Modern-Day Heroes

It’s hard to move 19 months after you moved to a place. It’s even harder when that place is where you made your first home as a married couple, walked through your first pregnancy, and began the journey of parenthood – all supported and surrounded by loving people, who loved you when they barely knew you and didn’t relent in their loving when you were getting ready to leave.
It’s also hard to leave the first friends your baby had – the one that looks like her polar opposite with the ‘fro and chocolate skin, the one who handed down head bands and tries to play with her during church, the one people asked if they were twins – the blue-eyed fair-skinned blonde fall-babies of GBC.
As I think about leaving behind yet another place and another set of friends, I’m reminded yet again of what Eleven said in Doctor Who:
“We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”
We may be leaving our home here, but we won’t ever forget the people we love here and everywhere. It’s hard to leave, but it’s easier when you remember that leaving doesn’t mean forgetting and starting life in a new place and enjoying it doesn’t negate how wonderful where you were before was.

As I look back on the last year and a half and the people we have had the privilege of knowing here, especially at church, I have thought a lot about the people who have taught me so much by their lives, from when I was a child through to today.
I keep thinking of a stanza from the Getty’s “O Church Arise” –
“As saints of old still line the way,
Retelling triumphs of His grace,
We hear their calls and hunger for the day
When, with Christ, we stand in glory.”

Some of those people I’m not in contact with much any more and we’ve grown apart. Others I have sporadic contact with but it’s the kind of friendship that we can just pick up where we left off. Most of the ones I write about below I don’t know that well but the way they live inspires me.
In “A Sacred Sorrow” Michael Card wrote,
“The deep things of the faith we learn less by didactic principle and more through people of faith and their simple stories. After all, the gospel is not a systematic/theological presentation to which we give assent or not in order to become “believers.” No, it is a story, which we enter into even as it enters into us. We, iint eh most real and literal sense, become characters in this ongoing incarnating of truth and of the gospel. Its story continues to be told in and through us, and along the way we begin to understand.
“I believe the same kind of incarnational process is at work in understanding lament. Eventually, when we are struggling to explain a difficult topic like prayer, faith, or perhaps servanthood, we resort to naming a person who incarnates that ideal. … When we seek to understand discipleship, we think of someone like Deitrich Bonhoeffer, not because of his book on the subject, but because his life and death validated everything he spoke about in his writings.”

I’ve found that the people I want to learn from most don’t have lessons they can teach you very well. The things I respect and love and want to emulate in them aren’t usually things they can tell you. They’re often lessons learned through trial. These people are often ships battered by many storms, yet coming out triumphant through the guidance of Christ.
There’s the woman at church who lost her husband to cancer soon after they remarried after they had divorced, and said “grieve, but don’t be downcast.” (Among so much other wisdom I can’t remember).
And another who shared wisdom on marriage (that also applies to parenting) – “He’s not irritating, I’m irritable.”
And the mother who commented that she had nothing to share about parenting, then said – “Jesus, help me! That’s my advice.”
And the one who stayed with her unbelieving husband, holding on through difficult times, and then God changed his heart.
And Amanda, who died of cancer a year ago, whose hope of heaven and joy in Christ was so beautiful to see as she shared her struggles with the church.
My cousin, Kristen, hanging on to life and finding joy in it through Christ despite long-term health issues.
My mother-in-love, who had to take care of new mothers just hours after giving birth to her fourth, braved homes with rats and lands with many poisonous snakes, and is such a wonderful example of godly marriage and parenting (as are my own mother and Mrs. C!).
Mrs. Y, who opened her home to me and gave of her time to let me come in and learn from her, the way they disciplined their kids with gospel, her joy in motherhood, openness in sharing things with me and letting me open up, choosing marriage and motherhood above a career.
The M’s – Mr. M who takes such care of his wife and has taught their sons to do the same, and in it all their use of their home for hospitality and evangelism. Mrs. M who digs down to the root of the issue and turns it so you can see it in the perspective of Christ, who so openly and clearly loves her husband, who has such a great strength from being steeled -yet also softened – in fire of trials where she had to let go and let the Lord work, and trust Him.

