Image: Matthew Hamilton

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders
 — Carl Sandburg; Chicago

It’s official…

We’re packing our stuff and heading out to the City of the Big Shoulders in August.

There’s a bit of a backstory here. This post is a bit longer than usual. So grab some coffee and hang out for a few minutes. Facebook can wait:)

Me, Chicago, and Her

I’m from the small-town world. I hail from Modesto, CA and moved to Minden, NV when I was 18.

Eventually, I met a girl. Not one of those other girls, the girl…

We worked together. Her family lived in the area, but she was headed off to college in Chicago.

She was a lot younger than me. 
It was summer. 
She was on break. 
I saw it as a summer fling, initially.

Then she went back to school. And a part of me went missing. 
It hurt, which was inconvenient.

I did some work that summer for a friend and he paid me by flying me round-trip anywhere I wanted.

“Where do you want to go, Jonas?”

Wow, is this happening? 
Do I really want to do this?


So I went out for a weekend. It was a perfect elixir made up of the shores of Lake Michigan at night with fireflies buzzing around like tiny incandescent fighter jets (never saw those before), the towering commercial beauty of the Magnificent Mile, and… her.

It was the most beautiful weekend of my life. We fell in love that weekend. Then, I flew back to Nevada and she stayed. We dated long-distance for two years before we got married and I moved out there.

The city was a dream to me. I fell in love with it along with her.

In the months before I moved out, I was day-trading on the side (you probably know where this is going). I was doing okay, so the plan was to just move out to Chicago and do it full time.

The day we moved in to our apartment in Chicago, and I fired up my trade station for the first time as a full-time trader, something interesting was happening on the news. It was autumn of 2008 and the markets were collapsing. Markets that had only moved an average of a dozen points or so during a day were now jumping hundreds in seconds.

I gave it a valiant try for a month or so, but eventually I lost it all. I had to go find a job in the worst economic downturn since the depression with no college degree, no contacts, and no chance in hell. I was a golf pro by trade and it was fall in one of the coldest cities in the US.

No chance. In hell.

Long story short, we made it. I found a job waiting tables. Alex finished up at Northwestern. Then we moved back to Nevada to be close to family and to take advantage of the human capital we had there to get back on our feet.

We’ve been back here since. Every year around this time, we talk about moving back to Chicago. But every time, we talk ourselves out of it.

The call to adventure

Last summer, we moved into a little house in Minden owned by my in-laws and were going to buy it.

It’s a small town. 3000 people, give or take. We have a gazebo in the park. Which is nice.

We painted the house and put in a new kitchen. Did a few other things you do when buying a home and had plans to do even more.

And then, I got a phone call…

If you’re familiar with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey (check out Joseph Vogler’s model above if you’re not familiar — he did a great job of explaining it more simply than Campbell), you know that Minden, NV — for me — represents the ‘ordinary world’. If I was Luke Skywalker (let me dream here, okay?), Minden would be my Tatooine.

It’s safe. Quaint. Conservative. A lot of farm land. But there’s always that stormy, husky, brawling city beckoning.

About two years ago, when I was considering the path to ministry, I got in touch with a mentor (yes, part 4 of the Hero’s Journey) who had founded a widely successful spiritual center in Chicago years ago and had since passed it off to his board before going back out on his own prior to my reaching out.

So when I first talked to him, he was doing consulting for other ministers who were growing spiritual centers of their own. What’s great is that he’d done it himself in a big city. I loved the vibe he created and his sermons were electric. So I got in touch and we clicked.

About a month ago, we were chatting and he said,“So I’m thinking about starting another spiritual center here in Chicago.”

Cool, I thought. Since he’d been away from his recently founded center, I could tell he’d been itching to get back. He continued…

“I’ve been following your work, man. And I know you’re on the pathway to ministry now. I also know you and your wife have been wanting to move back to Chicago. So, check this out. Whattdya say you become my founding assistant minister?”

Image: Saili K.

At that moment, I should have been overwhelmed. I don’t handle change well. But I oddly experienced the exact opposite. An inner calm. Like a piece of the puzzle had just fallen gently into place.

“Wow, Rev.,” (I call him Rev. for short — it’s industry lingo, stop laughing) “That sounds amazing. Let me just talk to Alex about it.”

It was bizarre. We were this close to settling down in Minden, NV permanently. We were still renting, but we’d been treating this place like our own. And now this?

I mean, I’m not even an ordained minister yet. I’m still in my first year of divinity school. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this professionally. I was honestly just doing this for myself because I found the subject matter interesting and it satiated my lack of a college degree.

But now I was being called by someone I highly respect to help open up, grow, and be a founding minister of a thriving spiritual community in a city my wife and I had been dreaming of going back to for years?

It’s when you truly let things go that they come flying back to you in spades.

Fear as well as elation ran circles in my mind. Confusion and clarity were moving into my headspace at the same time.

The call to adventure is a disorienting one…

Crossing the threshold

Going back to the Hero’s Journey, step 5 is ‘crossing the threshold’. It’s the point of no return. Where the hero answers the call to adventure and steps outside of the ‘ordinary world’ into his/her destiny.

I talked to Alex that night and it took zero convincing. She was in. Immediately. For one, her heart’s been in that city since we left (more so than mine). Second, she realized how huge of an opportunity this was for me.

“The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over the harbor and city on silent haunches, and then moves on.” 
Carl Sandburg⠀

Image: Mike Meyers

A few weeks later, we flew out to find a place. After walking about 30 miles around the city, we finally found one. It fit like a glove. It’s a classic Chicago third story walk-up, just a couple blocks from my mentor.

We just signed the lease. The threshold has been crossed. The call has been answered.

Answering the call

Ever since driving out of town before, tail between my legs, I’ve wanted another crack at that city. It beat me before, but I’ve long wanted another shot. I’ve wanted to live and thrive there.

Ego-driven and unspiritual? Maybe… But maybe not.

This is a big moment for me and my family and I wanted to share it with you since I’ll be writing about it a lot here on the blog. It’s my life now, this whole ministerial thing. And it’s all because the readers here have been perfect enablers of this insanity of mine (yes, I’m talking to you).

The next step on the Hero’s Journey is ‘tests, allies, and enemies,’ so it should make for excellent writing.

Here we go, Chicago. That toddlin’ town.

And so it is.

Jonas Ellison is a spiritual counselor and blogging coach who writes shortish preachments in Higher Thoughts on the daily. To jump on his mailing list and get his free email course as a gift of his undying gratitude, do your thing below…