Saturday, October 1, 2016

Defining Family

            "What IS family, then?" The young man asked. 

            He's getting out in less than a year, and we were talking about his plans for when he is "out" and life no longer has the physical limits of being "locked up". 

            Going home is not the most attractive of his choices.  There, old ways, old relationships, and old expectations for how he is to live and move ahead in life are all in play.  He's no longer a young teen, struggling with addictions and bad choices, and the labels that comes with the mistake he made at a tender age, the mistake that cost him his freedom. He's earned a fresh start, and be able to move ahead without the baggage of prejudgment and assumptions.  He's not who he was, and he's rightfully proud of that accomplishment. 

            Yes, being "inside" has given him many opportunities, and he had taken advantage of them, growing into a smart, sensitive, and thoughtful young man.  A young man I'd be proud to call a son and live with me, become part of my family.

            He's looking ahead, and looking for options,  possibilities for a new life, moving ahead with his life and seeking his dreams.  At the core of that is being part of family.

            So what IS family?  Yes, the first, quick answer is the biological answer: the family I was born into.  Yet, family can be and probably should be so much more. 

            Being a part of a family is a choice, a conscious, deliberate choice. We can do that in many ways.

            When we marry, we intentionally create a new family, blended or mixed from both spouses' biological families, or the families each partner is currently a part.  We mix it up, sometimes adding kids and also adding in-laws, and close friends from both sides of the marriage.  New rules and new expectations emerge, along with new dynamics. 

            New territory and new challenges await us as we navigate these fresh and often turbulent waters. 

            What is it that this young man needs, what I need, in a family?

            We made a list: love, respect, a place in which to belong, be accepted, nurtured, cherished.  A place to grow as well as a place that you come home to after a day out in the world, being challenged and jostled.  A place that takes you for who you are.  A place where there's a chair and a table setting just for you at dinner. 

            "We each need to make our own family," I said.  "And the definition needs to fit what we need, creating a place where we grow to our full potential." 

            My young friend has figured it out.  He knows what a family is, the family he needs and wants, a place where he will flourish.  Like all of us, he just needs permission to seek that out, and be good to himself, to find his very own family, creating his own happiness. 

            And, yes, its OK to want that, and its OK to make sure that having that good family is part of our lives, helping every one of us at achieve our dreams and live a productive, love filled life. 

-- Neal Lemery 9/30/2016


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Suicide: Getting to Resilient


            Five percent.  One out of twenty.  That’s the reality of our community, our country.  Within the last year, one out of twenty adults seriously considered ending their life.

            Suicide.  It is an epidemic, and we don’t talk about it much.  Suicide talk is taboo.  Don’t go there.  But, we must.   

            Every person needs to be connected to at least one other person, and to be able to reach out, talk about depression, sadness, and hopelessness.  We all need hope, an expectation that there is a tomorrow, there is opportunity for change, that our lives make a difference, and that life is worth living. Life’s problems can’t be only on our own shoulders. 

            Last week, I was part of a workshop, getting trained with skills to take on this intensely personal problem, to be a first responder in addressing suicide in our culture.  Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) is a national movement to develop a first response model in our communities.  Evidence based models and techniques gave us the tools and the confidence to reach out and connect with someone who is possibly contemplating ending their life. 

            Invite a conversation, and plunge into the “perfect storm” that is roaring through their lives, and make connection.  When the signs are there, find the courage to “ask the question” and begin talking about suicide, and options for change, connecting them with you and connecting them with resources to be able to move ahead with their lives, and regain hope. 

            Suicidal thoughts have stormed through my own life, sometimes ending lives far too early, or paralyzing people with deep depression and isolation.  Surviving family and friends are wracked with uncertainly and chaos, leaving profound questions unanswered and lives thrown off track. 

            Making connections is what changes lives and saves lives.  What I’ve learned in life, and relearned at the ASIST training, is that you do connect.  You do reach out, engage people, and show your genuine concern for them and their well-being.  You connect with your own humanity and your fellows, and make that vital one to one connection. 

