Risky Business

Patty’s Giving Garden

A few years ago my friend Patty started a lovely tradition in her St. Augustine neighborhood. During the summer she gathers blooms from her garden—the results of seeds planted in early spring—arranges them simply in dear bouquets and places them in an array of containers—glass vessels that previously held olives, wine, jam. The flowers are placed on a small table by the side of the road and a hand painted sign hangs nearby encouraging passer-byers to select a bunch to carry home. Patty’s “giving garden” is a sweet gesture that brings joy to friends and strangers alike.

I, too, have a small garden and this season have enjoyed charming flowers of every hue. Patty’s “giving garden” inspired me and caused me to wonder, “Could I do the same?” So I gathered jars, made a crude sign (not as cute as Patty’s but workable) and set about making a few small vases. A pine table was placed at the end of my own driveway and upon it I placed four delightful bunches. I then waited.

Now placing free flowers at the end of one’s drive may sound like a simple act of random kindness, something even a child could do, but I was shocked at how vulnerable it made me feel. Would my neighbors, rushing by on their morning power walks, find me silly? Would those casually strolling find my small vases unappealing? What if no one took them? Would they reject my flowers . . . and, on some level, reject me?

Laugh if you will but I confess that setting those flowers out made me feel incredibly vulnerable. I even texted Patty and asked her if she’d ever felt nervous. Her response encouraged.
“Of course I have. We all want to be appreciated or have our ideas embraced and it’s scary to think something we do might be rejected. It’s kind of risky putting those flowers out there.”

Risk. Risky. These words are often used to describe negative situations. At risk. Potential risk. Risky business. A risk is an act that appears to come with, well, risks. Making a risky choice could bring with it the chance of loss or failure. The flip side, however, is that risks can open doors to exciting new possibilities.

I don’t consider myself a risk-taker. Just like my hesitancy of setting out hand-picked flowers as gifts to strangers, my fear of rejection – of people not liking me – too often drives my personal agenda.

What will they think?

How will that look?

Will they approve?

There is another version of myself, however, that believes risks are blessings. Move to Papua New Guinea as a single woman? Why not? Get married in the jungle? Sure. Kenya? I hear the weather’s nice. Adoption? If you can’t bring yourself to say no the answer is probably yes. Leave the Department and move to the east coast of Florida? Even at that, this Gulf of Mexico girl said yes. Looking back, I can attest that the very things that have brought the most intense joy and peace have been things that involved a huge leap of faith. There have been hardships aplenty but most of those were not the result of taking a chance. Most hardships are simply the things of life.

I now find myself making another choice. For several years I’ve been involved with the work of the nonprofit Center for the Collaborative Classroom (CCC), an organization that brings together social-emotional learning with relevant literacy instruction. I have watched dedicated teachers transform their classrooms as they apply best practice instruction built on a foundation of social emotional strategies. CCC believes that how we teach matters as much as what we teach. When the opportunity arose to join this non-profit as an educational consultant, there were obvious questions. At my age? Isn’t it safer to stay in a state retirement system? What if it doesn’t work out?

At the end of the day it was an easy decision. My work with public schools, and especially my work with St. Johns County School District, has been beyond rewarding; I am a better educator because of my colleagues and their wisdom. Leaving is bittersweet indeed. But my passion in supporting educators as they support students and families, especially as the assault against public schools grows louder and uglier, leads me down a new path. Our profession needs to equip students to listen with integrity and disagree respectfully; working with Collaborative Classroom will allow me to be a part of that much needed and important conversation. I am excited and incredibly humbled at the opportunity.

The first day I placed flowers by the side of the road only two vases were picked up; one by a known neighbor and the other by a little girl walking by with her mother. I called a friend and told her to come by and pick up the other two. A few weeks later I decided to try it again. I placed the flowers out and actually forgot about them until a few hours had passed. While working in the yard, I watched a man and his dog amble by. The man stopped and I heard him say to his pooch, “Look at these. I think we should take these home.”

I stepped out where he could see me and said, “I’m so glad you stopped.”

He replied, “My wife loves fresh flowers and she’s not feeling too well today. I think these will cheer her up. Thanks!”

My risk at being laughed at resulted in cheering someone up. Hopefully my risk in forging down a new career path will result in change that makes a difference. The bottom line is that none of us will know unless we just do it. Take a risk; you may be surprised where it leads.

19 Comments

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19 Responses to Risky Business

  1. Margie

    Lovely! Best wishes on a new beginning!

  2. Dee

    Sheila, I always look forward to your stories. They are always so inspiring. Thanks for sharing & keep on sharing.

  3. Stephanie Evans

    Once again you made me cry. You are an incredible writer and so very wise. St. John’s County has been blessed to have your wisdom. Now CCC and all the teachers you support through their work will be blessed as well. I wish you the very best in your new venture!

  4. Meredith Strickland

    A year ago I made a life changing decision. Truly, the hardest part is making the decision. The interim between leaving a known entity and surging forward to the unknown is fraught between second guessing and excitement not to mention the tears you shed with the thought of whom you’ll miss. Then comes the good part which is plunging in, leaning forward and feeling refreshed at a new opportunity . I wish you well in this next step of your journey. Like me, you will be changed and effect change and love every minute.

  5. Patricia Kizer

    Just heard last week that FAITH is spelled RISK! That is from 2017 Indiana church camp preaching!

  6. Mary Beth Martin

    Sheila, Your work with CCC teachers and students will be as fresh flowers to your neighbors. God bless you.

  7. Donna King

    Loved this. You make a difference wherever you are. I love the flower idea. Might try it.

  8. Emily Roberts

    Wonderful story especially as I know both both of you incredible givers and risk takers. Love to you and patty both.

  9. Cinde Carden

    You are amazing and inspiring! I think I’m going to take that risk also! Congratulations Sheila! Keep writing! I’m going to keep painting and doing my art work and maybe, just maybe it will inspire or bless another.:)

  10. Angela

    Always inspiring me to take my own risks. Beautiful read. Fabulous inspiration!

  11. Paula Chaon

    Sheila,
    What an exciting opportunity! Your article is truly inspiring- thank you! All the best in your new endeavor- it sounds amazing ❤️

  12. Linda Edge Hudson

    How very exciting for you! Mazel t ov! Leave it to you to be able to expand your horizons yet again.

  13. Catie Grimes

    Bloom where you are planted, right?! The pots may change and the roots need to settle in, but you, my friend, are the most fragrant flower in our education greenhouse. Thank you for making it more beautiful for us. XO

  14. Sherie

    You inspire us Sheila, Your wods reveal what most of your followers/ readers feel and experience through this lifes journey. God bless you on this new endeavor..

  15. Sherry

    Amazing, as always! Love you and your outlook! Blessed to have gotten to know you and learn from you! God’s blessings on you as you continue to learn and teach! xoxo

  16. Dawn Castilleja

    Welcome to the tribe, Sheila! So happy to have you join CCC in this important work!

  17. Amanda Riedl

    Oh sweet friend, Mrs. Shelia. You will certainly be missed. Although our time was short together, well, 5 years, you taught me, cared for me, nurtured my thinking, challenged me to get smarter, and gave me inspiration through your life. Thank you for reminding us that although risk-taking is scary, so many times, there is a hand(God’s hand) that is gently guiding that risk for something or someone greater. Your new journey will make a difference in the lives of many people, especially our littlest friends. Keep writing, always so inspiring! Love you lady!

  18. Naz

    You hit the nail on the head: vulnerability. This has been coming up repeatedly for me this week. I admire how you craft words and engage your readers. The comments are uplifting as well. Good luck on the newest adventure of your life.

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