There’s M, who my dad discipled and endured persecution by co-workers for his new-found faith.
And my friends who lived in an Arab country filled with turmoil, staying for years after most others left even though it meant being “stuck” there and knowing every day could be their last. They were faithful during the trials, hard though days are with little water, gas, or electricity. These things they gave up and suffered for the gospel – because Christ and the souls of the lost Brothers are worth those hardships.
And two others who the world calls our enemies but who counted the cost yet had great joy in Him as their satisfaction and certainty in their faith in their Lord, a willingness to give their lives if necessary.
And another whose testimony I heard before I met him, how God saved him from a wild lifestyle. I met him and was immediately amazed at his humility, boldness, and intentionality. His favorite question to ask people is “What are you reading right now?” and he uses that to channel conversations to eternal things. He’s ready to be a martyr. He’s ‘planning’ on putting his life on the line in a place where Christianity is unknown – because he loves Christ and His glory so much more than life.

I think it’s people like this Hebrews has in mind when it says the world was not worthy of them.
What a privilege it has been to know each and every one of these, and many more, and some even greater that I just don’t have the words for because they’ve taught me so much (like our pastor’s wife, and my parents, and the C’s).
I’m excited to see who we meet in all of the places we live in the future and how God uses them in our lives.

“I saw what I saw and I can’t forget it
I heard what I heard and I can’t go back
I know what I know and I can’t deny it

Something on the road
Cut me to the soul

Your pain has changed me
Your dream inspires
Your face, a memory
Your hope, a fire

Your courage asks me
What I’m afraid of
And what I know of love
And what I know of God.”
– I Saw What I Saw – Sara Groves


Lament for the Sons of the Covenant

December 20.
Hugh M’Kail was hung.

His ambition was to preach “Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God, unto salvation,” even through persecution by the English. After he was taken captive, they tortured him with the boot, which crushed the shin bone into a pulp. Yet still he refused to own Charles as head of the church. He was sentenced to die, but his response was joy. “Only four more days till I see Jesus,” he said.

When they took him to Grassmarket for his hanging, he spoke to the crowd. Usually the drummers would drown out whatever the condemned said, but today they were silent while M’Kail spoke. He told them not to mourn for his youth, for his blood might cause more to repent than many sermons would have.

He sang a part of the 31st Psalm, prayed, and then ascended the ladder.”I care no more to go up this ladder and over it, than if I were going home to my father’s house… Friends and fellow-sufferers, be not afraid; every step of this ladder is a degree nearer heaven.” He seated himself and addressed the crowd again. His whole speech is moving; here are excerpts.

“I do willingly lay down my life for the truth and cause of God, the covenants and work of reformation, which were once counted the glory of this nation; and it is for endeavouring to defend this, and to extirpate that bitter root of prelacy, that I embrace this rope.”

“There is a great solemnity here, of a confluence of people, a scaffold, a gallows, a people looking out at windows; so there is a greater and more solemn preparation of angels to carry my soul to Christ’s bosom; again this is my comfort, that it is to come to Christ’s hand, and he will present it blameless and faultless to the Father, and then shall I be ever with the Lord. And now I leave off to speak any more to creatures, and begin my intercourse with God, which shall never be broken off:—Farewel father and mother, friends and relations; farewel the world and all delights; farewel meat and drink; farewel sun, moon and stars; welcome God and Father; welcome sweet Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant; welcome blessed Spirit of grace, and God of all consolation; welcome glory; welcome eternal life; and welcome death.”

I wrote a lot about the Covenanters last year, and wrote this lament.
It isn’t meant to be sung, but I did write a melody to it, as a piece for solo violin. I sent it to my friend Anna, knowing she would understand the heart of what I was getting at, as well as the Celtic style. We recorded it this summer at Csehy, and you can hear it here.

June Letters – Two Months Late

{this is late, so it’s mostly reminiscing}

Dear Nate, you made Eagle!

And you totally earned it.

Not just because your project was crazy long and unpredictable and out of your comfort zone, though that’s definitely a good reason.

But because you are chivalrous, loyal, friendly, helpful, cheerful, courteous, and all the others.

Dear piano students, you all are fabulous. And worked hard. And some of you worked really hard. Thank you for a great recital, and great years of teaching. I’ll miss it.

{though mostly I’ll just miss YOU all}

Dear Hannah and Rachel, live music at the ball was a great idea. 🙂

Daniel thought so, too.

Dear chamber orchestra, for all our shortcomings, I really enjoy playing with you.

Dear Kadys – YES!

Dear Well Group girls, y’all are so sweet. 🙂 It was a pleasure leading you this last year!

Dear Pinterest, you do have some good ideas. And I like how you organize my brain. But no, I will not use you socially. Just instead of bookmarking things. And I will delete things once I’ve done them. Just like bookmarks… only not over-crowding my brain.

