Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Letter 2010

December 16, 2010

Dear Friends & Family,

Merry Christmas! “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Looking back on the past year, I trust we can all say we have looked for ways to grow: physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and of course in the most important way: our relationship with Christ.

This year has brought to me an increased awareness of my place in the world, and just how content and satisfied I can be in serving God. It really isn’t about me, it’s just about who I am in Christ. And God’s Word truly has all the truth and answers to all of life’s issues. I have seen evidence of that this year.

My dog Juju, who is now 4 years old, keeps me active with “making” me take her for a walk every evening. I’m getting older, as we all are, but I am thankful to be in good health, although I had to make my first visit to a chiropractor this month after some severe lower back pain. He fixed that, but also told me that apparently I look down a lot (imagine that for a piano player!) so I need to work on making my neck straighter by looking up more! Oddly enough, the title of my blog is “Focus up!” Which is a great thing for me to remember, as it is very easy for me to get caught up in daily activities and neglect the really important things: like worshiping God. I think I can relate with Martha, busy serving the Lord, but often forgetful of spending time at Jesus’ feet.

I attended a piano workshop at Butler University in September and the speaker was talking about motivating our piano students by teaching to body, mind, and heart. I thought this was especially interesting from a non-Christian perspective. It has made me continue to meditate on how all the parts of us are tied together, and especially how God keeps bringing my heart/desires into focus. Our Faith Christian School theme this year is “Desiring God,” so I am continually reminded how the “desires and intents of our hearts” affect me and my students. As I teach I want to try to motivate the DESIRES of my students, and I continue to realize how I need to keep my own desires focused on God (Psalm 37:4).

This is my 11th year at Faith Christian School. I have 50 piano students (5 home schooled, 5 public school or college, rest in Kindergarten through 12th from Faith) this year. Our music department has undergone some changes this year as the head of our music department (Jack Heim) changed jobs and moved to NC. I have enjoyed getting to work with the new elementary music teacher (Camden Mullis) and trying to help Joe Wright transition into his job as he was promoted from elementary to high school and head of the music dept. I continue to teach Preschool & K5 music classes. I also still accompany for the FaithMinistry Team and Jr/Sr High choirs (traveled with the FMT to SC this year for fall tour), and run sound for the Praise Team and chapels. I guess I’m supposedly one of the resident tech experts, even though I apparently have been in denial, since I just realized I was probably a “techie” a few months ago when a friend of mine was looking for an HDMI cable, and I knew what that was and I had an extra one at home. I make the PowerPoint presentations (and occasional videos) for our school programs and help others put their presentations together for weekly chapels. This summer I upgraded to a Smartphone too (a Motorola Android), and I find myself joining the ranks of those who are becoming dependent on their phones for their contacts, emails, and calendar. I didn’t think I would use it for all those things but I am starting to really like it. (I’m also becoming addicted to Twitter.)

As I get older I find that I am getting more comfortable in my routines and schedules, thus I’ve felt comfortable branching out to new things, like refinancing my home. I just signed papers to start the process to refinance my home at 4% interest for a 15-year loan with my local bank. Closing should be at the end of January. I continue to have my sister Sarah and our friend Sara Denny living with me in my home, although Sara D will probably be leaving us sometime in the following year to pursue her Mrs. degree.

I have learned in the past year how important it is to be connected with the body of Christ, as I discovered that I can easily sink into an “Elijah mentality,” getting discouraged and thinking that I’m the only person making the choice to live for God (which may seem silly in a church of over 1,500), but connecting with the accountability of my Tuesday night Bible study has helped to keep me focused on God’s purpose and not on myself. I need to be around others who encourage me, and I don’t want to be just “going through the motions” either.

My prayer this year has been to grow in my love for others. I have realized (again) how selfish I am. As Elyse Fitzpatrick says, “I am more sinful and flawed then I ever dared believe, yet more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope.” And thankfully I have seen progress in that area, especially in having a genuine loving attitude toward those who may be different than I am. This reminds me, that to be more in tune with others and the people in my community I also volunteer twice a month at the Faith Community Center, working at the cafe.

