Wednesday, November 23, 2005

For All Twenty-Two

Twenty-two people. It feels colossal. That's my immediate family. Nope, that's not a typo. I'm not talking about extended. Not even grandparents. This is just my parents, siblings, and their wives and kids. And next to salvation, I count them to be my greatest blessing this Thanksgiving.

What is it that you are thankful for? Pause and praise God for His goodness this Thanksgiving. But don't stop there. Praise Him each and every day. Try making a running journal of your praises. Then in times of trial, you will be reminded of God's goodness in your life. This is my cyber-journal of my praises for today. You see them pictured above.

I am thankful for my oldest brother Mark, his wife Carol and their three girls: Kirsten, Brittney, and Lindsey. Mark has taught me the importance of knowing what I believe and being able to defend my beliefs.

I am thankful for my second oldest brother Randy, his wife Lori, and their daughter Joy and son Matthew. Randy has taught me how to love people regardless of who they are or what they have--simply because they are made in God's image.

I am thankful for my third oldest brother Brian, his wife Cyndi, and his four children: Breanna, Christopher, Jeremy, and Zachary. Brian has taught me what it means to have a life of service and he has revolutionized my life and philosophy of ministry. I am majoring in Christian Formation and Ministry largely because of his influence.

I am thankful for my brother Kevin, his wife Melissa, and their three children: Christina, Luke, and Rebecca. Kevin has taught me what it means to be a good listener, to show empathy and compassion, and to give of oneself. Thanks to him going out of his way each week, we have a place to meet for Come Thirsty. And not once has he complained.

And finally, I am thankful for my parents. I am who I am because of the way God has worked through them. If my dad had not sacrificed everything he had to send five children to Christian schools and my mom had not prayed daily for her children, my brothers and I would not have the relationship with Christ we now have. My dad has taught me the meaning of sacrifice and my mom has taught me what it means to rejoice when another is rejoicing and mourn when another is mourning. Together, they taught me how I have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

This is my family. They are my legacy, my heritage, and my greatest earthly joy. Thank you, my dear family, for teaching me how to love God. For you, I am eternally grateful.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Arms of Comfort

I absolutely love being an aunt. There is nothing greater than having twelve nieces and nephews. But this week I had to do the worse aunt duty possible. No, it wasn't changing dirty diapers; it was going to the shot lady, as I not-so affectionately call her.

This week Christina and Luke had to go for their flu shots. Since my grad school is in the area, I volunteered to go with them, thinking it would be another time of bonding with the kids.

My nephew was up first, and as the needle was injected into his leg, he calmly and rather unconvincingly said, "Ow. Ow." No tears, no shouts, no problem! Even though his reaction was undramatic, my niece began crying loudly and clinging to my neck, knowing she was next. I held Christina while Luke got his shot, then her mom went to pry her away from my arms. Her screams grew louder. "I WILL NOT LET YOU TAKE ME!" My heart began to break as I was trying to push her away from my arms while she clung on with all her might. She refused to let her mom take her, and she chose me to hold her for the upcoming ordeal.

Now I must say at this point that my worse phobia in life is needles. I'd rather be confined to an enclosed space, touch a snake, conquer a high cliff, eat octopus, whatever. Just keep the needles away. So when Christina boldly proclaimed to the nurse through her screams, "I AM GOING TO KICK YOU!!", I was feeling her pain. The nurse stated matter-of-factly, "Mam, I want you to hold the little girls' legs down. Cross your legs over hers so she cannot move."

At this point, my niece began to shake uncontrollably. She and I have an extremely close relationship, and I was feeling like I was betraying her as I numbly obeyed the nurse's command and held her little body down so she could not move. My niece asked me why through her sobs. All I could do was try to explain the concept that this injection would prevent her from future illness, but a four-year-old cannot rationalize like an adult. She didn't understand, but she knew that my love for her was too great to allow anything to hurt her permanently. She trusted me in spite of that awful moment. I had all I could do not to cry along with her as I held her shaking body in my arms and the needle was thrust into her leg.

As I reflect upon that experience, I am reminded of my relationship with Christ. Trials come my way that I cannot make sense of in light of my limited understanding. I cry out to God, "Why?", but any response I receive seems inadequate. I can fight all I want, but ultimately I must fall back into His arms, trust, and surrender. I don't understand, but He does. He knows that these trials will refine me until I reflect His beauty. And in the painful and slow process, He cries with me as He holds me in His arms.

Have you felt those arms of comfort in the midst of your trial? Have you watched the tears fall from His face as He walks with you in the fire? Rest assured, your Master knows. And His love for you extends beyond comprehension.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Changing Seasons

Ah, fall is here! The leaves are changing colors, the air is becoming crisp once more, and taffy apples and hot apple cider abound! Overall, I love fall.

Fall reminds me of change--some of which I welcome more than others. I stand amazed as the leaves change color, but I look down in disappointment as the ground beneath me begins to turn cold, the flowers wither away, and I know winter is approaching.

