#TrainTruths: 8 Revelations from Chicago Public Transportation

One of the toughest goodbyes before my move to Illinois from Texas was with my dear Grayson. We had been pals for just over four years. There for me during the extremely formative and challenging years of dental school, we shared many an early morning and late night. Grayson was there for everything from my Grammy-worthy solo concerts in Houston traffic to tearful breakdowns in the Chick-fil-A parking lot near my apartment. He was my favorite road trip companion, and I can’t imagine not having him around for the major milestones of my early to mid-twenties.

Grayson was undoubtedly my friend. Grayson was also undoubtedly my grey 2015 Toyota Rav4.

Before you roll your eyes and close the tab, HEAR ME OUT. I provide such a diva-esque description of my relationship with my car only to emphasize how much I valued having autonomy with transportation before my move, and subsequently how much I missed my beloved crossover when I moved to the windy city. Don’t get me wrong, Chicago has one of the nation’s best public transportation systems, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to explore different neighborhoods via the beloved “El” and many bus routes. Now that I have a relatively impressive number of train rides (and several slices of deep dish pizza) under my belt, I feel like an authentic Chicagoan hopping on the bus and not always having to check Google Maps for my stop. I even feel a twinge of pride every time the train starts running express and I don’t panic in fear of passing my stop.

Still, if i’m being honest, I feel most homesick when I am waiting in the dark, cold, rain at 6:35 AM waiting for a bus that was scheduled to arrive 3 mins earlier, or when my cheek is smushed against another odorous human’s elbow on a crowded train during rush hour. Life has taught me that saying goodbye to one situation almost always means saying hello to another, and my transition from highway hopper to train hopper is no exception. I didn’t expect to learn so much from this lifestyle shift. On trend with Chicago’s famous eight train lines, I’d like to share eight spiritual revelations I’ve learned from Chicago public transportation. All aboard?

1.Every day, you have to choose to board.

Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD.” “Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.‭

-Joshua‬ ‭24:22‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Hopefully by now, it is understood that making a conscious choice not to drive to work was not an easy feat for me. As a social introvert, I crave time in the morning to ease into my day alone with my thoughts, a good podcast, and a piping hot thermos of earl grey tea. Contrast this ideal morning with my reality, which is my body and backpack being crushed against the side of an overly packed city bus full of yelling (and simultaneously snoring) passengers. Many days, before opening my morning devotional on the Bible app, I’m tempted to make a public service announcement shaming everyone whose music is blaring so loud that the use of the headphones is moot. Most mornings, I’d rather just press a few buttons on my phone and take a quiet, cozy, but often expensive Uber or Lyft to work. Every day is a decision to step into something uncomfortable that can allow me to grow. Similarly, every day in the Christian walk is a choice to be humbled and step out of the comfort zone in order to make Christ known, be it through a healing smile at a stranger, or by letting someone else with tired eyes take the last seat.

2. If you don’t refill your source, you won’t go anywhere.

LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.

-Psalms‬ ‭16:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Before I learned about the autoload feature, I experienced two embarrassing episodes in which I realized I ran out of money on my Ventra card to ride the train and bus. My stomach sank as I encountered the unsettling buzz from the turnstile monitor accompanied by the phrase “Insufficient funds”. Aside from the one instance in which the gracious bus driver let me onto the bus, this usually meant that I could not access the trains. How did this happen? I asked myself. Then, upon reflection, I realized that this was not as inconceivable as I thought. A few swipes at the wrong station paired with a few weeks of not checking my account balance had resulted in this moment. I’ve found it equally as easy to let my spiritual life fall out of a healthy rhythm as well. A few skipped quiet times, a couple of unchecked pet sins, and a terminally busy schedule can result in my heart buzzing that same “insufficient funds” alert. Praise God that our relationship with Him can’t be trivialized to following a rule book. He doesn’t need us to enter our “good Christian” (there’s no such thing, by the way) credit card info to refill our funds. He gives and loves abundantly. He refills our cards if we only seek Him!

3. Look inside before you enter.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

-Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV

As someone who enjoys a relatively quiet commute (aside from fire playlists or thought-provoking podcasts, of course), I typically try to create such an atmosphere for myself. Sometimes, however, when I’m in a rush or exhausted, I’ll step into a train car or onto a bus that seems to be powered by dramatic commotion. Loud cell phone speakers, arguing elderly persons, smoke-filled cabins – perfect ambiance right? I find it difficult to remind myself that the Lord himself knew I’d be placed in this exact situation, and that He has plans to grow me through what I go through. Sometimes it’s sharing a seat with someone talking to themselves. Sometimes it’s helping an old lady move her suitcases off the bus as she curses at you all the while. Sometimes it’s panting with my hands on my knees and saying a silent thank you prayer that I am able bodied and can run (although not fast enough to catch every train). I often need to be reminded that we were not created to be comfortable in this world. Moreover, we cannot and should not try to forge pseudo-paradises out of each awkward encounter. We can wholeheartedly trust that no event in our lives has ever surprised our Father, and He goes before us in all things.

