Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Teacher Who Influenced My Life

I was privileged to have many wonderful school teachers. Several were born-again Christians who shared my faith. My fifth grade teacher, Miss Dinsmore, inspired me to be a teacher. Miss Mayberry, who I thought was very strict, cultivated my writing. We published a book of poems and short stories that year. But my seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Yates, went beyond the call of duty to pour herself into my life over a period of years.

Although she was a school teacher, I first met Mrs. Yates in church. She was the director of the junior choir, of which I was a member. My family was very musical. Both parents had trained singing voices, and my mother played the piano, mostly by ear. My brother, sister, and I used to sing together when we were preschoolers. Mother wrote many songs, including one for us to sing at Christmas. I sang my first solo, "The Way of the Cross Leads Home," when I was 9 years old. Even my parents were amazed at the big, mature voice coming from their young daughter. Mrs. Yates often assigned solos parts to me after that, and she and I sometimes sang duets together.

I had a strong desire to learn to play the piano, but a growing family of four children left no money for music lessons. My father planned to go into full-time pastoring. While he was working for the airlines, he had brought home an adult piano course that someone had left in the waiting room and had never claimed. With that, I was able to teach myself some basics with Mother calling out, "That's not right!" whenever I hit a wrong note. She could hear what sounded good and could read notes but didn't have time and wasn't proficient enough to really teach me.

Mrs. Yates was a gifted pianist. Somehow, she discovered that I wanted to take piano lessons and offered to give me lessons free. For a whole year, she gave me free lessons. From her, I learned how to play for church. In addition to music from the John Thompson Grade Two piano book, she assigned hymns, one in each key. She showed me how to determine what chords to play along with the melody.

My birthday is December 2. In Alaska, the cutoff date for starting school was November 1, so I was nearly 7 when I started school. That made me one of the oldest in my class. Always mature for my age, I was also the tallest. I'd always been a good student, but when I entered sixth grade, I understood the work before it was taught. In fact, in those days before calculators and computers, I spent math period working out grade percentages for the office while the class did the lesson. On my twelfth birthday, I was allowed to skip into seventh grade with Mrs. Yates as my math and English teacher. She'd promised to give me special help if I needed it. Two months later, my parents assumed the pastorate of the church in Pelican, when my grandparents retired. Not wanting me to have to adjust to another change that year, Mrs. Yates invited me to live with her and her husband for the rest of the school year. We also continued my piano lessons.

The Yates eventually moved to Olympia, Washington. When I attended Seattle Pacific College to study music, their place became my home away from home, where I spent holiday weekends since it cost too much to fly home to Alaska whenever I wanted.  When my husband and I started a church in Gloversville, New York, the Yates drove up to visit us. By then, I was playing for church full time. I was excited to turn the bench over to her and hear her play once again.

Through the years, we have kept in touch at Christmas. They retired in Colorado. It's been years since we've seen each other. As this blog airs, though, my husband and I will have visited her again. She's in her eighties now. Her husband went to be with the Lord in March at the age of 93. We're retired now too, but I still play and sing for church occasionally. Over the years, I've directed church choirs, played the piano for services, and sung solos for the Lord, just as my teacher did years ago. She taught me more than math and English. She demonstrated a life of service to the Lord.

Did you have a teacher or other adult who has influenced your life in a special way?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My Faith Heritage

One advantage we enjoyed as a family that came from my father working for an airlines was free airfare for our entire family on a space available basis. During our ten years living in Juneau, we took three trips by air back to Philadelphia to visit my father's parents and other relatives. I remember flying in the belly of the Pam Am "Strato" Clipper in its comfortable lounge on one occasion when the passenger section was full. Another time, we were "bumped" in Detroit and spent the night sleeping in the airport. These trips gave my Philadelphia grandparents the opportunity to get to know their Alaska grandchildren.

During those trips we also visited our many relatives in Lancaster County, my mother's and grandmother's birthplace, where our ancestor was the first white settler in 1712. Isaac LeFevre, at age 16, was the only member of his family to escape martyrdom at the Revocation of the Edit of Nantes. They were French Protestants, nicknamed Huguenots. Isaac fled with the family Bible baked in a loaf of bread to the Feree home in Strasburg, France, then with them to Holland, and eventually to England, where they met William Penn, who deeded to them a tract of land in Pennsylvania in the Pequea Valley, 55 miles west of Philadelphia. They named their new settlement "Paradise," because they had finally found a place where they could worship God freely. The name of the town remains to this day, and a monument to them stands by the railroad tracks near the spot where U. S. Route 30 crosses Pequea Creek.

We spent many happy hours with my Grandma's youngest brother and his wife in the 28-room mansion, the home in which Grandma grew up, built on Isaac LeFevre's land in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. Our trips always took place in October. A favorite memory is of riding in the wagon behind the harvester and catching the ears of corn that slid through the machinery with the husks still intact. We loved to pull off "the paper," as we called it. Meals made almost entirely of fresh corn on the cob were a special treat to us Alaskans who only ate corn from a can at home.

In Lancaster, we also came to know my Grandma Personeus's sisters and brother who had given their lives in service to God as missionaries. Thus, the seeds of God's call on my life to full-time ministry were planted. And one aunt, associate editor of the Sunday School Times for many years, had also written nine novels, kindling my desire to write books.

Those trips also widened my understanding of our American heritage. In Philadelphia, we visited Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross's House, Christ's Church, the Philadelphia Mint, and the Franklin Institute. We sat in George Washington's pew, read the Declaration of Independence, and brought home a copy, along with our miniature Liberty Bells. The stories of America's fight for religious and political liberty came alive. 

On one trip, we traveled by car to Washington D. C., where we toured the White House, the Capitol building, all the presidential monuments, the statue of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, and witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. 

My heart still swells with patriotic pride as I pledge my allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and sing the national anthem. As I read the writings of our Founding Fathers, I learned of the great sacrifices they made for the cause of freedom and their dependence on prayer and the Bible to encourage and guide them. How much we have lost as the history taught in our schools has been rewritten! How thankful I am for my godly heritage and the religious freedom we still enjoy here in America!

Do you have a faith heritage? Are you passing it down to your children?