Free Write Friday: Finding Jesus

CS City night

Two election cycles ago, I was a different person. Freshly married with a young baby, I lived in a New England town where almost 100% of my friends were made up with people from church and at least 80% of them looked like me. Houses were situated on .66 acres and life felt idyllic. The public schools were good, though most people I knew homeschooled their children. We went to church Sunday morning and Wednesday evenings. On weekends we’d take day trips to neighboring states. Each state, each town really, had its own personality, but all were undeniably New England. We worked hard and played hard. I loved listening to talk radio and I would often have conversations with friends about how those “big city liberals” just didn’t understand what the rest of the country was like.

Fast forward eight years and here I am living in the third largest city in the country. Half of my friends are from a church that mostly looks nothing like me and my backyard is the size of a postage stamp. I don’t know many who homeschool, even though our public schools are fighting for their life while privatization, budget cuts, and teacher strikes loom. Our evenings are much more hectic, although that is most likely a byproduct of having growing children, and our weekends are often spent in our city’s many museums. We work hard and play hard. And I still have conversations with friends, but now about how the rest of the country doesn’t know what living in the city is like. My forty years have helped me see the irony in this, and the time spent here has taken away any flippancy I had and replaced it with something akin to solemnity.

Over 100 people in my city have been shot this year; 17 have been killed. Chicago is a quick answer to those against gun control—Just look at Chicago! Look at their violence! (Never mind that 60% of our guns come from out of state.) I see and hear these comments daily and find myself either becoming angry or fighting off tears. This city that is both praised as a tourist destination and vilified as a government is my home and the love I have for it I have never before felt for a place. I walk down her streets, filled with the never ending and unavoidable potholes we are known for, and I am filled with both deep gratitude and deep sadness. I see her beauty and I see profound pain. I simultaneously want to run away and never leave.

Every assumption, every belief, every characterization, everything I thought I knew and believed got turned up twisted around and changed after living here. The Jesus I’d been following my whole life met me all over again in Chicago. His sandy brown hair and blue eyes melted away, replaced with something much more Middle Eastern. He stopped speaking English. He was dustier, messier, and a million times more nuanced. His calls to leave everything behind felt quite literal and suddenly loving my neighbors, feeding the hungry, and caring for the refugee and the widow became a mandate to be followed at all costs. Day after day He shows me my rights are not what’s important and this whole take up your cross and follow him thing was pretty serious.

Just like any other good Chicagoan, there are days I dream about leaving it all behind (especially when the arctic wind whips through your hair). Sell the house and move out to the country to raise chickens, grow vegetables, and live a simple, peaceful life. There’s nothing wrong with that. But then He takes me by the hand and walks me back home and tells me all over again the things He’s been saying to me and for all the chaos others see, I have a simple, peaceful life.

Brenna D'Ambrosio

Brenna D'Ambrosio

I believe in finding and celebrating the breath of God in the every day, and that sometimes a gentle, simple group of words is the best way to reflect the complex and bold beauty of the world. I believe in the fierce. I believe in a generation of girls and women finding their voice. A generation who are the heroes of their own story, who fight their own battles, and slay their own dragons.
Brenna D'Ambrosio

Latest posts by Brenna D'Ambrosio (see all)

  • Oh, how I can’t wait to see Chicago soon! I live in the suburbs but my heart is in the city. My perspective changed when I lived in a Middle Eastern City of 20 million. OH, how a change like that changes everything in your heart, including the way you see God. You realize He is so much bigger than the God everyone around you always said He was, you always took their word for it. But beware…it’s easy to forget once you leave that place. I feel like I am constantly fighting not to loose what I learned and scratching against the culture all around me that I feel out of place in now. Beautiful that you found Him in the busy streets and diversity others probably think He is absent from…

  • Terri

    I love reading about other people experiencing meeting Jesus all over again. The Jesus I have been meeting is so radically different than the Jesus of the neatly trimmed fingernails and coiffed golden hair! Dusty and messy, like my house and my life! Profound sorrow and exquisite joy, words that have seeped into me, they co-exist. Thank you for sharing your Friday thoughts and insights.

  • Brenna, I love reading your words. They are always so poignant and heartfelt. ” But then He takes me by the hand and walks me back home and tells me all over again the things He’s been saying to me and for all the chaos others see, I have a simple, peaceful life.” This really sums up our lives, doesn’t it? When we listen to God and follow Him it might look different that what someone else thinks we should do, but we are always more content when in His will wherever that may be. Blessings to you, sweet Brenna! xo

  • I love this post and relate to it so much. I have lived downtown Atlanta for seven years, and 3 years in South Central Los Angeles before then. The city is where I have found Jesus over and over again. And my experience of him has been kinder and funnier and more joyful than the Jesus I had conjured up in my mind before. I love living in the city. But I do think one of the reasons I’ve stayed is because of the experiences I’ve had with God in this place. Thanks for sharing your story!