Best Defense is an Even BETTER Offense!

Garden and Greenhouse

This is a picture of a greenhouse at a public school playground in the midst of Sioux Falls, SD,  The growth, the joy, the learning, and the planning has blossomed in the last five years.  This past September, 2013, began year 6.  On Saturday, October, 26, 2013, the greenhouse which served as the symbol of the first teaching garden sponsored by multiples of local and regional partners, and the non-profit, Ground Works, saw its last day at the pavement locked school.

Students from Northwestern College in Orange City, IA gathered with teachers from Lowell Elementary, volunteers from the neighborhood, and the staff of Ground Works to take down the structure which was originally donated from a Wal-Mart in Pierre, SD,  4 of the people who were part of the original build and dedication donned gloves and dismantled the symbol, which for 5 years has been such a source of hope and pride.

You may ask why this had to happen.  1 word:  Vandalism.

Short, not sweet, but certainly to the point.

A flourishing  garden naturally lends itself to some curiosity.  The sight of purple eggplants growing in the sun provides as much temptation as  ripe tomatoes hanging from their vines.  Some innocent exploration and the occasional splat is understandable and expected.  Hey, at least they are in the garden and taking enough time inspecting to cause a little commotion.  Even the innocent removal of a watermelon or pumpkin from its moorings provides a moment of learning for young hands who try to attach it after its been plucked.  One can smile at that and use it as a learning and teaching moment of  growth, science, and measurement.  The possibilities are endless for instruction.

HOWEVER!!!!! One cannot stand for nor tolerate the intentional destructive and violent actions of persons bent on destroying something that belongs to the children, families, teachers, and neighbors who reside in and near the school where the garden grows.  Yes, the violent and destructive nature of vandalism has visited not only this garden but 2 others in the Sioux Falls area.  No leads on the individuals or the motives have surfaced, but it begs the question as to what is happening recently.

The greenhouse frequently saw various items littering  the floor not once, but multiple times.  Each time the garden manager had a class out in the garden, she had to first canvas the area , ensuring that any nefarious items were disposed of appropriately.  Bottle rockets, broken pots and cinder blocks lay spewed on the ground, while the beds were the picture of upended plants, vegetation, and footprints.  We won’t even elaborate on the inappropriate material found which would cause any adult to shake their head in disgust and worry even more about the safety of the children in the neighborhood.  Rest assured whatever the mind may be imagining now  is nothing short of what has already been pictured.

For months, members who have been involved in this garden have hoped against all hopes that the activity would cease.  No such luck.  In fact, with each passing weekend, the activity increased and the destruction gained momentum.  With support from all partners, teachers involved, and earlier mentioned non-profit staff members,  the request of the principal for the greenhouse to be removed, was heeded.  Above all, the safety of the students, teachers, and neighbors trumps the presence of a structure–any structure.  With all partners and collaborators set on the mindset that this and other gardens exist for the purpose of education in academia, scientific inquiry, health and personal wellness, environmental sustainability, and the practice of being a great neighbor, plans were made and executed with good faith and attitude.

As the garden manager and long invested partners gathered to look at the greenhouse one last time, the feeling of anger and frustration surfaced once again as the issue of why now, why this place were left unanswered.  The anger, not directed at those dismantling, went to the core of those causing the violence and  the overall safety of the children to be compromised.   So, while 20 pound cinder blocks were stacked, ready for a flatbed, the frustration gave way to a unified  sense of satisfaction that the growing beds remain.  The learning continues, the bridge for school and community exists, and gathered on the pavement were people committed to the education of children.  Unspoken feelings of satisfaction replaced frustration as teams of people worked together to right the wrongs caused by those not able to see the benefit of what they sought to destroy.

There is the wonderful key….their destruction did not dampen the spirits of those rolling up their sleeves.  Their desire to deny others gave way to dreaming and planning of a different sort.  Those who have been present from day one 5 years ago remember fondly the seminary student who dared to ask, “What if?”  That same question came full circle yesterday.  Just as in the past, if something was uprooted, it was immediately replanted.  The ideas of expansion took shape and smiles spread across faces.  College students never before met,  served alongside teachers who cared.  Strangers, made friends demonstrated EXACTLY what the teaching gardens proclaim they do.  They bridge the divide of race, gender, station, desire, education, and financial or social standing.  Conversations of teamwork, student dreams, and future garden plans were discussed with good humor.  Throw in some sunshine, free food, laughter, and the ulterior motives of others were forgotten.  That is right, the motives of those who sought to ruin, were disregarded.  Violence did not have the last word, nor was it the attitude allowed to take root.  It did not take an  angry response to stop the behavior.  Hard work, teamwork, and community proved more important than reacting.  Proactive response demonstrated more maturity and collaboration than a few wreaking havoc.