This reminds me of spiritual change. Sometimes God takes us down an unexpected path that we would not have designed for ourselves. Our hearts grow cold and hardened, and all we see as we look down the path ahead is the dead of winter. We begin to shout as the Psalmist cried, "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?"

It is in the midst of this despair, confusion, and loneliness of heart that God redirects my vision to focus my gaze on Him. The Psalmist concludes the thirteenth Psalm by stating, "But I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me." Trusting in God is a choice, not a feeling. It is not natural; it is an act of the will. But as we choose to do so we learn how to "sing to the Lord" and our blinded eyes are opened to the ways "He has been good to me."

This week, try trusting, even in the midst of despair. God promises you will have a guide to walk with you as you travel down the path through the darkest winter into the glorious spring that awaits on the other side.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Specks of Paint on the Canvas of Life

There is an amazing little art technique that has fascinated me since I studied it in Art Appreciation back in college. Pointillism, created by George Seurat, uses tiny, miniature brush strokes carefully placed on a canvas. Up close, these dots don't seem like anything more than colorful, elaborated periods on a piece of paper. But when you stand further back...presto! a beautiful masterpiece appears! The artist had intended all along to use these seemingly insignificant little brush strokes to create something of beauty.

And that is a lot like life. The other week, I faced situations in which I experienced that humility I have been reading about in Andrew Murray's book. My first reaction was one of anger and frustration. I poured out my heart to God and he gave me the illustration I just mentioned. It's as if God was saying, "Jen, you are focusing your gaze on the dots on the portrait of your life. Don't you realize that the dots are not the end product? They only contribute to the beautiful masterpiece I am painting. I am the Artist. If one of the dots is not how I want it, I can paint over it. But what you see and what I see are two completely different portraits. Step back and look at the whole breathtaking picture, not just the specks of paint on the canvas of your life."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


No, I am not about to share with you my most embarrassing moment, although I have a plethora of them. Rather, I have been reading the book entitled Humility by Andrew Murray of late. It is exactly the type of deep literature for which I was thirsting. His writings are challenging me to dive deeper into my relationship with Christ. Oh! how I realize how much I have yet to learn and how much I need to be spurred on towards new growth. It is one of those books where I need to read and re-read every few sentences to let the profundity of the words sink deep into my soul.

More quotes from this great book will most likely follow, but for now, here are two to whet your appetite:

"Believer! study the humility of Jesus. This is the secret, hidden root of your redemption. Sink down into it more deeply day by day. Believe with your whole heart that Christ--whom God has given us--will work in us, making us what the Father wants us to be."

"It was because this humility was not only a temporary sentiment--wakened up and brought into exercise when He thought of God--but the very spirit of His whole life, that Jesus was just as humble in His fellowship with men as with the Father. He counted Himself the Servant of God for the men whom God made and loved. As a natural consequence, He counted Himself the Servant of men, that through Him the Father might do His work of love. He never for a moment thought of seeking His honor, or asserting His power to vindicate Himself. His whole spirit was that of a life yielded to God that He might work in it."

Thursday, May 26, 2005

This is My Calling

A year ago last February I entered the chamber of the Most Holy One and questioned where He was directing my footsteps. I had been told I would be offered a contract by Westminster Christian School, but I had heard nothing since that promise was made. My impending graduation was three months away, and I was anxious to have the paperwork signed, settling my full-time employment. One night I cried out to God, "If I don't hear from Westminster by tomorrow, I shall take it as your sign that I am to apply at another school." I went to sleep peacefully, knowing that my future was in God's hands.
The next morning, the principal of Westminster called me saying, "Jenny, God woke me up in the middle of the night, and YOU were on my mind. I was wondering why we haven't heard back from you, then when I came into the office this morning, I noticed the contract we were to have mailed to you sitting on the corner of the secretary's desk. Apparently, it had not been mailed. No wonder why we haven't heard from you! I will get it out TODAY in the mail!"
Here I am fifteen months later, having completed my first and last year at Westminster, praising God for working in and though my life in the brief time I have served at the school. My eyes filled with tears today as I read notes from students, received many hugs and words of affirmation, made promises to keep in touch, and looked for one last time into the eyes of students in whom I have invested all that I could possibly give. These are the students I have prayed for, rejoiced with, mourned over, and most importantly, told about my Lord. They have been my calling.
There is no doubt in my mind that God called me to work with them this year. The heart of my ministry is not wrapped up in lesson planning and grading, though it often feels like it. It is in the glowing faces of students--students who love Christ, students who reject Christ, students who are bundles of cheerfulness, and students whose very countenance reflects pain and heartache. Seventy students to whom God has called me to minister. Seventy students who have the opportunity to see Jesus in me day after day. Seventy students who want nothing but a teacher who loves and accepts them unconditionally, even though the world may tell them they are worthless failures. Seventy students whom God has entrusted to me to spread His message of truth.

