I’m going to turn 33 on September 29th. I will also be marking 6 years since my life took a drastic change. Naturally, I’m reflecting. 🙂
On September 28th, we will be celebrating the 6th anniversary of the birthday party we threw at Union Station. That day in late September of 2008, I saw a miracle that changed the way I viewed my life. Young adults from the suburbs celebrating life with homeless men and women on Chicago’s streets – strangers and unlikely friends gathering to simply celebrate the gift of life.
After trying to manage my life and failing miserably, I had followed God blindly – totally by faith – and seen a miracle I’d never had the courage to dream.
I did not know the kind of community we shared at Union Station was possible. When it “worked” – meaning, deep and lasting friendships were developed despite social barriers – I started the long process of letting go of my big dreams. Over the course of two years, I grew fixated on the small miracle of restored identity as myself and others were deeply changed and healed through simply spending time together.
However, it wasn’t until this past February, when I found out Anthony had passed, that the last bits of that dream to change the world died. When I realized the task of leading our community through this loss, I no longer wanted to know what was “next”. I knew in that moment that I wanted to be here for the many more losses ahead. I began to see the validity in the call to stay. I no longer saw staying as simply the inability to lead people further – a failure – but saw it as a valid vocation.
So here I am, 6 years from that terrifying social experiment at Union Station – sitting in my bedroom at the JUSTembrace house as another group of young adults and a different group of Chicago’s marginalized play games together in the other room. My heart is quietly overflowing with joy as I listen. This would have never happened without that first birthday party 6 years ago. There was no JUSTembrace – I had never set foot in Uptown.
That birthday party showed me a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and I have been hooked ever since.
As this anniversary is always at the same time as my birthday, I can’t help but wonder about the direction of my life personally. For some reason, 33 feels significant to me. I realize age is just a number and that people experience each mile marker differently. In fact, I’ve never cared much about my age, and yet, as 33 is poised to hit me in a few short weeks, I actually feel something. A sense of urgency? A transition to a new reality? The decay of some long-held dreams?
I think this strange feeling is ultimately a deep longing to believe that I have not wasted my youth. That as I settle into this path – into life in Uptown – that the last 6 years have not been misspent – directing me off course.
Because – the truth is, I could have lived the last 6 years very differently.
I could be about to celebrate my 33rd birthday in very different life circumstances.
I could have a house, a car, a family.
I could have a career.
I could have a salary and a savings account.
I could have had vacations and have seen the world, or explored the U.S.
I could be living in another country – surrounded by the orphans I dreamed of in college, or pastoring a congregation, or teaching students, or managing a business.
But here I am.
Renting a house on Chicago’s north side with donated money, and living with college students.
Working at Starbucks to pay for my master’s degree.
Living paycheck to paycheck.
Throwing parties for my neighbors every spare moment I can.
And – I love it.
As I finish up this 33rd year of life and get ready to embark on my 34th, there are still so many uncertain things about my future (I AM still young!) – but one thing I am not uncertain of – I want to live like this forever. I want game days with my neighbors – I want to spend holidays with those who don’t have families – and I want to grieve the forgotten when they pass.
Happy Anniversary JUSTembrace!
Thank you to all our partners who have made the last 6 years of my life evolve into a calling and vocation for me. May God continue to guide us all in stepping out in faith and living lifestyles of restoration!