Sunday, May 1, 2011

Thank you, Miss Davis

A few moments ago I learned about the passing of Marian Davis, who retired in 1981 as the sixth-grade teacher at what is now known as Trinity Christian School in suburban Pittsburgh. It's perhaps not unusual to give props to teachers who have influenced your life, for good (in this case) or ill.

However, Miss Davis, I realized just a few years ago, holds a special distinction: She was, in effect, my first evangelist.

I came in 1971, in the fifth grade, to what was then the Christian School of Wilkinsburg, and in retrospect it was never a good fit. I was regularly bullied, usually on the bus home from school but also at home and, since I don't come from a classically Christian family where the Bible was the law of the house, many of the concepts of the faith just didn't make sense at the time. Even though I was a fairly bright student, excellent athlete and talented musician, I had trouble building relationships with schoolmates and ended up leaving the school during seventh grade because that teacher and I never got along (indeed, to this day I'm convinced that he hated my guts).

That atmosphere made my year with Miss Davis all the more remarkable and influential.

I'm not sure just how she viewed me back then, but I think I always felt that I counted with her. From her I got a lot of encouragement that in those days came from nowhere else in my life. One day she put me in charge of devotions and the Pledge of Allegiance while she left the room, and at the time I had no idea why she did that.

Decades later, it dawned on me: She was trying to get me to exercise some leadership. (She said later, "You were so timid.")

Every Thursday we had a ritual called the "Number Game," in which two students faced off to guess the answer to math problems that she had on flash cards; the first to guess correctly the first time got a point and moved on. Let me say that, if there existed a Hall of Fame for Number Game participants, I would have been a charter member because the game almost always ended when I was defeated, often with double-digit points (high game 41), while I don't recall anyone else getting any more than nine. Although my extreme success came at the expense of my classmates, I think Miss Davis was pleased to see me do something very, very well and develop confidence.

But it was the spiritual side that Miss Davis first nurtured in me. Once I came into class during one of my angry tirades, which unfortunately wasn't unusual, and she prayed for me -- by name -- that morning. Even in more private moments she was telling me that I needed to become a Christian; today I'm convinced that she had been praying for years for that day to come.

On May 16, 1979, just weeks before my graduation from Wilkinsburg High School, those prayers were answered. That afternoon at the school district picnic, facing my parents' impending breakup and seeing my future in the process -- to say nothing of an eternity separated from God -- I finally threw in my lot with Jesus Christ. I decided to call her three months later, just before going off to Georgia Tech, to let her know, and that was the second thing she asked.

The last time I saw her (in this life, that is) I attended her 94th birthday party in October at the personal-care home between Ellwood City and New Castle, Lawrence County, north of Pittsburgh, where she last lived. A couple I knew from our mutual church and kept in touch with her took some photos of us, and I will keep them in my Bible for as long as I walk this earth.

Whatever her flaws or influence on her other students, for what she did for me alone should earn her the ultimate accolade from God: "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

So here's to you, Marian Davis. And see ya later.


Lucie said...

My husband and I are so pleased to see this tribute to Marian. She was my husband's teacher, as well as living with the family and then George's widowed mother for many years. My husband, George Marsden, went on to become a somewhat well known Christian historian. He grew up with her influence from his earliest days until her death.

We will miss Marian, and thank God for her life.

Lucie Marsden

Dwught said...

It was a pleasure reading about your experience with Miss Davis. In addition to being a great teacher of the three "R's" she was obiviously a blessed teacher of the big "W", The Word of our Lord and Savior. Her special relationship with you and the lasting impact she has had in your life is angelical. Many people including myself have been touched by God's special people. I look forward to receiving your personal introduction to her in the Kingdom to follow.

Mark said...

I went to the christian school were Miss Davis taught, but, went to Reading,Pa.In 6th grade, so I never got to be her student.It sounds like a missed an exemplery teacher of how a teachers heart and dedication should be.Devoted to truth and fulfilled by the bettering of some elses future.She also knew what lasts an eternal life time ,Jesus, here on earth and forever.We will see you soon Miss Davis.God blees your life's work that is still here on earth,Your Graduates.