Dear Frankfurt, you are a really boring airport. No offense. But I was bored, and hungry, and exhausted. And then at the end I found the interesting part. Oh well.

Dear God, thank you that we have eternity to know You. Thank you that You are worthy of worship. And thank You for making the heavens so precise that scientists can predict things like supermoons.

{supermoon gazing and worship and Isaiah 40 talk – June 23}
And P.S. Thank you for clouds.

Dear Isaac and Michelle, you’re married!!!

Dear Ezra, happy birthday! I’m glad we could celebrate early when I visited you. 🙂 And even though I missed going to Letchworth with everyone else, it was worth it to Skype you. 🙂

Dear Room 401, you’re perfect. Extra exercise on stairs, a view of the creek and clouds, just the right size, farther from the siren than I was last year, and perfect for shouting down to people leaving on their day off.

Dear Counselors, It’s started! We’re together at last, and what we’ve waited for, trained for, and prayed for has finally begun. I love singing together and laughing together and being quiet together and praying together and all the other things we do.

Dear Tribe of Hinneh, I love everyone one of you ladies. I love your bedtime crazies (ab workouts and Brazilian jujitsu, anyone?), you coming to my room to talk or have hair done or see pictures, the notes and doodles you leave on my white board, seeing your faces make boring halls beautiful, your greatness on the Frisbee field (or running around it!), and your questions and insights during devotions.

Dear self, pretty soon you’ll miss all this badly. Some of that’s obvious, like counselor prayer times and meetings, mic duty, music building duty, field duty, girls coming to my room to talk or pray… but you’ll even miss dorm by night and walking the halls praying by yourself when you really wanted to be down with the other counselors, or getting girls out of the dorm for breakfast on time, or to bed on time, or getting up far too early to go for morning runs (which once I was awake were great). And you’ll be a morning person again and get enough sleep again soon enough. But you won’t miss ‘projecting’ your voice, even though you no longer think about it as shouting.

{a typical morning in the music building}

Csehy Counselors

I wanted to introduce the people I worked with this summer to my blog readers, because it was a really special group in so many different ways. The way God formed and brought this counseling team together, equipped for every need that came up and for working well with each other was incredible. There were some that didn’t think they were going to be able to make it at all, and then God opened the doors wide. I was one of those. Counseling at Csehy was something I had wanted to do since very early on in my years at Csehy. When I was praying about whether or not to enter into a relationship with Ezra, on the forefront of my mind was whether or not I was willing to not be a counselor at Csehy. I came to a point where I was willing to give that up, because I figured time and God would make it clear if I was supposed to marry Ezra, and if I was, that then Csehy wouldn’t be such a big deal. Well, time went on and it was looking more and more like I was going to marry Ezra. But we weren’t engaged when I was planning on sending in my application to Csehy, so I sent it in, with a note about a possible engagement such that I wouldn’t make it to Csehy. By the time I got a reply a month later about an interview, Ezra and I were engaged, and had set a January 2014 wedding date – meaning I could be at Csehy. When Ezra and I started courting, I was not expecting the gift of both marrying Ezra and counseling at Csehy. It still amazes me.Even so, I had to remind myself to be thankful for the time I did get at Csehy and to not think badly of getting married because it would take me away from Csehy.

We counselors wrote a song based off of an anonymous poem and Psalm 107. The chorus went:
“Let us give thanks for His steadfast love
And His wonderful works for men
And let us offer thanksgiving
And sing for joy of His deeds.”

This post is a thanksgiving for His steadfast love shown in this counseling team, and for His wonderful works through us, and the wonderful deeds He did with us during Csehy – in us and through us, and thanks for His gift of each person on the team. We often introduce ourselves in a funny way, as value menu items, sports equipment, board games, or items you forgot to bring to camp – but this is a serious way.

Mr. Haynes isn’t really part of the counseling team, but he’s over all of Csehy and very directly involved with the counselors. He led us through a Bible study of Habakkuk, taking us through hard questions and helping us see God even more. He pours himself out for all of Csehy, working tirelessly without much thanks – thanks he has most certainly earned.

Mrs. Hayes is head counselor. She’s our glue, our mom away from home (or one of multiples, since Mrs. Rawleigh is also like that for me), the one who cares for all the counselors as we care for all our campers. She really pours herself into every one of us, with meetings one-on-one that are sometimes hours long and are always times of encouragement, wisdom, and prayer. She’s a servant leader that is more friend than boss and cares so much for our spiritual and physical well-being (think how-to-nap-most-efficiently lessons).

