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Bending But Not Breaking

Bending But Not Breaking

by April Shenk

A willow tree can withstand strong storms and wind; often bending, but not breaking. They grow and flourish even in unfavorable conditions.

My journey started about five years ago. I was feeling stuck and unfulfilled, but I could not put my finger on why. There were continuous tugs deep in my soul, and a small faint voice that kept saying “You were made to do more.” I knew I wanted to help others, but that was all I had figured out. I wanted to better understand who I was as a person and what it was that I stood for. I wanted to find my purpose. Through a process of self reflection, I started to dig into my past and my childhood to understand myself on a deeper level.  

My father left early in my childhood. As a shy kid who often lacked confidence, I watched in awe as my young mother rose from the rubble of her marriage with a fierce and palatable strength, determined to create a life for herself and her twin daughters. This strength was not something new for my mother. Early on in her life, she had learned how to be strong; how to rise again and again. As I got older, despite a gnawing feeling of abandonment and not being enough, I was able to use what I had witnessed to find ways to come out of my shell.

In addition to my mother, I come from a long line of strong and resilient women – survivors. These women faced generational cycles of poverty, domestic abuse, alcoholism and sexual assault often at the hands of those who were meant to love and protect them. I grew up watching them continuously rally, support and empower each other. They were a village; a force made of selflessness and pure grit. 

These women took my mother, my sister and I into their homes, they looked after us so my mother could put herself through nursing school, and above all, they each offered us a sense of comfort, love and security. They raised us…and it was all we knew. 

Having the love and support of their village standing firmly and sternly behind them, I watched as my grandmother diligently studied long nights to gain both her GED and her confidence. Filled with awe and amazement, I saw my mother – the first in her family – walk across a stage to receive her degree in nursing. 

Both of these women broke free of the cycles and curses that haunted the generation that came before them. In turn, they instilled in my sister and I that same resolve, strength and respect for the power that can come from a group of strong-willed and determined women who stop at nothing to support and love each other. 

As heartbreaking and maddening as their circumstances were, the loyalty and devotion these women showed to one another was something I feel privileged to have witnessed. I see now that through and amidst the heartache and pain they endured, they each exemplified the amazing beauty, strength and resiliency of the female spirit. They were broken at times, but nothing could break their connection to one another or their determination to rise up together. They were willows, bending but not breaking. Growing and flourishing even in unfavorable conditions.   

Growing up, I was well aware of – and even prided myself on – the fact that I was raised by such amazing women. But despite that knowledge, I had never taken the time to reflect on what that really meant or how they, along with their experiences, made me into the person I am to my core. I had never explored how my childhood could and would later sculpt God’s purpose for my life. 

Taking the time to sift through my past allowed me to see who I am, what I stand for and what my purpose is in life. I know now that the small faint voice I heard was that of God, and He had led me back to my roots and back to Him. 

God was not done with me yet – I realized that I was being called to serve. By His grace, I was finally able to open my heart, ears and mind to what He had been calling me to do all along. Once I stopped and accepted that God…THE GOD…was maybe,  just maybe, seeking me, an insecure woman with a ton of baggage and a whole lot of anxiety, I no longer felt abandoned. I was wanted, and I was enough. 

With God’s subtle nudges, the vision to create a nonprofit here in my community became clear. I had been called to support, empower, and advocate for women in my community, just like the women in my family – my Willows – had done for me and each other time and time again. 

The Willow Collaborative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, launched in August of this year. We are dedicated to providing the much-needed funding, support and advocacy to the women of Powhatan County and surrounding communities who have been impacted by domestic violence or sexual abuse, while also bringing awareness to the issues and conditions impacting women from all around the world. We want to be a beacon of light and hope for all women, while also empowering them to support and lift each other up. We want all women to see and believe in the amazing strength of the female spirit. We believe that by empowering, supporting, and inspiring each other, we can be a powerful force to change our community and the world for the better, one Willow at a time – just as my Willows have done for generations. 

For more information on The Willow Collaborative, please visit their website at or find them on Instagram @thewillowcollaborative or Facebook at The Willow Collaborative.

Categories: Faith  Identity  Purpose  Self  

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Written by

April Shenk

April was born in Werl, Germany where her father was stationed in the Army, but she spent most of her childhood in Chesterfield, Virgina, before moving to Powhatan when she was a freshman in highschool in 2001. She started attending PCC in 2004 with her highschool sweetheart, now husband, Luke. April and Luke have 3 wonderful children, Taylor (13), Finley (8), and Sterling (4), all who love attending PCC! April is the Powhatan Campus Care Coordinator, and she also serves on the Do Good Leadership Team here at PCC. She is looking forward to what the future holds and is trusting God to help show her the way. 

Published September 18, 2023

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