The Winding Road

Joanie Mercy

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Roads are interesting.  They lead towards somewhere and away from somewhere at the same time, creating a direct route or a meandering one.  Have you ever had a road follow you?   I did. My road started following me back in college.

I had my road map all figured out – studying music performance.   My professors advised me against it, suggesting music education instead.  Music education?  That would involve teaching – in a classroom – with kids.  I didn’t dislike children, but I wasn’t drawn to teaching them en masse.  I figured I’d become a tutor. I taught private lessons and occasionally conducted master classes from behind a podium, waving my baton.  But conducting a large group of young musicians required little verbal interaction.  I was safe.  No veering off the road for me.

I soon discovered private tutoring didn’t pay the bills.  I needed additional work, so I worked any job that was available: waitress, receptionist, box-folder, secretary, accountant.  Between all of my assorted jobs, I often worked 70 hours a week.  I was happiest when I was teaching.  I was tired of working so much and wondered if the classroom wouldn’t be so bad.  But I also knew I’d need additional education.  The road I was on was starting to feel like driving back and forth on I-70 through Kansas – no offense to Kansans.

I taught adjunct at a couple of colleges, but only for a handful of hours each week.  I went back to grad school for performance.  My rationale was that I would take classes for a couple of years, get a Master’s degree, and with luck, get a full-time position in a college. I battered myself with hours of practice and writing papers.  I eventually acquired not a degree, but a painful performance injury.  I’m ashamed to say that that entire time, I never let God sit in the driver’s seat.  I try and imagine what he was thinking; watching me drive in circles and curly-q’s all those years.  He had a road laid out for me, but I avoided it like the plague.

A few years later, I was married and had a daughter.  I was still tutoring, playing in symphonies, and working full-time.  I watched friends thriving in their careers, happily chattering about their work.  My teacher friends were especially chatty.   I felt resentful that I hadn’t listened to my professors and studied music education.  In my late thirties, I became very sick.  I had an immune system disorder and suffered for three years before having a surgery that left me temporarily disabled for nine months.  I couldn’t work and the FMLA at my job ran out.  I was on unemployment for two years.  I put in applications for every available job, and was hired for none.  I was truly worried.  My “road” was not merely blocked, it was gone.  I grudgingly decided to sub in the public schools.  It would be sporadic, but it would be work – and it wasn’t as bad as I envisioned.  Actually, the kids were not usually a problem – unless they set firecrackers off in the classroom (no joke, it really happened.)  I still taught private lessons, but I could no longer perform as I once did.

The years I was on unemployment were hard.  Teaching became increasingly enjoyable. “Okay, Lord,” I thought, “maybe I can teach in the classroom.  Is this what you were trying to say?” I was facing the one road that I had avoided for two decades. It took a miracle to pick me up, set me on the way, and gently nudge me forward.  That nudge came from Casey Schutt and Cheryl Headley seven years ago.  God was abundantly merciful and kind.  Taking my hands off of the wheel and going where He knew I should go turned into a blessed, joyous adventure!  My first few years at Morning Star were a challenge.  I weekly (daily?) sought Mrs. Headley’s advice, and was constantly tweaking and revising lesson plans. The Morning Star community was always so graceful, so loving and helpful that in time, I felt that I had arrived “home.”  My students and I learn more together each day.  I would not do anything else in the world.  And, I praise God daily for his perseverance and grace in leading me here.

Joanie Mercy and her husband, Frank Drew, are both musicians. Their daughter Angelique is in 7th grade at Morning Star Academy. Mrs. Mercy graduated form Augustana College, attended University of Iowa College of Music, and formerly performed in regional orchestras including the Quad-City Symphony, Knox-Galesburg Symphony, Muscatine Symphony Orchestra and the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra. Mrs. Mercy teaches K-6 Latin and K-8 Music at Morning Star Academy and also conducts the MSA String Ensemble. She currently has 15 private students.

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