There are other gardens in the area being targeted.   Ground Works offers  the hand of positive partnership to calling an end to such behavior.  We remain committed, along with others, that the cycles of violence and destruction have a source far deeper than what the surface represents. It is our obligation to go below that surface and ask the tough questions and listen when even tougher answers come forth.  It is our obligation to ensure that a safe and productive learning environment blossoms not only at the gardens we serve, but for those gardens experiencing similar issues.

Destruction has no place in our neighborhoods, or near our schools.  The group yesterday stood positive that quiet and well planned and executed response is of far more worth than misplaced anger.  Love wins, it always wins.  Now, try to destroy that!


Maybe it was NEVER about ME.

Soon I will travel to my hometown to attend my 20 year reunion. To say that I am nervous is an understatement.  When I attended my 10 year I found that some of us had changed, others had not.  To say that I have grown in maturity since then is also an understatement.  To that end, I have been surprised to find some classmates reach out to me via Facebook.  It has shocked me to discover how many have watched my posts and commented on the smiles they get out of the antics of my  boys, or that I make them think because of something I have said.

I am amazed.  I choke back tears, I am filled with fear–terrified to see many of these people, terrified to expose myself to some who made such an impact.

I remember the beginning of the treatment.  We had a classmate join our class from a different class, he was instantly popular because of his athletic ability.  He also had a bit of a temper and tended to blow his top in anger.  The upper echelon  challenged him to not lose his temper for one week.  If he did, he would have to hug 1 of 3 of us on the lower rung.  True to form, he lost it and by the week end, he chose to hug me for 2 minutes.  I remember the embrace, the laughter from the crowd.  I was humiliated.

I remember hitting junior high school.  No one has a good junior high memories.  Every one of us hits that awkward stage and I was no different.  I recall wearing a tighter red sweater, proud that the color and form looked ok.  A late bloomer, I had no other thought on my radar until the guys in the lunchroom laughed at me and called me “pointy.”  I was sheltered enough to have no idea as to what they were referring…that is until a classmate pulled me aside and told me what the big deal was.  I wanted to die right there.  I wished more times than I could count that the floor would open up and swallow me whole.  I cursed that it never happened.

I remember being good friends with one of the popular girls and someone teaching me how to “peg” my jeans so I would be acceptable to sit at the “popular” table.  The friendship waned as her popularity grew and my stock plummeted.  Oddly enough she and I stayed at least cordial friends throughout the rest of school.  I have thought of her often.

I hated crushes and I had one on the most popular guy in school.  Needless to say, most of us in our class and beyond did as well.  Little did anyone realize that we were actually really good friends and talked quite candidly.  To my knowledge he never talked smack about me, not once.  I have silently thanked him many many times for that quiet support.  It was no secret that most of the girls had enormous crushes on him….enter the stupid notes to me asking if I would go out with so and so.  Beyond excited, a bit of a romantic, and sooooo naive, I took the bait-responding back by checking the necessary box.  How stupid could I be?  Yet, stupid I was.  To my classmates’ horror, he saved me a dance at every stinking school insanity called school dances.  He never refused, all I had to do was walk over, I was thrilled to have his friendship–I still am and it was a well-kept secret.

Junior high was amazing for humiliation and 8th grade brought a new level of rude behavior.  I stopped going to school functions because I caught the look on one of my classmate’s faces when I danced with his little brother.  The horror on his face was unmistakable.  I felt guilty, I knew he would talk to his brother immediately after that “stunt”. and he did.  His brother never spoke to me again.  Likewise, I caught the finger-pointing when I danced with an upperclassman as a 7th grader, a mutual friend who had been on an Olympics of the Mind team.  We had kicked butt as a team, I was smart, creative, and an overall nice person…..that never mattered.   Somehow it does now?

I have at times looked back at our senior paper…Senior Wills and Prophecies….I was devastated by wishes that were sent my way.  I went home and sobbed down at the lake by myself.  Wishes of a car so that no one would have to give me a ride and be seen with me. No one knew that I was not allowed to have a license and felt so small with how I had to travel.  No one ever knew how much courage it took me to even approach someone for a ride.  I regretted it, I still do.  Some wished me a new neck so I would not have to hurt the one i had by turning it to watch and talk with someone else.  Of course, it was “our boy”, and while his classmates did a fine job of pointing it out, he took it in stride and complimented me when I had done well in debate the prior weekend.  I was so grateful for those moments, I don’t think he ever knew that.  I also think that being good at my extra curricular events was my saving grace.  I was at the bottom of the pit, but I was not unnoticed because I worked my butt off to be good at what I did.  Some wished I would get a life, or to take my own.  They knew how much I hated where I was, yet the dramatic tendency for the over the top behavior wearied most people….me included.  I heard myself, saw what I was portraying, and I hated it.  I hated that I let them get the better of me, I loathed who I allowed myself to become.  I wanted the heavens above to whisk me off to nether lands.  I prayed for it more times than I can count and I hated that feeling and who it made me.

