Melissa Pillman

Where are you from?

Toledo, Ohio & Bellaire, Michigan, college at Indiana University & University of Michigan, now in Illinois… always a midwestern girl :)

What brought you to Chicago?

After graduating college, I lived in Ohio and started a career in advertising.  When the agency closed, I was ready for more than a job change, so I moved to Chicago to return to school for fashion design.  (Little known fact: I love designing sleep- and lounge-wear.) Of course, I had no idea the unexpected changes in career that were still ahead of me at that point, but that’s another story. I came here with a friend, ready for something new and fresh. It worked.

What do you find challenging about living here? Why do you love it?

I’m going to take the liberty of combining the above two questions :) Raising kids in the city is both a challenge and a delight. Andy and I both grew up with wide open spaces and a great amount of freedom. I recognize that many families are lured away from the city once their babies start walking because they want yards and houses with rec rooms - I get it, in large part because that’s what childhood looked like for me. But urban childhood is another adventure all together, and it’s marked with a diversity and range of options that’s truly remarkable. True, our kids couldn’t run out the door and play on their own swing set in the backyard… but we considered Chicago Parks to be our yard, and they’d pick their preferred play set each time we went out. Each year we would invest in one museum membership, and it was fun to decide as a family - where else do you have access to art, science, planets, gardens, butterflies or belugas?  In addition to the variety they’ve been exposed to, there’s the diversity. Differences of culture, language, skin tone, manner of dress, manner of speaking, manner of relationship - they went to playdates in simple apartments and beautiful single family homes. It’s not that they didn’t notice the differences, but rather that “sameness” wasn’t something they grew up expecting. And I love that.

Why do you stay?

I hear friends talking about feeling drawn to move to Chicago, or a sensing a call to put down roots here. My decision to stay wasn’t actually about the city at all. I fell in love with a man who had a son and a company in Chicago. My decision to stay - my commitment to be rooted here - stemmed from my commitment to Andy. We considered the suburbs for a brief moment many years ago, but the idea of commuting to our city life from our suburb life felt arbitrary. We wanted our WHOLE life to be here, integrated and not compartmentalized.  We imagined that raising a family in a city would have benefits and drawbacks. We knew it would feel vastly different than how we grew up - but vibrant and wonderful in its own way. It felt like we were making our own, new story compared to what we had known. It felt like we were discovering the adventure together. Actually, it still feels that way.

How has community affected your time here?

Chicago has expanded my idea of what “community” looks like. Growing up, it meant decades of life together in the same place - everyone knew each other, each other’s families, each other’s stories. In Andy’s case, it was similar except it also included family for generations within the circle of community.  At first, investing in true community here hurt. People left. They followed love or jobs or family, and that led them away from the community we had been building. I’ve had moments where the “left behind” feeling hits me, when the transient nature of Chicago rears its head, and I’ve felt the draw to shy away from community.  To withdraw to our home; to keep some social connections, but to avoid the depth and authenticity of “family”-type community. The kind that knows your shadow side as well as your shining side; the kind that both encourages and challenges you; the kind that knows your story and lets you know theirs. I’ve come to realize that creating “city family” has to be a choice again and again - the choice to meet, to invest, to invite in, to ask and learn and allow myself to care each and every time.  I admit I did this a bit begrudgingly at first, resentful that city life apparently meant standing still next to a revolving door. But over time, I realized two things: first, there actually are others “standing still” beside us, our city roots have grown intertwined, and somehow we’ve created our own history together; and second, each person who moved on helped to shape me and impact my experience here, and God has used them to grow my heart… because every single time, there’s somehow room to love more.

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

If I’m totally honest, the creative influences around me both inspire and intimidate me.  I’m embarrassed to admit that, because it highlights my insecurity, but it’s the truth. I’m surrounded by so many talented and brave people who paint and dance and write and photograph and draw and cook and design and create - I’m inspired by their boldness to put that first paint stroke on the blank canvas.  But I’m also intimidated because of the talent around me, hesitant to try because the work of my hands never seems to match the dream in my mind. But I’m fighting against that, largely because of my daughters. I want them to be brave - braver than their mother - so I try to just try.  I try to model that it doesn’t have to be about the end product.  Whether painting or stitching or writing or baking - something deep within us comes alive when we create.  I truly believe it draws us to feel more closely connected with the Creator Himself. We experience just a touch of imagination coming to fruition. And delight in watching how others are doing the same, each in their own unique way.

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

In the second grade, we did this project on what we wanted to be when we grew up. I wrote my paper on being a mom. (Although when it came to the day to dress as our future career self and recite a poem on stage, I changed my goal for the day because dressing up as a mom was too boring.)  My friends can attest to this: I’ll mother anyone who will let me. I love to sit cross-legged on a couch, listen your story, feel your feelings, and verbally process together as we talk through all of life’s big problems. Every chair in our house has a blanket over the arm, ready for curling up & chatting at any moment.  I love to demonstrate to people that they’re not alone, that the lies of the world don’t get to win, and remind them of what’s true and lovely and trustworthy. And watch people grow as they seek Truth. Most of all, I love to be alongside watching them grow in the fullness of the person God designed them to be. One glorious baby step at a time, by God’s grace and love. We’re all works in progress - it’s an honor to support and encourage someone in their journey. It makes me feel heart-happy and at home.

Our Chicago Stories