Cece Tovar-Murray

Where are you from?

I was born in Michigan but ended up in Evanston, IL. My family and I moved around a lot so that’s why I have two “homes.” I grew up in Evanston but would always go back home to Michigan for the holidays because it was honestly just my mother, brother, father and I who were in Evanston.

What brought you to Chicago?

Like I mentioned before, my family and I moved around a lot and ended up in Evanston when I was in the 3 rd grade. Evanston is one of the suburbs of Chicago (it is literally right across the street of Chicago lol). I decided to stay in Chicago because my father is actually a professor at the college that I attend so tuition is basically free (so my decision is kind of a no brainer).

What do you find challenging about living here?

Being away from my family. My parents are divorced and it’s just my father and I in Chicago. I miss my siblings and mother and the rest of my family that are in Michigan. However, I’ve been blessed with many friends here who make it a little easier. Also Chicago is a very pricey place. Being a broke college student isn’t a good time to live in a city where taxes are over $1. But I think every college student struggles with finances at some point in their college career.

Why do you love it?

Chicago is honestly the perfect place to be as a young adult. Life is always busy so you can keep up. There’s always something fun and exciting happening here so you never get bored. There are thousands of people who are all from different backgrounds, cultures, etc. who end up in Chicago and it’s just great getting to know them and their stories. Chicago literally has it all. It’s an urban, upbeat, fancy, diverse city and I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else. I always tell people on my tours (fyi I am a tour guide at my college) that as a young adult, I’m going to live in the city of Chicago. Get in the busy/urban vibe and help Chicago with anything that I can get my hands on. Then once I am older and have a family, I might settle down in Michigan or in a quieter, family friendly area (however, no one can predict their future so basically wherever the Lord takes me, I will follow).

Why do you stay?

Again, I am mainly here for school. But after school I think I will stay for a while. Being a young adult is a time for adventures, busy life, and getting your hands dirty. I feel like Chicago meets all of the above. Chicago is full of adventures and people that I would love to get to know. I don’t think I can find a Chinatown like Chicago’s anywhere else! I can also get into that busy life vibe. Always walking super-fast and doing all of these events, parties, etc. (obviously being busy does have a downside to it but as a young adult I am able to keep up a little more than someone who is 50). Finally, being in an urban place like Chicago, I can get my hands dirty. Literally, I can go and help Habitat build a home for homeless people! Or I can help the school systems here. Whatever it may be, Chicago is just such a great place to help make a difference in the world.

How has community affected your time here?

Community has been a HUGE thing in my life here. Like I said, I honestly have no family members in Chicago. It’s just my father and I and I honestly get homesick at times. All of my siblings are younger than me and it just feels weird not seeing my baby sister running around or annoying my brothers. So having a community here in Chicago really helps with my homesickness. My friends really care for me like I am their sister or cousin and it just feels great to have someone tangible to love on.

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

Chicago is a really diverse place. There are so many people here from different backgrounds and stories and I love it! I love people and learning about other cultures and I honestly don’t know where I could find a place where all of these people are gathered in on area and are basically willing to share their stories with you (obviously you get people who don’t want anything to do with you but that’s common everywhere). You can go to Chinatown and learn about Chinese culture or go to Pilsen and learn about the Latino culture. Chicago is full of many stories and it’s so cool to unravel those stories. I honestly don’t think that I would’ve learned about different cultures and backgrounds if I wasn’t here in Chicago.

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

This is honestly a funny question because I never feel comfortable in my own skin. I am very self-cautious and I’m always hiding something on my body. However, when I am just talking to people, I feel pretty comfortable. I am a very extroverted person and I love to be around people; especially when they are my closet friends. This may also sound weird but I am very comfortable when I am with children. I love kids with all of my heart and I swear I am a 4-year- old trap in a 20-year- old body. One of my friends told me to stop acting like a four-year- old, but that’s just who I am. I love to be silly and have fun and I honestly love to watch cartoons and kid shows/movies. Pets and Despicable Me are my favorite movies! Same with the Lion King. What a classic! Other than that, I really have no idea (I honestly don’t know if I answered the question).