I am very thankful for my church family and am privileged to have the opportunity to serve on the Worship Team every Sunday, which makes for a long morning with 3 services, but has also given me some great close friends; I also got some custom-molded earphones out of the deal this year! Our choir Christmas cantata this year also included orchestra, video (MediaShout), and new LED lights.

For our school Christmas program season, my sister and I made an actual figgy pudding (which Juju did NOT eat this year) for the Preschool program, and FCS had our first combined K5-12th grade program: a Christmas Spectacular.
As I’ve grown more comfortable in my responsibilities, I have taken on some extra things in my local music teachers’ association as well, so I am the chairman of the biannual Monster Concert (which I also did in 2009). We are in the planning stages for our June 9, 2011 concert at the Long Center downtown Lafayette. If you are in the area I hope you can support us by attending this program, a grand piano recital with 10 pianos on stage and students of all ages playing.

I’ve discovered that I love spending as much time with my family as much as possible, but that is hard with my work schedule and the distance from Indiana to Wisconsin/Michigan (about 7 hours to Tim & Kristen’s & 9-and-a-half to Rachel/Matt’s and Mom & Dad’s). I now have 4 nephews: Reagan (2 yrs) & Grant (2 mos.) Eliason and Micah (2 yrs) & Wesley (7 mos.) Hill. I enjoyed spending a few days in June with my brother’s family just a few weeks after Wesley was born, and I spent some good quality time in June with my parents (and helping with their Vacation Bible School). And I also look forward to having time at Christmas break to spend with everyone in Ishpeming. For the first time in a long time we will all be together for Christmas! If I still live the same distance away in a few years I think I will definitely be figuring out a way to Skype piano lessons with my nephews!

For more regular updates from me, follow me on Twitter (INDIANABETH) or Facebook, as I enjoy keeping in touch with many of you that way.

Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year,
Beth Hill

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Dear FMT Member,

What a great tour we shared this year, but I am burdened to try to express what is in my heart now as I pray that this experience continues for you. You have been on the mountaintop, but the valley is coming. How will you allow what God has taught you on this trip to continue? I have been where you have been. I come from a Christian family, surrounded by Christian things all my life, but there will come a time when you are going to have to decide for yourself if you are truly going to live and take a stand for Christ.

We have some wonderful memories of this trip, including our stay with the youth at Jones Avenue Baptist Church in Easley, SC and the wonderful home cooking and Southern hospitality! You will remember our trip on the bus, playing games, talking to people you never might have gotten the opportunity to otherwise, sleeping, playing Euchre or Kemps, or teaching me how to play Texas hold 'em. You will remember playing volleyball or basketball or round robin in the gym and having to get cancer ball down from being stuck on the beam. You will remember the ginormous amount of ice cream we were given and staying up until midnight, laughing and playing games. You will remember Kum-Cha & Asay no-no (sp?) and singing on the bus. You will remember meeting the men in Anderson, SC at the Haven of Rest farm & mission and hearing their stories of God has changed their lives. You will remember the Miracle Hills Rescue Mission in Greenville, SC and of course the unforgettable Knoxville Area Rescue Mission, and how we could never make it through "The Room" or "The Power of the Cross" without crying...ever.

But just a word of caution. You can't depend on your feelings. I felt it too this trip--the Spirit moving in hearts and lives, the "connection of souls," and God's marvelous power. But feelings don't last. After this great emotional high you will probably feel a let down. On this trip you were exposed to the "other path." As a Christian, sometimes I tend to remember only my chosen path, but there are others in the world who have chosen a different path for their lives. Even other Christians have different views and "interpretations" of God's Word. One of the men at Haven of Rest told me that he had just come from a funeral of a senior saint, and then to come hear our program gave him hope for the next generation of followers of Christ. He said he could see that your faith was genuine, and he said to tell you that he had tried the other way and it wasn't worth it. I'd always thought my faith was genuine too, but after a while it's easy to get complacent in our Christianity, and I've been there. I've wondered if what I was doing was just because that's the way I'd always done it, and whether worshiping God was just a futile activity. I mean, look at all the fun that is out there that I am missing because I'm supposed to have some sort of morals or ethics or "religion." Does God really know what He's doing? Is the Bible really true? Are my parents hypocrites? But if you are just going through the motions, you will get discouraged and depressed...UNLESS you keep your focus on Christ and HIS work in your lives. That is one of the reasons I love taking pictures, because then I can look back and see and remember what God has done in the past. This gives me hope for the future. This is why I think it is so important that I will give YOU a copy of all these pictures and videos, because I want you to REMEMBER. Never forget what you have learned here.

