Rebecca Surles

What brought you to Chicago?

I had just moved home from a whirlwind of living in Germany for 2 ½ years. I assured all of my friends and family that my wandering nature was ready to stay where my roots are. However, God had other plans for me and after about a month at home I started to feel like maybe it wasn’t time to stay in Georgia just yet, I didn’t have a peace about it. I love visiting new places, but I think there’s a different level of experiences you have when you make a city your own. I interned in Chicago one summer during college and knew I loved the city based off the two months I spent here, although, it’s hard not to fall in love with a Chicago summer. So I set out on the job search. Because I love traveling, I found a small boutique travel company, flew up for an interview, and got the job. Two weeks later, I was packing up all of my belongings and driving the 13-hour journey to officially call Chicago home.


Where are you from?

I’m from the land of peaches, sweet tea, and “bless your hearts,” the south. I was born in North Carolina, but we moved to Georgia when I was ten. I fondly look back on time spent driving back county roads from my hometown to college, with a stop at a boiled peanut stand along the way. There’s a peacefulness to the slow paced life, a sense of comfort, and it fills me up every time I go back to visit.


What do you find challenging about living here?

Being from the south, the length of winter and cold weather is definitely an adjustment. My soul is longing for some sunshine. I find it challenging because I find myself being less productive, less social, less myself. That being said, Chicago is very dreamy in the snow (I’ve never been around a lot of snow), and I really do love how everyone sort of hibernates in the winter…I just wish it was for a shorter time.

To be honest, finding community has been one of my biggest challenges about living in Chicago so far. This month marks one year of calling Chicago home, and it still doesn’t quite feel natural yet. I’ve definitely had moments of wanting to leave, but I feel a draw to stay and not give up, I’m not sure if it’s so much the challenge of living in the city of Chicago itself, or if it’s the challenge of forming new long lasting friendships as a late twenty-something in a city that’s so big, it can at times make you feel a little lost. I’ve had to stop comparing it to my old community because that’s hindered me from moving forward with pursuing relationships here. It’s a hard truth, but relationships take time, and deep down I’m glad they do. If they were too easy, would they really be strong friendship?

What are some of the reasons you love it?

I enjoy exploring the different diverse neighborhoods and how they each have their own feel and character to them. I’ve been adding on to my Chicago bucket list for a while now, and I know that it will take forever to get through. It’s the best feeling though, being able to discover something new and different each day. It’s like being able to have that feeling of travel and adventure without leaving your city, and Chicago definitely has that gift.

I love the challenge of living in a new city, figuring out the trains, roaming the streets completely lost and then finding, over time, you have a favorite street to walk down. You start noticing the same people you pass by every day, start to feel a normalness and comfortable feeling about your surroundings.

Chicago is the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, but with each day, it starts to feel a bit smaller, it grows on you more, you begin to notice the small things and find a beauty that’s been right in front of you the whole time.

I’ve noticed that Chicago (the Midwest) culture feels, in a way, similar to the south. To my surprise, people are friendly, they ask you how you are, let you have their seat on the L, offer advice to strangers. There’s a kindness about then that shows. It’s not something I expected, but was so happy to find.

Why do you stay?

I moved here with the intention of only staying one year. One year to explore a new city, possibly get it out of my system before really being ready to settle down in one place.

I’ve been through a lot of seasons of life where I’m restless, searching for the next new place to move, next opportunity. I’ve found that the Lord is teaching me to be still, not just with Him but in how I live my life.
I stay in Chicago, because I feel a sense of contentment and rest that has comes by focusing on the present. I’ve found joy in small, ordinary moments rather than thinking they all have to be grand adventures…which doesn’t mean I can’t have an exciting trip to be looking forward to. 

It’s been an adjustment and hard to get used to, but I can already see how the Lord has blessed my being obedient to Him and listening. I’m learning that even though it’s going against what I’ve always instinctively chosen to do, that being still, growing and planting myself in one place is really beautiful and worthwhile. I can truly say that I am enjoying this day He has made.

How has community affected your time here?

