Bethany Squires

What brought you to Chicago?

I moved to Chicago three years ago, really somewhat on a whim, for my current job. Prior to this I was living in Minneapolis, and absolutely loved it there for a lot of reasons, but had a sense it wouldn't be long term and although I was working in my field, I wasn't working with the specific population I felt drawn towards. A friend from undergrad had a connection to another music therapy working in the Chicagoland area at a psychiatric hospital who mentioned they were hiring, and my friend passed the info on to me. In about a 7 week span I applied "just for the heck of it", interviewed, was offered the position, made 2 trips from Minneapolis to Chicago, and moved. 

Whenever I tell the story I feel like I sound pretty impulsive, because the position was only guaranteed 4 shifts a month, I only knew 2 people in Chicago, and had no real back-up plan for additional income. Not to mention that my perception of Chicago at the time was that it was big, dirty, and ugly, and I had told the same friend not even 2 months earlier, "I would never live in Chicago." But on the other hand I like to call it my first "grown-up" move, because in moving I knew I would be closer to my family, and career-wise it was a (risky) step in the direction I wanted to go for the long haul. It was definitely a mixed bag, I knew that it was the right thing and felt that God was leading me to it, but in the beginning I wasn't stoked to be here. It probably took about 6 months before I really felt like I could consider making Chicago home and feel content.

Where are you from?

I grew up and went to college in northeast Indiana, about 13 miles from the nearest town. My GC loves to tease me and say that I was a country girl who grew up on the farm, but I definitely didn't. My parent's house is at the corner two country roads, with a big patch of woods on two sides, and crop fields on the other two. Most of my childhood was spent building forts in the woods, or playing in the creek at my grandparent's house with my brothers and cousins- I was the only girl and tended more towards the tomboy versus the princess side of life. 

My parents still live in the same house I grew up in, which can create an interesting dichotomy sometimes, I think, going back to the place you spent so many years and feeling a sense of home, but also not really having a life there anymore. Chicago is so transient that in some ways knowing that I can go back and things will be relatively similar is comforting, it's a world different than what I've become accustomed to the last 3 years. It's quiet there, peaceful, change is slow, the pace of life is much more relaxed- I cherish having that space to return to, though my parents are looking at moving into town in the relatively near future, so that will be a shift.

What do you find challenging about living here?

Naturally I am a pretty long-term, deep roots kind of person, so I think the transience of Chicago is something I've wrestled with pretty heavily. I've lived in Pilsen since I moved here and even seeing how much my neighborhood has changed in 3 years can be jarring. For me committing to Chicago feels in some ways like a commitment to letting go- it's unpredictable. Building community here takes that on, too. Knowing that the reality is that probably at least half of the people I'm investing in won't be here in 5 years is hard, I've felt the sting of that, and find myself asking questions about what that means for my own future. Like, how do or don't I allow that to shape the way I invest in relationships? Do I allow myself to go all in with friendships and in my community with people who I know will likely be leaving in a year after they finish school, or do I lean into the relationships that feel "safe" now, the people who are also trying to stay here longer? I think I'm feeling that pain a little more lately, since one of my best friends here just matched for residency at UCLA and will be moving at the beginning of June. 

And what does it mean about where I choose to live in the city? One of my favorite things about Pilsen is the diversity and the culture, but part of living in a city like Chicago is the reality of gentrification. I've seen it happening even in just 3 years, can feel the tension of it, and am continually becoming more aware of the segregation and systemic injustice that's inherent in our city. That breaks my heart, and so I feel like I'm continually in the process of asking questions, trying to learn and make informed decisions, while realizing that just by nature I'm part of the problem. 

I often feel stuck, seeing so much brokenness and wanting to be intentional with my time and resources, but also feeling small. I want to live in neighborhoods where I am challenged to think and act differently, neighborhoods where I can be at home but not be too comfortable, but I also want to root down and invest in a way that will help to bring redemption and restoration. So does that mean committing to being in one neighborhood long term, or does that mean shifting to a different area of the city when the demographic of my current neighborhood drastically changes? I don't feel like I know the answer to this yet. 

What are some of the reasons you love it?

