Thursday, March 31, 2016

Photos: Two Musicians

Two musicians in a Performing Arts building right in the heart of downtown Chicago. 

A vocalist and and a violinist.

Rosie and Joy. 

These are two very talented Moody students who are performing their junior recital together on April 12th. It's tradition to take recital photos to use as posters around campus, and I was thrilled to get to take theirs! 

We took photos outside too, but I'll save those for another day. In the meantime, enjoy a glimpse into the world of two beautifully creative artists. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter in the City

Last year, I spent Easter with Caleb and Haley at Haley's grandparents' house. This year, I spent it with Tyler and Lara, and actually also with Lara's parents too! John and Jenna joined us as well, dear friends of Tyler and Lara's. I got to take a few photos right before we packed up to head our separate ways again. The original Easter plans of sunny photos outside on the grass were foiled by the rain, but we found a cozy sunlit spot on the floor that did the trick instead!

These are Judah's godparents! I love getting to know Tyler and Lara's dear friends a bit more through the years.

And of course I just love getting to see Judah grow and change so quickly already!

I hope you had a chance to "ponder anew what the Almighty can do" (as the song goes) and know the Lord more deeply by remembering the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection! What hope we have in him. It is by his death and atonement for our sins that we are able to actually die with him and be raised to new life with him. We are then brought back into acceptance by the Father and adopted as his sons and daughters! What hope, what encouragement and what joy, despite all the troubles we face.

I guess you could say hope has been a common theme in my thoughts these past few days.

I won't lie - it's been a hard past couple of weeks (months?) and Easter itself was bittersweet as well (I get homesick at Easter time), but the reality of the redeeming work of the Lord on our behalf is still so comforting to be reminded again and again. How quickly we forget that we are not those who have lost hope, who grieve and are discouraged because of fear of the future (1 Thess. 4). There is joy in knowing we are Christ's, only by his grace by repentance and faith, and we can't be separated from him, no matter what.

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." - Romans 8:38-39

Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him.
Let the Amen sound from His people again,
Gladly for aye we adore Him.
(- Praise to the Lord, the Almighty)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Daffodils of Hope

Hope. It is there. 

I took this photo just two days ago. But then it snowed again, though without much effect. This is spring weather and it's unpredictable, but oh so hopeful, for the signs of spring are arriving. 

On this March day, I simply am remembering that tomorrow is a day where we remember Jesus' death on the cross; but not without hope, for we eagerly await Sunday. 

It's a day like today that I also think of another event we anticipate with joy and longing - Christ's return. A vibrant seven-year-old redheaded girl recited a passage to me in AWANA from 1 Thessalonians 4 today. Those verses have stuck with me as I traveled back to my apartment. I share them with you now to remind you of the hope we cling to as believers, children of God, dearly beloved and adopted by the Father through Jesus Christ. Jesus is alive! He will return, and we will rise with him one day to be with the Lord forever.

"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Therefore encourage one another with these words." - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Life Is Better with People

Yes, I have gotten much homework done in the past two weeks; in fact, I'm almost done with my Romans class! I actually desperately needed this time to power through this class, so I am grateful the Lord provided strength to do so. All that's left is one biblical interpretation project. These weeks have been an interesting trial at living alone though, and here are 4 observations I've made:

1. I notice everything when I'm by myself. When I don't have people to talk with, I observe instead. I found myself taking note of all the untold stories passing by me in the city and the little beauties strewn across the sidewalks and train rides.

2. Joys are better shared. Yes, I do tend to notice little joys when I'm on my own, but I missed sharing them and allowing those joys to build into friendships. I wanted to exclaim with someone over the incredible thunderstorm the other night and wonder together at the lightning that kept striking Sears Tower (although I will say, my neighbors upstairs were exclaiming - I could hear them, and I was glad to have company in the amazement of the storm!). I also wanted to run home and tell my roommates about the daffodils outside of Sweeting that came up yesterday.

3. Getting out is important. My typical schedule was to leave the apartment in the morning, come back for lunch, and leave again in the afternoon. I'd go to the library, to work, to the dentist, to the airport (to meet Caleb that one time!), to coffee shops or to the Art Institute. This allowed me to have a place for rest and a place for work, which kept me sane, but also helped keep me engaged with people, even just as I was in their presence in public. My apartment also remained a "safe place" this way, instead of being confining, stifling, and/or lonely. In general, this added some fun and variety to my schedule too.

4. Life is simply better with people. Yes, even for one with introverted tendencies. I need rest and time alone, but people are really important too. There were a few days last week when I got to see family and friends, but this week has been more of a keep-your-head-down-and-do-homework week, so it's been good, but definitely strange. My roommate came back today, and we made dinner together and watched my favorite movie, and life seemed more right again.