I also used to think that as long as I read the Bible and prayed and depended on God I could go through life without the help of others. I have learned even in just the last few years the importance of GOOD CHRISTIAN FRIENDS and accountability and the TRUE importance of WEEKLY church attendance and church family to help me stay on track spiritually. Don't ever think that it is not imporant to go to church EVERY week. I know so many friends or former students who have let the world creep into their thinking. Oh, the LITTLE THINGS are so important. If you can start making good godly choices in the LITTLE, daily decisions in life: how to treat a friend at school, how to spend time with God, how to turn in assignments on time, how to do your chores with excellence, how to obey your parents, you will be keeping yourself on the right path. Little choices will pile up and have a big effect.

I am concerned for you. I wonder that in a few years, a few months, a few days, or even in a few hours the "experience" will wear off. We coast along, thinking we'll always love God and always desire Him. But we won't. Sometimes we'll want other things, thinking God has gypped us of something important, something that would be more fun. But our thinking gets warped. "Our hearts are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." (Jer. 17:9) We can't trust ourselves, but we CAN trust God. Our priorities get out of whack, and my devotions and time with godly influences don't seem to take priority--after all, I know how to "do" the Christian life by now, right? But even now, when I WORK in a Christian environment, I still get drawn away by the things of the world. I find myself thinking, "it's okay to watch this program, after all, it's not THAT bad." But I'm just deceiving myself. I wonder if I'm missing out on the "fun" things in life. But the longer I live (and I'm getting old) the more I am convinced that NOTHING else matters but the things of eternity. This life is only the beginning.

So how do we keep our faith genuine? Here is what I've learned from observation and personal experience. We must CHOSE to put God first, especially in the little things, even when we don't necessarily feel like it. Every little decision matters. If you know something is wrong, DON'T DO IT, even if someone else is doing it. You may take flack for this. I know I have. I like to surround myself as much as possible with good Christian music, or even Christian radio (like Moody or KLOV). Why listen to something that will not encourage you in your Christian walk? Get a group of good Christian friends and make yourself spend time with them. Sometimes we will just be going through the motions, but these choices will eventually influence our feelings. Will you choose to wear something you might think is questionable, just because "everyone else gets away with it." Choose to take a stand for what's right.

I'm uploading a video to Facebook of just a short portion of our spontaneous worship time, so you can REMEMBER. My heart is burdened for you and your future choices. I will pray for you, and you pray for me, that we can continue to grow in our love for God, and our love for others. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul...and love your neighbor as yourself." I love you. But God loves you more. Never forget.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Accompanying Tips

I have been playing the piano, accompanying for choirs, soloists, and ensembles full-time for over 11 years, longer if you count accompanying specials for church. I thought I would take a minute to share some tips that I have learned. Maybe these will be useful for my students and any others who are or have been accompanying. This is especially geared to four-part choir accompanying in a school setting, but may be applicable for other situations, too. Some of these might seem basic, but here goes:

