Tuesday, December 5, 2017

In Their Shoes

As I sip my coffee in my bright, airy classroom, the air is filled with many dull thuds. My class is warming up, and I’m grateful for the headphones that keep the room from exploding with chaos. Group piano is a concept that is found most frequently at the college level, but we have found it to be an effective tool at BFA. It gives my students an opportunity to develop their own strengths with the consistency of accountability nearly every day. This setting also offers students the opportunity to learn from each other and even gives them a chance to play in ensemble, which is not something that many student pianists get to experience regularly. Bonds developed in a music class like this one are special because of the vulnerability and experimentation they require. I love hearing each one develop their own personal taste and style. One of my current students is interested in jazz and tries to emulate everything he hears. Another has had piano lessons before, but with little continuity. He is eating up everything I can give him. A third has played by ear for most of her life; she’s adding note-reading to her skill set this semester. I’m proud of them all. 

Two weekends ago, I got to spend hours doing many things that I love. Thanksgiving day is a work day here, but I was privileged to celebrate with many wonderful friends on several occasions. Between celebrations, we held our annual Christmas banquet. In addition to attending, I also helped decorate, which is something I’ve enjoyed doing for the last several years. There’s something about the candlelight, and transforming an everyday space into something extraordinary that is deeply satisfying. 

Life continues to be full, and the weeks leading up to Christmas break will be more so. For now, I’d like to share with you a story, from one of our BFA families. Thanks to one of our staff members, these stories are being compiled so that I can share them with you. It’s often hard to describe the reasons that families send their children here, and every one is different. Whatever your perspective might be, I invite you to put yourself in their shoes as you read. Then when you are finished, please pray for this family and their children. 

Sitting at their dinner table, Trey and Randi wrestled with what to do. When God called them to leave their native Texas and serve Him in Serbia in 2009, it was an easy “Here am I, send me!” answer. But if God was leading them to send their eldest son to boarding school, because that was the best option academically, socially and spiritually, that was a much harder ask.

Who wants to send their child away to boarding school? Well, maybe many of us at various points, but usually the feeling doesn’t last! Who wants their child to potentially feel like they have been abandoned in a strange place, not knowing anyone? Who wants to hand over the day-to-day parenting of their children to someone else, someone whom they don’t know, and doesn’t necessarily share exactly their values? Who wants to have no relationship with their children’s friends, and no real ability to help their children with peer pressure? To be unable give them a hug when they need it? Who wants to do that to their own children, whom they love so much?

“All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.” Isaiah 54:13 (ESV).

For Trey and Randi, it was the hardest “not our will, but yours Lord” decision that they’d ever dealt with. However, when they took the step of faith, and left their eldest son, Connor, at Black Forest Academy for the first time in the fall of 2012, God was faithful, like He always is. They watched that 14 year old boy grow into a godly young man, shaped by the servant hearted staff of Black Forest Academy. He had opportunities far beyond what would have been available in Serbia, with leadership roles on dorm council and the student body, plus involvement in the Model United Nations conference in Basel. Connor graduated in 2016, and is now studying International Relations at Texas A&M University. Trey and Randi’s daughter Brooke is now also studying at BFA, in Grade 11, thriving, and making the most of sporting opportunities in volleyball, hopefully providing exposure and athletic scholarship opportunities down the track. Kyle, their youngest, is looking forward to beginning at BFA in the next school year. 

Of the impact that BFA has had on their ministry at a language/cultural center in Serbia, Randi says, “When you support BFA faculty and staff members, you are literally impacting the world with the hope of the gospel. Parents are able to stay on the field and continue serving without sacrificing their children's needs. I cannot adequately express the blessing that BFA has been and will continue to be to our family. To all who support those who serve at BFA, we are forever thankful.”

Thanks to all who support me in every possible way. You are part of God's work in so many lives.

Christmas Banquet with friends!

Thankful for time to celebrate with more friends!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Purpose and Presence

The truth is that I have started to write this post, and then written, re-written, deleted and given up about a dozen times over the last month or so. I don’t have any big announcement to make. It’s just that sometimes words are difficult, and trying to give a realistic glimpse into life here is hard.

We are having one of the most stunningly gorgeous autumn that I've seen here in a long time. There is much joy to be had in going on walks and soaking up the color and the smells of falling leaves. I actually dictated most of this update as I walk. On days like today, I wonder why it was so hard to get myself out the door, but then as I walked, I realized that my hesitation has less to do with how I feel about being outdoors, and more to do with the reflection and inevitable confrontation of myself. There has been a lot of change at school and in me this year and I think it is taking a little more of a toll on me then I'd like to admit. Sometimes I want to cast blame and other times just want to curl up and hide in the corner. It’s not that the changes themselves have been hard. If anything, they make sense and provide opportunities for help and development. But when schedule changes, shifting responsibilities, and a large teaching load compound with a new living space and a new office, surging emotions remind me once again that change is hard. I am committed to what I do here, and I believe in the God who called me here. Sometimes there are longer stretches when good is less visible, when progress is hard to track, and you wonder about the purpose of your presence. But then there conversations like the one I had with a student the other day who came in for a piano lesson and was on the point of tears because of feelings of being alone and overwhelmed by the transition of a first year here. Feeling sad and spread thin, and this student was missing the depth of being known by family and close friends who are currently far away. We mulled over friendship together, and reflected on the fact that deep relationship and good friendship take time and patience. It’s easy too look around and feel that everyone except you belongs. I wish I could say that through the conversation, all fears were allayed and that this student will now have a stress-free year. However, in reality these feelings will be more like waves in the ocean, coming and going at intervals. They will continue, but they will be fewer and farther between. Please pray for the students at BFA. Pray that they will continue to verbalize these experiences, and that they will form deep friendships that will point them to Christ. Pray that in their desire to know and be known, they will encounter the One Who knows them best at every turn. 

