Catherine Kesman

Where are you from?

Lake Forest, Illinois – a suburb of Chicago along the North Shore ~ 30 miles north.


What brought you to Chicago?

An internship opportunity at Leo Burnett following college graduation brought me to Chicago, which fortunately led to a job offer. I grew up in the northern suburbs of the city, and went to college a few hours away, so my network was rooted in the Chicagoland area and returning home felt like the natural next step after school. Proximity to family and friends was certainly the reason I was applying to jobs here in the first place.

My job out of college – was eager to work in advertising and had the most natural connections in the city, having grown up in the surrounding area and attended college in Indiana.


What do you find challenging about living here?

I feel a deep love and affinity for the city of Chicago. I currently feel deeply challenged to find a way to connect more meaningfully with the neighborhoods of Chicago. I am increasingly aware of the idol of comfort and convicted that I do not want to flee, or live in isolation in my largely segregated, privileged neighborhood, but rather dig deep and embrace the brokenness of the city I call home. I feel a tension between my love of the world and the call to not conform to its patterns.

One of the most challenging aspects of living in Chicago has been using the time and resources I’ve been blessed with in a meaningful way [navigating how I spend my time]. This city offers a wealth of opportunity to indulge in all my favorite pastimes – socializing, trying new restaurants, ect. That being said, I often find myself succumb to the lie that more is more and pack my schedule so full I leave little time and energy for deep connection or sitting in stillness with Jesus.

In the same vein, it's also been challenging to navigate which relationships I pour myself into most fully. Having been raised in the area and gone to college nearby, I am blessed to be surrounded by family and friends from all stages of life, and most recently my church community. As someone who thrives on social interaction, I cannot express how fortunate I feel to have this wealth of relationships supporting me, however recently I’ve become increasingly aware of my own limitations and saddened by the way I let myself and those around me down when I say yes to too much. I realize I have a limited capacity with whom I can do life on life, so I’m trying to be more discerning about how I spend my time.


Why do you love it?

Where to start. I love Chicago because it’s one of the premiere food and drink cities in the world – it has everything New York and LA have to offer with warmer smiles and less attitude. It feels incredibly international, while also so intimate and personal. I love the flavor of each neighborhood, the Eater Heatmap – there’s always a new restaurant I’m eager to check out – the creative community, the grit, and the seasons. Oh how I love the seasons. Summer in Chicago is like no other – we appreciate those long, warm glorious days more because of cozy winter nights.


Why do you stay?

I stay because of the people here, the richness of relationship, the richness of the food, the faith community, the work to be done, the opportunities to grow, and the chance to make a difference. I feel the Holy Spirit activating the Missio Dei church family and I want to join God in his renewal of the city, neighborhood by neighborhood. I am rooted in my faith, family, and friends that make this city home.


How has community affected your time here?

Community has largely shaped my time in Chicago, particularly the Missio Dei community. I have several tribes I belong to, and there have certainly been growing pains establishing how to balance a rich variety of relationships I am blessed with. First and foremost I am daughter and sister in Christ. My relationships at work are really important to me, I have dear friends who inspire me to create. Most recently, I have gotten more intentionally plugged into Missio Dei which has been transformative in my faith life. I’ve been so desperately craving to be known, to have people who love and challenge me and speak truth into my life. I’ve been amazed at how I’m drawn to people who share my love for Jesus, and how this common ground allows for a new depth of relationship. There’s something so tremendously beautiful about sharing your full heart & soul with someone, being intensely vulnerable, and trusting the Holy Spirit will use this image bearer to minister to you in a uniquely personal way.


Can you speak into the creativity found in the Chicago community? How does it inspire you?

I’m an art director at Leo Burnett and wow do I love the creative community in Chicago. I have found it to be very welcoming and accessible – there are so many incredibly talented hand lettering artists, designers, photographers, you name it, and I’ve been amazed at how approachable and encouraging they are. I’ve been trying to learn hand lettering and have been fortunate to have so many resources available – I did a fantastic workshop with Jenna Blazevich (@vichcraft ) and got to practice at a local lettering gathering Francis Macleod (@francisblank) co-hosted. People who I deeply admire and respect were all incredibly encouraging of beginners. There’s a gif I love of women physically lifting each other up as they climb higher and higher, and it feels like an apt metaphor for the creative community in Chicago - it's not a zero sum game, but rather an ever expanding web - the more we nurture one another’s creative passions, the more the community as a whole flourishes and is recognized for its creative talent which begets more opportunity in the area - a positive chain of events! I’m currently trying to brush up on photography, but have been really intimidated by my lack of equipment knowledge. I had so many advanced coworkers and friends who graciously answered my questions, sent me links, and encouraged me to embrace my interest instead of sitting on the sidelines waiting to dive in. I’m so grateful to be surrounded my people who care about others like that in such a constructive, genuine, non-competitive manner.


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

When I’m worshipping, when I’m practicing yoga, when I’m channeling creativity, when I’m sharing a meal with loved ones, and when I’m wearing Levi’s and a t-shirt with my Everlane Boss Boots, or a leather jacket. And wearing lipstick. Love a bold lip.


