Olivia Toriumi

Where are you from?

I was actually born and raised here, in the suburbs of Chicago. As a matter of fact, I grew up in the same house my whole life, never living in a new place until I moved into my dorm freshman year of undergrad. Growing up so close to downtown Chicago was certainly a blessing to have such a major city just a train ride away. Once we hit a certain age, my sister and I were given the privilege of taking the metra into union station parent-less, where we were able to explore and have a little freedom for an afternoon.


What brought you to Chicago?

It ended up being grad school that brought me back to Chicago. I moved to Indianapolis for my undergraduate degree at Butler University, and by the time I was a senior I fell so deeply in love with Indianapolis that I made a promise to myself that I never needed to move back to Chicago. My love for Indy was due to the friendliness of strangers, the handful of favorite restaurants, the up and coming neighborhoods, the church I attended, but more than anything- the community that I had become a part of after living there for six years. I knew that this was the place I wanted to be and I definitely did not want to go back to the one other city I had ever lived. I had really made a home for myself in Indianapolis and I pictured my life continuing along this path- settling into a new job, raising a family in Indianapolis, and growing old there. But God certainly had other plans in store.


For years, I had been praying that God would reveal to me where he wanted me to be career-wise. In college, I never quite knew what I wanted to be studying so I ended up just choosing a couple majors. Once graduated, I was certain I didn’t want to pursue careers in these fields and felt more confused than ever as to where God wanted me to dedicate my time and the gifts He had given me. It wasn’t for another year and a half before God pointed me to that passion & life work- acupuncture. In not even a month and a half, I applied and was accepted to my doctorate program, I had packed my bags, quit my jobs, and moved back to the one city I promised myself I never had to live in again Chicago.


What do you find challenging about living here?

When I first moved back, I found the community aspect of living in Chicago to be the most difficult. I had my family here, but I had just moved away from my closest friends from undergrad and my previous church community. So if you were to ask me this question a year and a half ago- my answer would be that I am missing a large portion of my support system in this state. But now I have widened that circle, and I no longer see community as a challenge but it has become such a blessing.

What I am now seeing as a greater challenge living in Chicago is where I fit in as a single, 20-something female in a city that yes- has so much character and is filled with incredible people with incredible stories- but also has so much violence, hatred, and neglect. I almost always find myself avoiding any unfamiliar person on the street or any unfamiliar place-and this is more than anything coming from a place of fear. As I’ve had time to settle into this city, I have really been struggling trying to identify where the line of personal safety transfers over into the realm of not loving my neighbor or even personally adding to the neglect Chicago already is so full of. I can’t say that I’ve been able to sort this one out yet.


Why do you love it?

Chicago has definitely had to win my love.. as overjoyed as I was that God answered my prayers and showed me where he wanted me, the very place He wanted me happened to be the one location I was not so excited to move back to. Chicago had been the only other city where I have lived, and if I needed to move, it sounded so much more exciting to explore somewhere new versus returning back to the place of my youth. I think the main reason Chicago did not appeal to me was because I felt that if I ever moved back, my life would be same as the life I lived in high school and my earlier years. I wanted to be in a new place with new people and new experiences. Since I’ve been back, my eyes have been opened to how unfamiliar with Chicago I truly was when growing up in the western suburbs.

I’ve now been back in Chicago for a year and a half, and I feel as though most if it is still uncharted territory; this city has so much I have yet to explore and experience. My life is absolutely nothing like what it was growing up, and I realize now how silly it was for me to think that it would have been. Chicago certainly has turned on its’ charm for me and gained my love.


Why do you stay?

To be perfectly honest, the main reason I stay in Chicago is simply because my education is in Chicago. But the longer I’m here, the more people I meet, the more places I explore, and the further I question if I will end up ever leaving. I never had any intention of living in Chicago, but as it almost always goes- God had another plan. Oftentimes when I share my story with others, they will ask me if I plan on moving back to Indianapolis since I have such a love for that city. At this point, I truly can’t answer.

In the year and a half that I’ve been back in Chicago, God has moved in many, many ways. I will certainly be here at minimum two and a half more years to complete my doctorate, and in that time there really is no telling what else will happen and where I will end up.


How has community affected your time here? (sorry if this is getting repetitive!)

Community has been everything to me in my transition back to Chicago. Community is the reason why I can call Chicago home. In moving back to here, the only community I had was my family, and as thankful as I was to be closer to my family, I was so sad leaving behind all of the amazing relationships I had built in Indianapolis. But as I started getting connected in church, and as I got to know more people in my graduate program, it made me realize that the reason I didn’t want to leave Indianapolis wasn’t necessarily because of the location itself, but it was because of the community I had built there. Now that I have been able to find new communities in Chicago and have started forming new and beautiful relationships, it is becoming so very clear that it is not at all about where you are in the world. But it is about the people we invest in and those who invest in us that make all the difference.


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

Not gonna lie this is a tough one for me… I don’t think I have an formed response for it currently.