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. I love to watch the way the city comes alive every spring, like we had all almost forgotten or started to disbelieve that spring was going to return in the dreary winter months. I love that even though it's a city, it's a Midwest city and that Midwest hospitality and kindness are part of the culture. And I love observing the connections people make, how even in a big city you can run into someone you know on a random street in a different neighborhood, or get to know and be known at your favorite coffeeshops of restaurants, or by your local transit employees just by being a consistent presence. I love that Chicago is big, but still somehow small. 

Why do you stay?

Chicago is home now. It took my awhile to get to that point, but this is where I've chosen to put roots down and to invest. I tend to pretty routinely get the itch to go somewhere and experience something new, and living here feels like a way to create space for that internal need, while still having the ability to balance that out with having deep connections that I also crave. And I think the longer I'm here the more invested I become in the city itself. Chicago has a grit to it, and so often people hear about all of the brokenness, which is definitely present. But I find so much beauty and space for hope and creativity in that. If you're listening you hear from people all around the city who care deeply and are committed to bringing change and healing, who are working hard for it. That inspires me. There is room to grow here in a way that I haven't found elsewhere yet.

How has community affected your time here?

Community has been a huge part of my life in Chicago. When I moved here I only knew 2 people and was leaving behind a community of people that had become really tight-knit. I got connected quickly to Missio Dei, and within about a month was part of a Gospel Community. My GC 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.

My work community is pretty phenomenal, too.  I work in a psychiatric hospital, so naturally work can be challenging and some days draining, but I think that in many ways bonds is together. In that type of environment you gain an appreciation for different strengths and abilities, because you realize how deeply you need each other. My coworkers are family in a sense, too. They challenge and encourage me, we make each other laugh, and on the tough days are there to support each other. I think they keep me from burning out when I'm feeling tired and frustrated- they've made the last 3 years a joy. 

Can you speak into the creativity found in the Chicago community (specifically in the circle of people you spend time with)? How does it inspire you?

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. I've been observing it in simple things like the way friends arrange their spaces, the meals we share at GC, listening to someone explain how they figured out a new way to organize a system at their job, seeing someone find a unique way to approach and meet a need, or even just in the questions friends ask in conversation. When I start watching for it I'm always blown away, I think because I easily settle into my own routines and systems, but then I see the way a friend thinks about something and it's in a way that would have never even crossed my mind. I think it inspires me to be bolder in trying new things, or even just looking at things differently than I have before.

When you're in a community that's invested in each other, it's amazing to see the collaborations that form, and how we challenge each other to pursue those things in our day-to-day jobs, but also in our free time. And then to see the way that people celebrate and encourage each other in our processes and successes, it's beautiful.

When do you feel most empowered and comfortable in your own skin?

I think for me there are probably 2 scenarios in which I feel most myself: when I'm making music and when I'm biking. Making music is incredibly grounding for me, it centers me, helps me organize my thoughts, is a connecting point to the people I'm playing with, and is where I feel most awakened spiritually. Biking is where I do most of my processing, and channel a lot of my energy. Generally I'm a pretty internal person, give me a cup of coffee and I could sit and think all day. But when I'm riding I feel like I'm pulled out of that and forced to be present and put some movement behind my thoughts- it's a release for me. Plus when I'm cycling around the city I feel free. I can choose how I want to get somewhere and see more than I would if I were confined to transit or a car. 

Has living in the city affected your style and the way you approach your day-to-day look? If so, how?

Living in the city has me on a slow crawl towards minimalism and functionality. The apartment my roommate Kaitie and I share is small, and we've lived together for more than 3 years now, so over time we've resolved to being pretty intentional about what we bring into our home because otherwise it just feels constantly cluttered, which is stressful. I've found that spreading into other areas of my life, like my wardrobe, or even how I spend my time. I am my mother's daughter in that I am a sucker for sales, and found myself building a habit of buying things because they were on sale, even if I wasn't 100% sold on how I felt wearing it or the way I looked in it. So over the last year as I've started realizing this about myself I've forced myself to be more intentional about the things that I buy.

