364 | Goal! Goal! Goal!

January 4, 2015
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #364: Goal! Goal! Goal!


Dear Family,

Happy New Year! Last year was great. I pretty much stayed close to home and didn’t do much traveling, but I feel as if I got to see the world through your eyes. Family and friends who read my letters either live in or traveled to nearly 40 states and a dozen countries last year, and I’m especially grateful to hear about the many awesome adventures for God that so many of you have embarked upon. I’m proud to have so many close family members and dear friends who sacrifice their time, energy, and resources to bless the lives of others. Each of you is an inspirational example to me.

So, how do you approach a new year? Do you fondly let the old one go, releasing it into the recesses of your memory and push ahead with the new? Some people embrace the new year as if it can bring change in the form of greater prosperity, better health, or a bigger opportunity. As if the day itself can tell the difference from the day before it, we can hope that newness will make us feel better. This is like changing the sheets in a cheap motel and expecting to wake up at a five-star resort. At some point, you have to book a different room.

I’m not the type who is so anxious for the new year that I want to forget the old. I don’t think it’s healthy to so abruptly move on, without taking stock in what happened the previous year. Without looking back at how we did, how can we set achievable targets for our future? I am a firm believer in setting monthly goals based upon my long-term and short-term priorities, but an honest assessment is key to determining where my goals should take me this coming month or this year ahead.

Recently, my priorities have included the music program here at La Palma. I’ve known since the day I was first asked to teach piano that being a piano instructor wouldn’t be the greatest benefit I could bring to this institution. Perhaps that will be a side benefit. No, I knew that what I was really needed for is the planning and preparation stage of the music program. Keeping this overarching goal in mind has helped me stay focused and determined as we’ve had delay after delay getting any keyboards shipped in from the donor church. With over 100 guys signed up for individual piano lessons, I’ll have my hands full coordinating everything once the keyboards show up.

The fact that we have no instruments yet has not deterred me in the least from my goal of establishing the music program here. I’m attempting to turn it from a garage-band, hangout-and-jam type thing into a more structured, music conservatory-style program with qualified teachers using curriculum to instruct, while students of all kinds (not just musicians and their “homies”) have set practice schedules in between their personal one-on-one lesson times.

This is going to take not only having all the right organizational systems in place, but also the continued cooperation of staff and a willing group of guinea pig inmates in order to see the culture shift happen. I admittedly have extremely high hopes, but I’m willing for the eventual reality to be far different. I just have to do my best with the opportunity that has been given to me.

One way I’m pressing forward without keyboards or piano teaching books is that I’ve created theory pages and music flashcards on the library computers. The flashcards I cut apart with a razor blade (no scissors allowed here!) then laid them out on a roll of packing tape my boss gave me, covering both sides as a sort of makeshift lamination machine before cutting them apart again. Painstaking doesn’t even begin to describe it. Gratefully, one of my new friends has offered to be my personal assistant, helping with any music program projects I need him for. I immediately put him to work after I’d made the first set of flashcards.

The guys in my pod have been the beneficiaries of this initial investment of my time on the music program. Some guys tag along with me on the days we walk to the chow hall, peppering me with music questions. Invariably, a couple of them will come up to me the next day with notes written out of our conversation. These guys are serious about learning to read music and play the piano, and I can’t wait to get started.

I recently held my first music orientation night, with a capacity crowd of thirty guys. I’d planned to have an additional couple of night classes to give an introduction of the upcoming piano lesson classes and the music program to the other interested inmates, but I had to postpone those due to overcrowding. Fifty guys showed up, but my music room is only twenty feet square.

Now my boss, Mr. Lohman, has decided to put all potential classes on hold until we start receiving the keyboards. This includes not only theory classes but all the other classes I am accustomed to teaching. putting a bit of a slowdown on their eventual implementation dates.

I could see this as setback, but I’m choosing to use this time to be innovative and to get better prepared. No matter when classes officially start, I’ll be ready for it, confident that the timing is in God’s hands.

So, as I look back at last year, I would never have thought that my journey in here would’ve led to this point. I feel as if God has carefully prepared me for this next stage, and I’m gearing up for the difficulties ahead. I know that no matter what happens, I need God’s wisdom and continued favor on my life, so that I can be used up for His glory. This, after all, is my greatest privilege and highest goal.