Tuesday, October 20, 2015

To my second grade teacher with great gratitude

We all have teachers that have had a huge impact in our lives. I have been blessed by many good teachers over the years but there is that one teacher I have often thought of over the years. She was
truly a profound blessing to me and I had no way of being able to express my thanks for her beautiful impact in my young life. We moved a lot when I was young and back then there was no email or Facebook to easily keep in touch. Over the years this teacher has come to my mind from time to time though I never tried to find her. I figured it would be too hard to try to track her down, after all she was young and not yet married so her name would be changed, and well, life just has a way of getting busy. Then one day (don't you love those three little words "then one day"!?)...

Then one day, I had to find my way to Rain Forest International school from my apartment. Steve was at the hangar with the truck so I called a local taxi man to arrange for a taxi ride to school so I could start leading the senior girls small group time after school. The taxi man informed me he was busy that day but another taxi friend of his was picking up my neighbor, Heidi H, and maybe I could ride with her. I hadn't officially met Heidi yet but we live in the same community so I walked over to her house and introduced myself and said I had heard she was taking a taxi to the school and asked if could I tag along. She was surprised to hear I knew of her plans but chalked it up to missionary community and said I could jump in with her.

During that ride to school we sat in the back of the taxi getting to know each other. While we were bumping along deeply rutted roads she mentioned she and family were most recently from Philly. Then she mentioned a school her husband had worked in previously and my jaw literally dropped. No joke I was in the back seat gaping at her with my mouth open wide in surprise. It turned out her husband worked at the school I had attended for one year in Philly after we returned from three years of living in England. The story of my favorite teacher Miss M poured out of me and Heidi thought she KNEW HER!!! Can you believe it??! She was pretty sure it must be the same one because Heidi was a nurse and once took care of Miss M's dad so she knew Miss M's maiden name and the age matched up and she would write some emails and see if the Miss M she knew was the Miss M I knew.

This blog is dedicated to wonderful teachers that teach more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. This is for all the teachers out there that breathe life into learning and creativity and treasure and love kids along the rough patches and smooth ones. This is especially in thanks to a loving God who answered a prayer I never prayed to get to thank and reconnect with a very special teacher from my tumultuous second grade year while my world was in the midst of seismic changes. These are the emails between Miss M and me, posted with Miss M's permission. I am guarding Miss M's privacy as she would prefer to keep a low profile internet-wise so I have slightly edited some things to keep that privacy in check.

Dear Miss M, 
I was thrilled to get to know Heidi H. in a taxi ride the other day. I was blown away when she mentioned her husband worked at Phil-Mont near Philly. I attended Phil-Mont right after my family returned from England. My dad was an officer in the Air force stationed there for 3 years. I started school in England and attended a village school in the British school system from the age of 5 to 8. I had a developed a full blown British accent and had learned the king and queen succession with all the other British children. Transitioning to America was a huge challenge. Our entire family had come to Christ in England. American missionaries serving the air force military base led us to Christ. I had been abused by a neighbour during that time in England as well as having been verbally abused by my headmaster who repeatedly told me I was stupid and would never learn. He wasn't a fan of Americans apparently. I was the only American student in that small school and the kids followed along with the Headmaster's contempt for me. I didn't tell my parents about the abuse even though they knew I was greatly troubled. Back then it wasn't talked about much and so my classic symptoms of abuse were misunderstood and my parents didn't know how to help me. By God's love and grace He saved me profoundly and personally. I carried a deep shame about what had happened and knew that God loved me anyway. He chose me and it was transformative in my life. 

When I attended Phil-Mont I was still very raw and hurt though saved and loved by God. I believe it was the year of '80 - '81, although I'm not sure I haven't had the time to check with my mom. My younger brother and I were there on scholarship while my dad attended Westminster. I was bossy and friendless and far behind the American system. I remember Miss M being a beautiful kind presence in my life. She put candy in our desks if they were tidy and organised. I remember clearly her teaching on the cycles of the Israelites in how they were faithful for a time but slipped away becoming distant, disobedient, and cold towards God. It was a lesson I have never forgotten, at the time I vowed to never be so faithless and fickle as those Israelites... A heartfelt vow for sure but one I have broken countless times no doubt! I also clearly remember her taking the time to talk with me one recess on the blacktop. I had probably driven kids away with my bossiness and Miss M came up and gently told me that in order to have friends I must first be a friend and sometimes play games I don't want to play and by doing so I will be a better friend and others will want to play with me. That gentle advice changed the way I interacted with other kids and helped me to finally make some friends. I felt safe with Miss M and so wanted to please her. After being the only American girl in a small British school with a verbal bully of a headmaster, Miss M was a miraculous change.

