Wednesday, April 9, 2014

China

This time last year Brent and I were in China. Brent had to go for class as part of his masters program. Me, I just really wanted an excuse to go to China. I was not going to take no for a China. I had wanted to travel there for years. I still want to go back.

I love the USA and I love living in Iowa. However, there is just something about traveling the world and seeing new places that I love. Seeing other cultures and experiencing different things. I love learning about other countries. The variety and differences among people, they are what I love in life.

We met so many neat people in both Beijing and Shanghai. We got to negotiate and barter our price when shopping, we tried foods that we had never tried and we visited a number of places that both of us had never been as well as ones Brent had been to before. We came home with so many fun stories to share with friends.


My favorite thing we did in Shanghai was our Huangpu river boat cruise at night where we saw all of the lights along the Bund and the Oriental pearl tower. We almost missed it even because of me, I am so glad we made it to the boat on time. I also really loved visiting places outside of Shanghai. Brent I think enjoyed visiting World of Joyland the most but my favorite was a town called Zhujiajiao. It was a little town built around water canals. Full of historical gardens but still a modest city it had lots of charm.


In Beijing who cannot love visiting Tiananmen Square or the Great Wall. My favorite activity was a Hutong bike tour that allowed us to visit one of the few remaining neighborhoods in Beijing. We visited a local family, a Eastern medicine pharmacy and hospital and dined at a local dumpling restaurant before visiting the Summer palace. The Summer palace had all of the magnolia flowers in full bloom and it was just a sight to see.


I don't know when we will go back to China. I just know I will go again. There are so many places there I still want to see. I want to go to more historical cities like Xian and I want to view more of the rice terraces and other natural wonders in China that are off the beaten path. I studied so much of the arts and history of China in college. Today I just want to see it all for myself. I love that my family all loves China as much as I do. My own kids share our love of traveling and want to visit China. Brent used to live there but even he still has many places he has not seen and would like to go to again.


It might be dreaming but someday I would like to just travel the world. China would be at the top of the list.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Treasures


Spring is here and the nice weather means that new life is stirring outside. Our yard has little tulips and daffodils starting to peek up through the dirt. We are all anxious awaiting for them to pop up and bring color and new life into this world. Every morning I can hear all the birds and squirrels outside our windows.Our yard has never looked great (yard work is not on our list of priorities) but hey it is starting to be green again.

Spring doesn't just bring with it new life, it brings with it new beginnings.

This winter has just been hard. The harsh weather has meant that we have been maybe a little too close to each other. There are only so many activities to do with young kids. We are all eager to get outside and enjoy the sun. There are wide open spaces, with plenty of distance between each other to spare. Now that spring is here I am so thankful for the chance to escape and bring a little fun back in our days. Most of all I am ready for the return of sanity. Also an end to the season of shoveling. And shoveling. And shoveling. And snow days and school delays. I am over those too.

Both of our boys are enjoying playing soccer, basketball, jumping on the trampoline with the neighbor kids, and riding their bikes. Eleanor is learning how to ride a bike and loves going on walks with Oliver every morning to the park. We have already gone through a brand new box of chalk and are ready to break out the bubble and kites this week.

We had our first picnic lunch this week and last week we had s'mores with friends. For the first weekend in forever we had an entire Saturday free to spend as a family at home just doing nothing. We just hung out and had nowhere to go. We managed to get some tasks done, but mostly we just spent time together.

This morning I wasn't fully awake and I was not really excited about the day. I was just exhausted. I threw an outfit together, brushed my teeth, decided my hair looked okay, and that I could wait on the shower. After breakfast and taking Thomas to school I took Eleanor on a wagon ride, my big coffee mug in one hand and the wagon handle in the other. Oliver rode ahead of us on his bike. It just felt good. The kids were so excited to be going to the park. I was excited because we weren't inside. I was happy because I had more than a second to gather my thoughts while they were occupied playing outside. I had coffee even. It was cold already, but I didn't care because I had coffee and that was enough.

My house, it was a disaster. A weeks worth of clean laundry needed put away. My kitchen and bathroom I won't even describe. My living room had the contents of a spilled cereal baggie that I still needed to sweep up from this morning's breakfast. My papers were scattered all across the couch from after class and my purse lay dumped out on the floor because my two year decided to search it for money or candy, I'm not sure which.

