A sixth grade girl stood outside on a fall evening and looked up into the night sky that gleamed from light years away. That year, we lived in Happy Valley at the base of the 3,000 feet Appalachian mountains that I called home. The valley wasn’t all that wide, maybe 300 feet, so we felt sort of closed in and off from the rest of the world. Sure, there were places in the town of Hazard where the valley was much wider, but even still, our town was and remains nestled among the coal lined mountains of eastern Kentucky. Undaunted by city street lights, the stars shine brilliantly over these mountains. That fall evening was no exception. One evening, under one star-filled sky, one amazing teacher changed me forever. That night I ceased to be just another student in a classroom, I became a Galaxy Girl.
There were four of us girls: my sister Sandy, my cousin Debbie, our friend Linda, and myself. Our teacher, Don Smith, changed our lives during the few years he lived in the mountains. A place where people and customs were foreign to his mid-western upbringing. He was a school teacher who truly understood that teaching is not imparting knowledge but rather imparting a love for learning.
That night in the valley, he stood in our midst outside of the mobile home I shared with my parents and four siblings and he pointed out the big dipper, the north star, and several other stars that he knew by name of course. He wanted to show us the world. He wanted to introduce us to the possibility that life was bigger than we could see and that our universe was more vast than the daily world we existed in.
I truly believe that is the year that I saw God as more than just a figure in the sky. He became personal to me. I learned from Mr. Smith that God had created me and placed me under the galaxy of stars on purpose and for a specific purpose. From that day to this, I’ve never looked up at the night sky without being in awe of the God who created such a beautiful ceiling for us to look up to and such an incredible window for Him to look down through.
Seasons of life change and things continue to cycle and now I am the teacher. This year, I will introduce our son, Spencer, to the night sky as we study astronomy. I’ve been pointing out the night skies to him since he was a toddler. Often we look up and he will say, “God did a good job tonight.” This year in school, we will go deeper and learn more about the stars and universe and somehow I hope to impart to him the same gift Don Smith gave to me. The realization that God created him and placed him under the galaxy of stars on purpose and for a specific purpose.
Standing in the yard of a mobile home in Happy Valley, two miles north of Hazard, Kentucky on a beautiful fall evening, a young girl was changed forever and went to sleep unaware of the gift she had been given. I still have report cards that Don Smith signed and after that night in the valley, under the stars, he would always sign “To My Galaxy Girls, Don Smith.” He made each of us feel special, valued, and he convinced us that teaching us was a joy.
Who are the teachers in your life that have changed you in profound ways? Perhaps as school is about to begin again for another fall term, this would be a great time to let them know you are aware of the investment they made in your life.