I have thought of her over the years. She had a profound impact on me during a very fragile and vulnerable time in my life. She spoke kindness and blessing into my being. I will never forget her. I really hope that you are the Miss M I have written about. I can't imagine there were too many Miss M's that taught second grade at Phil-Mont near Philly in the early 80s. If you are her it's really ok if you don't remember me. I remember you and have always wanted to thank you for the impact you made in my life. Thank you for teaching me how to be a friend. Thank you for your safe and kind presence in my life during that tumultuous transition between England and the US, between hating school and thinking I was stupid to liking school and feeling safe, and perhaps not so stupid. That year at Phil-Mont changed me for the better. You were a big part of that change. My maiden name was Morris, I was a skinny redhead with crooked teeth, an abundance of freckles, and emotional issues. I was probably a challenging student to work with since I was so overwhelmed academically and stubbornly resistant to learn new concepts. I had a British accent at the beginning of the year but quickly lost it in an effort to blend in and be more like everyone else. My family moved back to my parents hometown of Dallas, TX by the beginning of my third grade year. 

Phil-Mont was the only private Christian school I ever attended. God used it to help reinforce my new life as a child of God. I am now married with 3 kids. Our 2 oldest are in college in the states our youngest is a senior at the school where Mr. H teaches. My husband and I are missionaries in Cameroon, my husband Steve is an ordained pastor and a missionary pilot and I am taking classes online to compete a degree in Psychology with Christian Counselling. I hope to use that degree to become a member care specialist for missionaries and their families.

Thank you for teaching me more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. God used you mightily in my life.

With Great Gratitude,
Alace (Morris) Straw

Alace,

Thank you for your extremely kind email. How very extraordinary that you remember so many things about that school year. I’m honored that you remember me, as your second grade teacher, with such fondness. 

Alace, I’m so sorry that you had such a difficult time in England during the early years of your life. No child should ever, ever, ever have to go through what you went through. Oh, the depravity of man - how sad God must be! The sin was not yours but you have had to overcome the effects of that sin as you grew up. God loves you, as you know, and He will always sovereignly care for you because you are His child.  It was a blessing to me to read your email and learn how God has worked in your life.

You would have been in the 2nd grade class that I taught during my 2nd year of teaching. Wow - so many years ago! I loved teaching 2nd grade. I have such fond memories of that time. I especially liked teaching the unit you mentioned about the Israelites during the time of the Judges. I’m sure you didn’t know this but I had only become a Christian 4 years earlier. I didn’t know many things about the Bible myself. While I taught the 2nd graders Bible at Phil-Mont, using the Bible curriculum published by Christian Schools International, I was learning myself! Isn’t God amazing? 

Also during that time I rented a room in the home of a Godly woman who became my spiritual mentor, my 2nd “mom” and eventually another grandma to my children. It was through her that I grew in the faith even more and, happily, met my wonderful husband D. We raised 3 daughters who all went through Phil-Mont. The daughters are all now married and my husband and I are grandparents of 4 (going on 5 in October) grandchildren.  

I taught 2nd grade 2 more years after the 1980-1981 year and then left to raise our children. When I went back to work, the Lord provided a job at Phil-Mont again. I am now 3 years out, happily retired and gloriously loving being a grandmother!! 

I was happy to hear all your news. I’m sure you will do well as a member care specialist once you complete your degree. Your sensitivity to others’ cares, worries and stresses will be extremely helpful to them. You will, I’m sure be a good listener and, because of that, you will be a good friend.

Thank you for understanding that I might not remember you after all the years. After the Phil-Mont school year starts next week, I will go into the office and ask them to dig out of the archives the picture of my 1980-1981 2nd grade class. I expect to see "a skinny redhead with crooked teeth and an abundance of freckles” in the picture. I’ll write again after that picture jogs my memory.