Lauren is lead counselor. She also works tirelessly, without complaining, though she has an even greater load than the rest of us, with campers of her own and many other campers going to her and overseeing all of us. She keeps us on track in a gentle and understanding way, organizing and helping us get done what needs to be done, but also giving us rest and not making life miserable for us (like working out certain people having days off together, keeping us focused so we could go to the lake, etc.). She’s also a ton of fun and great to talk to about anything and everything (and she’s a very skilled photo-bomber, so watch out!).

Alex has a great raptor imitation, can throat sing, and plays the bass. This was the first year I really started seeing a deeper side of him as we had meetings and Bible studies and prayer time together. He’s dedicated to truth and rightness, and loves to make all of us think through things with discussion, and seeks after the wisdom of people who are ahead or have studied these things more. He also can identify probably any bug you’ll ever come across.

Nancy was a camper with me in the same hall one year, my counselor last year, and then this year we were “wing buddies,” sharing the same side and floor of the dorm. We have opposite personalities and some opposite tastes, but have always gotten along really well because of being united in Christ. She’s got solid, biblical perspectives, well thought-through and sure in her own mind. She’s not bound by cultural norms, of either conservative, liberal, Christian, or secular, but by truth. She also sings tenor and sometimes people think there’s a guy on the girls floors because Nancy was singing.

Aimee is full of life and sparkles and pink – but not sarcasm. She’s deeply devoted to those she loves and carries their burdens with them. I didn’t get to know her as well as some of the others, but on my last day off just she and I went to Moss Lake and made it all the way around the trail before sitting on the bridge quietly for a while. It was an enjoyable time of fellowship and also learning from experiences the other had had. She plays harp and saxophone. She’s incredibly fun to be around… but check under the couch before you sit down because she may reach out and grab your ankles.

Sarah is our photographer, shooting people all day long. 😉 She is very skilled at what she does (I think all of these photos except the last one get her credit!), both on a photography level and a people level. She has a motherly, sweet, quiet and gentle spirit that I have loved to be around ever since I met her. She also has a lot of wisdom and is very active in seeking wisdom and utilizing the insights of the people around her. We had three days off together and enjoyed some wonderful hikes as nature-lovers. She loves quietly but deeply… and has the best lap in the world for napping on.

Hannah I could write a ton about, because I know her so well. It was neat to see her at Csehy, and I especially enjoyed watching her come out of her shell and be more and more herself as the weeks went by. She’s wonderful with people, in going deeper in conversation and winning hearts quickly. She’s full of joy and laughter, and may take a while to warm up to you but when she does and even while she’s doing it, she’s always willing to serve.

Timothy was a counselor I had been a camper with and so it was neat to see it on the other side for the first time together as new counselors. He gets people laughing and excited quickly and is one of our few who will quickly and willingly take the lead – but he’ll also step aside to give others a chance. But for all his talk and fun, he feels things deeply and never gives up on people, laboring until God works – and this particular time, God did work and gave Tim the joy of seeing the fruit of that firsthand. And he plays violin incredibly, on a violin that is full of Csehy history.

Brian will pick your nose if you don’t watch out. He’ll also shoot you with a Nerf gun, poke you with his oboe or cleaning swab, and maybe cook popcorn or stir fry for you (and save the garlic all for me). He makes puns right and left but underneath the funniness there’s often a layer of deeper understanding to his puns, especially about people. He’s dedicated to the word of God and can get a group of teenage guys excited about being the bride of Christ, and preaches really well. And he’s my fellow oboist who is the most hilarious stand partner ever – from pulling out cards during tacet variations or asking for chocolate for hard pieces.

Jonathan is the quietest one of us. He doesn’t talk a whole lot, but when he does everyone listens (or should listen), because it’s thought out, wise, and usually by the time he talks, opinionated and solid – but he’s willing to let his opinions go for others. He’s not as much of a leader by nature as some of the other guys, but leads when he needs to and does a very good job of it. He puts character above winning (even when our Frisbee team was 5-0 for the tournament and then we lost the final), seeks to do things right, and likes things to remain constant. And in that quietness, he’s often worshiping God and looking at stars and clouds. He never forgets things he can tease you about, could play with children for hours, and is also very ticklish. And he plays euphonium, so he gets my obsession with brushing teeth and tonguing as I walk. We were often both hungry, and along with Hannah and one of my campers would get distracted by the clouds in the middle of Frisbee or times when we were supposed to be doing other things. And he’s my big brother,  and he and Ezra have a lot of similarities.

