Giving Myself Away

Posted on May 28, 2017

“Giving is true having” ~ Charles Spurgeon

After Joel’s death, I realized how much he had taught me. He had helped me remember who I really was. And he had taught me how to help other kids like himself…help them become successful adults, rather than having their lives cut short in a tragic, needless ending.

            I suddenly felt my life turning a corner.

After all, helping my own children had been quite a crash course in so many ways. They had needed my intense involvement with their education from the time they were in first grade and my husband and I had been told told they needed Special Education. Then as the teen years approached, things began to grow even more complex–as they do in general, but with the addition of their “disabilities” as well as what believe to be their resulting “special abilities”.

When Joel went to The Institute in Montana, I had to learn to micro-manage his education — making sure the classes he was enrolled in  overlapped with Washington State graduation requirements. And therefore, I suddenly became an unofficial High School Guidence Counselor. Then there was his psychiatric situation. The psychiatrist  The Institute was using was not the best, to say the least. She never laid eyes on him. Their sessions were via webcam. I had inadvertently discovered this unsettling fact when at one point, during a “family counseling session”,  I asked Joel how old she was. He replied, “I dunno. I can’t really see her.” That’s when we fired her and I became Joel’s unofficial  psychiatrist. That was fairly simple. Since he could barely stay awake, I slowly reduced his medications. As a result, Joel became more alert, more focused and began to make friends. Soon he was the most popular guy there. He also started getting A’s on his school work and reading classics. That was a quite a surprise.

And on and on it went. I had also been working for 15 years side-by-side with many marginalized students at my mentor’s studio, where I also painted. I began to love helping young people. Especially those  who seemed to have been thrown away. There are many in this situation of limbo and neglect.

They are all around us…


           I decided I wanted to be a teacher.

It wasn’t really that difficult. My very intelligent and resourceful father had taught me to be an entrepreneur. And  although I lack the formal education needed to teach in a public school, there are many programs in Washington State that welcome an art teacher. Especially one who can also teach other subjects, giving the student a chance to earn legitimate credits toward obtaining a high school diploma.

The students working in  these alternative programs are usually unusually unique. These are the kids needing more concentrated attention than public schools, with 30 students jammed into a classroom and struggling teachers working overtime, could offer. God bless every one of those teachers…

As a result of this unfortunate situation, these students often fall unnoticed  through the cracks of a system they can’t fit into. And  I was a “teacher” with 3 and 1/2 years of art college training, 30 years of professional watercolor painting experience and a doctorate in life. But I possessed  no college degree needed for that same system. So I didn’t fit in either…

But do circumstances like these limit what can happen? Not always. What often occurs can and will surprise us…


   Suddenly seemingly random events can  become   impossible to be random.


The mother of a student who painted with me at my mentor’s studio just happened to be the Dean of one of these alternative programs.  And I had just happened to have known her for 5 years. And she just happened to have a young student at this Academy our family had  known since he was 5 years old. Heather, Joel and Dylan had become friends in kindergarten. Dylan was certainly a unique little guy. For years, he frequently walked down the beach, where both our families lived and showed up at our house. This occurred so often, it was never a surprise for him to appear totally unannounced ~ but always fondly welcomed to stay as long as his parents permitted.

As my kids and Dylan reached their teen years, his visits became less and less frequent. In fact, they had all but ceased. Until suddenly one day, at 17…there he was.

Dylan was unaware that Joel had gone down such a destructive path, But the reunion between Heather and him was so natural they immediately became just like brother and sister again. Dylan had always struggled in the public school system. Knowing him well, I believed the problem was not because he was mentally limited ~ but rather that he was too smart. Therfore, according to the eyewitness accounts of my own kids, Dylan loved being the class clown by sarcastically humiliating the teachers. By the time 6th grade rolled around, he had become such a disruption, he was banned from attending public school.  Apparently Dylan didn’t seem to mind this dilemma. But his mother did. 

That day while making dinner, I asked Dylan just how far behind he currently found himself in high school. He replied in an off-hand manner, “Oh, 2 years.” Then I asked him what he was doing about that. Coincidentally, he told me he was attending the very same Academy where my friend just happened to be the Dean.


                So by a non-coincidence, there stood my coincidental first student… Dylan.


After I helped Dylan get his driver’s license and he barely squeaked under the age limit of 20 to graduate from high school with a diploma, I began to teach and mentor other kids. And I simply taught them about life. Again, that was easy~ teenagers of course, pretend they know everything. But their minds are full of questions. And they are always watching every adult in their path for the slightest hint of b.s. Earning a teenager’s trust is very difficult. But once you do, they are suddenly ready to listen to you. And their minds are like sponges for learning. They grill you incessantly with questions that deserve an honest, well-thought answer. No pat-answers. They’ve  heard those already.

Somehow I intuitively knew how to teach and mentor ~ not only because I was Joel’s Mom, but also because I had struggled with my own learning disabilities and other painful, lonely issues when I was growing up myself. I knew what it felt like to be one of those kids…



I also knew the innate healing power of art. There are some things a person understands without being taught. The preciousness of every child is one of those things~



Turning The Key

Every child is a miracle,

each one so open, so reachable.

Their new and shining hearts await;

for they are wonderfully teachable.


Always there exists

a way to reach

inside a child’s heart

and learn to speak their language,

that their training may start.


But it takes a special teacher,

one willing to stop.

With the courage to drop.


The safety of pre-packaged belief ~

so neatly and conveniently shoved

to its lifeless, generic sheaf.


A true teacher who takes the time

and gives the love

it takes to begin to hear.


The Language of Learning

dwelling within each child ~

like an image inside

a rare and gilded mirror.


The so called “limitations”

other people have imposed ~

are they a reality?

Who but God really really knows?


For in that perfect sometime,

the Key held in her hand

will turn, and with a click,

she will understand ~

the miracle is unveiling.


When she hears that click,

it reveals the mystery of

a child whose mind ~

though labeled as slow,

is instead ~

merely far too quick.


The honor to be this teacher

is indeed a precious gift.

Undeserved, unearned ~

and altogether unlearned.



As a hidden wildflower

deep within a wooded glen,

made only for the joy of God ~

untouched by mortal man’s demand.


For it is love alone,

our Father’s perfect love,

spent without restraint.

Pure and unsullied by mankind’s

unloving and selfish taint.


And with the turning of this Key,

begins the beautifully optimal assent ~

Waiting dormant within the heart of every child,

that their gifted lives

for God’s glory may be spent.


Every student needs a teacher,

one who prays for that Key.

For this is the secret,

as the gate swings open, setting free

the potential dwelling deeply inside…


Every beautifully unique,

unspeakably precious ~

God Given Child


                         ~tricia woodworth 

                                     may 5, 2014




everything else seemed to come together... My creativity, my love of helping hurting people, my belief in art as a healing agent and my faith in a God who is filled with love for us all.
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Thank you for visiting my site. If my writing or art connects with you, I’d love to hear from you. I’m also available as an art teacher to students of all ages. In addition, I mentor marginalized students, using art to help them find their unique voice and move toward their full potential.