Gardening · Spirituality · Teachers

Tender Shoots

This weekend I attended the graduation ceremony for Southeast Whitfield High School  to celebrate the students that I knew when they were middle schoolers. Seeing these young men and women, so grown up and excited, walk, strut, and stroll across the football field to accept their diplomas filled me with joy.

Sunset over the graduation

To be honest, I was surprised to see that a few of them made it to graduation. I knew that in their middle school years they had struggled academically, socially and/or economically. Dropping out, not passing, or ending up in trouble were all paths that these students could have taken.  Receiving that diploma was a huge accomplishment, especially during this past pandemic year, which challenged even the best students. 

I was thinking about this as I tended to my baby trees yesterday. For several years, Keith and I have gone each February to the Arbor Day Seedling Giveaway in Calhoun. We bring home armfuls of little saplings in an attempt to replace the many old established trees we have lost to storms, disease, lightning and old age. Our success rate with the free trees has not been the best, but several bald cypress, red tips and oaks now grace our yard, having grown tall and strong from their humble beginnings.

A bald cypress in the front yard.

This year I was slow getting the seedlings in the ground, but I finally planted several dogwoods, cherry barks, and red oaks. They look like sticks stuck in the earth and as I watered and pulled up weeds around them, I saw few signs of life. I wasn’t sure any of them would survive.

 Then the other morning as I was pulling away some grass at the base of one of the dogwoods, I noticed something green. I dug carefully and saw that it was not a weed, but a tender shoot coming up from the base of the tiny tree. In a few days, cute  baby leaves were coming out on its fragile limbs. A tree is growing. The other seedlings are showing similar signs of life. The saplings are not strong yet and to keep them growing, I will need to keep caring for them over the summer.

My baby tree leafing out

Like my baby trees, children need patience, attention and someone to believe in them. I might have given up on some of those young people wearing caps and gowns on Saturday night, but fortunately someone did not. Someone kept their noses to the grindstone, fed and watered them, both physically and figuratively, and told them they could do it. 

Behind every graduate were family members, school workers, ministers, friends and coaches who had encouraged and supported them. As the families clapped and cheered for their sons and daughters, I felt their pride and their hope for their child’s future.

Jesus said, “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” Thank you to all  who helped grow these children into strong young trees, able to withstand the storms of life. 

Back to School · Spirituality

First Day of School

Today is the first day of school for Whitfield County Schools, three weeks later than usual. It is gray and gloomy outside and I’m feeling melancholy, to use an old-fashioned term. This is my second “first day of school” as a retired media specialist, and I feel a little lonely.

I’m missing that first day of school excitement. Educators are the most optimistic people I know. At the end of May they are worn slap out, tired of the paperwork, grades, inventory and all the other “junk” that goes along with wrapping up the school year —not to mention the kids, who are wild by then.

But when the doors open again for the next year, they are ready to hit the ground running. They have planned and cleaned and decorated, and they can’t wait for the students to come. The ‘first day of school’ excitement is not just for children — the adults in the building are just as nervous and jittery as the kids.

This year has its own brand of nerves. The term I’ve heard over and over from my school friends is “fear of the unknown”. No one, including administrators and parents, knows what this school year is going to look like. That adds a layer of anxiety that is different from ever before.

But despite their concerns over distance learning and how to make connections with children they are not even getting to meet, most people I know that work in schools do it because they have a deep and sincere love for the students and families they serve. That’s what makes schools a special community.

The staff at my old school, Valley Point Middle, has extra reasons for excitement — they are opening their spacious, gorgeous new building today. Even though the old building held memories, the staff and students deserve a modern facility that engenders pride. So not only will the students be coming back after a six-month break, they will be seeing the new school for the first time. Everyone will be lost and confused together. It is a historic day and one that I hate to miss.

So today I’m praying. As each school friend or parent posts their first day of school picture on Facebook, I’m praying specifically for him or her. I’m praying for my friends who work the front desk, for the media specialists ensuring all the technology is working for online learning, for the administrators keeping everything running smoothly, for the teachers establishing classroom rules in a brand new world, for those comforting scared children. I’m praying for the students working at home, and for their parents. I hope they feel my prayers for calm and strength.

I’m adding a little prayer for myself. I’ve learned in this first year of retirement that life moves on. Each season of my life has had its positive and negatives, and the same is true of this stage. I love my freedom and the lack of stress, but on days like today I miss that special form of crazy that is the first day of school.

We thank God for you all the time and pray for you. While praying to God our Father, we always remember your work of faith and your acts of love and your hope that never gives up in our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Thessalonians 1:2-3)