Angela is loud, crazy, colorful, and so much fun… but sometimes you have to look at those around you and just say “what?” Like Alex, her brother, she’s a thinker, discerner, and discusser. She loves deeply but doesn’t always show it – just like the depth of thought she has doesn’t always show beneath her goofiness. But when it does, it’ll be completely worth the wait for it.

Heidi is hardworking, giving, warm, and loving. She always has something good to say about everyone, has a positive outlook, and I never heard her complain, even when she was the most sick and tired of all of us. She’s been through a lot but you’d never know it by her joy. She sings so beautifully, too, and always looks so beautiful and classy, even on Field Day.

{he was up to something…}
Andrew was, like Sarah, totally new to Csehy this year. But unlike Sarah, none of us counselors had known him before Csehy. So at first we thought he was calm, quiet, and reserved… which is completely not true. He’s crazy and teasing and teaseable under the surface, and fit right in to Csehy craziness. He was great to work with – another very giving person in many ways. I got to work with him for the composition recital; he was the accompanist for me for an oboe piece a friend wrote. He had clear thoughts and followed well. He also really poured into one of the faculty kids, relieving our child care counselor and giving serious and firm but gentle help to child.

Daniel is a ticklish, expressive, outgoing person, plays the piano and saxophone. He speaks well in front of people, and like Tim, his “twin” can get people excited and involved in anything. He gets excited about his guys knowing God more, and about the ways God works in big and little ways. And he loves and cares for his younger sister so much. She was on my hall, so that opened up other ways for us to interact and work together, and allowed me to get to know her even more.

Rachel is a good friend from previous years, and along with Tim, Dan, Hannah, and I was a first-year counselor that I had been a camper with. I had seen this before but it was highlighted even more as I watched Rachel, whose main job was childcare, work with children of staff and faculty with love, patience, and joy. Her servant heart never stopped giving, even when she was tired and worn out.

Being a counselor wasn’t easy. There were times it felt like being a mom – giving hair cuts, doing laundry, putting campers to bed and waking them up, making sure they were eating their greens, calming tears, etc. We had lots of responsibilities, whether giving announcements, working in the office, overseeing the dorm, field, or music building, leading devotions, and spending wonderful time with campers. I had to learn how to speak loudly and raise my voice to be heard giving 5-minute warnings in the dorm or making announcements.

Our strengths and weaknesses were all different, in such a way that our team was complete, and fully equipped for everything we faced, physical and spiritual. To all who were praying for us – there was a lot of spiritual warfare going on, but God was greater and saw us through powerfully.
Words can’t do this group of people justice. The work we did brought us so close together in a way I never expected. It was a sad day when we parted ways, the dandelion having grown and changed and it being time to “blow” and scatter through the world. It was especially hard leaving Csehy this year after being a part of this wonderful team, not knowing if or when I’ll ever see some of these people again. Heaven will be a sweet reunion. And even though it means leaving each other, there’s so much joy in this group in all of us going on to where we’re meant to be – whether it’s Dubai, Hong Kong, east coast, west coast, the Midwest, or someday maybe many more places. We came together for great work, and now we’re off to spread that even further.
God is good, and faithful, the same at Csehy and away from Csehy, and He never, ever changes.

And yes… you just may have to be a bit crazy to be a counselor at Csehy. Just a bit. 😉

{this, campers, is how we take pictures on bridges…}

Ann Judson

This woman is one of my heroes. I’ve written about her before, but wanted to again, after studying her more at a women’s retreat in April.
I just wanted to say a few points on who she was, and what makes her so inspiring to me.

– She left all she knew for the unknown, for the same cause as Christ left His home – to bring salvation (or news of it).There were no guarantees of anything, but there aren’t conditions guaranteed in the Great Commission. Such bravery.
– And those conditions weren’t easy. She was the only white female. She left everything and more for Christ and His glory – watching friends die, perhaps never seeing her family again, losing children, health, and earthly comforts and even “needs” like food and shelter.
– She was a true helpmeet to her husband. She worked alongside him, translating, discipling, teaching, and then when he was in prison, she worked for his freedom and poured out herself to keep him alive as she walked four miles a day in the heat while pregnant to bring him food.
– She put God’s glory above her husband, when she went back to America by herself to seek medical treatment, allowing him to continue on with work there – and then she told many in America about the work there, inspiring others to come.
– Death was always imminent (they put the missionaries in separate boats in case one sank!) but they never thought about going back.
– Her father also showed courage and faith in letting his daughter go for a greater cause. While I agree there should be some degree of protection for women, I think we often take this too far in conservative Christian circles, but I am unsure of what the best/most biblical position on that is.
– Her labors lasted beyond her death. Because of how she helped her husband in his time of need, he lived on to keep working, and her translations spread, and their work continues to bear fruit to this day.