This has been my calling. Thank you, God, for one wonderful year in which I could catch one small glimpse of your inexpressible glory through the eyes of these high school students.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Day of Revealing

The day I had been waiting for this week arrived. I had the opportunity to give my poem to my student, not quite sure what her reaction would be. She is a profound writer; I write for fun. She is metaphorical; I am matter-of-fact. This would be interesting, but I knew God called me to write the poem for a reason; now it was His turn to work in a heart.

She melted as I told her I wrote a poem just for her. I told her I had shared it with no other student. She read it, enjoyed it, and suggested an alternative ending. I encouraged her to re-write the ending for me, and she did. The result was beautiful and ironic. I ended my poem in despair, just so I could touch her, but she ended the poem with joy and victory. Regardless of who you are or where you have been, regardless if you rejoice continually or wallow in self-pity, you cannot help but see beauty in pain, hope in despair, victory through death, and joy through sorrow when you fall before the foot of the cross.

The revised poem with her changes in bold text:

Cries from the Cross
By Jenny Schulenburg and Her Dear Student (whose name I will not publish)

Disfigured and dismembered; indistinguishable figure
Neither boundless beauty nor faultless form.
Despised, detested, deserted, discarded.
Nothing but anguish, affliction, and agony,
All imbrued at the foot of the cross.

Carted away to the tree of torture
Sorrowful sufferer led to the slaughter
Servanthood enslaved, yet surrendered
Stricken and smitten; silent when shattered.
All imbrued at the foot of the cross.

Blood splattered from broken brow
Penetrated and pierced, poked and prodded
Fragments of flesh lay lifeless and cold
Vicarious sufferer; sanctioned sacrifice.
All imbrued at the foot of the cross.

Slash and stab and slice and sever
Snap, shiver, shout, scream
Sorrow silenced as death clouds over
Soul submitted; spirit succumbs.
All imbrued at the foot of the cross.

Heavens crack and choke and chatter
Creator and King is crucified
Savagely seeking the sinner to blame
For all this demoralization and degradation.
All imbrued at the foot of the cross.

All my brooding bad blood
Feels this pain; wants to heal this pain
It is done; I have killed the sinless Savior.
My hands and hammer all
Imbrued at the foot of the cross.

Is there no salvation? No forgiveness?
Am I a malevolent murderer? Misunderstood menace?
Am I gripped by talons, tainted, tormented?

Not at the foot of the cross.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Cries from the Cross

As a high school English teacher, I am blessed to minister to many students, each with different needs, hurts, and pains. One student who especially touches my heart is nothing like me. If I could pick one student with whom my life seems to hold no comparisons, it would be her. She hates life, hates people, hates beauty and joy, and most alarmingly, hates that Jesus and Christianity represent hope and happiness.
But there is one passion we both share: writing. She writes amazing profound, though morbidly grotesque pieces that make my eyes water as I read them, knowing that these black, typewritten words on white paper reflect a life filled with pain, hurt, and heartache. She told me all she can write are pieces that are morbid; after all, she is a "cutter." I compliment the depth of meaning in her poetry, then look into her deep, searching eyes as they gaze at my face, seemingly unable to comprehend how I can be so happy, feel so loved, and be so fulfilled.
As I thought of how I can reach her--I an English teacher without any major training in psychology or counseling--the words of the Paul in I Corinthians 9:22b echoed in my mind: "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." So I got into her world. I wrote a poem for her that is morbid and grotesque. I wrote a poem about Christ on the cross. The result is gruesome and hideous. It is the kind of piece which I did not think I could produce. Then I remember that God works in our lives for multiple purposes. Maybe writing this poem was not only so I could impact my student's life, maybe, just maybe, God wanted me to revisit the cross of Christ one more time. Maybe I needed to come face to face with what He accomplished on my behalf and stare at it in the face once again. For this heinous, ugly act was done on my behalf. It was because of me.
Here is the poem:
Cries from the Cross
Jennifer Schulenburg

Disfigured and dismembered; indistinguishable figure.
Neither boundless beauty nor faultless form.
Despised, detested, deserted, discarded;
Nothing by anguish, affliction, and agony.

Carted away to the tree of torture.
Sorrowful sufferer led to the slaughter;
Servanthood enslaved, yet surrendered.
stricken and smitten; silent when shattered.

Blood splattered from broken brow.
Penetrated and pierced, poked and prodded;
Fragments of flesh lay lifeless and cold.
Vicarious sufferer; sanctioned sacrifice.

Slash and stab and slice and sever;
Snap, shiver, shout, scream.
Sorrow silenced as death clouds over.
Soul submitted; spirit succumbs.

Heavens crack and choke and chatter;
Creator and King is crucified.
Savagely seeking the sinner to blame--
Turn the mirror and see it's me.