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!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Is it March already??

Dear Friends,

I have been wanting to post an update for a while now - please forgive the delay!

This weekend I am enjoying some much-needed rest. But the events of the last few weeks have been exciting. Both our guys and girls basketball teams won their DoDDs European championship. This was a historic year for them, with the girls clinching their fourth title in a row, and the boys winning their first title ever. We are proud of our teams, their coaches, and all of their hard work! It's a good time to be a Falcon!

The same weekend as our basketball teams were busy winning, our high school cast of Treasure Island was busy putting on their production. It was pretty amazing to see the stage, that is used for so many purposes during the week, transform into a pirate ship. I had the privilege of helping with hair, which might not sound like a big deal. My experience with making people look like pirates is rather limited, so when the need came up I have to admit that I wasn't over eager. However, things came together, we got lots and lots of input and I think the overall effect worked well! The cast and crew did an amazing job, and had us laughing and nearly crying (and sometime both!) the entire time.

The joy of both of these things is getting to see our students in their element. Some of them decided to try something new and found they were good at it. Some have been working towards these goals for a very long time. All were successful, and learned and grew in the process.

Then during the first weekend in March, the entire high school picked up and went to Switzerland for a weekend of retreat. We were blessed to have a BFA alum who shared openly and insightfully from the Word. It was an especially sweet time for my senior girls' small group. We enjoyed a lot of really deep conversations, and we laughed a lot too!

Looking ahead, we are about three weeks away from spring break. In two weeks, we are pulling off our annual Music Festival. I'm excited to see what my students will take away from this experience!

During a season so full of events, I am certainly tired, but I am hopeful. When things get busy, it is easy to default into doubt. However, God has proven Himself faithful over and over again, and He is always the same. Just as He has guided me and those around me so perfectly in the past, He will continue do to that as I follow Him in faith. During this exciting time, I anticipate learning much about Him as well! How good He is!

Praise God with me:
1. For God's unending faithfulness.
2. For great relationships with students and colleagues.
3. For YOU my friends, family, and ministry partners. You are God's gifts to me!

Pray with me:
1. For opportunities to share Christ with my students.
2. For wisdom for each of the young women in my small group (and their families) as they seek God's will for their futures.
3. That I will be able to find opportunities to rest in the midst of busyness.

Thanks again for reading, and for your encouragement and support. I thank God for each of you!

Also, as a side note, I will be posting an update with pictures soon so stay tuned!


Friday, January 6, 2017

New Year, New Lessons

Happy New Year from the Hollands! (some of us, anyway)
First of all, Happy New Year 2017! I had the privilege of hosting my parents and two of my brothers here for Christmas. When you've lived outside of your home culture, even for a little while, the ability to share it with those close to you is both sensitive and sensational! Sensitive because welcoming others into your world is scary sometimes, no matter who they are. And sensational because of the joy that comes from that kind of vulnerability. I love that when I talk to them next, and tell them that I wrote this post sitting in a Starbucks in Basel, they'll know the city I'm talking about because they've been here! We traveled and talked and laughed and ATE and even sang together for a Christmas Eve service. They met and engaged with so many people here who are dear to me. There is absolutely nothing that compares with being with and together with those whom you know and who know you. And even though I was tired when they left, my heart is so very full! Mom, Dad, Peter and Mark, thank you for coming to see me and valuing me, my life and world here.

We are just a few days away from the start of school, and I can honestly say I'm looking forward to it. This break has been one of the best yet, but I also have one of the greatest jobs in the world, which I'm looking forward to resuming soon! The students return to homes and dorms over the weekend, and classes start Monday. This coming week is the last week of our semester, with exams following the week after. Please keep us in prayer as we finish one semester and begin another one. My Piano 2 students played a fabulous showcase recital just before Christmas. They did a couple of arrangements of favorite Christmas songs, including an improvisation on Angels We Have Heard on High. This was a big stretch for some of them, but was a fitting expression of the way their learning has developed so far this year. I'm looking forward to hearing the repertoire they've prepared for their final exam as well!

The start of a new year brings many emotions and thoughts to mind. I've never been one to intentionally make resolutions. But this year I've felt a strong emphasis in my heart on the word "Hope." Hope is worth as much as whatever it's placed on. This year, I am determined to set my hope on Christ. One day at a time, one challenge, struggle, sadness, joy, grief at a time. "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare, and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11
He is Lord, and I will trust Him.

Praise the Lord with me:
1. For an awesome visit with family!
2. For a restful Christmas break.
3. For His constant, incredible provision.

Pray with me:
1. For the students as they make their way back to Germany. Safe travel is such a gift - please pray for our students!
2. For a strong start to school in 2017 - wisdom, vision, patience and direction.
3. That my heart will be tender to the Lord, as I teach, mentor, lead, and listen.

Thank you for your constant prayer and financial supper, and your interest in the work God is doing at Black Forest Academy!