A striking quote from Ann that is good to think on in trial:
“God has taught us by affliction what He could not by mercy.”

In an age of ease, this is important to remember. I am reminded of the laments in the Psalms and Job, in contrast with our “happy” Christianity. Michael Card wrote a book asking “What do miserable Christians sing?” We can’t sing, if we think all will be well. But Ann knew that we learn different things in affliction.
Perhaps she felt like Psalm 88, where the pain doesn’t resolve. We question why, we mourn and weep and feel alone and abandoned, sometimes even by God.
Or perhaps it was like Psalm 89, where there wasn’t doubt, but the truths of remembering what God has done in the first part turn to begging for mercy in the second part – the Psalmist can praise even in difficulty because he knows who God is and that God won’t change, but that His lovingkindness will come.
I think Ann knew God’s love and nearness in affliction. She knew that while mercy was good, affliction wasn’t without worth.
And I am glad she knew that, because that is one important thing I glean from her – going forward with immense faith and trust in God even when it seems impossible, knowing that He is working in affliction just as He does in mercy.
Ann and Tricia and many others are real-life examples.
And I would even say that what He teaches us in affliction is mercy. But it is mercy in that rather than relieving – what we always want – He draws us near in our suffering.

Knowing these stories doesn’t make it any easier to think about death, disease, and suffering. When you think about them so close together you can’t help but wonder if there’s something specific you’re being prepared for – or is it just that you’ve been holding onto life too tightly and He’s putting your perspective back where it belongs?
But that’s not for us to know, until it happens.
What is for us to know is that like the Psalms, and Job, and the Judsons, Lawrensons, and many others, God is always there and always there in our suffering, even if He feels far away.
And there is mercy even in affliction, whether in the big picture of how He is remaking us, or in the new joy we find in little things and the moments we treasure that we never thought of treasuring before.
God is good.
These people are a testimony to that.
And they can be helps to us, when we wonder how we could ever make it through if something did come, or when we are going through trial and wonder if we’ll make it through.
They show that, whether in death or in life, God is powerful enough, good enough, and is enough for us, even if everything else – friends, family, possessions, health – is taken away from us.

Your courage asks me
what I’m afraid of
what I’m made of
and what I know of love.

– Sara Groves, “I Saw What I Saw”

Reflections on Piano Teaching

Today is our piano recital. My sixth one, and my last one here. I’ve taught for five school years now, and have gone from one to two to three and then all the way up to twelve in the end. I have learned so much. This is especially clear to me in the way my most recent student finished his book in one term while others I have taught have moved much more slowly. I know some of that depends on the student (that recent one catches on quickly), but some of it is also me.
I floundered for a while trying to find good books. We used Alfred’s Basic Piano Library, but when I was using it I was getting frustrated with how slowly it teaches at first and then how quickly they expect students to learn the notes on the staff. I was frustrated and my students were frustrated. I was learning patience as I waited for them to do what I asked and then realized sometimes patience means working longer on something easier rather than waiting for them to do what you asked.
Eventually I ended up favoring Teaching Little Fingers to Play and John Thompson’s Easiest Piano Course, depending on the age. Little Fingers could use some more songs for younger students, so sometimes you have to make it work, but John Thompson’s I ended up skipping lots of songs because it moved more slowly. But both start the kids on the white keys and with notes right away (my frustration with Alfred’s – spending so long on black keys and then with letter names before you get to the staff. Kids are smart enough to start with it right away!).

