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Monday, April 19, 2010

First Step: Caring

A ragtag bunch they were, for sure. They’ve been labeled “teens at risk”; in street lingo some were “space cadets”, wandering around in a drug-induced fog or coming down from the latest high - their solution to dealing with life’s harsh realities. Each carried a load of baggage: a military father killed too young; parents divorcing with a gay lover moving into the home; a sexual relationship with a 30-something man; a severely dysfunctional family involved in drugs and alcohol; scrapes with the law; Attention Deficit Disorder; Bipolar Disorder; depression...

It‘s no surprise that these kids did not succeed in school. They copped out, flunked out, dropped out, and eventually came to the small, private alternative school where I taught. These 13 - 16 year olds were simply “my students” and I tried to offer them all the respect, support, structure, and motivation that I could. It was not easy. I always laid out my ground rules; they always tried to figure out ways around them. My expectations were high because I felt they were capable of good work and to expect anything less would be shortchanging them. I tried to make this clear, but they had a hard time believing it and the struggle was constant. Even so, there was something about these raw little survivors that I liked - they had grit.

One spring, as we waded through the plant kingdom, I had them do a close-up study of seeds. In typical teenage fashion, they thought the subject was oh too booooring. I mean, just how interesting can a dumb seed be? Seeds don’t DO anything! Being used to their ho-hum attitude and disinterest, I was not surprised by the blank faces as I hauled in bean, lentil, wheat, corn and barley seeds, paper towels and magnifying glasses. Most of them had sprouted seeds in grade school, they explained, and it was definitely not their idea of excitement. One launched into a teacher’s nightmare tale of what all he had discovered could be done with the experimental seeds when the teacher was not watching. I cringed.

Nevertheless, over the next few weeks I dove into the “life of the seed”. They reluctantly played along with me, although they really did not seem to care. They went through the motions - soaked the seeds, laid them out on damp paper towels, cared for and studied them daily, kept records. Each day I had new questions; they puzzled over the not-so-obvious answers. Sometimes, they had no answers and I explained that was OK - life’s answers are often hidden from us. I could not believe their excitement when the first seeds began to sprout, when they could spot the embryo plant, identify the stem and root ends, differentiate between the one and two-leaved kinds, see the young plants gradually turn green and grow toward the light. Then they had questions: “How does the baby plant know which way is up?” “How long can it live without dirt?” “Can it grow as well under artificial light as in the sun?” My seeds had been planted - they wanted to know.

Soon, we’d done all that I’d intended and I told them to dump the scraggly little plants so that we could move on to the next project. Dump the plants? You’d think I’d asked them to shoot their dog. Oh NO - they wanted to transfer the small seedlings to soil so they could continue growing.

They wanted to care for them.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
2 Corinthians 4:6 - 9

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