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Piano Prayers

Kathleen Kohler

Bethany tugged on my arm. "Please can't we buy a piano? I could take lessons from Amy's mom."

My daughter's friend Amy lived two blocks down the street. Her mother held a degree in music and taught piano lessons to neighborhood kids after school.

A torrent of emotions welled up inside while I listened to my daughter make her case. My mind flooded with scenes of the past year. When my husband lost his job we spent weeks living on milk and potatoes, beans, popcorn, and Russian tea cakes. Cheap and filling. We had three young children to provide for, and a mortgage.

During the day Loren looked for work. At night, through tears, we cried out anguished prayers to God. After twelve months of odd jobs and unemployment, we relinquished our house to the bank. We sold most of our belongings and said goodbye to the friends we'd made in Wyoming. On a snowy day in February, we loaded what few possessions we still owned into our van and returned to our home state of Washington.

My husband found a job the first week. But having moved a third of the way across the country and now crawling our way back from financial ruin there was no extra money to buy a piano, let alone pay for lessons.

"Bethany, I'm sorry, but we just can't afford …"

"Please Mom you don't have to buy me anything else, not even for Christmas or my birthday?"

I stopped stirring the chocolate chip cookie dough, and set the big yellow bowl on the counter. My little girl's bright blue eyes sparkled with hope.

A simple request, yet something her dad and I could not provide. My own unrealized childhood dream of wanting to play the piano taunted me. I hesitated, then grabbed her hand and said, "Let's pray."

As we walked into the living room to sit on the couch, thoughts of doubt raced through my mind. What if God doesn't answer? What if He doesn't care that an eleven-year-old girl wants to play the piano? He'd remained silent when we'd prayed about our house. Would this time be different?

Seated side by side, we held hands. "You start and I'll finish," I said.

Bethany's prayer gushed forth, fueled by the innocent faith of a child.

While she prayed, I pleaded, Oh Lord, she's counting on You. Please don't let her down.

I prayed after Bethany, but my prayer lacked the same fervor as hers.

Two weeks slipped into four, then six. Eight weeks after we'd prayed, my mom called and said, "Your Uncle Steve has a piano and an organ that he's getting rid of. He thought you might be interested."

"How much does he want?" I said.

"I think he's just giving them away," Mom replied.

As soon as I hung up the phone I called my uncle. I hadn't seen or talked to him in several years except for the annual exchange of Christmas cards.

He told me the piano was the same one his aunt had taught him to play as a little boy. For that reason he wanted to make sure it remained in the family, and Bethany had come to his mind. All we had to do was drive to his house in Seattle and pick it up.

"Bring four strong guys," he said. "It's a beast."

On Saturday morning my husband Loren and the boys hauled the piano home. When they pulled into the driveway, Bethany bolted out the front door onto the porch.

It was hard to imagine what the Ellington, an antique upright, looked like when it was new. At some point during her seventy-year history she had suffered through a house fire. The intense heat from the flames left the smooth veneer blistered and charred down one side. A sliver of wood had peeled back leaving a long jagged scar. The veneer on the lid curled around the edges from years of exposure in damp basements.

Despite her age, the piano held a sweet tune. A tuner attributed the fantastic sound to the wood used during construction. "They don't make `em like that anymore," he said.

We purchased a few piano books for beginners. Amy's mother showed Bethany some basics, but full lessons were still a stretch for our budget.

A month later, a house on an old homestead twenty-two miles from town came up for rent. We jumped at the opportunity to trade our 600 square foot cracker-box house for a two-story home on eight acres. Loren and I grew up in the country and wanted our kids to experience the same pleasures of rural life.

Soon after the move, we realized we couldn't run to town whenever we wanted, especially in the winter when snow drifted up to the windows of the house.

Once again we prayed, this time for a piano teacher close to home. But where and how God would provide I didn't know. I couldn't see the broader picture of God's plan when we lost our house in Wyoming. But there remained no doubt in my mind that the Father had heard our prayers and answered when my daughter asked for a piano. Surely, He would provide a teacher.

As usual, I looked at the obvious facts. The town of Silverton, where a small pocket of year round residents lived, lay a mile up the road. Once a mining boomtown, the cabins served as a vacation spot for city dwellers. People from Bellevue and Seattle converged on the area in the summer for the fresh air and mountain experience.

And so we prayed through our first winter for a teacher. When spring arrived, we met our neighbors Stan and Anne who were out for a stroll. They had retired from their jobs in Seattle. Stan spent years as a math professor. And while Anne had worked for the state, she held a masters degree from the University of Washington. In music.

They had decided to turn their vacation cabin into their permanent residence and moved to Silverton the previous spring. Now they wanted to devote themselves to volunteer work and teaching, but wondered how to fulfill their desire living so many miles from civilization.

Anne was thrilled to meet Bethany and discover that God had provided her with a piano student. Anne invited Bethany for one hour lessons every Tuesday at her house. What we could never afford, God provided for free.

When fall arrived, Anne invited our family to Bethany's first piano recital. Bethany's grandparents joined the celebration. The mountain cabin filled with laughter as we squeezed together in the cozy living room lined with chairs.

My heart rejoiced while I listened to my daughter play "Moonlight Sonata." As Bethany flipped through her music book to the next song, I realized I had turned a page in my understanding of God. Though I'd struggled to believe, I felt grateful I had pushed my doubt aside months earlier to make room for my daughter's faith. With my own faith restored, I offered silent prayers of thanksgiving to the Father. I'm sure He too smiled as the little girl seated at the key board performed "Ode to Joy!"

Piano Prayers first published in SEEK 11/20/11 and reprinted in LIVE 05/06/12

© 2010 Kathleen Kohler