So, we come to the upcoming event.  I walk forward with trepidation, hoping that we all have grown up a bit more.  I have to walk in believing that we are not same people, that I am not the same person.  Maybe, just maybe all the crap and rumors and finger-pointing, snide comments, and snubs were necessary for us to mature.  Even as I type this, I have to look away and swipe at tears, praying that THIS time it will be different.  That THIS time around what I thought was the ugly duckling will have transformed into the graceful swan.  Each year at the start of school I looked hopefully into the mirror waiting to see if it had happened.  I felt like Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles when she hoped to wake up on her 16th bday changed for the better.  In the end, she got the hot guy.

I am no longer dorky me with an over dramatic tendency and the incessant need to impress.  I am praying for the courage to walk bravely forth, and “put your past behind you” as Lion King would tell me.  I also pray that if others are reading this….they can take heart for themselves and know that it is possible to live through moments of hell, real, imagined, inflicted, and self imposed.  It is possible to climb that mountain of humiliation and check pride at the door and stand on top of that mountain and look down at what was accomplished.  Hell, I even did a clinical not so long ago with a classmate ( another popular one) who was a doctor on of the floors I worked.  We worked well and had a healthy respect for one another.  I am thankful for that moment too.  Maybe at the end of the day, it was never about me…maybe, just maybe.

With fingers crossed, I remain,



I embark

I have put aside the autobiography for a time to work on something which has captured my attention as of late.  I am choosing 3 verbs from the English language beginning with A and ending with Z and writing a devotional idea to go with it.  Devotional can be no longer than 1 page and must tie biblically.  Here are the first 3 attempts.


“Accentuate the positive!”  The words ring out as shrilly as the platinum blonde bleached into her hair.  She punches the air, making sure the staccato beat of her platform heels is in perfect time.  She knows that to fool the masses, you have to make them look beyond what is really there.  Any good performer hones that skill from birth and to make a director’s head turn, you do what you can to make yourself stand out from the crowd and that is just what she is teaching these young ladies today.

“Backs straight, head held high, suck in the gut; never-ever reveal a weakness.”  The young ladies, all dozen of them hold their 9 year old heads a little higher and look down the line at one another, making sure they are just a bit straighter, a tad taller.  At the end of the line is a quiet brunette of slight frame, angelic demeanor, and quiet strength.  Instead of casting a glance down the line, she straightens a bit taller, closes her eyes and begins mouthing something to herself.

Perhaps it’s the litany of “Backs straight, head high, never a weakness.”  Maybe she can Ac-cen-tu-ate  pos-i-tive as she practices plies at the barre.  Whatever the reason, there is an assured look on her face, one of almost pure joy, in stark contrast to the other girls’ grimace of agony.  Madame’s pitch creeps higher and her heels pick up pace even faster.  Sweat breaks out on many faces and she screeches to wipe it off, “never let a judge see you as human.  You are more than human; you are super human—act like it!  20 more minutes!”

Up and down the line Madame shrieks louder and she stops dead in front of our quiet one and demands to know why she is smiling.  “You look like you are clueless, that is no way to push yourself to the top.  Always standing there, smug and quiet, you are so infuriating!  Why are you like that?  You know you will never rise to the top of the class and be a star without the killer instinct.  Rise higher, reach further, push, push, push.”

“I have been taught that our world looks at the outer package. We judge each other on how we dress, walk, talk, and how we attractive we are. I know in my heart that what is seen on the inside is more important than how I look on the outside to others.    I am of more worth than all the fake nails or high heels in the world.  The Creator of the Universe sees to the core of who I am, not who I pretend to be or what a director may think is acceptable for a show.  I tell myself each day I am here to accentuate the inside gold, not the outside fake.  That Creator gazes at you in that way too, Madame.  Accentuate your inside gold.  Push to the inner recess of your heart, accentuate that pure gold.”

1 Samuel 16:7

The Message (MSG)

7 But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”


They stare out from their secured cages, brought in on trucks or in cars.  They have been found on the streets, rummaging through garbage bins, wandering fields on their own, or a family finds they cannot support them any longer.  Whatever the reason, they watch the doorways, listen for footsteps, hope for a loving young girl or boy they can shower with love.  Maybe this group will be my forever home, maybe they will adopt me and make me part of their family.

Tails wag, mouths hang open, and barks escape as they paw at the metal fencing.  Dancing on all fours they hop up and down in anticipation.  “Pick me!  Pick me!”  Can you hear them?  “Please, please.  This is special adoption weekend.  Can you find a place in your home, your heart? Won’t you adopt me?  Chose me?”