God Bless You and Your Family,
Miss M

Dear Miss M,

I loved getting your response! It is amazing how God allows such wondrous moments of connections! Moving around so much gave my life a transient quality back then, perceptions of events during that time often has a translucent quality; it’s wispy thin and feels fragile like it was maybe a story I read long ago rather than my own personal history. Getting to reconnect with you has solidified, so to speak, a vibrant piece of my early story. I would really like to share these emails in my blog as another evidence of God's goodness in my life. I've shared this story with my small group at RFIS, Rain Forest International School, in response to one of my senior Cameroonian girls asking how we can know for sure God loves us personally and uniquely. I started with sharing how intricately God has designed our physical bodies since I am learning afresh in my online psych class just how fearfully and wonderfully we are made. Then I told them this story of reconnecting with you after all these years through Mrs. H recently. I also told them that I got to talk with my mom about the circumstances of how I got to be at Phil-Mont. I thought both my younger brother and I had attended Phil-Mont and mom corrected me and told me the story of how it all happened.
Apparently at the time there was a teacher's strike happening and the start of school was to be delayed. My parents were very concerned about this since they knew I was already so far behind the US system after three years in the British system. They shared their concerns with their neighbors and the neighbors recommended Phil-Mont. My parents couldn't afford a private school and the same neighbors said there were scholarships available. My parents prayerfully applied for the scholarship, my dad even made a pie chart of our finances at the time. They prayed though out the application process. They went before a board and shared their testimonies. Mom said not a dry eye was to be found around the table after she told her testimony. (Our testimonies are linked, but that's a story for another time) One day while they were praying about this and other things my mom got up and wrote down a number God had given her. After the prayer my dad asked if God had given her a number. She responded that He had and Dad asked to see it since God had given him a number previously during a prayer. They compared numbers and found it was the same number. They didn't know what it meant but knew God was up to something. Later they received a call from Phil-Mont saying that I had received the scholarship. Whilst on the phone with the man my mom asked how much the scholarship was and the man responded a bit briskly that it wasn't necessary to know the exact percentage off of the regular tuition we had received. My mom then told him about the number God had separately given my mom and dad and she wondered if it had anything to do with this scholarship. She now can't remember the exact number but it was something around 60-something. Something. It was a very specific number. The man went to check, when he came back on the phone he was a bit choked up and told my mom that the number she gave him was the exact percentage off of the regular tuition I had been awarded for the year. 
Isn't that an amazing story of God's detailed work in our life at the time? If I hadn't shared a taxi with Heidi and we hadn't shared a bit about our histories back in the US we never would have made the connection of having you in common. I wouldn't have reconnected to thank you after all these years as an answer to an unspoken prayer. Then I never would have been prompted to ask my mom about how I came to be at Phil-Mont back then and I would have missed out on another vibrant story of God working intricately in my life! I think this story is a foreshadow of heaven! We will get to peel back the veil and see all these wondrous threads and storylines that knit us together in a brilliant tapestry of living fabric richly woven together by The Master Artist, Creator God, Lover of our souls! 


Many Blessings,
Alace (Morris) Straw

Alace,

Greetings! Fall has arrived here on the east coast. The temperatures are cooler and the leaves are starting to drop. Time to break out the jackets.

I hope this email finds you well. Thank you for your email and the wonderful story of how God brought you to Phil-Mont. Wow! God does work is amazing, mysterious ways. I’m often drawn to the mental picture of that tapestry you mentioned in your email whenever I contemplate the workings of God. We see such as small portion of that tapestry now but - some day when Jesus comes back - we will see such a beautiful, magnificent tapestry when we are in heaven with Jesus and come to understand all the workings of God. 


Please call me L - after all, you are an adult now :-)

Blessings,
         L

Miss M found a class picture from our 1980-81 school year and emailed it to me. Sure enough there I was on the bottom left corner with red hair, crooked teeth, an abundance of freckles, and all those emotional issues hidden underneath my shy second-grade smile. And there was Miss M, at the top right corner, my beautiful and kind second grade teacher, an unsung hero. 


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