4. Sometimes, you start off in the wrong direction.

…Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV

Confession: when I first moved to the city and got turned around on the train or bus, I often felt frustrated and discouraged, once to the point of tears. I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t have the whole transit system figured out after approximately 3 rides. The message that past, present, and likely future Raven need to hear repeatedly is this – We as humans are not perfect, nor are we meant to be. I have a past, present, and future marked with big mistakes, but redeemed by a bigger love. The gospel summarized is that we all followed our own distorted maps in the wrong direction until we decided to let Jesus be the conductor and lead us to where we actually want to be. Taking advantage of grace is not the goal, but I feel like I’m not the only one who needs to be reminded that when (not if) we make mistakes or head down the wrong path, our loving Father waits for His prodigal children with loving, open arms.

5. It’s okay to backtrack.

Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all His benefits…

Psalm 103: 2 NIV

In Houston, if I made a wrong turn, I could make a quick, (legal), u-turn at the next intersection without giving my mistake a second thought. In Chicago, many of my directional faux pas look like noticing the mistake several stops too late, hopping off the train in a frenzy, looking around with a primitive Spongebob scowl on my face, and hurrying back in the right direction before the general public realizes that I’m not actually a city slicker but a confused imposter. Similar to my above point, it’s absolutely okay and often healthy to return to the good things we know. For me, that usually looks like rereading my prayer journal a few months after surviving a season I thought would never end. That may look like revisiting a familiar verse or book with a new lens. I’ve learned that even if I head off in the wrong direction on the train, the station nearest my apartment will always be familiar and safe. Similarly, even if the season of life or challenge we’re facing is uncomfortable and potentially dangerous, the word of God and His powerful love will always be familiar and safe. Forget not your home base, and forget not His benefits.

6. Be aware of your surroundings.

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:2 NIV

Don’t let my large brown eyes fool you; I’m not that naive. I recognize that part of being responsible while using public transportation is to take proactive steps in keeping myself safe. Many mornings, it’s easier to avoid eye contact, keep my headphones in, and wear my “tough cookie” facial expression. One morning, this mindset kept me from recognizing one of my favorite patients until he waved and greeted me outside the bus . I had so enjoyed motivating and empowering this patient to take control of his oral and systemic health through healthy habits and regular dental treatment. I’m embarrassed to say that my instinctive nature seeks to pretend to be someone else when I see patients outside the dental clinic (all in the name of work-life separation). What I realized the second time I accidentally ignored this patient on the bus, however, is that I had missed an opportunity to grow our rapport and to exhort him as a human, not just as a patient. There is definitely a time to be silent, to look straight ahead, and to focus on oneself. But there’s also a time to kill the desire for comfort, use the joy of the Lord as your strength, and share the source of your energy with others.

7. Another vessel is coming.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him. “

Lamentations 3:24 NIV

As I previously alluded, I never ran track, and this has little to do with my childhood asthma. Occasionally, poor planning yields a scene with a dyspneic Raven, hunched over in fatigue and humiliation, having missed the bus by a solid 45 seconds. Sometimes these moments leave me so frazzled and frustrated that I simply order an overpriced Uber as an indignant statement. One thing I’ve noticed however, is whether it takes two minutes or twenty minutes, another train or bus always comes. Sometimes, when I’ve missed a crowded bus speeding past my intersection, I’m pleasantly surprised to find the next one ready in a few minutes with less pungent smells and much more seating. Occasionally, I’ll hop on a train too impatiently, only to learn that it’s going to run express past my preferred stop. If I had just waited for the right vessel, , I wouldn’t have to work so hard. I have found this to be true in my faith walk as well. When I try to sprint past the milestones and hop on the busses that strictly read “Out of Service for Raven-Deneice Specifically”, I run into all sorts of trouble. I’m slowly learning to release all the timelines for my life , and to board the train car portion specifically for me.The cliche really does run true; God is always on time.

8. We have maps.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”

Psalm 119:105 NIV

Sometimes I check my texts on the train. Sometimes I work on my grocery list. Sometimes I catch up on the latest meme trend. And sometimes, I sit with my eyes glued to Google Maps, silently rehearsing my proposed route to make sure I’m doing everything right. As previously mentioned, it doesn’t take much for me to get lost in the city, and that’s even with maps on the train and a large compass outside each stop. I can’t imagine where I would be without the multiple sources in my line of vision and sometimes even in my ear telling me where to go. The same is true for my spiritual life. As believers, we don’t just have a rule book for life. We don’t even have just a love story. We have a map of the Father’s heart and his plan to triumph us in Him. The truth is that even with a regular stream of sermons, songs, time in the word, and loved ones pouring into my growth, I often get lost. It is nothing short of grace to know that I will always find the path back to righteousness in the word, no matter how low my battery is and no matter how lost I get.

To summarize, I miss my car. But the Lord has traded my vehicle keys for keys of wisdom, and I am thankful for each door (germy though it may be) that has been opened so far because of it. It is my hope that this silly but sincere message will provide encouragement for all who are traveling (whether physically or spiritually) in a new way. !Buen Viaje!

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