June 28, 2012

The One with Corporate Worship

Worshiping through song. It's such an incredible thing. You come together with hundreds of Christ followers from all over the country and together you raise your voices in song, your hands in praise as one body. Even though most people filling the pews have never met, never been in the same church, never lived in community with one another, we share connection through the knowledge of these songs we call "worship songs" and through our passion for Christ

It is in an incredible thing that hundreds of people who live across the country from each other can know the same song. And not only that, but worship the same God. THAT is the binding factor. And it is incredibly encouraging. As much as I love worshiping alongside my church friends each week, there is something powerful in those moments when you realize it's not just you, not just your church. There are millions around the world who believe and know that Jesus is the holy one of God

You are not alone. 

June 22, 2012

The One with Attempts at Patient Waiting

God has been doing crazy things in our lives this week. It is one of those experiences that we know can only be an expression of his sovereignty, and we're just waiting to see what his "end game" really is. It's hard to wait. But as Ann Voskamp wrote yesterday on Twitter,
In Christ, urgent means slow. In Christ, the most urgent necessitates a slow and steady reverence
It is so hard to wait when everything seems to require immediate attention. But then I am reminded of Psalm 40:1.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.

Lord, hear our cry. 


Dear Readers,
Please pray for us. I hope to be able to share with you the story God has been writing in our lives very soon.

June 18, 2012

The One with the Second First Piano Recital

In May 1995, with shaky hands and butterflies in my stomach, I played at my very first piano recital--a piece by John Thompson, Fairy's Harp. (I know all of these details because my awesome mom saved every single one of my recital programs--all 15 of them--in a neatly organized file folder. Thanks, mom.) 

Seventeen years and one month later, I hosted my very first piano studio recital with 8 wonderful students and 30 of their friends and family members. 

IMG_9959_2_with Date

I am a piano teacher. wait, let me say that again. I am a piano teacher. 

After nearly 4 years of teaching, the reality has finally begin to sink in. I teach students how to play the piano and they have learned and proven themselves as musicians, no matter the level. Wow. I have been continually overwhelmed by this thought since my recital on Saturday afternoon. I am praising God for the gifts He has given me, the musical education I have received through Mrs. Colvin, Mrs. Heydenburg, Mr. Kirby, and Dr. Livesay, and the encouragement and tools I have been given from my husband, my grandma-in-law, and my Grams. Oh! And not to forget the beautiful Baldwin piano passed on to us by Kevin's parents after we were married! What a gift! 

Ok, ok, enough sentiment! on to the recital! 

I had a hair-brained idea to put a fun twist on the traditional formal recital. What if we held the recital at a more relaxed, cozy venue like a coffee house, and invited the guest to chat and mingle throughout the event--making it less stressful on students and more enjoyable for all in attendance?

Thanks to a friend/piano studio parent/coffee house owner, the idea worked beautifully! We set up tables of lesson information and lovely color programs (thanks to another parent!), an assortment of snacks including confetti sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, pizzelles, and hummus (all made by yours truly), and an original designed cake congratulating our students (homemade by a studio parent). 


Recital Cover_Spring 2012
program cover

isn't this cake awesome?! Thanks again, M! 

Moments before the recital began, I gathered my students in the front of the coffee house to lighten the mood, calm their nerves, and pray together. It was a blessed time.


And then they were off! I sat beside the piano after introducing each student and having them share the title of their piece(s). I am almost certain I was more nervous for them than they were for themselves. :) The audience enjoyed each song, and I was proud watching them perform well! I even had a couple opportunities to play duets with my students--always fun. 

V and I played The Beatles I Want to Hold Your Hand
T and I played a fun arrangement of When the Saints Go Marching In

The Crowd Applauding
After the students finished playing, it was my turn. (Thankfully, my nerves had been all used up while watching my students play, so I wasn't nervous at all. :D) Because of the numerous requests I received to perform at the recital and since many of the studio families had never heard me play, I thought it would be a nice surprise. I picked out my piece with a few particular studio moms and daughters in mind, as they are fellow-fans of a BBC/PBS tv show Downton Abbey. I was so excited to be playing the theme song to this riveting 1900s drama, and it seemed that everyone loved it.