The eyes tell the stories of some of them, the lives they have lived, and their past-the solitude of their journeys.  In compelling compassion they lock contact with you, gazing at you, begging in silence to deliver them for their present reality.   Feel the joyful energy coursing through them as you click a leash on their collar, interested enough to try for a walk around the facility.  See the prideful way they pick up their head, walk through the door and out into the sunshine.  Imagine the relief when they can call corner in your room home.

We don’t need to sit in cages and wait for a special weekend to be picked.  Our place at the table has already been set, it is waiting for us.  We have been adopted, ushered into a family without constraints, without ridicule, absent of cold or loneliness.  It is a place where we belong no matter how scrappy we look or how many miles we have traveled.  There is peaceful and comforting warmth which envelops us, if we are brave enough to embrace it.  The beauty of being adopted into this family is that it is royal.  We become sons and daughters of a King, a King of such radical love; we are incapable of describing it.  Our brothers and sisters of times past, present, and all future have also been adopted into the royal family.  The house is teeming with all ages, stages, hopes, dreams, and stories and all are accepted at the table.  There is always enough, more than enough of all that we dream.  There is more love than we can imagine, always more forgiveness, always.  There is no need to make ourselves noticed so that we will be chosen; we have been seen from the beginning-the adoption papers signed.  We belong just as we are, blameless and wonderfully created to love one another.  Imagine the joy in our Creator’s gaze as another brother or sister understands the comfort of waiting arms and runs to join the celebration already happening.

The celebration of your accepted invitation to be part of a whole family, anxious to know you, care for you, and love you; just as you are.  Come and rest.  Your searching is over and now you can breathe the sigh of relief, confident that you are where you belong.  It is a pleasure to welcome you home my brother, my sister, my friend.

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.
1 Peter 2:8-10


In the education circles the letters, IEP carry special significance.  Those parents whose children are on one also know the importance of those letters; they mean regular meetings, constant evaluations, and incessant conversations with teachers, administration, parents, and students.  Sometimes it seems a rat race of connections until that glimmer of hope peaks through a haze of confusion.  The onslaught of verbiage that only educationally trained people speaks.  Wading through the paperwork appears to be never-ending, as does the guilt that gnaws at the back of the mind.  “Am I the reason they have trouble reading?  Do I do something that makes it impossible for them to concentrate in school?  Are they doing this on purpose?  Who will know I failed?”

For the student, they are oblivious to the world of special education or an Individualized Education Plan.  All they may be aware is that some subjects in school may be more difficult than others, or that their attention span seems to tank around 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  They are unaware of the countless hours that moms, dads, grandparents, or other family members sacrifice in order to help them succeed.  A bag is magically packed and ready for the next day, homework is never tackled alone, and someone is always watching out for them.  They have no idea the conversations that take place over the phone, internet, or in person.  They never see the tears fall as their loved ones try every day to make today a bit easier than yesterday; never do they hear the inner voices screaming at those family members that this deficit is their fault-as if it could be blamed on someone or something.

While they remain unconscious to those moments, they are also naïve to the cheerleading and work that is done on their behalf.  Within mountains of paperwork and conversation and evaluation are people who are pulling for the success of that student.  They will join forces and stand strong to do whatever is necessary for that young person.  It may be as simple as helping to read for an extra half hour after supper, or as involved as assisting them in every area of life.  Whatever the case, the support exists and remains strong.

There are times though, when the hours are long for those fighting, when a blissful night off seems like the perfect respite.  Moments when the fight wares on the soul and the plea to be let off the hook feels like it falls on deaf ears.  There is One who hears, however.  One who chooses to stand in the midst of the fight and advocates on our behalf.        There is a constant who decided in the beginning that each life lived was worth the struggle and climbs into it with us, who will spend the extra moments in quiet prayer or tempered promotion.  The Creator who set all the stars in heaven believes that we are worth more than all creation combined and does not hesitate to enter our world and join us in whatever we may encounter.  Nothing is too large, no darkness too bleak, no amount of red tape and paperwork too daunting for the One who experienced life in all its mountain top and valley moments.   What appears overwhelming for us is a chance for the Creator to fight for and protect the beloved.  Like a mama bear protecting her cubs, we are fiercely loved and fiercely supported, by an advocate who continues to advocate on our behalf.

“As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.
Jeremiah 29:9-11

Wha ? HUH?

I awoke from a dream this morning where all I can remember is the fact that I was admitted to Middlebury College as a Writing/Theatre major….
WAIT!!!! I already have a bachelor’s, (2 of them) and a Master’s. Huh? Ok, then the thought was that I should get my MFA here…
It could be that I was reading the beginnings of Rchard Louv’s book: No Child Left Inside.
What do I know, my NyQuil induced sleep may have pushed me over the edge….or maybe just NOW gaining clarity.

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