I'm also a cyclist, which means that I rarely buy clothes that aren't functional. I got rid of my car about a month ago and completely committed to biking everywhere; I was mostly doing that before (other than my drive to work in the suburbs, or when the weather was gross), but now I have no fall-back plan other than public transit. I've never been one to be up on the most recent trends, or honestly even put a ton of thought into my clothing choices. But I think living in the city and being so continually active is putting me in a spot of wanting to make choices to buy things that are intentional, functional, and that I can get a lot of use out of. 

If you're up for it, would you share a specific story about an encounter you've had in Chicago that has moved you/stayed with you?

This month I started taking the Metra out to work, since I got rid of my car. I think something that has surprised me is how quickly I've started to recognize other passengers and the conductors working on each of the trains I ride. It's an oddly joyful thing, because I have been observing the relationships that have formed over time between the conductors and the people who have been taking the train longer than I have. They know each other by name, and I hear them asking specific questions about each other's lives as they're boarding and exiting the train, or on the rides between stops. It's a sweet thing to witness, I think, because it evidences a desire for connection, and shows a willingness for people to step outside themselves and engage with a stranger. That fascinates me, because in a city the size of Chicago it can be so easy to float by and go through your days not truly knowing anyone or being known. But I love that there are people fighting against that, and I hope to be that person for other people.

What are the meanings behind your tattoos?

I got the tattoo on my foot in 2010, at the end of my junior year of college; at the time I was in a season where I was starting to figure out my own identity for the first time. I had been in a pretty serious long term relationship that ended earlier in the year, plus all of the self-actualization that naturally happens during the college years, and just trying to come to grips with who I was and what my value was apart from all of the people that I associated with that I had drawn my identity from. It was a pretty emotionally challenging and tumultuous time. During that season Psalm 18:19 became a key theme in my life, 

"He brought me out into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me." 

Just the idea that God had promised deliverance, and not because of my ties to anyone else, or my ability to be "enough", but because He was delighted with me as His daughter. The church I grew up in I think unintentionally planted these ideas that God enters into our lives out of some weird form of obligation, but only when we get our act together enough. Rather than the truth that He loves us out of a beautiful abundance, that He is filled with joy over us, and that we don't have to jump through any hoops to earn his love- it's freely given. I got "delight" as a continual reminder of those truths.

"all is grace" comes from a quote in Ruthless Trust, one of my favorite books by Brennan Manning. The quote goes,

"The foremost quality of a trusting disciple is gratefulness. Gratitude arises from the lived perception, evaluation, and acceptance of all of life as grace - as an undeserved and unearned gift from the Father's hand. Such recognition is itself the work of grace, and acceptance of the gift is implicitly an acknowledgement of the Giver."

For me this tattoo is a reminder of God's faithfulness and ability to use every life circumstance for our good. The last few years I've been wrestling with the idea of how God's goodness intersects with brokenness and suffering in the world. My job has me engaging often with suffering and I've had to start to reconcile what can often feel like two very conflicting realities. I believe in the goodness of God, I also believe the reality and depth of suffering. Through many conversations, reading, and praying I think I'm settling into the tension that sometimes brokenness and suffering are just a natural part of life and humanity, and that God doesn't find any kind of joy in those realities, but that He is a God who suffers alongside, and restores and redeems in the midst of it. It's so nuanced, and I often wish for clarity or a black and white answer, but I think that's where the trust piece comes in. Not a living-in-denial kind of trust, rather a trust that is willing to be open handed and to live in the reality that I won't always know the whole story, but that I can know God and what He reveals of Himself. 

Talk about relationships/dating in Chicago

Being in a relationship is an interesting process. Since we started dating Clay has become one of my best friends, there are so many things that we share a common love for (biking, Chicago, good coffee, to name a few), and there are a lot of ways we are similar. We're both pretty easy going, but also share a common style of intentionality in the way we approach things we commit to. But as we continue getting to know each other we learn more of our differences. He has more of an internal drive than I do, I'm more of a fluid planner, he's not afraid to be direct, I'm often conflict/tension avoidant in my interactions. 

I've been learning a lot about what it means to make space. How to hold my own desires and plans with an open hand and allow them to be influenced by his desires and plans, how to honor who God has designed him to be, and what it looks like to challenge and encourage him so that he can flourish as an individual. 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.