After taking a break for snacks and conversation, it was time to present the awards and gifts. I created two awards that will be presented each year--Most Improved Pianist and Most Accomplished Pianist. My hope is that these awards will be highly sought after each school year, motivating students to receive top honors in the studio. In addition to those specific certificates, I recognized each student for an area in which they were excelling.

Most Dedicated to Practice. Passion for Perfection. Most Elegant Musicianship. Strong Theory Comprehension. Most Accepting of Challenges. Expressive Piano Compositions. 

And finally, I was excited to give each student a gift--one that I hoped would be useful as well as enjoyed. These personalized music tote bags accomplished both with great success, and they proudly display Eccles Piano Studio on the side. I love them! 


And before we knew it, the first Eccles Piano Studio recital (and a first recital for 6 out of 8 students) had come to an end. WHAT A SUCCESS! 

Like I say on my website, I have a lot of FUN with my students! :D

Special thanks to my husband for photographing the event, and to my dad for making the 3 hour drive to be with me on my second-first piano recital. It was a joy having you there, Daddy! 

June 14, 2012

The One with Strawberry Advice

Reflections and Advice from a Newly Seasoned Strawberry Picker 

1. Your back will hurt, particularly if you're picking for 2 or 3 hours at a time. 

2. Wear different tank tops each day to insure more even tan lines. I've had a racer-back tank on during the warm mornings and boy, oh boy you can tell from miles away. 

3. As ridiculous and hot and uncomfortable as the plastic rain/field overalls are, they keep you dry when the fields are damp with dew or the clouds are pouring rain. 

4. Try not to drink very much water or coffee before picking. You'll waste a lot of time taking potty breaks. (Surprisingly enough to those who know me too well--I haven't had to take a bathroom break yet. :D) 

5. Baseball caps (old, ratty ones if possible) are very useful, especially on rainy days. 

6. Did I mention you pick in the rain? It can be utterly miserable, particularly when it's chilly out. Mentally prepare yourself for this. 

7. If it's rainy or wet in the fields, I recommend wearing rain boots or work boots of some kind. I had an old pair of snow boots (that didn't look very much like snow boots) that I used on those wet days, after learning the hard way--tennis shoes get soaked through. And wet feet result in misery

8. I picked on my knees and quickly learned to use both hands to pick. Some people sat on their rear ends and scooted down the rows, but I found that was a little too comfortable and way too unproductive of a posture for me. 

9. After the first few days, my core muscles started getting extremely worked and toned--thanks to my kneeling picking posture and leaning over the rows while holding myself up with only my abs, because I was using both hands to pick. This is a real bonus of the job. 

10. I used to hate sitting on my knees for any reason. I've learned to appreciate this position. 

11. It's beautifully peaceful at 7am when the pickers are still in a quiet state of mind. The silence combined with the repetative picking motion is surprisingly soothing

12. The fields are a perfect opportunity for prayer

13. Many people listened to their iPods while picking and others were chatty Cathys. I was somewhere in between. I enjoyed getting to know knew people and sharing great conversations. But I also saw my productivity decrease when I got too talkative, so I tried to keep that in check. 

14. If you're going to be a "professional" picker, you might as well do your best to pick as many berries as you can, right? One girl would literally fall asleep in her row and manage to pick maybe one or two pots of berries (3.5 quarts per pot) all morning. (Most people pick between 9-15 a day--31-52 quarts.) That is a waste of precious time in my mind. You don't have to be the fastest, but for Pete's sake give it your all

15. Speaking of picking speeds, if you're at all competitive (*ahem* which I definitely am), use that to your advantage. But make sure that you use the total number of pots picked by fellow pickers as well as the rate at which they move down the row to encourage you to do better without becoming sloppy. Don't be afraid to take longer to get down a row. You might be a more thorough picker, resulting in more berries for you and a happier boss

16. I am generally fast in everything I do. I value speed and getting jobs done quickly. This sounds well and good, but it can be a detriment in certain tasks (such as vacuuming, right, Mom E? ;)) When it comes to becoming a strawberry picker, though, speed is a great quality--assuming you can quickly pick the RIGHT berries. 