This was when Hayley Ellenwood came over for the day! She flew into O'Hare from California and spent the night in The Little Byt before heading back to Wisconsin! 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Online Class: Home Stretch

As I've mentioned previously, I'm working on an online class over Spring Break. Well, I have good news! With 5 days remaining before regular classes resume, all I have left are two papers for my Romans class. They're pretty big ones though. Ah well. It's been a rigorous week and a half, but good too.

I wasn't sure what I would think about an online class, but I've been able to slowly check things off the list, and I'm hoping to continue to do so in the next few days. The Lord has been gracious in not letting me feel lonely or discouraged (most of the time!) over break. I've been thankful for meaningful times with some people I really love even amidst studies, and for trains, CTA and a safe apartment to come home to.

And here's a view I was delighted to see yesterday on the train. I finally am in the city over St. Patrick's day, so I got to see the green river!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Culture Shock at the Dentist (USA Edition)

I went to the dentist today.

Not a big deal, right? I mean, people go to dentists all the time. I've been going to the dentist my whole life. But you know what? I can only remember one other time I've been to the dentist in the States before today. It's possible I've been to more American dentists than I'm remembering (Mom?), but it's an infrequent experience, to say the least.

I had just been to my dentist over break when I was home in Czech, and since she found a couple of cavities, she told me I'd have to find a dentist in the States to get that all figured out, since I wouldn't be home again for a year.

So after it all, I experienced culture shock, homesickness, thankfulness and adulthood in one day.

So I thought I'd give you just a glimpse into the ups and downs of the Czech versus American dental experience. You might laugh at me, but let's look at some comparisons. Here's some honesty from a Third Culture Kid for you...

1. Czech healthcare is so much cheaper thanks to their social healthcare system. I know that this type of healthcare doesn't always work out in all places, but in Czech, the system is really helpful. The fact that a checkup itself cost me a paycheck from my part-time job was just painful, only because I'm not used to it.

2. The American dentist's office staff was all so friendly! This is to be expected in the States, since friendliness is a value here, but I am still caught off guard by it in new environments. Making my appointment was so easy, despite it being my first visit at this dentist, since the receptionist was gracious and kind on the phone (sometimes in Czech phone calls like these can be pretty intimidating)

3. Both dentists are really good at what they do. I can definitely say that! I did appreciate today that the dentist took some extra precautions in examining my teeth - using a UV light of sorts to check for cancer in the mouth, and using a laser to measure the density of teeth (not sure how that info is helpful, but it's different from what I've experienced in the past!). It's always helpful getting another expert's look as far as health goes!

4. When the dental hygienist asked about my background, school and future dreams, I didn't quite know how to respond. It's friendly and thoughtful, but my European side of the brain asks...why do you care and do you really mean it?? Also, I'm not really in the position to talk much when my mouth stays open half the time as he examines my teeth. Again, this simply catches me off guard, and once I get used to it, it's a welcoming gesture.

(By the way - same story with hairdressers in the States. Lara is a receptionist at a salon and laughed at me when she heard about my first experience there when I didn't know how to talk with the hairdresser. Apparently, that's kind of what you're supposed to do, and I definitely wasn't playing along as much as I should have been. I'm just used to that being "quiet-thinking-time" for Claire while someone cuts my hair!)

5. I had to travel by train for almost an hour and then walk 20 minutes to get to the dentist. I know I didn't have to find a dentist that far away, but I was referred to this office by a friend in JV, so I wanted someone I could trust, hence the long commute. I miss the quick drive and the walk across cobblestone plazas in Frydek-Mistek to get to my Czech dentist!

6. And lastly, the adult factor of today was simply that I did this all by myself. The forms I filled out would have needed to be signed by a parent had I not been 21. I suppose that means that I'm definitely an adult in the dental world and can and should be responsible for my own teeth! I'm thankful for my parents' help in making sure I had enough to pay for the visit I'm a semi-adult, which is completely ok with me for now!

Everyone experiences culture shock in the healthcare world when they move to a new country. I'm still realizing that I know very little about the American healthcare system (besides my childhood experiences with hospital visits when I was really sick), so most of these experiences are new; they just happen to be in my first language, which makes it easier than it would be for those who move to other new countries.

All in all, I guess I'm still learning to be American. It's good, but I'm still working out some bugs. Glad I can check the "dentist-on-my-own" off my (hypothetical) "adult firsts" list.

P.S. Dr. Fong says hello to the Till family!! His 21-year-old daughter was in Mr. Till's 6th grade class here in the States. I was in Mr. Till's homeroom class in Czech. It's a sweet, small world!

Friday, March 11, 2016

4 Months Small

This guy is 4 months old today!! 

Judah, I love that you giggle and play, that you are starting to get fuzzy hair, that your eyes sparkle, you have so much personality and strength and curiosity already, and your facial expressions are my favorite. I love being your aunt!! 

And here's a photo of Judah in mom's arms in the morning. She says that's when you're the happiest, little nephew. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Where CTA Can Take You

Spring Break: Day 4.