This week my Piano 1 students are spreading their improvisational wings. They have been given a number of tools and skills, and now their objective is to strike out on their own. I’m excited to report back about how they do! This class is delightful. There are seven students, which means every piano in the room is full, and they are dedicated, focused, and enjoying having fun while learning. 

Piano 2 is a smaller class, but they are motivated and enjoy helping me find new music for them to learn. They are tackling music that builds their technical skill and polishes their foundational knowledge of piano playing. 

I wish I had time to tell you about each of my eleven private students. If you come and visit me, I’d be delighted to introduce you personally so that you could appreciate each of their unique personalities. Several days a week, I teach lessons or classes during nearly every class hour, but because of the dedication and determination of each of my students, I can honestly say that I love the time I spend teaching each one. 

If you have been following my blog, you may remember that I had significant pain in my right hand, thumb and wrist last winter. I am happy to say that that pain has subsided dramatically, and I am able to play, practice and teach normally and pain-free. I have been taking specific measures that help maintain good practice and care of my hand, and will hopefully avoid similar or worse issues in the future. Many of you kindly offered words of encouragement and prayed faithfully. Thank you so very much!! 

To all of you who support me prayerfully and financially, I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are vital partners in everything mentioned in this post, and I am grateful for you every day that I am here. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Another Kind of Pain

"If I didn't have__________, then I would _______________."

Have you ever tried to fill in the blanks in the sentence above? If you haven't, or even if you have and it has been a while, I invite you to do so. Fill in the blanks with the first things that come to mind, and then allow yourself to reflect for a few minutes.

If you need some food for thought, might I suggest the following questions: "Are my answers in line with the calling God has placed on my life?", "Is there something in my life that needs to change because of my answers?"

Maybe your answer startled you a bit, and you spent the next few moments trying to take back what you thought. "Surely, I'm not THAT out of line. I didn't really fully comprehend what I was being asked. I didn't have time to think it through..." Perhaps, like me, you found God pointing to yet another idol and misplaced priority in your life. Let me be the first to encourage you that this is a good thing. In order for Him to have first place, this is something that needs to happen. The pruning hurts, but nothing can compare with closeness to the Good Shepherd of our souls.

This semester has been a busy one, like the others that preceded it. I'm enjoying teaching Piano 1, and my private lessons are going well. The middle of March brought us to another very successful Music Festival. During this week, we invite judges from outside of BFA to come and hear all of our private lesson students. Although playing for a judge can be nerve-wracking, our students overcame, and a lot of great teaching and learning happened. I was inspired as I watched other teachers work with my students.

This semester also brought more emotional weight than I anticipated. I've always been careful with my hands and wrists, I've worked hard to avoid tension while I play. However at the end of January, I found myself barely able to move my right hand side to side or move my fingers without shooting pain. The pain persisted whether I was playing or not. I took some time and didn't touch a piano for a week. When you're a piano teacher, or anyone who uses their hands on a regular basis, this is really difficult! In the middle of March, the pain returned, this time in my right wrist and thumb, and just in time for Music Festival. In a nutshell, I've taken several breaks from playing and am seeing an excellent Orthopaedic doctor here in Germany. The pain is currently much less, and on some days non-existent. We are monitoring the pain, and if [when] it spikes again, I'm going to return to the doctor. God is our master-craftsman, and so I trust Him completely for whatever is going on in my body. Often, I wish the pain would just go away. But then, what would I learn? I've taken to searching the words "Right Hand" in different concordances and on my Bible app, and it has shown me even more of our incredible God.

As Your name, O God,
so Your praise reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with righteousness.

Psalm 48:10

You have given me the shield of Your salvation,
and Your right hand supported me,
and Your gentleness made me great.

Psalm 18:35

Nevertheless, I am continually with You;
You hold my right hand.

Psalm 73:22

There are so many other verses along similar lines, but these exemplify much of what I have learned. In first two verses we see His right hand upholding, defending, and guiding. We are feeble human beings, and no matter how high and mighty we may feel some days, we are simply not capable of making it on our own. His right hand is often referred to as "righteous", and I am eternally grateful. My hands are flawed, but His are not. And I can trust them, and Him, completely. His right hand also supports us. And not only when I feel I need it, but ALL the time. Dear friends, we are simply incapable of making it on our own. My hands have felt so weak, but He and His are unendingly strong. When I feel shooting pain in mine, I think of the awful agony He suffered when He took punishment meant for me, and made peace with God for me. What love!

The last verse above gives me particular comfort. My hand that feels so weak and fragile is held in the hands of the Almighty God, my Comforter. He knows, He cares, and He has not lost control. Even now it brings tears to my eyes to think of His care for and compassion on me. My friends, while the things I share with you are far from glamorous, this is God's work, done in His way and timing.

So how did you answer the question at the beginning of the post? To be honest, this is what came to my mind: "If I couldn't play piano, I would die." Yikes. As I sat in church that morning, in pain, and with my wrist firmly wrapped, I slowly realised that my heart had once again wandered. I've done a lot of practicing and work with my own technique this year, and once again I had become too attached to my own abilities. My skills are never my own, and as much as I may enjoy them and find fulfilment in them, they always belong to Him. I'm learning, and I hope that you are as well. I pray that as He leads me through this that I will be increasingly usable to Him. It is a joy to serve with our Lord and King. He is risen indeed.

Finally, I am always praying for more financial and prayer partners. If God moves you to partner with me in these ways, please contact me at laurenholland25@yahoo.com so we can talk further. To all of you who continue to support me in both of these ways, I want to once again say that it is an honour and a privilege to partner with you! God is at work, and you are a huge part of that! Thank you!