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

Oh yeah! Being in the city has for sure changed my style. If you go downtown you will hit the crazy, busy lifestyle. Everyone is dressed up, wearing suit and ties, dresses that cost $200, etc. I’ve for sure wanted to buy more clothes that are considered to be “professional.” However, if you go north, more towards Lincoln Park and Lakeview, you kind of hit the more urban vibe, in my opinion. People wear professional clothes but they also wear hipster clothes like overalls, beanies, etc. You really get that millennials vibe in this area; you also get that vibe in downtown as well. So I’ve definitely yearn for a style that is millennial.

How has Chicago affected your worldview, if at all?

Like I said previously, Chicago is such a diverse place. It’s kind of like a mini internal city if you ask me. You have Chinatown, Pilsen, Humboldt Park, Asia on Argyle (if you live in Chicago you know these neighborhoods) and many more. I can’t help but see the world in Chicago and I love it! Being in Chicago really makes me think about the world and the people in it (which I am always thinking about). It’s great.

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

I can’t think of a specific encounter that I had here. But whenever I go to different neighborhoods or go to different festivals where I can learn about different backgrounds, I always feel so moved. Honestly, doing Our Chicago Stories was really a wonderful experience. Hearing people’s stories and why they are here in Chicago really just showed me how much I love to hear other people’s stories and their lives.

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

Psalm 23: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want (or in my version “I lack nothing”). So good! I literally am like a lost sheep in a gigantic city. I have no idea what I am doing here. I have no idea where I am going. I have no idea what I will have for breakfast tomorrow. Just knowing that there is someone out there that literally knows EVERYTHING and is guiding me each step of the way is so comforting.

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

I’m not really in a season of distance, which is like praise the Lord. Obviously I feel like God isn’t being my fortune teller and showing me what to do with my life but I bet we all are going through the same thing. I’m just learning how to have patience and trust because I love knowing everything and being in control. It’s hard whenyou’re not.

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?

Great question. Honestly knowing the Lords love for us just gets me and many people all the time. The Greek word agape is literally the best thing to experience. Agape is the highest form of love that there is. It’s “a universal, unconditional love that transcends.” No man can express this love to each other. Only God can express this love to man and vice versa. Knowing Gods love for us just brings you closer to him. He loves us no matter what. No matter who we are or where we are coming from, He loves us. He doesn’t care what we are going through or what doubts we have, He still loves us. And He will always love us. You can be the worst person on earth and God still loves you. You could be in the worse condition in your life and God still loves you. Why? Because He made you. And He SAW that it was good. With His own eyes He looked at you and SAW
your beauty and how good you were. Have you ever made anything and whatever the outcome was you couldn’t help but feel proud that you created something? Whether it was a painting or even a blog for your post, you can’t help but feel enlighten by your creation. Happy that you made something. Well take that feeling and make it ten times more. No, one billion times more. Now multiple that by a billion and you almost reach the love and happiness that God has for His creation. For us. Crazy right? Doesn’t it make you want to gravitate towards this God that will always love you, a creation that might have a few bumps here and there? It sure does make me want to gravitate towards Him. But here’s the catch…THERES NO CATCH! This love, this agape comes with no price. Its free and its given to you because you are God’s beautiful creation and He can’t help but smile upon your face. You don’t have to be a perfect person or on a certain level of life to receive His love. All you have to do is be you and let God give all the loving He can to you. If you are thinking “That’s great but I still just don’t feel close to Him.” Then all I have to say is pray. Pray to God. Ask Him to teach you how to feel close to Him. To feel His love and affection that He has for you.

Jesus had told us in Matthew 7:7-8,
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will open.” 

Wherever you are or whatever you may be experiencing, ask the Lord for closeness, seek the gospel and who the Lord is, and knock and invite the Spirit to guide you to a relationship with the Lord because God doesn’t want a religion or hierarchy with you. He wants a relationship!

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

Chicago is your campus! That’s basically the motto that my college has. But the more I experience Chicago as a whole, the more I realize that I have so much to learn from this beautiful city! So no matter who you are or how long you are staying in Chicago, jump right into the wave of fun, adventure, and a life changing experience that is the city of Chicago!

If you have a tattoo that was on your arms, I most likely captured it. Would you share the meaning behind it?

So the meaning behind it is pretty long. I’ve rehearsed what I was going to say so many times in order to make it not as long. So hopefully I will be able to succeed. WARNING: This does contain topics that can be sensitive to some. This is by all means not supposed to make those uncomfortable but to advocate and share the meaning behind this beautiful piece of art on my arm; my Semicolon Butterfly with a Jesus Fish. I promise you that I did NOT go into graphics or super details. I just want to prepare you because even though my tattoos have such a beautiful meaning, it’s a tough topic to talk about. 


