Chicago, I have to constantly improve myself or face every performer’s nightmare of losing people’s attention because there are so many more talented, creative people everywhere you look.
— Ryan Croft
People, people, and people. I am staying here for four more years of residency. It was actually my first choice to do so, but I never thought that would be the case. I always assumed I was leaving Chicago the minute I was done with school! But the relationships I’ve developed at church and at school have made Chicago really feel like home to me, in a way I never thought possible.
— Nicky Hackett
One of my favorite days in Chicago is marathon day. Thousands of runners, thousands of onlookers. Thousands of people from all over the world! There is something that I see on marathon day that You don’t see everyday, or at least, you don’t see it on this large of a scale. You see diversity, kindness, encouragement, unity, you see strangers coming along side of one another, cheering each other on for the good of others. It’s not selfish, it’s genuine. These are all things that I think still ring true about Chicago, even if you don’t see it day to day, the potential is still here.
— Joy Purazzo
I love the people of the city, the stories they have to tell, the past they come from and the future they’re journeying towards. I love seeing people of the city come together to cheer along the marathon course, to celebrate the Cubs winning the world series, to protest the injustices that break their hearts and put fear into their lives. There’s something unbelievably beautiful about seeing a city so broken, come together in moments of celebration as well as moments of heartbreak.
— Devin Sutter
I grew up watching planes land at Midway Airport from my Nana’s backyard in the West Lawn neighborhood and it left an impression on me. The movement of the city fascinated me. It makes you feel alive; a part of something bigger than yourself. Even in the fragile mix of safety and tragedy we see daily, we are part of something that is a tangible example of the plight of Man. But yet it is beautiful. There is constant victory amidst tragedy in the city that shows resurrection work on display. My wife and I have chosen for this to be our home to be a part of and watch firsthand the resurrection work that God interweaves into our humanity.
— James Purazzo
I love biking through the streets and seeing the life there is block by block. I love getting know the rhythms of the city, the way life flows. I love seeing people walking and doing their thing, I wonder at what point in their life am I seeing them. I love the craft that people have behind their passion and seeing how that aligns with their occupation... I love it here because there are people here, and with people you have real life problems, but you also got real life potential.
— Clay Kamaleson
I grew up where most people had one path they could take. Everything was limited back home. And as a result it seemed like most were less motivated to strive for anything more. I love living with what seems like no limitations. I love seeing the people I know having endless opportunity in all aspect of life. Its a comfort to know that if one thing isn’t working out, you can try another. And another and another!
— Alex Croft

How has community affected your time here? COMMUNITY. It changes everything in a big city, it makes a city small, approachable. In a transient city community becomes family. I love hearing the affect of community on all different people, what they experience, what they long for, what's beautiful and what's broken.

My community has become my family here in Chicago. Community was something I craved as a Chicagoan. New girl in the city, not knowing more than 2 people, I desperately needed it. Over the past 7 years it has shifted, people have moved, I moved to the south side. But the people who have been a part of my close community are some of my favorite people in this world. People that I still keep in touch with regardless of where they have gone off to.
— Joy Purazzo
Community has affected my time here immensely, it has been like a ruler and like a mirror. Community has pushed me when my people know that I capable of so much more. Community has reminded me of who I am in God when I have forgotten. We go deeper, both in ourselves and other people when we have others that we go with. My community in Chicago has brought life to a city that I would otherwise ghost through.
— Clay Kamaleson
It has made what was at first a bleak, difficult existence (I have a penchant for melodrama), into a vibrant, living space for me to thrive. I am encouraged, loved, and lifted up by those in my community... We have a beautiful capacity for forming deep relationships and adjusting to new environments. Nostalgia (‘pain for the past’ literally translated) is a powerful force in humans, and I am particularly vulnerable to its sticky grip. It tells me to stay in the past and that new relationships will never be as good as the ‘good old days.’ I have realized after moving away from ‘home,’ that the good new days are what God wants us to experience! Not holding onto the past any more than we should hold on to the future. We can’t control either.
— Nicky Hackett
The first week I lived in the city I chose to check out Missio Dei (it was one of at least ten churches I had on a list) I immediately knew it was where I was suppose to be, I sat there and felt comfort, felt a calm, felt welcomed all with knowing no one and sitting alone in service. Six months into living in Chicago I began going to the Finley’s GC. Some weeks it was hard to show up, talking to a group of people who all know each other well when you’re the new girl can be exhausting- you crave the personal connections but dread the effort that gets you to that point.... a year later I looked back and was shocked to see what had transformed in my life. Chicago was starting to feel like home, the people around me like a little family.
— Devin Sutter
My Gospel Community is what keeps me grounded; they keep me honest and most of my closest friendships have developed out of it- they truly are my Chicago family. It’s taken time and a lot of energy to get to this point, but I think there’s something beautiful about a group of people committing to love and invest in each other, not just for their own benefit but for the benefit of the others. Every Monday we share a meal, talk about life, and I’m so challenged by them. I see so many aspects of God’s heart, and learn about so many facets of life that I wouldn’t find or think about alone, and I’m always encouraged by the ways they approach and think about it all.
— Bethany Squires
Chicago, though a land of limitless potential and creativity, can also be a place of infinite loneliness without friends and family. Thankfully, since moving here, I’ve made friends who have basically become family. The Chicago comedy scene can be great, if you’re a famous or at least popular comedian and to be one of those, you have to have been around a while... Without them, Chicago can be a wonderful but very lonely place.
— Ryan Croft
God’s plan for us is to serve others with our gifts. He longs for us to be in community with one another so we may better know His heart and love for us.
— Rachel Loewen
I’ve definitely had moments of fear and feeling like I don’t want to be the “new girl,” of wanting so badly it hurts for it to be the same type of relationships I found so easily before. That void of not having what we were created to be in with one another, to share this life together in Christ, becomes so apparent when you move to a new city not knowing anyone. It’s allowed me to truly have faith. God doesn’t just hand us his favor; we need to reach for it. Put what we believe to be true into action.
— Becca Surles
I am not good at making friends. I always joke that you have to force me to be your friend or it just won’t happen. Needless to say, I just assumed I wouldn’t make any real friends here. I was here to support my husband and build my career but friends just might not happen. Thankfully, I was wrong! I am probably a better friend to the people I’ve met here... The people I know here I had to work for. I chose these people to be surrounded by. I consciously make an effort now and I surprisingly enjoy that! I like to have friends now. Chicago has really helped me learn how to have intentional relationships.
— Alex Croft

