So, how are things going at seminary? Are you enjoying classes? What church are you attending? Have you grown spiritually and personally? What about the city? Does it make you feel out of place? I have frequently been asked these questions over the past several months. At first I would give the typical answers that you would expect. I love school, I’m growing a lot, I am in love with the church I’m attending, and the city has allowed me to see that there is so much more beyond the limits of the 618.
While all of that is true, I feel as though I haven’t given justice to the experiences that I have had since I have been here. I’ve lost who I was and became who I always wanted to be. I’m a girl that has a past, yet not letting it define her. I am a girl that has gained emotions, feelings, and opinions that have helped to communicate how I feel about it all. I am my own person; a person with convictions and values that are shaping the way I interact with the world and how I do church.
I am not going to lie; week one of this journey was by far the hardest. There were more tears than I ever imagined, my pastors were on speed dial, and I was convinced I wouldn’t make it to the final few weeks. I didn’t have friends, no church to attend, and a big city that made me feel like a fly. I was so overwhelmed with the silence that I was living in. Who I was began to stare me in the face and I was forced to deal with it all. I was out of place and I didn’t belong. Something didn’t seem quite right.
Yet, here I am. Sitting in my regular Sunday spot at the local Panera (yes friends, they call it Panera here, I’m learning to adjust). Drinking my usual Sunday coffee and watching the locals interact over their Sunday lunches, and suddenly I realized I have become a local too. This is my space, my place, my environment and it’s shaping me. I do belong, I am supposed to be here and the fear of silence no longer causes me to tremble.
I have fallen in love with life in Northern Illinois. I’ve become captivated by the way the waves crash along the shoreline and have had honest conversations with myself about who I want to be when I leave this place. I’ve never lived away and the little country girl in me is in love with the vastness that exists in this part of the state. I have dwelled in the silence, examined my life in ways I never imagined and realized that I deserve to live in peace. I deserve to live in freedom; I deserve to exist as Brittney. A human that is broken, scarred, and fragile, yet redeemed by Christ and living in the reality that the cross is more than enough.
Seminary as a whole has been so incredibly good. I have grown in my knowledge of scripture, the church, and God. I have studied under some of the most brilliant minds and have met people that live in love and walk in truth. It’s a new environment that has proven to be so incredibly healthy and enriching. I can’t help but geek out over the knowledge that I have gained. It has expanded my vocabulary and has caused me to look at the church in different ways. It is a growing experience, that’s for sure. I forgot how much I love filling my head with knowledge and writing papers that explain why I believe what I believe. It has stretched me, molded me and transformed me. I’m not ready to leave for the summer, and that my friends is a sure sign that I am learning to love the scary and new experiences that God graciously hands to me.
As far as growth, I would say this is the biggest way I see God showing up in Evanston. I have had to sit in silence, pray, and confront the deepest parts of my heart. I have had to write pages and pages in my journal, cry as I walk along the beach, and accept that I need to let go of who I used to be.
As most of you know, I have been in an ongoing relationship with things that have controlled me for far too long. I have reached for control in the unhealthiest of ways and because of it, I’ve built walls, shut people out, and lived in a dark place masked with glitter, smiles and fakeness. Since being in Evanston, I have lost control to gain freedom. I have intentionally placed myself in situations where eating is a must and purposefully kept sharp objects out of my room. I have been intentional on how I treat myself on my hardest of days. I have given myself space to heal and deal with why I do theses things and accepted that it’s who I was, not who I am. I’ve walked in that freedom for almost 90 days and I have never felt so peaceful. It’s a process that I am constantly learning how to live in. I have given myself grace on the days I don’t feel like walking in freedom. I’ve seen myself release a grip and break the walls. I’ve seen the need for Jesus in a whole new way and I want to extend that same grace and love to everyone I meet. People all bring something to the table, why not make that table a little easier to exist at?
Speaking of all people, I need to tell you all how incredibly thankful I am that I have found the church that I have been attending since I got here. Before coming to Evanston, I was so incredibly hurt by the church. Rumors, hateful words, and accusations that simply weren’t true caused me to want to run from the church and keep running until I wasn’t near it. I slowly learned to like the church again while attending Immanuel, but here I have fallen in love with the church all over again. I’ve watched barriers become broken, people experiencing acceptance regardless of who they are, and have broken bread with people who are so different than I. This morning, Northbrook UMC voted to hold same -sex couples weddings in their church building. That my friends, is where the Gospel comes to life. Christ died for all. Yes, all! Not an all with a star next to it explaining the exclusions that the word has. The breath of relaxation and joy that filled the room as the word yes was spoken, filled the room with peace and the table that we gather around for communion suddenly got a little more crowded. Crowded in the good way, you know, the kind where so many family members come to thanksgiving dinner and you all have to squeeze together because there’s so much love in one place. I’ve seen the good that can come from the church. I truly believe that Northbrook UMC has been the place ordained and set aside for me to fall in love with the church all over again. It’s so good to see growth happening and people being included in all actions in the church.
I love this place, I love the city and I love who I am becoming. I have never loved the person I am, until now. I’ve never loved the church as much as I do right now. I’ve never experienced freedom and growth quite like this, until now.
So, to answer all of your questions, I love this place, these people, this church, and this city. I have found a whole new meaning to freedom and have loved dwelling in it. I have found myself somewhere between classes, church, and hard conversations overly thankful for the grace that is extended to me and the nudging of the people in my life that got me to say yes to this scary and new experience.
It has been the most beautiful 4 months and I wouldn’t trade the painful silences, hard conversations, and new girl stereotype for the world. I’m exactly where I am supposed to be and for that, I am thankful.