1. Play out. The choir tends to sing stronger when they have strong support.
2. Be confident. If you're going to make a mistake, make a big one.
3. Learn to keep a steady beat. At many times you are the only metronome they will have. Practice with a metronome and imagine a drumbeat in your head.
4. Follow the director for certain cues, but don't depend on him/her. Be a conductor/director yourself from the piano.
5. Younger kids need to hear more melody, even during performances, so don't be afraid to add more of the melody line.
6. If you hear a part struggling, try to play that part out (especially in rehearsals).
7. Four-part harmony can be difficult to read and play. If necessary, play just the tenor & alto lines since they tend to be the hardest to find. Add the bass if possible, too, but it's usually ok to leave out the soprano.
8. Learn what your director likes. Some like you to play just the parts while others prefer you to play as much accompaniment as possible.
9. Try to guess what the director is thinking. Guess where he's going to start and be ready.
10. Learn to play either parts or accompaniment, or a mixture of both. Practice!
11. You will tend to perform the way you practice, so practice the performance.
12. Practice an hour before a concert so the music is fresh in your mind.
13. Match the style of the singers, and lead them with the way you play. If they are supposed to be sining soft, play quieter. If they are supposed to be singing smoothly, play as smoothly as you can. The singers will tend to emulate you.
14. Be a leader.
15. The introduction is important. You are setting the mood for the piece.
16. Sight read lots of music.
17. Before a concert, get lots of rest so you have a clear mind.
18. Try to help the choir in its entrances, especially if they are staggered. Try to play out at least the first phrase of an entrance.
19. Keep your music organized. Minimize page turns by making copies and keeping your music in a binder.
20. Use a pencil. Write notes to yourself (maybe come up with your own shorthand system). Don't think you will remember something in the middle of a performance. You just might blank!
21. Listen listen listen.
22. Work on facial expression. Try to have a pleasant expression on your face, no matter WHAT happens!
23. Support your director, even if you don't necessarily agree.
24. If you have a disagreement with or suggestion for the director, try to discuss this away from the students. Present the director perfect in public!
25. Enjoy making music!

Monday, August 09, 2010

End of Summer

Me & Nephew Reagan

Me & Nephews Micah & Wesley

I enjoyed my summer with my family, but summer is over now. :( Even though I'm doing basically the same job at Faith Christian School this year, it will be different because of working alongside some new people this year. Joe Wright is taking over the music jobs of Jack Heim, who "retired" and moved to NC. And Camden Mullis has been hired to take over Joe Wright's former elementary music responsibilities. I am thankful that I have already collaborated with Joe so am already familiar with his style. Last week we had Faith Ministry Team camp, and while it's not EXACTLY the same, it really made me excited for this coming year. After today's Team-Building Retreat, I am looking forward to the new opportunities this school year will have to bring and the new students and teachers to work alongside.

I am hoping to spend more time in prayer for my students this year and take advantage of the mission field that is before me. Let the school year commence!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Summer Up North 2010

Since my mom said I should update my blog, I thought I'd journal a bit about the recent weeks I spent up north in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. All of my pictures are on my facebook page, which most of you have access to, so I'll only include 1 or 2 here, because I have over 200!

So what did I do, you wonder? Well, I don't want to bore you with all the details, so I'll scroll through the "highlight reel."

I first got to spend an amazing 4 days with my brother (Tim) and his wife (Kristen) and their 2 boys in Crivitz, WI: Micah (about 1 1/2) and Wesley, who was only about 2 weeks old! I really enjoyed getting to help Kristen take care of the house and the boys and just get to visit. (I'm sure Kristen was tired but it was kind of relaxing for me, actually, with not as strict of a schedule--just meal times, nap times, and play times!) I also helped out with Sunday services at Timberland Bible Chapel, where my brother is "Pastor Tim."

Then I headed to my parents' house in Ishpeming, Michigan where my dad is "Pastor Hill" at Bible Baptist Church. I got to be VBS director the next week, so it was a busy time of getting songs & skits organized, PowerPoint presentations put together, and prizes in order. But I do have to say that the body of Christ at Bible Baptist is AWESOME at serving! If something needed to be done, we had people just waiting to jump in and help, whether it was bringing snacks, helping to decorate, filling water balloons for water day, counting pennies for the offering, or vacuuming the floor, people there are WILLING TO SERVE! ("I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.") What a joy to work with the folks there! We had about 15-20 helpers every evening and about 41 kids every night, so we thought the attendance was great! One very fun thing for me was having my nephew Reagan (even though he was only 1) attending VBS, and my other 1-year-old nephew Micah was there for Friday night, too. We had a blast!

