KJ Blair

What brought you to Chicago?

I moved up to Chicago 3.5 years ago for medical school. That wasn't my first choice, though. I had my heart set on staying in Nashville, where I had been for undergrad. Most of my friends were going to stick around Nashville after graduation, and I hated the thought of moving somewhere else and starting over with community and friendships. But God had a different plan. I was accepted to my second choice school up here in Chicago, and now I can't imaging having done medical school anywhere else. This was absolutely where I needed to be, and I am thankful that God's plans are greater than my plans.


Where are you from?

I was actually born up here in Chicago. My parents lived pretty close to my current apartment when I was born - at Irving Park and Leavitt. It's crazy to think about that! We moved around quite a bit when I was younger, but I spent most of my young childhood here in Chicago. My family then moved to St. Louis when I was 8 years old, and I lived there until I left for college.


What do you find challenging about living here?

It's sometimes challenging to be in a city where so many people come and go, where very few are rooted and committed to staying for the long term. It's not their fault. This is place where people go to school, where people go for their first job. There is an expectation that it isn't going to be home forever, that eventually another opportunity will pop up elsewhere and you will have to move. Really I imagine it is like that in all large cities, because that is just how young people approach life these days. We are mobile, adaptable; we are wanderers.

It is hard to build solid community when people are coming & going. But I think those of us who have been around for a bit have learned how to adapt, how to cherish & make the most of the time we have with new friends & not hold it against them if they end up moving.


What are some of the reasons you love it?

Gosh, there are countless reasons I love this place. I love how big Chicago feels, how it makes you feel so small. I love how there are countless things to do, places to see, and new foods to eat. I love that the city really never sleeps, that even when I am riding my bike to work at 4am there are people out. I love the diversity, how people from all walks off life and so many different countries call this place home. There are so many more things, so I will leave the list like this for now.


Why do you stay?

This is a tough question for me right now. Honestly, there is a chance I will be moving over the summer. I am in my last few months of medical school, and the process of applying and getting accepted to a residency is difficult. You only match at one place. There are a few great hospitals here in Chicago, but there are many more in other cities, some of which are a better fit for my career goals. That's always the excuse, right? I have to move for my career. This education or job opportunity is what I need to launch to the next level, to move me in the direction I want to go. When does it stop, though? When do we finally decide this is the city I want to put down roots? Is it when you get married and have kids? I really don't know. But anyway, there is a chance I will match here and there is a chance I will match in another city. I find out in March. However, I am trusting that Jesus will place me exactly where I need to be. If it is Chicago, I will be thrilled at the chance to finally settle, to finally to commit to this being my longterm home. But if not, I trust that God will help me find community just like he helped me when I moved to Chicago in 2013.


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?

There are so many amazingly creative people who call Chicago home. A few of my closest friends here in Chicago are worship leaders at our church. They are all talented musicians and beautiful singers. I am consistently inspired by their desire to stretch themselves to try new things, and their willingness to put in the time to practice and improve. A specific example that comes to mind is when Bethany felt God calling her to start writing her own songs, something she had never done before. Fairly quickly God began to give her lyrics, lyrics which she put to music, and pretty soon we were singing one of those songs during our Sunday gathering. It was a scary and vulnerable thing to share her songs, but we were all so blessed by them. One of the ways I connect best with Jesus is through music, and I have slowly but surely been teaching myself how to play guitar. Being around people like Bethany inspires me to keep practicing, and to have the confidence to try and play songs that are out of my comfort zone.


How has community affected your time here?

My community is what makes this city home. When I moved here in 2013, I really only knew two people - my roommate, Nicky, who was a friend from college, and one of my sisters, Morgan, who was starting school at SAIC. I was coming out of a season of pretty amazing Christian community, and was anxious that I wouldn’t be able to find anything like that in a place like Chicago. My prayer in the weeks leading up to my move was that God would help me find a solid church in Chicago, as well as a community of friends who would challenge and motivate me to dig deeper in my relationship with God. I visited a church called Missio Dei on my second Sunday living in Chicago, and immediately felt at home. It's hard to describe the feeling, but I knew that was where God wanted me to put down roots. I quickly got plugged in with a Gospel Community, and over the past 3.5 years I have crossed paths and done life with so many amazing people that have spurred me on in my walk with Jesus.


I'll be honest, though. It wasn't easy at first. Community didn't just happen, as much as I would have liked that. In a city like Chicago, everyone has busy schedules and it can be hard to find time to meet up with and get to know people. Relationships take a while to develop when you only see someone once or twice a week, and for the first few months there were times I wanted to stop going to my Gospel Community's weekly Monday gathering. Relationships were taking too long to form, and while I was always encouraged by our discussions, I didn't feel like I was connecting on a deep level with my group. I kept comparing to my previous community and concluding, "it just isn't the same." Looking back, though, I see I used that as an excuse to not go all in. I wanted community to happen without putting in a full effort. My toes were in the water, but I wouldn't jump in. But at some point during that first year something changed, and these people became family. I remember sitting in the Finley's apartment in May of that first year. It was going to be my last time with our GC until I came back from a seven week research trip to Bolivia, and I was truly sad I wouldn't be with them over the summer. And while I was away, I missed having that community around me. I missed laughing with them, I missed sweating with them when that apartment was way too packed with people. And most of all, I missed the encouragement they offered me on a weekly basis.


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

I feel most comfortable in my own skin when I am surrounded by friends who know me really well. There is something so freeing about being with friends who accept you just as you are.


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

I was trying to figure out my "style" in the year or so before moving to Chicago. During my time at Vanderbilt, there was a period of time when I adopted the "frat boy" look. Khaki shorts and polo shorts were the norm, but it never really felt like my thing; I got swept up in wanting to fit in. Toward the end of college, however, I began to try out a new look. The clothes and hair styles have varied, but over the past five years or so I have felt a lot more comfortable about my look than I did in college. I love how many different styles you find in Chicago, and how even the most ridiculous outfit or hairstyle is acceptable. While I don't have an extreme style by any means, it has definitely been freeing to live in an environment like this.


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?

Not sure if this fits what you are looking for, but I will share it anyway. One of the most incredible Chicago-specific experiences I have had was running in the Chicago marathon this past October. Words really cannot describe how amazing it was to see more than a million spectators cheering me on, and to see the unique flare that each Chicago neighborhood brought to their section of the race course. As a Chicago resident, it really made me feel part of this city. And in the midst of a such a difficult year for this city and country, it was honestly such an encouraging view of humanity.