But even with good books there’s still a lot to learn. Hannah and I often talked about teaching and what worked/didn’t work for us, especially for “problems” like stubbornness, bad posture, and forgotten books.
Here are just a few thoughts of mine on teaching:

– Have a cancellation policy. It may seem mean, but you’ll feel more mean and stressed wondering where that student is and why they don’t come and then you call and feel bad for reminding them they forgot. But don’t be mean about your cancellation policy. The one I thought up but never implemented because I only had 10 weeks of teaching left (and figured I could just bear with it) was that if I had more than 24 hours of notice they wouldn’t have to pay, if it was less than 24 hours they had to pay half price, and if it was just a no-show they had to pay full price, unless the child was sick, especially since many of the kids would have their lessons soon after they got home from school and if they were sick or tired the parent may not know until then.
Once I did have to be extra-firm because the student wasn’t interested anymore and her parents weren’t making her since it was her wanting to do it. So I gave a warning that if it happened three more times before Christmas I wouldn’t teach her any more, and eventually she said she didn’t want to anymore, so that was that. It was hard and I was upset by it for a little while, but quickly had to move on since the now-open spot was already filled (another hard thing – saying “no” to people when I really can’t take any more, or recently, having to find other teachers for my students, teachers that charge way more).
Being strict in areas like this is one of the hardest things for me – whether kids forget their books, don’t listen, are snacking, want to go to the bathroom, are getting up from the bench, etc. and you have to find a balance. Usually I give a warning – “If you’re eating an apple next week, we’ll put it on a plate and it will turn brown and mushy while you’re having your lesson” – and then make a note of it on my chart so I don’t forget.

– there are some days you wonder why you do it… and there will be other days you’ll wonder why you ask to get paid to teach because the joy of seeing them learn and play and “get it” is huge. And even when a student is struggling, it can still be happy because of the hilarious things they say or do, or sometimes even when you wish they were doing better, their parent will tell you how pleased they are and you don’t feel so bad. Or since most of my students live in my neighborhood, they’ll tell me mid-week about how they’re practicing or the song they wrote and how they can’t wait to play it for me, or sometimes they slip notes and pictures “to Ciely” under the door.

– Don’t stress about theory. Or fingering. Or even posture/technique. But don’t completely do away with it. I’ve found that this depends on the student. Some have all they can do just to remember the name of the note and where it is on the piano, so if they want to play with one finger from the left hand and one finger from the right hand until they know notes better, that’s fine. But once they know the notes I get a lot more strict about what they can and can’t get away with. And if they have trouble controlling their fingers, do little finger drills – and call them “gymnastics” so it’s a game – of things like 1234554321, 135, 12121212, etc.
Theory is easier to work in, because some kids seem to have a small capacity for playing, especially at one time. So we do theory as breaks or for the second half of the lesson.

– Make it fun. You’ll be surprised what kids find fun. Some won’t do flash cards sitting down but if they can jump one way for lines and another way for spaces they want to do flash cards for the whole lesson.

– Think about where your piano is, and when lessons are. I teach some students at their houses and some at my house. I’ve found it’s best to have the piano in a quiet place with no distracting things. Some families have the piano in the bedroom.

– the hard students aren’t the ones who take a long time to get anything, or even the ones who don’t practice. The hard ones are the ones who don’t try to do what you ask or don’t communicate to you that something’s too hard (I have one that will sit in silence, another that will complain but not say it’s too hard). A student who listens and complies and tells you what they’re feeling is so easy, even if it takes five lessons to learn middle C. And if they’re having trouble listening, give them a few minutes to play around. You end up wasting less time since then they’re more ready to pay attention. And make sure you’re giving them your full attention and not zoning out or not correcting important mistakes.

– sometimes practicing is worse than not practicing. If they think the C is an E all week and practice that way then you have to undo that. So I make sure my kids know the song before they go home. And if they don’t, I have them keep practicing an old song with new technique – dynamics, staccato, etc. So make sure they know it, because as one of my students said: “When you just guess, everything goes in a muddle.”

– in closing, these are my three favorite things to use in teaching: stickers, charts, and flash cards.
*Stickers are a great reward. I started using them just after every lesson, but have slowly eased away from that, and all my newer students know is that whenever they finish a song they get to choose a sticker. Some students don’t even know stickers from me, since they’re self-motivated or are older. They can also be used, not to bribe, but for extra reward (even if they didn’t finish a song if I can tell they worked hard or it was an especially hard lesson sometimes they get one), and they can also be used as discipline. When I mentioned warnings earlier, one I had to use a lot with one student was “if you get up again you don’t get a sticker.”
*I started using charts when I was having trouble keeping track of payments. Some people paid by lesson, others a few lessons at a time, and sometimes I didn’t have change. So I made a chart with the date going down and students going across. The top line was names and lesson times. The next line was goals for that student, and then everything after that was notes about future lessons and payment. This definitely helped me teach better, since I had a plan and was going somewhere with each student, and then when I had to prepare I’d know what I needed for different students.
*Flash cards really made a difference in how quickly students learned to read music. Often I’d teach lines and spaces, then take a few weeks to teach ways to remember notes (Every Good Boy Does Fine, FACE, All Cows Eat Grass, Great Big Dogs Fry Ants), and then we’d start using flash cards, first with those sentences written out for reference, and then from memory. Once they had them down pretty well I’d start using a stopwatch to see how long it took them, and most of the students really liked that and are always excited to shave a few seconds off their time.