I’ve realized that I’ve always been in more of transient communities, knowing I’ll be moving on in a couple years. And while that’s ok for a season and I’ve gained some of my very best friends though doing daily life with them for only a couple years, this is the first time in my life (since living at home), where I know I’ll be in one place for a long period of time. Because of this, it’s changing how intentional I want to be about building a community here. I’ve definitely had moments of fear and feeling like I don’t want to be the “new girl,” of wanting so badly it huts for it to be the same type of relationships I found so easily before. That void of not having what we were created to be in with one another, to share this life together in Christ, becomes so apparent when you move to a new city not knowing anyone. It’s allowed me to truly have faith.

God doesn’t just hand us his favor; we need to reach for it. Put what we believe to be true into action. For the past year, I’ve been in-between churches, but a couple months ago, I committed to making Missio Dei my home church. I’m more than excited and ready to come alongside and serve with people there, become family. I feel that I’m finally, slowly beginning to build community.

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?

I love seeing people here embrace having the freedom to do different things, express themselves differently, not worry about having to “fit the mold.” That was always one of the scariest things to me about graduating college. I didn’t want to feel the pressure of going directly down the usual path of “college, then start a career, get married, and buy a house.” Not that I didn’t want all of those things, but it felt so uniform and mechanical to me. I wanted to see and do more, especially while I was single. I’m so thankful for the journey that God’s taken me on, and it’s been so fun to have the chance to experience Chicago culture. It’s definitely a unique thing.

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

Comparison is a real thing and I’ve often times been caught up in its snare. It’s not something I ever talk about, but inwardly I battle with it. With social media and culture always in your face, it’s almost too easy to convince yourself you should have (need to have) something someone else has. When I start to drift into these thoughts and believe these lies, it really does give me a peace when I remind myself that I am His beloved. I’m treasured by the King. Desired by Yahweh.

This is why I believe it’s so important to speak truth into one another. My old roommates and I created “House Rules” and we hung them up on our wall to remind ourselves of them. Two of them were no negative body image talk (you are beautiful) and no complaining about being single (you are independent). Another which we loved, always have a bottle of red wine on hand. Also, in my small group, one night we went around and wrote words that came to our mind about each person (strong, beautiful, kind hearted, selfless, trustworthy, servant hearted…). It was so special to hear those words of affirmation from ladies who know me deeply.

Those kinds of moments are ones that have stuck with me, and I often reflect on them when I start to feel negatively about myself. I feel most alive and full when I’m discovering a new place. Getting to see a new part of the world, more of His beauty, makes me feel closer to God. I love the feeling of being so small in comparison to His vast creations. There’s so much to see and experience in this short life we have here, and I want to see as much of it as I can.

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

It’s a freeing feeling when you know all of your belongings can almost fit into your car. I’ve tried to take on a minimalist approach since moving here, not buying things
I don’t need, especially clothing. I’m very particular about what I want to take into my home. I want the pieces that I buy to be something that I love, that brings me joy
when I use/wear it.

Anything else you'd like to share about your time in Chicago?

I began by my first real dating relationship here. I never imagined Chicago would bethe place where I would fall in love, much less decide to stay longer than a year.
Even though I’ve always wanted to fall in love, share life with someone else, thatwas always in my mind, way down the line. I always placed it separate from the
ideas and plans I had for my own life where I wasn’t taking into account another person.

It’s amazing to see how those plans that I thought were so important to life plan can swiftly change when you meet someone.

It’s good to realize that surrendering your independence, making decisions unilaterally with another person, serving and putting the good of the whole over your
own, isn’t instinctive by nature, but it’s a foundation for a God centered relationship. Nicky has been the biggest blessing and surprise in my life. I felt a sense of comfort
from the beginning with him that I’ve never felt with someone before. He knows deep depths of me, and still cares and loves me for who I am. He’s encouraged me
through every type of fear about relationships that I could think of.

He’s taught be that being vulnerable with someone isn’t as scary as we can make it out to be.

He brings more joy and laughter into my life then I ever dreamed, and I know it’s not always going to be easy, but I can’t imagine him not being in my life. I’m so thankful
God let our paths cross that spring Chicago day last year.