None of this bothered me. Normally this would have made me loose my sanity. Truthfully it would have. Today though, I really didn't care. I knew I would get to it all eventually. Today, we were going to just get outside.

Life gets fast sometimes or painful. Life can also get boring or lonely. Sometimes we get disconnected and sometimes we just need space. It is little things like these that make me happy. They are little moments to be treasured. They are blessings.

I have so much gratitude for days like today and this last week. Some days just are crappy. I mean really, we have all had them. But the good ones are like medicine for our souls, they make them not matter. There are bad days. But there are always good days too. There is always something better waiting for us. A treasure to be found.

Matthew 6:21 says that "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

I am so thankful that God would give me little treasures like these. They are not treasures that we think about here on earth, but treasures of our heart and soul. They are gifts. I know I take them for granted a lot, but I am thankful for them today. Treasures like these are important.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Disciples and Labels

One of my favorite things to study is the relationships that Jesus had in the bible. In particular I enjoy reading about the first 12 disciples. After Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the devil he departed to Galilee and began his ministry of preaching to others. This is where he met the disciples and asked them to follow him.

The first disciples Jesus choose are important because none of them were perfect. Consistently throughout the Gospels we read how Jesus taught the disciples who God really was and what His word really means. Jesus choose a group of men with rough edges at best, sketchy backgrounds if we are talking truthfully, and at the worst would abandon Jesus in his greatest hour of need.

There was Matthew the greedy and corrupt tax collector and Thomas the doubter who didn't believe that Jesus was risen. There was Judas who betrayed Jesus and plotted to turn Jesus over to the officials. There was also Peter who denied Jesus in the hours leading up to his death and all throughout the Gospel had a rocky faith. He was either all in or all out. The rest of the disciples were not any more qualified. Jesus chose Simon who was a rebel fighting against corrupt government. He also chose Bartholomew who questioned whether Jesus was the real deal because he came from Nazareth, and what good would come from a poor town like that. The rest we know very little about, only that some were a tough group of fishermen.

So what do a bunch of fishermen, a rebel, tax collector, a doubter, a betrayer, and a denier and a brown-noser have in common?

They were not perfect and they all needed Jesus. These men all had labels. Some of them had very imperfect backgrounds that were questionable at best. But Jesus saw in them something good. He saw in them value. They were the diamonds in the rough (literally) that would become the rock of the early church. It is through Jesus' relationships with the disciples and early followers that we understand what Jesus was really teaching. Jesus was teaching us the power of love.

If Jesus saw value in a group of men as imperfect at the disciples, you can bet he sees good in us too. Jesus was preaching that through Him, we are made whole.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16 

God loved us so much that he sent his son into this world to save us. This is about God's love for us. God loves us more than enough.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

All of our brokenness, all of our labels, all of the sins of the past (and our future)are all wiped clean with God. Sometimes society sticks us with a label or tells us we need to be something else. Sometimes we do it to ourselves. We tell ourselves that we will never be good enough, strong enough, believe enough, etc. But it doesn't matter what your weakness is or how many flaws you have. God loves you no matter what. Labels don't stick with Jesus. Jesus loved the disciples and he loves us too.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2: 8-9

What a gift grace is! Unconditional love leads to grace. No hoops to jump through, no strings attached, never ending and infinite love. Nothing you can do can make God love you any more, and nothing you can do will make God love you any less. We don't need to be perfect because His love is always enough.

We all carry a label with us. We all think something makes us not good enough. But we are good enough and we are deserving of God's love. We are imperfectly perfect to God. God brought Jesus into this world so that we might know love and love each other. Real love. So that we might be brought out of the darkness too light and that we could become a light to each other.

We don't have to do anything but such a gift like that? It inspires us to love each other. It is so powerful that how can you NOT share it. When something is so good, every part of you wants to share that with others.




