Joel in our Colorado meadows.
Joel is my gentle, renaissance man, 22 year old son. Many of you heard his story at our conferences and I have had several people who have asked me to tell it on my blog. I am so thankful to be at the reaping stage of life, as it seemed like for so many years I sowed by faith, but now I see that some of the fruit is indeed there and the Lord was working all along.
Joel has always been somewhat academic and learning came easy for him. So, when he took his SAT's, he scored really well and had a number of choices for college and scholarships. He decided to attend Seattle Pacific University. He had a great year and made the Dean's list and was working 20 hours a week and had great friends. As he was getting ready to go back to school, he decided that it just wasn't right for him.
When I probed his thoughts, I asked him what his dreams and hopes were and if there was something that he really wished he could do. He said that in the back of his mind, he really wished he could attend Berklee School of Music in Boston--a one of a kind school for serious, music students who really wanted to be in the music industry full time. He wanted to be a piano composer.
PLEASE KEEP READING--IT IS A LONG STORY, BUT SO ENCOURAGING FROM THE LORD!
Then I asked him what it would take to get in--to which he replied, "Filling out an extensive college application with many essays about my dreams, commitment, experience and vision for my music. Then I have to write a formal 4 minute piano composition, get interviewed by some of the staff in person, and then take a music theory test. And I have about 2-3 weeks to do all of this and get to Boston--(which is 2025 miles from our house--a 2 day drive on top of everything else.)
Now, let's just stop right there! Immediately, I began to feel that I had failed Joel. In all of our 17 moves, 6 times internationally, it was all I could do, at times, just to stay alive--let alone provide him with good piano teachers. I immediately felt that if he was rejected from entrance to this school, that it would be my fault. He had only had about one full year of piano in his whole life when he was a little boy. I knew that he did not know how to read music very well and knew almost no theory. I also didn't even know if he could write a piano piece as I had never heard him do it in his whole life.
If I had known he was going to want to attend a conservatory to pursue a full-time music profession, I would have made piano a first priority while he was growing up--but amidst the 4 children and miscarriages and moves and you know the story, somehow I just didn't get to that.--yet, as I have learned, no matter what you do, it will never be perfect or enough--that is why we must rely on the Lord. So, in spite of the feelings that came over me of inadequacy, it occurred that this could just be a road of faith that God wanted us and Joel to take.
So, as we talked, I found out that one of the reasons he was dragging his feet was that there would be no scholarships the first year of school ($35,000 not including housing and food!) and he already felt the burden of paying for his car, insurance, a small school debt from Seattle Pacific, and he just didn't know how he could swing it. (With our ministry salary, 4 children who all wanted to eat, wear clothes, have computers and cars and many medical bills, we just didn't have any extra--just where we are in life!)
I took him away for the day to a local 5 star hotel where we had breakfast (a $5 bowl of oatmeal and coffee in a civilized environment seemed a good place to dream!) and spent the morning talking and reading. I told him that God wanted him to learn to live by faith.
I also said, "If you make only those decisions that will come from your own resources and what you can provide for yourself, then you will live like that the rest of your life. However, if you decide to step out in faith and take the risk of trying out for this school, you will be practicing stepping out in faith and will be more likely to trust God in the future--what can you lose? Whatever you practice now is more of what you will become. I would encourage you to become a man who learns to live by faith in God and trust Him to open doors, as He chooses. All they can say is no, but they just might say "yes!" You will never know unless you try.
So, the next two weeks were filled with late night essay writing, pounding on the piano, and preparing for the 2000 trip he was to take with Sarah as his cheerleader. I was actually astonished at the piece he prepared, as I didn't know he had it in himself to compose such music. I asked him how he could do the music. He said,"I just hear it in my head and then it is easy to write."
"How can you notate it and write it down?"
"Oh, I can't write the music down, I can just remember it and play it."
So, to make a long story short, he drove to Boston, did great on his essays, had a good interview with a woman who seemed to be really interested in the worship music training he had and the work he had done on his guitar. Next was the composition. He did very well on performing his own piece (which is on the youtube below). Next came the theory test. He failed this test and felt it would keep him out of the school. How could he attend a music school if he couldn't read music very well, and knew no theory and couldn't even notate his own pieces?
Still, he did his best, and followed through and then we prayed and prayed. Meanwhile, they said it would be several months until he would find out. Five months later, he received a letter that said that there had been more students who had auditioned than normal and so it would be another month until he would find out.
Meanwhile, he had moved to Nashville to work on music and had a job and had settled in, not really expecting that he would be able to go to Berklee. During this time, I sent him the book, "The Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers" as an encouragement to him. We had read it when he was much younger. He called one day and said, "Mom, Bach said that if anyone was willing to work as hard as he had worked, they would have the ability to become as great in music as he had become. I realized that I am willing to work as hard as Bach did if the Lord will just give me the opportunity to get into the school."
Then, on one second after midnight on the last day he was to be notified of acceptance if he had gotten in, he received an email in his inbox that said he had been accepted. Well, we were all surprised and amazed.
But, this just happened to be the same week as all of the financial debacle last fall, and so most of the school loans and programs were temporarily frozen. Joel then found out that the school did not provide any scholarships for first year students since the drop out rate was so high. Another seemingly impossible obstacle!
Again a faith decision. After writing many letters and seeking grant money and scholarships, Joel decided to write 7 more pieces of music to put on an album to see if he could at least pay for his living expenses through earnings so that the financial burden wouldn't be so great.
So, we barely saw him during the Christmas season. He worked hard on 7 more pieces, recorded them, put together his first album and website and began to sell them. So far, he has made enough money to pay for 5 months of rent and food, and now he is working on paying for the next few months of rent and hoping to apply for scholarships for the fall, as he will be a sophomore by then.
He read an article by the president of the school that said, we have many students who have been trained technically but don't have passion or innate talent. But if we can find raw talent, a committed character, a willingness to work hard and learn and passion for music, then that is what we are looking for at our school."
This was just what the Lord had been teaching me for so many years, in a different way. "Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit." I had leaned on the Lord for many years to take my paltry offering of teaching and training my children by faith and asking Him to take my "fish and loaves" so to speak, and make it enough to prepare my children for the work He had for them to do!
And so, here, in Joel's life, was a real live miracle, a reflection that His grace was sufficient. We all knew that God had worked in a special way to get Joel into the school and that if he continued to work hard and walk by faith, he would see the Lord working in wonderful ways on his behalf. Even in his having to work for his finances has built him into more of a man. He has applied for numerous jobs, but still hasn't landed one--but he keeps working at reaching more people with his music, so we thank God that he is building Joel spiritually, in character, in faith and in perseverance.
So, it is not in finding the right education or best curriculum or best activities or filling in all the blanks, but it is God who makes our life of faith and faithfulness enough for our children. He is big enough to fulfill dreams!
The tape below is his story in his own words and the composition he played for getting into the school.
If any of you would like to buy Joel's album, for $10, to help him work his way through school, please visit his website here, (his website has music, pictures and more) or call: 1-800-311-2146 to place an order. You may write him personally at this address.
He was just home for 10 days and I can't believe the improvement in his music and ability even in one semester. Joel is hoping to pile on classes and finish a year from now. He just got his grades back and he received a 3.8---all A's except for 2 B+--so he is thrilled and feels he is where God meant him to be.
Thanks for all who have encouraged Joel in his dreams. I hope his story will encourage you to keep dreaming dreams with your own children! God created all of our children to bring His light to bear through them, through their unique personalities and with the skills He has given to them. Grace to you today.