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

My own personal yoga practice makes me feel very alive and truly myself, but being able to share this passion with others through teaching gives me so much gratitude. It is such a gift when students come into a class with trust and an open mind. I would never want to take advantage of that trust; I only want to offer these fellow yogis the gift that the practice of yoga has offered me. It is a very humbling position to be in when a group chooses to spend a part of their day being guided through my teachings. The mutual respect in the space continues to allow myself to feel comfortable in my own skin and I hope that the gratitude and respect I have towards my students allows them to feel that same sense of empowerment on their own mats.


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

Living in Chicago has slowly started to bring me back to my unique style. During junior high and into high school my style really developed into its own- I was always putting funky outfits together that were sometimes loved by all and other times loved by only me… but I was always quite confident in them! I had a couple silly goals in high school- getting a lead role in one of our school musicals, learning to finally whistle, and winning my school’s ‘best dressed’ senior superlative- and I was able to achieved all three! woohoo! In college my eclectic style continued on, but as classes became longer and leggings seemed to get cozier I started to lose a bit of that creativity I previously channeled into what I wore. Just after graduating from undergrad, I started working at lululemon, and it became nearly impossible to spot me in something other than stretchy pants. Moving back to Chicago has slowly but surely started to bring that creative outlet of outfitting back from hibernation. This city is filled with character and creativity, and being back in this environment has absolutely inspired me to only invest in pieces I truly love and can see myself wearing for many years to come.


How has Chicago affected your worldview, if at all?

Chicago has taught me the importance of being intentional about relationships. It’s much harder to meet people when you’re not in a smaller town or college bubble. In a large city everything has a bit more of a wash of the impersonal. I have realized you have to go out of your way to make friends, get to know your neighbors, or store owners, but when you do it’s that much more rewarding.


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

Because of my how quickly I had moved back to Chicago, I wasn’t able to attend the orientation my grad school held before my first term began. As any person beginning a new program in a new field at a new school might feel on their first day of classes, I was certainly excited but also just as nervous. I didn’t know a single person in my program yet, and I knew that almost everyone would be older than me as the average age of our student body was 10 years my senior. But as I had through this entire transition, I was completely going to trust God to help me through this as I knew that this is where God was guiding me.

Before I headed to class that first day, I visited the administrative offices of my school to pick up the orientation packet they had waiting for me. I walked up to our secretary, gave my name, and took a seat with a few others waiting in the office. The very first person I spoke with in the waiting area was a gal named Abby who I would soon learn was in my program, was my age, was at school to start her first day of her first term in the program, and on top of it all was Christian. Right then and there we became the closest of friends. It was so clear that God brought Abby and me together to support each other, but also to find rest in each other during a very busy and scary time navigating the first few months of a doctoral program. I’m still so incredibly grateful for the gift of friendship God gave us both that day, it is such a clear example of His unfailing love.


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

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:25

This verse has stayed with me for a while now. When I first read this verse the magnitude of its words hit me hard. It is so very easy to quickly disregard the greatness of our God because in many ways, it is just too much for our minds to accept. But reading this verse and being able to actually visualize the power of Jesus in a tangible way truly made me take pause and stand in awe of His wonders. It is so important to remember that absolutely nothing is beyond Him- whether big or small. This verse continues to remind me of that fact when my own doubts and insecurities begin to blind me to His greatness.


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

I can’t be certain, but it feels as though I may be right at the turning point from a season of distance to a season of closeness with God. For at least the past year, if not longer, I have felt incredibly far from God. I haven’t heard from Him, I haven’t felt His presence, I haven’t felt as though I was growing in my faith. I have been going through the motions with Him, sometimes praying to Him and begging to hear from Him. Sometimes telling Him how upset I was with Him. I never heard anything back, and in exchange felt completely stagnant in my faith.

Melissa Pillman recently spoke at Missio, teaching on Psalm 13 and sharing the reasons why we may be in these silent seasons with our God. She taught us that, “God sometimes uses silence to deepen our faith beyond sensory or emotional feelings. The Psalmists teach us freedom to express our thoughts, worries, feelings and anxieties to God- but then anchor our soul in the bedrock of the unshakeable truth of His covenant faithfulness, regardless of any temporal storm.” It wasn’t until later that night after hearing these words that God finally spoke to me after His radio silence. What Melissa shared is exactly what He had been doing in me.

During this time of not hearing from Him, I was so disappointed because I had felt as though I was doing everything right- reading His word, praying and talking to Him often, spending time in community with brothers and sisters in Christ- yet I continued to feel as though I was stagnant in my faith. But He did finally break His silence- revealing to me that He was using this silence to build a more stable foundation, to encourage me to keep coming back to Him even when I didn’t feel like it. Even though I wasn’t ‘on fire for Jesus’ I continued to choose to follow Him, trust Him, and love Him. What in the moment felt like a waste of time was in reality a time God was using to deepen my faith so much more than I could have imagined.

One prayer I had been praying truly for years was one asking God to put me in a situation that would force me to grow in my faith. “Please let me experience whatever I need to in order to deepen my faith.” I continued to pray this prayer over and over because I didn’t think it had ever been answered, little did I know that this entire time, during these years of asking Him, it was happening all along.