This pictures in this post are from our youth group last night. I had the kids look up scriptures about Matthew, Thomas, Peter, and Judas. I had them decide what label each of these disciples had. Before they did this I gave them 60 seconds to write down as many labels as they could think of that defined themselves. While they were working I wrote all of these down. We only had 8 teens and they came up with nearly 50 labels. That is a LOT of labels for any group of young adults to have.

My point was to show them that Jesus doesn't care about these labels. God's love is greater than any label they have. We all need to ditch our labels!

We are the next generation of disciples. I think we really need to lean on the stories of the early disciples and look at their relationships with Jesus. These disciples were not perfect, they got things wrong. But these mistakes and errors did not define their journey. The journey was learning to love God, love ourselves and love others.

It is also okay for us to get things wrong too. It is going to happen. We are no more perfect than the disciples in the early church. We are still writing our own stories and walking our own journeys with Christ. We all will betray or deny Christ at some point in our lives. The important thing is that we focus on love. God teaches us that love wipes out labels. Love should be the center of our relationships. Love is the solid foundation that we need.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What if our relationship with God is like gravity?


Ever just feel like your life is completely out of control? Rushing back and forth between appointments, errands, and meetings. Maybe it is clutter, maybe it is your relationships, maybe it is your finances or your job, and  maybe you just don't feel like you have the time.

Driving with my kids in tow today I had a thought. We were having our own little "out of control" moment. We were on our way to story time but we were of course on the time and conditions set by my 2 and 5 year old. I was not in control. Not of time. Not of these kids. Not of the traffic lights and stop signs. Honestly I was thinking hey I am just lucky the universe let me have coffee and a running vehicle this morning!

I wasn't exactly upset that I didn't have it all together. Randomness seems to be how life with kids is, nothing is totally in my control. This is something I have to accept every day. Parenting is hard because sometimes we enter a survival parenting zone. The outcome of our efforts is not always in sight and we question ourselves. It seems like we are locked in a battle for our kids.

Today I just needed something to center me. I needed something to pull me together. And I thought, wow! I need gravity!

Gravity is a very powerful part of our life that we don't really understand, but we know it exists. It binds the fabric of our universe together. It is invisible. Still, it pulls on everything and without it nothing could exist.

"We know from Isaac Newton and his law of gravitation that any two objects in the Universe exert a force of attraction on each other. This relationship is based on the mass of the two objects and the distance between them. The greater the mass of the two objects and the shorter the distance between them, the stronger the pull of the gravitational forces they exert on each other." Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/75705/where-does-gravity-come-from/#ixzz2xqg7XRFB

You can kind of picture it as a cloth and a heavy ball. When we place the ball on a suspended piece of cloth the shape of the cloth bends and bows down. It doesn't break, it doesn't tear or rip. Instead the force between the ball and the cloth changes the shape of the cloth.

Gravity is kind of like faith. You can't see it, even fully explain it but it exists and it pulls at us.

God is always calling out to us and our soul pulls him to us too. Our souls want to be centered. The more energy and love we have for God and the closer we get to God, the stronger the pull becomes. We might run away from God, but the pull still exists.


In whose hand is the life of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind? Job 12:10

I needed something to center me today. I needed God to pull me back into orbit.  I needed prayer. I  really wanted that deep connection and relationship with Him today. I needed to know that even though I'm not in control, that I know who runs this universe.

"If God maintains sun and planets in bright and ordered beauty, he can keep us." -F.B. Meyer

God provides the balance that I need. I don't have to be in control because God is in control. God is a real force in this world and it is Him that I can trust in. When we have faith in God, he pulls us in tight. Our relationship with God is like gravity. Things happen in life completely outside of our control but it is because of His love for us that we can trust that God will pull everything together how they need to be. He will pull his arms around us and just love us. Through anything.

We might be afraid, angry, sad or a whole list of emotions but when we give these to God we are opening the door for a relationship with God. When we fully open up our hearts to God we lean in and our relationship grows. It is that trusting to work on that relationship that is the hardest part. We have to work at letting go of control. We let part of ourselves go and let God into our hearts instead. It transforms us.


The real transformation happens because he is always reaching out to us. He is always pulling at the fabric of this universe, working for good. It isn't about the outcome, it is all about His love for us through everything. It is about the gravity in our relationship. It is about His never failing desire to connect with us.