Teaching has been great and I know I’ll miss it. But who knows – I may teach piano to others’ kids again, and I am definitely planning on at least starting off my own children with the basics. And even if I don’t, the lessons I learned about teaching and working with children are ones I’ll be using again.
In the meantime, I can’t weird people out by telling them I have twelve kids anymore.
Which is a bummer, especially since those twelve kids are all really special to me.
Kelsea, with her dramatic personality and enthusiasm for everything. Amelie, with her ever-growing skill and love of playing. Constance – probably the biggest source of both joy and struggle – sweet and hilarious but hesitant to work hard (though she’s so much more willing to now than before, since she’s reaped the benefits of it). Lea, who is always so excited to play she sometimes can’t remember things but always works hard to think and focus and tells me exactly what she’s thinking (it’s really hard to focus when everyone else is outside). Ludo, always asking questions, catching her own mistakes, speediest flashcard-er, and with such beautiful long fingers and eyelashes. Joshua with his love for Star Wars and Legos and Beethoven, Kalea and her willingness to work even when she thinks it’s too hard and how she’s pushed through her shyness, Alessio with his sharp and focused mind, Ellie who has picked up note names so quickly and Matthew who can string notes in a song together with barely any practice – and Nate and Candace and their super-short lessons and need to, like me, stop sight-reading and really practice (but you’ve gotten better at that this year, don’t worry!).

Lament for the Sons of the Covenant

– on the day the National Covenant was signed in 1638 –

O, Scotland, what hast thou done with thy noble sons?
And with thy daughters, for they, too, are gone from thee.
Thy gibbet has robbed thee of thy worthiest ones,
That loved ye, labored, aye, toiled for your good.
Ye have sent them to the grave with your wicked guns.

O, Scotland, ye misunderstood your bravest children –
Ye called them rebels, ye hunted and made them pay.
Ye scoured your cities, they met in field, ran to hills, then.
Ye crushed with screw and boot, shot and hung – e’en the young.
Dost thou not hear the cries that echo through the glen?

O, Scotland, they did not desire it came to this.
But ye left no choice – they would not suffer another head –
Christ alone shall rule His Kirk, Charles stands amiss!
Worship they would, as God had said, His way alone.
Elsewhere they’d obey the king, but the Kirk wasn’t his.

O, Scotland, ‘twas ye who rebelled against a King.
Ye broke the covenant they kept, sealed by their blood.
Ye gave Him not the crown rights due Him – are ye trembling?
Theirs was the death sentence then – now yours is nigh!
Their blood is on your hands – and the Judge is coming.

O, Scotland, ye have taken from yourself your best.
M’Kail, Crookshanks, Sutherland – and nameless thousands –
E’en if their names are lost to men, in God, they’re blest.
Weep! They no more grace your hills, or e’en crowd your gaols.
Their wisdom, it is gone from thee, forever, at rest.

O, Scotland, they loved their wee bairns – not hated thee –
They fought to keep them safe, to worship free in peace!
But ye destroyed, then their claymores dug their cairns – see!
Their cause was noble, yet proud were your Stuart Kings,
Who would not leave them be, or let them gather free.

O, Scotland, ye ensured their end; drove them to their graves.
But their certain end, not death, but Christ – oh, their faith!
Fearlessly they journeyed on, to their end of days –
Past the pain and years of loss, awaited greater gain –
For those ye killed, a martyr’s crown – for God, He saves!

O, Scotland, thou hast slaughtered thy most faithful –
E’en pastors who sought to heal the persecuted lambs,
Peacemakers who mend the ruptured covenant – prayerful.
If ye had spared them, ye might have heard saving grace –
The same that drove them to glory, always joyful.

O, Scotland, what hast thou done with thy noble sons?
O, M’Kail, but six and twenty; Paton – grey and gentle –
And daughters also, for they, too, are gone from thee.
Like your two brave Margarets, boldly facing the sea.
O weep , ye must weep! Ye were not worthy of them!
For to them, the persecuted, belong the kingdom of heav’n.