Rachel Loewen

Where are you from?

I'm from a town called Bellbrook in Southwest, Ohio. 

What brought you to Chicago?

God fashioned a way. Chicago wasn't on my radar until my senior year of college in Ohio in 2006. I was finishing a degree in Mass Communication, focusing on Visual Communication. I knew I needed more training to do what I wanted to do. I didn't know exactly what that was. But a friend introduced me to Columbia College Chicago, and something lit up inside of me as I scrolled through their website. For the next year, God pointed me to Chicago through myriad things: music, people, white horses. 

And in August of 2007 I finished my undergrad, an internship, and said goodbye to two jobs a week before I moved here to study Art + Design. I focused on Advertising Art Direction, and essentially found myself working to complete a second bachelor's degree for the next three years. That was not the plan. I didn't know what God had for me in a city where I felt so small.

What do you find challenging about living here?

I find a lot of things challenging living here. If it's not the high cost of living, it's the inconvenience of mundane things: doing laundry in the basement, carrying groceries up and down flights of stairs, the circling for parking, the rushing to catch the bus or train, the constant battle of to-and-fro. 

As an easily stimulated person, I can easily feel overwhelmed. I thank God for the free treasure that is the lake where I can find peace and recalibrate. And I thank Him for community who knows me and understands when I need a recharge, or a coffee and a donut, or a glass of wine. ;)

Bigger, and more importantly than that: recognizing my own privilege and serving those in need is challenging. Anyone who knows Chicago knows its deep and wide divide of those who have and those who don't. I desire to serve out of my resources and love people. It is not easy.

And one last thing I'll note is that finding, cultivating, and keeping community is challenging, but worthwhile. Some of my best friends have moved away (or I've moved away from them.). Some of the closest friends I've known are now strangers. My sphere of Chicago family has changed over the years, and I am learning to trust and be grateful as God gives and takes away.

It's painful saying goodbye to friendships because of context, or lifestyle, or differences, or plain unknowns. (I'm a loyalist and a recovering people-pleaser.) But I do know God desires for us to invest where we are – to be present, and planted. I am learning now, more than ever, that giving and receiving grace is a life-long journey. Yet He is amidst it. 

Why do you love it?

Firstly, I love Chicago for its beauty, its culture, its dining experiences, and its familiar midwestern nature. Secondly, I love it for the people I've connected with here and for the joyful memories that have been made. But thirdly, and most importantly, I realize I love it because God has placed it in my heart to love. He has given me new eyes to see it, to cherish it, and to help create a garden in it. 

Soon after my husband Andrew and I were married, he asked me, "How can we pour back into the city together?" To not just use it and be takers of what it offers, but to actually contribute to its betterment and love where there is brokenness. I know it can sound hippy and slightly fantastical to describe it that way. But God asks us love, serve, and help others unfurl and flourish.

Why do you stay?

Simply, I stay because God hasn't us elsewhere. We stay because Chicago's pulse is still very loud in my ears, and after a decade of traversing her neighborhoods and investing in her people, we feel like she's part of our identities. While our primary identity is in Christ, Chicago has played an integral and formative role in shaping our worldview and opening our eyes to the brokenness and beauty of humanity here. Beyond its rich cultural landscape, ingenuity, and charm is a deep brokenness we feel called to serve amidst. 

How has community affected your time here?

Community has been absolutely transformative for me. The first day I walked into Missio Dei Wrigleyville in 2011, I knew that if I wanted to experience true community, I needed to invest in it. I'd done the church-hopping thing while I was in school at Columbia, and there were a number of churches I "liked." But I never committed to showing up. 

My first experience at Missio was not life-changing because of the sermon, or their worship music, or the way I was "welcomed." I recognized that our values lined up, and its building is less than a mile away from where I live - so I didn't have an excuse to not plug-in. Attending Missio was life-changing because I heard God whispering to me in the back of the sanctuary, "Plant yourself." 

So within a couple weeks, I found myself in a Gospel Community at Kristen and David Mrdjanov's apartment in Boystown, and six years later, my Missio Community is my Chicago family. I've met many of my closest friends through Gospel Community, I found my husband through it, we were married at Missio, I've been baptized at Missio, and I've tuned into my calling with the encouragement of this family, and that includes #OurChicagoStories.  

I've written it many a time, but showing up is half the battle to finding community. There is grace to be found there, and it has been life-changing.

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

Creativity is abundant here. Being a 4 and a 9 on the Enneagram and an INFJ, I thrive in being able to express myself. However, I often find myself combating comparison. It's the nature of social media. I'm finding it's healthiest to put into place parameters that keep our motives in check and also establish practices that make space for ourselves to tap into our own creativity. I've been learning what it looks like to create in my "own lane" for my own sake and to connect with our Creator. On the other hand, inviting others into collaboration is one of the most life-giving ways we can spur on one another to thrive and flourish while giving God the glory.  