 I don't have to be perfect and have it all together. I don't need to be a perfect mother. I don't need to have all the answers. I need to be centered. I need to focus on God. Even in my imperfection, God gives me gravity. God can work through all of us through prayer. Our relationship with Him challenges us and transforms us to be the imperfect perfect person that we are. God's love is gravity.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Miss Unorganized

I am not an organized person. Actually, I am quite the opposite really. If I ever won an award in the Miss USA competition it would be "Miss Unorganized." Serious, that is the label I would stick myself with.

Lately my inability to "keep it together" has reached a whole new tipping point. We showed up at school today to drop off my preschooler. We were running late (which isn't really a new thing) and I walked him up to the door to discover that guess what? No preschool today. At which point he goes oh yeah I forgot. Of course I am thinking, oh great thanks. The worst part? I didn't even know!

There was a point in time where I was organized enough to keep my dates and appointments and schedule straight and track it in a planner. I even had a calendar up on my wall and a carefully updated Google calendar that linked my email account and my phone calendar. I had it together. I think I was anyways, it has been so long I have forgotten what that looks like. This was the second time this year I have done this with my son. I was expecting some paper trail to come home and remind me that my son had the day off but I either miss it or forget to write it down.

I find it pretty funny that after my little mix up today I would want to torture myself with an organization class at our church tonight about getting rid of clutter. Guys, I have to confess. I have clutter. Lots of clutter I hide before guests come over. Our class leader Becky Esker* said, "Clutter is the failure to make a decision." Boy is that true. I will procrastinate and excuse myself out of dealing with anything.

I need some priorities. I need to mentally free myself of all the clutter in my life. No more excuses, no more obstacles to prevent me from acting. I need to live my life in a way that puts my values first. That takes discipline. That takes knowing what my end goal is and working toward it through real effort.

One of the exercises she gave us was to Start Small using a list by John Maxwell. The first three things is to list 5 areas of life that lack discipline, to prioritize them, and handle them one at a time. To hold myself accountable I am listing them here for all of you to see.

1) Grocery/Meal Planning
2) Exercise
3) Prayer
4) Laundry/Chores
annnnnd
5) Organization (Did you think I was going to leave it off the list?)

So I definitely don't enjoy meal planning. And well exercise, that is already a work in progress and so is prayer. Housework you can just forget about, the kids seem to mess up those plans anyways. So the one I need to work on next is organization. If I was really specific I would say my calendar, my closet, my kitchen drawers, getting rid of kids' items we longer need, and those pesky boxes of junk in my basement.

So where to start? I'm going to have to go with my calendar! Seems pretty fitting considering the events of the day. Starting tomorrow I am going to take 15 minutes every day to update it. It's a good start I think to my journey to a more organized life!


*Becky Esker is a professional organizer. You can hire her to help you with your clutter.  Visit her website http://www.theorganizingchoice.com/ for more information.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Overwhelmed to Overjoyed

Yesterday morning, Monday morning, I woke up knowing that we were going to face a lot to do this week. The first thing I did was just sit there in bed listening to our house coming alive with the sound of our kids waking up.

First was my oldest, he kind of gets up and thumps out of bed, dragging his feet to the bathroom and back to get dressed. Then he races off to get ready as fast as possible so he can have as much time as possible to play video games before it is time to leave for school. His rush to get ready usually wakes up our daughter, the two year old. She wakes up and immediately runs to find me or her dad. She might climb our bed and beg to cuddle and watch cartoons. If you are not there she just follows her brother and helps herself to breakfast before playing. Our middle child, now he is our sleepy guy. You can't get him up early. No. He is grouchy in the morning. If you try to take his covers away he tightens his grip on them like a boa constrictor. If you lift him from the bed he hangs onto the bed with all his might, eyes closed the whole time. He doesn't like waking up. When he finally does he wants breakfast, right now!