17. The Right Berries--have their tops in tact, are completely red (NO WHITE!), don't have wholes or bruises or little itty bitty slugs on them. 

18. Be extremely excited and totally thankful when your boss tells you that pickers are allowed to take home as many quarts as they want (after deducting those from their daily tally.) WOOHOO, strawberries!

19. Enjoy the quality picking while it lasts--the season is over in just a few short weeks! 

20. Learn to make jam (and ice cream and shortcakes!). I tried my hand at the cooked/canned jam this year and I think it turned out wonderfully!

June 12, 2012

The One with the Youth Ministry Moment

For months now, we've been building relationships with a new group of teenagers. It takes time to develop trust, respect, open communication, and a sense of unconditional love with a portion of the population who have been burned by friends and hurt by family and abandoned by leaders in the past--or at the very least are feeling extremely insecure with themselves and precariously enter whole-heartedly into relationships. Youth ministry is a delicate position, with each decision serving as a potential foundation for your connection with these students. 

It feels slow-going at times, but then there are moments like these--

a) I decide to plan a last minute girls night, complete with wedding video watching. No big schedule, just hang out girly time. Two of my beloved girls showed up an hour before the "start time" of the evening and it was not the least bit inhibiting. Together we made strawberry shortcakes. I taught them how to "cut in" butter and how to hull and macerate strawberries. We decided to grill hotdogs (with Kevin's help), then commented our way through my wedding dvd. They got Kevin to play piano and then coerced the two of us into playing a few duets. It was nearly 9pm before I realized it and never once "hoped" they would leave. (Besides, they know I love them enough to kick them out when necessary. :D) 

b) Monday afternoon, we met in Tim Horton's with 8 students for our weekly "book club"--discussing CS Lewis's The Four Loves. After sugary beverages, deep thoughts, and funny stories were shared, everyone parted ways. I walked home with 2 of the girls to get our car so I could drive them to their respective homes.  As I approached our humble house with these girls, I opened the front door to discover Kevin on the couch along with one of our high school guys--working on geometry homework. A moment later, as I was finishing a quick "tour" of the house with the girls, our front door creaked open again and another student (not in book club, nor "scheduled" to visit), popped in to get a list of summer activities. 

This was a beautiful moment, defining the "open door" policy at the Eccles's house.

I am thankful. 

June 9, 2012

The One with a Personal Strawberry Race

Albion Free Methodist Run for God Group

This morning I ran my second 5k race--the Albion Strawberry Festival 5k--alongside 30 other green-shirted Run for God runners from our church and community. It was an exhilarating experience to be a part of something bigger than myself, bigger than a race. This group had trained together, learned from each other, broken through barriers alongside  one another. This race was the culmination of 12 weeks together. 

Praying together before the race and watching each runner cross the finish line was incredibly moving. I was nearly in tears as I cheered on one runner after another, a part of our larger body. God is so good. 


getting ready at the starting line with Brendan beside me.

In addition to the great cause of the race (CareNet crisis pregnancy center), and the Run for God victories, I had a few momentous achievements for myself. Ten years ago I never would have thought I'd one day be a runner. I was always clumsy, slow, and a tad bit chubby (just being honest.) I classified myself as "unathletic" for 25 years. I started running on my own in college--2005--but it wasn't until this past year that I began to see myself as an athlete. I thank God for the new found abilities I've discovered. May He be glorified as I keep my body--His Temple--in shape and in good working order. 

Right now, I am so thrilled (and a little nauseous, to be quite honest.) I blew my previous PR (personal record) out of the water with a time of 23:49!! That's a 7:41 mile pace (I had only ever run at an 8:12 pace in the past.)*

*If you don't have running knowledge or experience, the average person runs 3.1 miles (a 5k) in 30 minutes or at a 10 minute/mile. 

The one mishap (or possible "badge of honor" if you'd like to see it that way), was the vomiting. Yes, I threw up. Four times. On the final stretch, with the finish line in my sights and the announcer (a church friend) calling my name in front of the cheering crowd I felt the most unavoidable reflex occurring in my throat. I tried so hard to stop it. The first time, I subtly shook it off. (Don't ask.) The second time, just as I heard my friend, Karen, yell, "GO, MEL!!!" there it came. Gross. It was all I could do to make it to the finish line. Another friend, Diane, was eagerly waving me onward as she waited at the finish to snatch my number and clock my time. "You can do this!" her face said. And I ran to her with renewed motivation. In the nick of time, she tore off my number and I charged toward a trash can, retching again. 