Can you speak into the creativity found in the Chicago community (specifically in the circle of people you spend time with)? What I loved about this groups answers to this question is the variety. I feel they opened my eyes to depth and width of the meaning of the word creativity. For someone who works in a creative industry, I think its good to be reminded that creativity can be found in so much more than what tends to be identified as "creative."

I love art and Tattoos and tattoo culture out here is incredible. I’m fascinated with tattooing and tattoo history, particularly traditional tattooing. Tattooing is such a cool form of artistic expression, I fell right into it. A friend of mine, actually, bought me a tattoo so we could both get the same one. It was a really thoughtful gift since it was part of my discipleship story, and since has been a huge witnessing tool for the Lord. From there forward I was hooked. Each one has a story, or if it doesn’t, it’s just a design you love.
— James Purazzo
I mean in reality, what else is creativity besides making connections between two things? Regardless of whether or not it is aesthetically pleasing, the sense of level of creativeness I think comes from how novel an idea is in a certain context, and I see that in everybody all the time. So maybe it’s not about tapping into that or unlocking a new level, but rather humans are just creative and we just need to realize that and observe our individual surrounding and humanize it.
— Clay Kamaleson
I spend a large amount of my time at work. I do hair so my industry is creative already. It’s inspiring to see so many people who don’t think of doing hair as just a job. It’s a career to most of my peers. That’s incredibly inspiring. We aren’t just working for a paycheck. We are excited to do what we do. We know we create art. We are always looking for the next thing to help educate or inspire us. And we push each other to do better.
— Alex Croft
I think my understanding of creativity has been expanded in my time here; so often we think of creativity and limit it to the arts. But I’ve been considering lately the ways that it shows up that are outside of the norm, and have been inspired by how people seek it out even if their career choices aren’t really associated with the arts. It’s fascinating when you start looking for it.
— Bethany Squires
I love seeing people here embrace having the freedom to do different things, express themselves differently, not worry about having to ‘fit the mold.’
— Becca Surles
In Chicago, I have to constantly improve myself or face every performer’s nightmare of losing people’s attention because there are so many more talented, creative people everywhere you look. That might sound like a nightmare but being around such an abundance of capable performers means, when I do well in front of an audience or my peers, I have truly earned it because I stood out among some of the best in the city.
— Ryan Croft
Creativity was always a part of who I am in some capacity, but the moment I moved to Chicago something changed- it was like I dropped my guard in that area of my life, started (trying) to not care what people thought quite as much, and let the creativity I had within me be revealed. It’s a beautiful thing to unleash the creativity inside of you, you start to see the world in a different way. Pair that with knowing that all of the beauty in the world was created by God and you live life with a lot of “WOW” moments.
— Devin Sutter
Most of my community is very outgoing, adventurous. A lot more outgoing do adventurous than I am. And even though when I think of creativity I don’t necessarily think of adventure, this is what really comes to mind. People ride their bikes all over the city, hike, go camping, take trips together, go hammocking. They find adventure in the outdoors and make it part of their Chicago day to day.
— Joy Purazzo
These creative people inspire the creative side of me, which is seldom nurtured by medical school. My work is structured and scientific by necessity, but I love art, particularly music. It is so inspiring to be continually prodded by these people to embrace the creative and the intangible in my life. God works through these as well as the scientific. In my opinion, if I can harmonize the two, let them coexist equally, it will make me a better human being, as well as a better doctor.
— Nicky Hackett