After my oldest was off to school and Brent was off to work I had a hard time getting myself going. I had a lot to pray about, a lot to just think about, and a lot more to do. I needed to respond to some emails about our Financial Peace class, I needed to print documents, I needed to figure out a snack for 30 people, I had on my mind a lesson I needed to plan for high school youth group, I was thinking about several people I need to pray for, I was thinking about an event I needed to finish planning for the school, a phone reminder told me I needed to confirm a dentist appointment which reminded me I have a hair appointment coming up but also that I was very behind on my physical for this year as well as my eye check up. I thought about the cleaning and laundry that I needed to finish. I also realized I hadn't been to the gym in a while.

You know what I decided to do? In he middle of just feeling a teeny bit overwhelmed?

I decided to take my kids to the park. We had our first days of beautiful spring weather and right then I really felt like the important thing to do was to grab a bike and wagon and walk to the park. The kids played on the swing, the slides, and we sang songs (mostly Frozen) and played tag. Yes, I played tag. For a whole hour it was just play. Then we went home.

It was then that I made a plan to tackle it all. That was my clarity. That was my moment of peace that centered my day. That is where I welcomed freedom. Freedom to choose what was important. Freedom to change my itinerary.

I didn't conquer the world. I didn't get everything done. I got the important and necessary things done.

I replied to all my emails. I made arrangements to print everything I needed. I picked up cupcakes for the snack. I decided to pray about the lesson plan a little more when praying that night. I took care of what I could for appointments and planning. The rest I let go.

I sometimes get stuck in my rigid routine and schedule and forget to just live and break a few rules. Usually they are rules that I have made for myself. Ones that don't always make sense. It is usually my kids that convince me to let go. They teach me that my expectations don't  need to be so high. The show me how to find joy in little things, to be happy. The want me to love myself. They want me to fill my love tank and my needs too.

Yesterday morning, my tank was filling a little low. I needed something to run on. All it took was one hour to fill me up. One hour of pure fun and happiness without interruptions. It took singing and tag to set me free. Not a schedule, not a plan. It took having fun and being impulsive and not thinking like an adult. I needed fun. I needed to be free like a child. That is what made me happy.

We all need to be happy. Happiness is what keeps us going. Being happy is what we need. You don't find it in a list of accomplishments. You don't find it in things you buy. You don't find it by doing what makes someone else happy. You find it when you love yourself. You find it when you love yourself enough and give yourself permission to seek out joy. That is life balance. That is happiness.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Middle of Lent Reflections

WOW does the Schenk family ever have a lot going on this month. Brent has two weekends of class left and will be graduating soon. We start FPU tomorrow night and we are looking forward to leading the class for the first time. Kindergarten round up is this month which is just mind boggling. Next year we will have two kids in school full time and Eleanor will start preschool. We have lots of exciting things happening this month at church for the kids. We even will get to see extended family for Easter this year which is wonderful.

We also are starting another round of eye patching with Oliver. Poor Oliver has 5 more weeks of all day eye patches before we can start full time vision therapy. Our surgeon thinks that by doing intense patching we can get his left eye stronger faster. Oliver is very frustrated but with a little motivation (ie bribes) I am hoping we can get him to stick with us through this rough spot. We don't normally offer bribes but honestly how else do you convince a 5 year old to be a pirate for 5 weeks? You give him some booty. Oliver picked out all of his rewards. He picked out new infinity characters, a bouncy ball, a night out to the movies (Captain America of course), bubbles, and new markers. Well rounded choices I must say, hopefully these will convince him patching is worth it.

April is definitely looking to be a busy month compared to March. And March wasn't exactly a cake walk either.

Over 3 weeks ago I decided to blog through Lent. I can't say that it hasn't been without challenge. There were a few days were I didn't write at all while we were on vacation. And there were even more days where I wasn't sure how I felt about writing. But most of the time writing has given me clarity where my busy life cannot.

Looking ahead at this next month I can actually say that blogging and writing is giving me strength. I can't promise to write Nobel peace prize winning articles here. I can't promise that my writing will be perfect. But I can promise to write exactly what I feel, exactly what is on my heart, and that I will do my best to keep writing. I will write because this challenge is doing something. When I write, words spill out. But often my words help me search for what really is on my mind. Truth comes out. It isn't exactly life changing, but it is good. The truth is always good.

I'm over half way through this writing challenge. April will bring me a new set of challenges. But I'm still as ever committed to this writing challenge too.