Once I had time to recover from that experience and walk back to the cheering section, I was starting to feel oddly proud of my vomit experience. And apparently rightly so--I had at least 3 seasoned runners tell me that throwing up comes with the pushing-yourself-to-the-limit efforts. Alright. I'll take that badge of honor


Here's a few photos from the finishing area. You can vaguely see the distraught expression on my face in picture #1 and the second photo has Diane eagerly waving me forward (along with my 23:49 displayed on the clock. (I completely missed that huge digital clock as I was approaching. Totally oblivious.)


Thanks, Diane. I seriously think I would have stopped running if it weren't for you.

Later in the race, as finishers continued to poor in, other Run for God folks started encouraging the runners by running that last stretch with them. As I saw Sara (a friend, church goer, and piano student's parent) coming up the road, I ran out to her and encouraged her to finish. It was exhilarating for me to be beside a first time runner. 
Sara and Me

A few more Run for God people with Brian--a leader--helping them cross the finish line.

As we meandered over to the Awards Ceremony, someone ran up to me and said, "Melanie! You won!" I checked out the Winners Board and there was my name and my time--in first place of the 20-29 year old Females. I've never been so excited!!


Then, when I saw this Overall Finishers List, I was thrilled all over again--
19th Place out of 150 runners.
2nd Female Finisher by 39 seconds. 


Those are stats I am so proud of and completely overwhelmed to claim as my own. This afternoon, as I was recalling the day with my husband, tears streamed down my face when I described this experience. I have never felt so proud of something I've done, something I've worked so hard for, a gift only God could have given--and that I didn't even know I had. Running isn't a natural inclination for me. It is something I've learned to love, an exercise I enjoy, time to meditate and pray, the opportunity to push to the limit and compete with my own abilities. 

Glory be to God for these gifts. 

June 5, 2012

The One with Strawberries and Settlers

Do you ever have those days (or weeks) when there is so much going on you can't seem to find anything to write about? The slower the pace of life, the more time I have to take note of the little moments of joy or hilarity or wisdom or frustration. But when it's one thing after another, moments get easily forgotten. That disappoints me, mostly because I know there have been so many noteworthy instances in the past week or two. Part of me wants to just list the happenings--bullet style; but that would remove all sense of sacredness or importance.

Perhaps I will get around to writing in more detail in the future. But for now this should suffice. 

My latest venture has been strawberry picking for a local farm. I started last Thursday and 2 out of my first 3 days were rainy and cold and miserable. Today was glorious weather, making up for the sogginess. 

I have added biking to my list of activities, since deciding to bike the 4.7 miles to the strawberry farm each morning (we pick from 7-9am). I am not a skilled biker, my leg muscles are carved out for running now and don't seem to appreciate operating in any other fashion. (Which, I believe *ahem* is the whole point of cross training activities such as biking. duh, Mel.) My friend, Kendall, heard me talk about needing a bike helmet and she generously and thoughtfully gifted one to me on Sunday. I feel exponentially safer as I hop on my bike each morning. (I've had enough bike accidents in my past, that I'm always fearing a wipe out.) 

And for a random *bonus* story....

Kevin and I have always wanted an shared interest--something fun we both really enjoy doing. Our favorite shared activity, in all seriousness, is talking. But lately, we've added something to the list--Settlers of Catan . I had played the game many times before but never fully understood it, leaving me frustrated and always in last place (aka even more frustrated). But after playing a round with Kevin's brother and mom, something clicked and I finally started to understand what I was doing and what made the game so much fun. Brian said he played 2 person games all the time--something we never considered (since the rules state 3-4 players, we didn't think it would work.) Kevin and I peeled off the plastic of his brand new game--a Christmas gift from my parents--and we've left the board set up on the dining room table for a week now. Each game only takes about a half hour with 2 players, so we play once a day--sometimes over lunch or dinner--and just LOVE IT.

the end.