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Rings of Growth

The rain wasn’t a downpour – just a steady drizzle. Enough to ruin outdoor plans of biking, yet not enough for joyful puddle stomping. In an effort to get out of the house, away from computer screens, my husband and I meandered through an antique store. As we turned the corner of another crowded aisle, my husband stopped short and exclaimed, “There’s your tree!” Hidden at first, my eyes then caught sight of the large metal rusty circular frame with a majestic tree etched in the middle. I could already hear my boys reciting Psalm 1 together, echoes from over 25 years ago when my husband and I pleaded that God would plant them by streams of living water.


Trees set my heart at peace. From wind-blown evergreens to white-barked birch; from towering date palms to sprawling old oaks; Each tree elicits memories of years gone by.


Some of my earliest memories with my father was planting pine trees. Together, my dad, siblings, and I would move steadily down each prepared row. Dad carefully created small holes with a trowel into which we would carefully place a single little pine-tree sapling and some water. We carefully pushed the dirt back in, making sure there were no air pockets left that would dry out the roots. One at a time, over and over, we planted more than 5000 trees.


Over the years, the care of those pine trees continued – pruning back branches, moving crowded trees, watering in days of drought, and adding the right fertilizer at the right time. And there was waiting…. lots of waiting. Growth takes time. Those little saplings now tower over 40 feet tall. Tall, stately, strong.


Moving to the Middle East, the trees changed. In the middle of the sand-swept desert, towering date palms flourished. In a land where little naturally grows, the date palm provides fruits for food, a trunk for building homes and fronds for shade and protection from the desert winds and heat. And the beauty of a glimpse of green in a brown environment can’t be overstated.


Arriving in Charleston, the trees changed yet again. The live oak of South Carolina is a massive, wide-spreading tree with incredible branches that often rest their elbows on the ground before reaching heavenward once again. Standing beneath the branches of one of the oldest (estimated to be nearly 400 years old) with my youngest son, I can’t help but wonder what stories it could tell if it could only talk. What could we learn by looking into its rings of growth? Were some years harder than others?


The rings of a tree’s trunk tell the story. Year upon year, ring upon ring, growth is revealed. Some rings are wide, declaring a year of great growth! Some are narrow; perhaps a year of drought, or a year of struggle. And yet every ring contributes to the strength of the tree’s trunk. From a tiny acorn to a mighty oak, each year a little more growth.


The same is true with you and I and children. Growth happens over time. It takes careful planning and constant care, weathering the stormy days and sunny days alike. Some years we see great growth! Celebrate! At the same time, be aware of pride that can seep in making you believe you caused the growth. Rather, give thanks to God for what He is doing. Take note of the practices, people, and places that rained down and helped that tree to grow. Those years when the rings of growth seem smaller than we had hoped? Don’t become discouraged. Press on. Ask the questions, seek the answers, come alongside another ‘tree’ for added strength. How can I help my child add rows of growth? What habits need pruning to give them more light? What nutrients need to be added? Who can help? “The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions.” (Levi-Strauss)


What part can you play in your classroom with the students God has placed under your care to develop wide rings of growth? Come experience how to deepen your students’ thinking, ring upon ring, through the use of questioning and Socratic discussions. The Socratic method of teaching is based on Socrates' theory that it is more important to enable students to think for themselves rather than to merely fill their heads with "right" answers. He regularly engaged his pupils in dialogues by responding to their questions with questions, instead of answers and taught them how to be questioners. As Socrates once stated, “All thinking begins with wonderment.”


That large, metal, rusty circular tree now hangs on my living room wall for that constant, gentle reminder that growth is ring-by-ring. And ring-by-ring we have the joy of seeing students grow. “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psalm 92:12 – 15)


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