The next week I took care of my parents' house for them while they attended a conference in Illinois. This involved picking strawberries from their garden, mowing their lawn & the neighbors, and watering the plants. And since I had the house to myself, I spread out to do some scrapbooking (got my pictures from Thanksgiving-Graduation done).

Then my former youth group leaders (John & Kathy Kantola), said the Youth Group was taking a trip the Noah's Ark waterpark in Wisconsin Dells and they had extra room (and an extra ticket) and that I was willing to join them. So I worked that into my schedule! :) (My dad was going too). So I had a great time getting some sun and going on some water park rides. Even tried the new Scorpion's Tail ride, where you have to be weighed then get into a little "glass box" where (after a "3-2-1" count) the bottom drops out, plunging you down about 50 feet so you have enough speed to get up & around the chute. Hey, I can at least say I did it once.

Other than that, I was just able to relax and enjoy my time in the a more laid-back fashion: sleeping in, reading fiction books, watching TV/movies, & hiking with Juju. I was able to do a couple of hikes with friends: up Hogsback "Mountain" in Marquette, walk the Little Presque Isle beach, and hike up the bluff in Ishpeming. My parents & I were invited out to visit friends who were camping, too, so we were able to enjoy sharing their campfire food with them!I really enjoyed the time with my parents, too, just chatting and playing games. I was also able to make a DVD for my sister Rachel of the last few months of pictures & videos of Reagan.

I am very content with my job in Lafayette, but I have to say I really enjoyed being back in the U.P. and didn't really miss anything in Lafayette while I was there. In fact, I didn't really want to come back to Lafayette when July 6 rolled around, but now that I'm back in Lafayette I'm very content with being here too. I am very blessed to have a group of family & friends in both locations.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Practice Like Evan

I try to give out a newsletter to my piano students every couple of months, and I had started writing this article for that back in February, while the Olympics were on. Even though the Olympics are over now, I thought I'd share this article that I have given out to my piano students.

I enjoy watching the Olympics, and for whatever reason I especially like figure skating.

What can we learn from the Olympics? Many of these athletes, like figure skater Evan Lysacek, are very disciplined in their practice times. They train and train and practice and practice—just for their 2 or 4 minute programs! I’m sure they don’t want to go to the gym every day. They may not like what they have to do, what they have to eat, or what they can’t do because they are practicing. Some people would say that it’s too much work. Yet a lot of the lessons we learn are formed by the habits we practice. If we do something over and over again we are training ourselves to be disciplined in that action.

Sometimes they are practicing things they may already be “good” at. By doing a little research on the internet, I acquired the following information.

Lysacek has focused this offseason on improving his spins, even though they were marked high at worlds, and posture. He has trained more with choreographers and has worked on the ice with a prima ballerina, "which for me," he says, "is not the stuff I like to do. I like to jump, jump, jump, spin, spin, spin," he says. "I want to sweat. I want to work. This has been a little more of a stretch. But I have been so sore from doing this kind of work that, obviously, it's difficult, and I have so much respect for what they do." "He's been working a lot on the emotion and bringing out his feelings — rather than just doing a program that's a bunch of unconnected elements — and really interpreting the music," says Lysacek's coach, Frank Carroll.
"Evan's consistency is something I admire," said Jeremy Abbott, U.S. champion the past two seasons, who fell apart to finish 15th in the short program. "It takes a very strong mind to focus that intently and keep things on track all the time."

Whether it’s figure skating or piano, what are you practicing? Many things in life take practice—sometimes YEARS of practice. Yet our times of training are also our times of learning. No practice time is wasted time. Training yourself takes devoted TIME and effort.