Has living in the city affected your style and the way you approach what you purchase / invest in. If so, how?

Since moving to the city I’ve significantly streamlined my wardrobe. Perhaps it's the industry I work in, but I’ve adopted a very neutral palette – black, gray, white & lots of denim. I read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo and it really did rock my world - I sold or donated at least two thirds of my wardrobe. It’s so much easier getting ready now, and I really do have more time and peace of mind being surrounded by less stuff. It's made me increasingly selective making future purchases because I’m only buying pieces I’m confident will be well-worn and am more mindful about consuming less overall. I firmly believe you vote with your dollar, so I try to make informed purchasing decisions and support businesses that make quality, minimal garments, provide a living wage to their employees, and minimize their environmental footprint. Everlane is my current favorite. Reformation is aspirational, but doesn't always fit me well and is often outside my budget. Girlfriend Collective makes incredible leggings from recycled water bottles. For skincare I’ve significantly reduced the number of products I use, and prioritize short, natural ingredient lists. The Good Trade has been a fantastic resource for discovering sustainable brands like Tata Harper, and the EWG is very helpful for checking the toxicity of skin and household products.


How has Chicago affected your worldview, if at all?


Living in an urban environment has made me a more open minded, liberal, faithful, hopeful, and hopefully friendly individual. I greatly appreciate being surrounded by a diversity of opinion, backgrounds, and interests. That being said, even such a diverse city can be incredibly insular within each neighborhood. I feel challenged to dig deeper and make a more intentional effort to continue to broaden my exposure to different neighborhoods, community groups, and take greater responsibility for the brokenness and hopelessness across the city that I’m at times sheltered from.


Do you have an experience or a specific encounter here that has moved you/stayed with you that you'd be up for sharing?

It’s hard to put my finger on a specific encounter here that has moved me here – there’s not one specific encounter but rather a tapestry of endless seemingly small encounters that, with the perspective of time, form a messy, beautiful, broken, joyful life. I see God’s fingerprints all over my life – in the big things like the strength and freedom I find in Christ as my stone of help, and in the all the small, special God moments like a worship song that tugs at my heartstrings, a cozy cup of tea, an encouraging message from a friend received in a time of need.


Power of prayer




Is there any scripture that's been on your heart / resonated with you lately?

“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 3:16-18

“Also, seek the [shalom] peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” … “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29: 7,11

“Be still, and know that I am God;” Psalm 46:10

Abide in me – “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12:9


If you're in a season of distance from God, what are your questions / struggles?

N/A - praise the Lord for his provision.


On the contrary, if you're experiencing closeness with God, how might you encourage our brothers and sisters who are wrestling with believing God is real and for us?

A few weeks ago Chelli prayed over the congregation that we would each intimately experience the presence of God through prayer. She specifically prayed for freedom from expectation, which was really powerful because sometimes it can be so frustrating when your mind is seeking nearness, but you don’t feel it in your heart. God promises in Proverbs 8:13, “those who seek me find me” – an affirmation that God delights in us turning our eyes to Him more than we even have the capacity to delight in Him. I’ve had seasons of nearness and distance from Jesus, and it’s liberating to enter the relationship knowing all I have to do is love Him and he’ll meet me exactly where I am, which may feel differently at different times.

A few thoughts for seeking nearness … I’m becoming increasingly aware of the power of prayer and find the more I carve out intentional time to connect with Jesus, the more he’s in my thoughts throughout the day, and the more attuned I am to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I love transcribing pieces of scripture and have found that to be the most practical way to write these words on my heart. Christian friendships have also been instrumental in speaking truth into my life and affirming my faith in moments of frustration, doubt, and celebration. When I don’t have the words or energy to articulate how I’m feeling I let worship music wash over me and remind me of God’s promises in a soulful way.


Is there anything else you'd like to share about your time in Chicago?

I’m incredibly grateful to be part of a church community that is not afraid to tackle tough conversations – like the brokenness of this city that we love or the realities of spiritual warfare. Our most recent series “Kingdoms in Conflict” provided language around the presence of evil in this world I was longing. Reflecting on my spiritual journey to this point, Satan has shown up as the Accuser time and time again – relentlessly using shame and condemnation to keep me from experiencing the fullness of Jesus’s love for me. As firmly as I believe in my head that Christ paid the price for my sins, its still a struggle to internalize in my heart that I am beautifully and wonderfully made, an image bearer of Christ, a child of God, loved abundantly and in whom he delights in spite of my failures. The scripture 2 Corinthians 3:18 paints such a beautiful picture, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” This verse has been on my mind and heart frequently lately – its truth shines bright light into the dark crevices of my soul. Wow. I am enough. It is Jesus who is doing a transforming work in me, all I have to do is abide in Him. It seems too simple for a perfectionist who is so wired towards action, doing, spinning my wheels frantically.

I am grateful for Christian fellowship which has been God’s primary vehicle for transformation in my heart – women who have loved on me, held space for me to be vulnerable and process all the triumphs, failures, and spiritual growth I’ve experienced over the past year. I am learning the power of truth, spoken in love. I am committed to living courageously, vulnerably, wholeheartedly.