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

I used to think I felt my best when I was working and trying hard. But it's been a journey to realize that I feel most empowered and comfortable in my own skin when I feel known, loved, and at peace amidst the tumult. That directly correlates with my relationship with God. No person – including my husband Andrew – will ever completely and fully know and love me like God does. And vice versa. When I am far away from God, my self-esteem plummets. But when I seek and prioritize His counsel and ways, my heart is postured for peace and to be in wonder and awe.

As St. Augustine wrote, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you." While I treasure and appreciate affirmation and love from my peers, it has been God's presence and peace in my life that empowers me to tell of His good deeds and journey forward confidently knowing I have been wonderfully, uniquely, and divinely created.

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

Living in the city has absolutely affected my style and the way I approach what I purchase and invest in. When I moved to Chicago over a decade ago, I couldn't help but notice the many neutral-favoring citizens traversing its cool-toned streets. It makes sense to me: the practical blacks and the clean lines.

I've found great inspiration from Chicago's architecture, sophisticated style, and the craftsmanship that is found here: whether its in clothes, dining, furnishing, or sustainable efforts. I finally know what I like and what works for me, and I enjoy investing in brands who are backed by people working to change the commerce game for good.

Living in Chicago has opened my eyes to slow fashion and what it means to "vote" with our money. I now know there is a plethora of ways we can combat the "waste couture" and mass production. And while you can find all the big names here, discovering and supporting our local makers and shopping "small" are ways I strive to contribute to the rewiring and renewing of healthy commerce and community.

How has Chicago affected your worldview, if at all?

Chicago is an amazing sampling of the world. I am humbled and grateful to live in a place that affords me interaction with people from all walks of life and from every nation. I've encountered some of the brightest most intelligent and interesting people I know here. 

And for all its ingenuity, creativity and beauty, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't mention the violence and corruption that resides here as well.

I had no idea it was so bad when I moved here. It breaks my heart. Living in Chicago has caused me to evaluate my own upbringing and privilege, and it has convicted me to pay attention, to grieve it, to open my palms in prayer, and to help where I can.

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

In my ten years in Chicago, many encounters have remained with me. Off the top of my head: the rap battle between a homeless man and a Northwestern student. I was walking home from the train one night. I was cold and tired and hungry, and I noticed a group of young college students surrounding someone on the sidewalk. Annoyed that I had to walk into the street to get around them, I kept my head down. But as I was passing by in the rain, one of the kids in the group surrounding the two yelled to me, "Hey! You wanna judge a rap battle?!" I continued walking until I processed what he said. I spun around, and squinting into the rain bouncing off of his silhouette, I asked, "A rap battle?!" "Yeah!" "Um, yes! Yes, I do." 

So for 15 minutes I watched a 50-something homeless black man and stoic white blonde wearing a Northwestern sweatshirt (who looked like my younger brother) go back and forth, playfully mentioning Michael Jordan and Big Macs. After I'd called a tie, the man smiled a toothless smile and asked the group of students, "Hey, y'all studying?" "Yes," they all replied. "What are you studying?" "Political Science." "Economics." "Business." They shared, one by one. "That's great." the man replied. "Do you do any volunteering?" He continued. "Oh yes, sir..." they responded, straightening up, preparing to recite their credentials. "I'm wondering if you could spare me some change tonight," he asked motioning with an empty Dunkin Donuts plastic cup he was holding. But before any kid could pull out change, he waved with his hand, and said, "Nah, you know what? Never mind. Y'all blessed me tonight. Forget it. Take care of yourselves."

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

Oh man, we just talked about Jeremiah 29 at Missio Dei, and that has remained with me. 

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”

"For its welfare will determine your welfare." Wow. Talk about a potent reminder for to invest where He calls me. And to commit to praying for His presence to increase in me so I am able turn away from my selfish nature and put others before myself. That's shalom – God's perfect peace. And I pray for it over myself and the rest of us as we works towards bringing renewal where we are, and for me that's Chicago. 

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?

I didn't grow up in the church. Jesus wooed me to Him in my college years through my own trials and suffering, and through the mystery of the beauty I found. As I go to him with everything, He continues to reveal His goodness towards me and His providence over my life. He desires intimate relationship with us!

I think doubt is natural and actually healthy at times. We should question, to a point. For those who've adopted believing because of the way their parents mediated their faith, and are now questioning, that is a good thing. But I think those pangs are opportunities for deepened faith. 

The Gospel Coalition speaks into this so beautifully:

"Sometimes we want all the answers. We want complete understanding before we commit to God.

While God has revealed so much to us, and there is much we can understand, there are the 'secret' things that belong to him alone (Deut. 29:29). We will never be able to comprehend the Trinity, or how God created everything out of nothing. But what we can comprehend is enough for us to rest in God when mystery arises."