“Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” (C.S. Lewis) I am a reader. Ever since I was a young child some of my best friends were books; few things make me more content than being surrounded with bookshelves heavily laden with richly bound volumes that are just waiting to have their pages opened to release the stories of daring rescues, impossible victories, and unlikely heroes. It wasn’t until I reached my high school years that I began to watch movies and I soon noticed a pattern in the popular films: the determined nobody who becomes somebody by holding onto the vision of making a difference. Coaches were the favorites but some were military leaders, a few were pastors, and others were teachers. Yet the story I treasured the most, and still use as the North Star of my vision, is the account of Esther and her understanding that she was placed on the earth “for such a time as this.” You see, I have a story too.
I was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of three. My memories of those years of hospital visits, painful procedures, and chemo treatments are vague at best, but I do remember God assuring me of His presence and instilling in my heart, at a very young age, a firm belief that He is real. I have never stopped wanting to share this conviction with the young people in my life; I want them to understand that they do not have to be adults to know that God is real and they can see Him active in their life – right now! Then I spent a year-and-a-half abroad in West Africa in my middle school years and it was during that time when Jesus placed a true burden on my heart for at-risk youth. At the time I did not have a clear vision for how He wanted me to get involved; I simply knew that they needed a second chance and someone to point them to Him. In my early college years I was deeply impacted by a summer farm internship in Switzerland. Not only did I discover how much I relished farming, I was also able to build lasting relationships with a couple of Swiss young people and it further confirmed to me that God was calling me to outreach for youth and young adults. Following the example of Mary, I treasured these truths in my heart.
In the meantime I continued working as a part-time veterinarian technician on the west side of our island, began to serve in the youth group at my church, worked as a life-skills companion to a disabled neighbor through Easter Seals, interned at a local Boys and Girls’ Club, earned a bachelor’s of science degree in family resources and a master’s degree in education, and became a middle school language arts teacher. The Lord has been my constant companion along the way, faithfully giving me the words to say, the creativity to teach, the patience to give second and third chances, and the heart to love even the most trying and unloveable individuals. And now He has clarified the vision He impressed on my heart so many years ago. It is a vision that combines my passion for education and reaching the hearts of youth, with the love I have for farming and caring for animals.
The vision is a haven of love, hope, second chances, and learning for at-risk children. It will be a small working farm that partners with local schools to offer the opportunity for children to come to the country for hands-on experiences with animals, agriculture, trade skills, and other dimensional avenues for learning. These children maybe at-risk due to learning challenges, low socioeconomic status, or simply boredom that has led to a disconnect with the traditional learning environment that has resulted in social and behavioral challenges. Through consistent interaction in this hope and love-filled atmosphere the children will begin to open their hearts to dream and be enthusiastic about their futures, thus motivating them to take their academics more seriously. And most of all, the most rewarding of all farming will be taking place: that of planting seeds of Truth in these lost hearts. As G.K. Chesterton so succinctly put it, “One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.” Yet for this to happen I will need to draw upon the leadership skills that I have been cultivating through my teaching years.
If I had been asked to describe myself five years ago I would not have included “leader” among my list of attributes. My voice does not rise too easily; I do not enjoy making tough decisions; and telling people what to do is not a favorite pastime. But now I am a teacher and whether I like it or not, I am a leader. The students in my care look to me for guidance, instruction, and affirmation. They trust me to not waste their time and to protect their value as human beings. They come to me with their burdens and to seek counsel on friendships or how to work things out with their parents. They ask me questions about things they don’t understand about God and want to know my opinion on the “big deal” issues that are always being debated in the world. My students watch me as I interact with those in authority over me or with my coworkers; they observe how I treat their fellow classmates; they notice my walk with God and if I follow through on what I say; they are quick to spot any inconsistencies in what I tell them and what I actually do myself.
To be a leader I must be willing to learn. I have learned that I cannot force my charges to think or learn, but I can lead them to it by helping them discover their innate ability to do so. I have learned that I cannot make them be nice to each other, but I can lead them to kindness by showing them how good they feel when they cause someone else to smile. I have learned that I cannot demand respect, but I can lead them to a respectful attitude by assuring them that their future success in life is my passion. I have learned that I cannot change the world for them, but I can lead them to a path that will help them become world changers. I have learned that I cannot love God for them, but I can lead them to Jesus. I have learned that I cannot be a leader on my own strength, but when I follow Jesus He leads through me. Edward E. Hale once said, “I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.”
Thank you for reading my story.
Just wonderful Shelby. May your dream come true-so you can open this path for these young people. You are definately one of my heros!
You are wonderful!!
wow, this one is good, gonna use for another sport but i think it’ll be just as good, BIG thanks 🙂
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