Relationships. This time we asked the couples involved in OCS to speak about their relationship in some capacity. To be real, vulnerable, and open about what life looks like in a relationship, in a marriage. These answers blew me away, it gives you a glimpse into the real story behind the photo. So often you see beautiful photos of a couple, showcasing the love they feel, and you assume there's perfection within that- but that is so far from true. There's a journey within every relationship and we want  to give couples the opportunity and space to tell that story.

Change is horrifying for me but this just felt so right. Also, knowing I would have my amazing, fearless partner by my side gave me the confidence I would need to make a giant leap in an awesome but unknown direction.
— Alex Croft
I never imagined Chicago would be the place where I would fall in love, much less decide to stay longer than a year. Even though I’ve always wanted to fall in love, share life with someone else, that was always in my mind, way down the line. I always placed it separate from the ideas and plans I had for my own life where I wasn’t taking into account another person.
It’s amazing to see how those plans that I thought were so important to life plan can swiftly change when you meet someone. It’s good to realize that surrendering your independence, making decisions unilaterally with another person, serving and putting the good of the whole over your own, isn’t instinctive by nature, but it’s a foundation for a God centered relationship.
— Becca Surles
I would have to say meeting my current girlfriend is my most meaningful encounter. Rebecca moved here from Georgia with the plan to stay only for a year. Her friends convinced her to get a dating app, which was never her style. Meanwhile, I had found that dating apps were a great way to date outside my immediate circle... I felt a peace and ‘normalness’ about her that I had previously found very elusive in all my previous dinner or coffee conversations with strangers. I felt like I could share anything with her pretty early on, and our connection quickly grew. We are almost 10 months into our official dating relationship, and I have never been happier here in Chicago.
— Nicky Hackett
We’ve had a lot of talks about what it means to be in this season, where we’re becoming more involved and intertwined into each other’s lives, and what it looks like for us to lean into God’s leading together. Trust is an equal parts beautiful and scary thing, because it means that we have to be honest about the fact that we can (and realistically, will) hurt each other. But also it means that as long as God continues to draw us together that we can lean into the fact that we’re both committed to setting ourselves aside and trying to do what will best honor the other, which can take shape in so many ways.
— Bethany Squires
t’s opening up and inviting, it’s ongoing and a process. Any relationship that is new is a kind of growth, and you can’t really prepare for growth, you can only start growing. My story with Bethany was so essential in learning that, we met when I was in a low place and the areas where I fell short were so apparent to me from relationships and episodes prior to her. There was a point where we talked and I listed all the things wrong with me, and she was still undeterred, she knew where she was at with how she felt about me, and that won me.
— Clay Kamaleson
We have been through a lot together. A hard beginning to being married. We would both tell you that our first two years of marriage pretty much sucked. But there has been so much growth and healing that has come with it as well. We long to be open and honest with people about our marriage. About how God has been our strength when we wanted to fall, how we couldn’t be where we are today without him. It’s funny how sometimes the timing isn’t right, and then when the right time comes, it’s perfect.
— Joy Purazzo
When I was 29, I loved Jesus so much. But I thought I had to give up my desire to find my person. I was bitter, resentful, and just plain tired from searching. So I stopped. And I kept showing up at Gospel Community. And on one humid August evening, I met Andrew, on a sidewalk, going to the same place. And I didn’t think much of it.... One of the first times I really noticed A was a winter evening during Gospel Community. I had just asked for prayer over my first time producing for a pledge drive that week. I was sick to my stomach nervous, and I knew there’d be long days. I hated asking for prayer. And the silence after I shared felt like ages. But he stepped up and said, ‘I’ll pray over that.’
— Rachel Loewen

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OCS is transforming and growing into so much more than we ever envisioned. I think the heart behind OCS is developing into so much more, which makes this passion project so much more life giving for both Rachel and I, along with all of those participating and following along. I am so excited to continue this journey and see what God does with it. Our next shoot is set for July, and I cannot wait to create magic, hear stories, and share even more!!

The Start of 2017 Chicago Marathon Training.

The Start of 2017 Chicago Marathon Training.

And, it begins! Red 7 Salon Cutting Program.

And, it begins! Red 7 Salon Cutting Program.