Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sur Le Pont D'Avignon

This post comes on the heels of a ministry update, but I want to take time to give tribute to someone whose loving influence made a big impression on me. Not long ago, in the middle of the night, I received a message informing me that my grandfather's wife, whom we affectionately called Grandmama (she was from Montreal) had passed away.  Hearing news like this from so far away is never easy, and I've been processing this loss over the last week. I've been journaling a lot, and decided to publish some of those thoughts here as my tribute to her.

When I received the message from mom, I wasn't quite sure what to feel or do. We hadn't seen Grandmama in a really long time, at least for most of my adult life. Like most family relationships, this is a complex thing. My whole life, this exotic woman with a charming accent and dramatic eyes was another grandma to me and my siblings, though I think I may have the most vivid memories of her. We wholeheartedly embraced her and called her "grandmama" because she was from Montreal. She adored us, and was lovely with children. We have some great pictures of her playing with each of us as babies. She got us toys and books en Francais, and tried to teach us words, praising each success. I can still her saying "Bonjour Lauren!" whenever I answered her phone call, and I can still hear the smile in her voice. I'm sorry I lost touch, and I'm sorry we drifted, but sometimes life is like that. I'm not sorry for her loving influence on me. She used to sing "Sur le point d'Avignon," a French folk song. She added her own motions and drama. When I took French in high school, I was surprised to learn that Avignon was, in fact, in France. Not Canada. I just assumed she had been there. 
Dad always enjoyed speaking to her in French, learning the subtle differences between Francais et Quebecois. I always hoped that one day we would have a conversation in which she wouldn't have to switch to English. 
More than her French Canadian charm, I remember her compassion. She loved our family deeply and told us so. But she used her actions too, which proved her words. I've only been to visit Montreal twice, that I recall. But each time she lovingly hosted us. Carolyn and I even stayed at her apartment for a few nights, and though my memories are foggy, I remember laughing a LOT. The day of my high school graduation, she and grandpapa surprised us with a visit. It meant the world to me to have them there. At my party the next day, Grandmama practically danced around offering people food and charming everyone. She was happy to be there and let it show.
I've been told that she struggled with Alzheimers and that it changed her. but I am grateful to remember Yvette CotĂȘ Eveland as she was. I will miss her!

Another birthday - look at all those tiny kiddos! If you can find me,
 you can also see Grandmama leaning on the back of my chair, looking at my brothers. 
My sister's birthday, nearly 20 years ago. Grandmama is 2nd from the left. Look at that smile!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Home, Fiddlers, and collaboration!

Greetings from snowy Germany!

The last month and a half have been busy, so I'll spare you most of the tedious details. I have been hoping to post for about a month, but I've been busy recovering from a flu bug that moved in as I flew back from the US at the beginning of January, and has only recently gotten better. In the midst of sickness and busyness, there is excitement, with great things happening in many areas.
First, we are heading into production week for our school musical, Fiddler on the Roof. This is the first time I've been involved as part of the pit; I've also been playing piano for daily after-school rehearsals. The cast has been working hard, learning lines, practicing the songs, and enjoying the process. After any of them finish singing one of the numbers, the others will applaud and encourage them. It's pretty cool to watch. Performances are this coming weekend (February 23-25), and we would appreciate prayer for strength, and for the many teaching moments that happen during a production like this. Fun fact: I learned how to attach a synthetic beard to a face yesterday, and it's actually not that hard! I'm in charge of hair for this thing, and I'm learning a lot in the process.
Second, there is a lot happening in both Piano 1 and 2. Piano 1 just submitted their first project, a composition that describes the idea of "Home." I realize that this seems like a deep and difficult project for beginner pianos students. However, each student came up with a short melody that described a place, people, or feelings that reminded them of what it feels like to be at home. You can learn a lot about a person when you take words out of the equation. I was impressed with the vulnerability of my students, as well as the gentle and hopeful way in which they listened to and encouraged the work of their classmates. They never cease to amaze me.
When I enter the classroom to teach Piano 2, the students are often playing, collaborating, creating, and improvising. This particular class stands out with an aptitude for creativity. They enjoy imitating melodies that they know, or creating their own, and then weaving them together. We are working on reinforcing other areas of knowledge, and I am excited to see how strong they are by the end of the semester.
Third, I am helping to lead a group of students on a study trip to Israel in about a month. To say that I'm excited is an understatement. I'm looking forward to walking through these experiences with our team of students. They are insightful and observant, and I know that traveling with them will be rich.
Finally, I am thinking and praying about the future. Next year is my fifth consecutive year at BFA, which means that I can either file for an extension to stay an additional year or two, or I can leave the country for one full year. I am considering many options at the moment, and will keep you updated as I am able. For now, however, I am in need of maintaining financial and prayer support so that I continue to teach and serve here for as long as I am called. At this point, I am seeking more monthly financial partners, as my support is a bit low. I am also helping with the study trip to Israel, which requires so additional funds. With two opportunities to partner in giving with what God is doing, would you consider joining me? Any amount will help!
If you already support me, I want to thank you!!! Because of you, God has confirmed the fact that He has called me here, and I am learning what it means to be fully available to Him. God gives daily affirmation that I am exactly where He wants me. I am so grateful to be here in this place at this time.

Thank God with me:

1. For continued depth in relationship with students and colleagues
2. For daily strength and energy - I've been learning not to take this for granted.
3. For those who are partnering with me in prayer and finances.
4. For three fantastic performances of Fiddler! (*this is an update! I wrote this post just before the performances)

Please pray:

1. That my relationship with God will continue to be my top priority, and that He will be clearly seen in all I do.
2. For High School retreat this weekend. Pray for safe travels and for God's continued great work in hearts.
3. For health and rest for the entire community.
4. For more financial partners, which are needed for me to be able to continue serving here.

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!