Where can CTA take you in one day? Chicago Transit Authority is wonderful. I truly am grateful that I can hop on a bus or the "L" at any point and go somewhere on a whim. Today revolved around CTA, so here's a recap.

First stop: O'Hare. 

I met Caleb at the airport after his flight from Colorado. He flew in to come pick up his and Haley's new puppy from Indiana. I only had a little bit of time with him, since he was on a tight time schedule (he flew back to Colorado today!), so I met him right at the airport. 

Next: Logan Square.

Caleb and I met up with Tyler (Caleb picked up Tyler's car to drive to Indiana), but we also got half an hour to sibling time. Priceless. I love my brothers and their families so much.

I stuck around Intelligentsia after Caleb left to finish up a background analysis of some aspects of Romans. 

Stop #3: Damen. 

I had a free donut, courtesy of Popular Pays, that I could pick up and since it was on my way back to my apartment and it was 70 degrees today, I figured I might as well have that gluten-free chocolate donut on a day like today. 

Next mode of transportation: 156 Bus on Lasalle up to the Lincoln Park Conservatory. After some more time of homework, I needed a breather from the apartment, so I took a "flower break". "Stop and smell the roses" is a good phrase, in my book. 

The sun even peeked out for a little bit, which just made everything better. Although it was quite warm today in Chicago, the city is still quite bleak and gray. It's not much for spring, but I know the best is yet to maybe two months. I was glad for some blue in the skies and a pretty view of the skyline. It's these times when I'm reminded of what I do love about the city - seeing my siblings, CTA, and random free treats, museums/conservatories. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Rice and Shine

Spring Break: Day 3. 

Arrowhead Mills are punny, aren't they? But really, their "Rice and Shine" porridge has become a favorite. I cook it with a tsp of chia seeds, as well as with extra water and with 1/2 cup of almond milk, and let it simmer on the stove in the morning as I wait for my kettle to boil water for tea. I top my rice porridge with a drizzle of honey or pure maple syrup and lots of frozen berries. Oh, and green tea is always a must first thing in the morning in the Little Byt. 

I promise I'm getting out, but these past few days I've also wanted to capture the simple aspects of apartment life in the Little Byt. After some deep cleaning over the weekend, it's a restful place in between grocery trips, the library, work and traipsing around the city for places to do homework.

Today I successfully completed lesson 2 and 3 (out of 8) for my online Romans class. Three down, five to go! I also have three background analysis papers, a 6-7 page paper, and an exegetical paper of sorts to write as well. I'll be needing the energy and comfort of this rice pudding in the morning to help the day start off well so I can focus in on coursework!

What is your morning go-to for breakfast?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Spring Break: Day 2

I actually took a few other photos on my phone this morning when I was out in the suburbs for church, but this is what's happening right at this moment on a Sunday night, and somehow is the memory I want to keep of today. 

My creativity comes out sporadically. I'm not always sure what causes it or opens the doors for it to come out, but there are simply times when I can't help but create. When I got back from church and grocery shopping, I went for a stroll down the street through a cute shopping area of Chicago, since it was 50 degrees and bustling with people enjoying the lovely Sunday afternoon. 

I came back to the Little Byt and stared at our blank wall behind the couch, which then led to a frenzy of finding frames and other artwork scattered in drawers and folders. I kept meaning to do something with these little pieces of art, but never have (yes, even after a whole semester in the apartment!). I gathered a pile, made a mess, and painted a couple of extra fill-ins to add to our walls. I'm not quite finished with the main wall, but here's a glimpse at the corner by the window!

Happy Sunday greetings, from the Little Byt. Signing off from Spring Break, Day 2. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Spring Break: Day 1

It's Spring Break, Day 1.

This is the first Spring Break where school takes place instead of adventure or rest (I mean, maybe the two sides are not mutually exclusive?). I'm taking Romans online this semester, and due to my full schedule of other classes, I need to get most of my Romans class done over Spring Break, which means I'll be staying in my "Little Byt" apartment in Chicago over break. I know, not the ideal situation, but it's what I've been calling "adult life", when you have to make decisions that are not always the ones you want.

I'm praying that the Lord teaches me a lot over this break. I am, after all, studying His Word in this online class. I won't be studying it in the context of community this time, but I still will be praying that I come to know Him more through Romans. It's daunting, it's really daunting. But a few deep breaths, lots of prayer, and a schedule will help me walk through this.

There are a few fun experiences coming on this break too (like getting to see Hayley Ellenwood, or hanging out with Tyler, Lara and Judah next week), but I needed to map everything out so that I could minimize stress.

I've also decided that I'd like to try a "picture a day" challenge over break, just even to mark the time and notice little joys amidst my homework. The photo challenge begins today, with a snapshot of what I'm working on to help me keep calm over the next weeks (we'll see if it works).