But the most important TIME of our life should be the time we devote to being disciplined in the practice of godliness. (I Tim 4:8.) Whether we’re practicing piano for our spring recital, doing homework, playing sports, or helping a friend in need, do “all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Having the right attitude and mindset is vital to our spiritual discipline.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

February Conference

BCTC. That was a logo that I have seen quite a few times this week as my church hosted the Biblical Counseling Training Conference here at Faith Baptist in Lafayette, IN. (You can find the tag #bctc on Twitter, too!)

My parents have come every year that I've been here, so I think that makes this their 10th time at the conference. They decided to do Track 4 this year, as many of the topics in that track change every year. Of course, school for us is canceled this week to enable the conference flexibility in using the entire campus--church building and community center, too. Since I didn't end up having any nephews to come and babysit this time around, I decided to use my time in serving at the conference. I thought I might have some extra time to get some things done at home, too. Well...didn't end up having much time at home, but it was a good week. This is basically how the week went:

Saturday, Feb. 6: the Solo & Ensemble event I was supposed to spend all morning at accompanying got postponed to next Saturday due to a snowstorm on Friday night. So I had time to do some grocery shopping and cleaning before Mom & Dad arrive around 9:00 p.m.

Sunday, Feb. 7: Church in the morning, Cracker Barrel with mom & dad for lunch, then music rehearsal and the evening session from about 3-6:30. Got home in time to watch most of the Super Bowl and see the Colts LOSE. :( We got out a 2000 piece puzzle to work on this week.

Monday, Feb. 8: The Community Center Cafe was hurting for workers for the conference, so I offered to work from 7am-noon every day. Got up bright and early ready to spend the day serving! Ate lunch with mom & dad around 12:15, then went home. Heard a loud bang in the garage; discovered the spring broke. Muscled the car out of the garage to squeeze in a dentist appointment at 3:00 before music rehearsals in the evening. Made a trip to Meijer to buy chicken & noodle soup for supper. Discovered a 2000 piece puzzle does not fit on a regular sized folding table. But at least we found all the edge pieces.

Tuesday, Feb. 9: Got up again to work at the cafe at 7. Had lunch with Mom & Dad again, then headed home to call a company to fix the garage door. Even though it is snowing they manage to come right over and replace the spring and make it work even better than before--for a fee, of course. Garage door fixed. Check. Squeezed in a piano lesson at 3:00 before running an errand for my friend Norma. Great evening session with James MacDonald.

Wednesday, Feb. 10: Getting harder to get up in the morning, but made it to the cafe to make some coffee! Took mom at lunch time to get her hair cut with my hair stylist. Time at home to get papers organized for doing taxes. Get a call to practice with a student for Saturday. Had time to fix beef stroganoff for supper. Supper ready for mom and dad when they came home at 6:30 while I left for normal Wed. evening Worship Team rehearsal. Still have not found solution to fitting the puzzle on the folding table. Not making much progress.

Thursday, Feb. 11: Manage to roll off the couch and get up. At the cafe today from 7-2. At least I get a free lunch. Run some errands for Sarah, then need to get taxes done, so I head over to my friends' house to use their Turbo Tax. I love Turbo Tax. 45 minutes later the taxes are done. Mom & Dad and I go to Texas Roadhouse for dinner. Have time to stop at the dollar store and find 2 foam boards--a perfect solution to the puzzle dilemma. Make it back in time for the evening service with Paul Tripp. Puzzle edge now all in one piece--fitting on top of the "table"!

Friday, Feb. 12: Really hard to get up today, but push through. Only work at the cafe from 7-8 since I have an opportunity to help out in the sound room today from 9-11. Conference over. Time to practice with students who are playing THIS Saturday, now. Practice from 12-2. Go home to crash and stay in for supper (chicken enchiladas). Have an exciting game of Scattergories--all 12 rounds--while watching the Olympics Opening Ceremony. Need to sleep. ZZzzzz. Hmmm, don't think we'll finish the puzzle.

Saturday, Feb. 13: Leave the house at 8 to accompany at Solo & Ensemble. Say goodbye to Mom & Dad. Puzzle not QUITE complete (see below).

February Conference is always a busy but fun week as we are reminded of God's truth from God's word.