I have two tattoos on my life wrist. The first one, and the more visible one, is a semicolon butterfly. There was a trend going on, and it still is, where people would mark on a semicolon on themselves. This was all created by the Semicolon Project. It’s a project that not only tries to prevent suicide but advocates mental illness as a whole. Why a semicolon? Well, what does a semicolon do (here’s a semicolon for those who don’t know “;”). You use this little guy when you want to continue the story but don’t want to end the sentence. So you put a semicolon to continue your story with no endings. That’s what the Semicolon Project is all about. Helping people continue their lives and preventing stories from ending (stories meaning lives). The butterfly wings, which completes my semicolon butterfly, is for another project called
the Butterfly Project. This project was created to prevent and advocate self-harming. This was an active project as well. Basically people would put a butterfly on the area they would normally cut themselves and then are given a task: keep this butterfly alive. How would you do that? By not cutting yourself. If you cut yourself, you basically had “killed” the butterfly. This project is, again, another way to advocate and prevent anything that mental illnesses come with.

Now, on to my second tattoo. This one is not as visible as the first one for it is in white ick. However, it is a tattoo of the Jesus Fish (if you don’t know what that is look up “ichthys”). The literally meaning behind and ichthys fish was to show that you were a believer of Christ. People back in the days would draw this fish to tell other believers that they too believed in Jesus or that this area was a meeting place so that they would dodge the persecution of the Roman Empire. So because I have the Jesus Fish on me, one can assume “Ah! CeCe is a Christian.” But there’s more to the story; and it relates to my first tattoo. Mental illness kind of runs in my family. I have family members who’ve gone through depression, anxiety, bi polar, Alzheimer’s, and other mental illness/health issues. However, it doesn’t stop there. I’ve had friends who too dealt with depression, social anxiety, self-harming, etc. If you can’t tell, mental illnesses have been a main topic in my life for… 20 years! And I, too, have dealt with sadness, low self-esteem, anxiousness, and other personal issues. However, one day in my car when I was a senior in high school, something hit me. I was in tears crying and yelling and just frustrated at everything (senior year was probably one of my lowest points in life). While all of the tears and disappointment and sadness came down my face, a big rush of emotion had not only hit my head but it hit my heart. “But you love me,” were the first words that came out of my mouth. “You love me for me. You love me for who am I and what I am going through. You love me even when I don’t even love myself.” If you haven’t guessed who I am talking to, I’ll give you and hint: Jesus. God. Him. I was talking to Him and He was talking to me. The Lord literally showed me through His Spirit His great love for me. For us. For the universe. His agape. His unconditional, sacrificial love. And that is why I got my Jesus Fish. To remind myself of who I am and who I belong to. The reason why it is in white ink and that it’s not really that visible is because of two things.

  1. It’s my personal tattoo and even though I love telling people my story, this tattoo is only meant for me; unlike my Semicolon Butterfly where everyone can see it and easily guess what it is.
  2. If you look at it you would think I got a scar. Then you would realize that it is a tattoo. And I love that. Jesus honestly has changed my life for the better and if there is anything that I want to be left behind with me on this earth is my love for him. He literally left a “scar” in my life (in a good way).

Those are my two tattoos. And yes, the placement of them were thought out as well. Obviously mental illness is something that is in my life and I want everyone to know about them. That’s why when you see my palms faces up, the butterfly is facing towards you all instead of me. As if its flying towards you to educate you about mental illness. However, when you see the Jesus fish, its facing towards me, because again it’s for me. But its right next to the butterfly, almost kissing it. Why? Because the Lord is LITERALLY my anchor in life and in any anxiety, sadness, or mental illness that I or anyone is facing. I honestly can’t get through anything without the Lord right beside me. So when people see my Semicolon tattoo they will either see my Jesus Fish or I will point it out because I can’t have my mental illness story without God right beside it. Psalm 13 is a journal entry of how the person who wrote it feels alone, depressed, and sad.

But then the person remembers God and says, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise for he has been good to me.” 

That is literally me. Even though anxiety and sadness and any mental illness can be unbearable at times or is just too much and may never go away, I will remember my Saviors love and His faithfulness and through that, I find my peace, rest, and comfort.