            Showing concern and empathy, and making that connection often saves lives and gives people a new sense of hope and possibility in their lives. 

            Help make them safe now, and help them develop their plan to be safe now.

            When you have that conversation, make those connections, one to one.  And, help them connect with others; not only with friends and family, but professional care givers and health care providers.  Be the gatekeeper for them and help them find their way. 

            The National Suicide Prevention Hot Line, 1-800-243-8255(TALK) is a  valuable resource. I’ve added it to my phone contacts.  Other resources:, Youthline (1-877-YOUTH-911) and their text: TEEN2TEEN@839863.

            Connect with your local mental health services provider.  In my hometown, Tillamook, their crisis line is 800-962-2851.

            All of these services operate 24 hours a day, because suicide is a 24 hour a day issue of community wide concern. 

            Help build a resilient, safe community.

            ----Neal Lemery 9/1/2016 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Sweet Review: Homegrown Tomatoes: Essays and Musings From My Garden

By Rhonda on August 19, 2016
Format: Kindle Edition
Judge Lemery has written before about his work as mentor with young men incarcerated at the juvenile prison in the community where his family has been rooted for generations. I had previously read, appreciated, and recommended widely his "Mentoring Boys to Men: Climbing Their Own Mountains." 

This new collection of short, powerful essays and poetry took me by surprise, nevertheless. I found myself moved to tears, uplifted, inspired, and even sometimes exalted as I read. 

I devoured "Tomatoes" in one sitting. These musings will inspire readers to look with new eyes at their own backyards and to dream of new ways to take action as peacemakers in our own communities. Something of a soul brother to the philosopher, scientist, writer, gardener and mystic, Rudolf Steiner (founder of the Waldorf School movement and of biodynamic gardening) 

Lemery truly believes in the inherent goodness and limitless potential of each person he meets. He is certain of the value of education as key to unlocking that potential. He understands that Nature can be our wisest and most gentle teacher and healer. These things shine through from these pages even as they illumine the hearts and paths of the young men whom Lemery befriends. 

Lemery's essays, like the parables of Jesus, are grounded in the most "ordinary" of human experiences: observations of plants and of birds, simple gestures of kindness offered to those who have been left wounded on the margins of life, zen-like questions about what we truly value. 

The most powerful essays are those where Lemery lets us enter his "secret garden" at the OYA. We are privileged to be there with him as he cooks, gardens, plays cards, laughs and sometimes cries with --but most of all listens to -- these young men, some of them serving long years in prison for offenses committed as juveniles. We are allowed to share Lemery's sorrow at how much betrayal, neglect and suffering too many children endure. 

And then we discover with him that seeds of Hope are miraculously still present, even in the dark, cold winter soil of these lives -- just waiting for the warmth of kind attention and rays of compassion in order to grow and to reach for the Light. This book encourages us to remember that we can each create something beautiful, something that will nourish others and ourselves, through the work of our own hands, provided we value and sharpen our unique gifts that are our "garden tools."

Highly recommended for teens, teachers, counselors, parents, social workers, book groups...and, of course, gardeners!

Homegrown Tomatoes is available as an e-book on Amazon.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Mundane Tasks


            It was a busy day in the prison garden on a hot day.  We took on a few weedy flower beds and set to work, creating several wheelbarrow loads of weeds, and unburied dozens of flowers and herbs from the lush growth of summertime weeds.  They had gotten a head start on us with stretches of warm weather and summer showers.

            Our work was made lighter by the telling of stories and knowing that fresh shortbread and warm rhubarb and strawberry sauce with ice cream awaited us at the end of the class time. The teacher always has a way of motivating the crew.

            At the end of the first hour, we stored our tools, dumped our weeds and washed up for our next activity: flower arranging.

            I saw looks of skepticism on the faces of our young gardeners as one of the other volunteers brought out the floral arranging bases and foam blocks.  Soon, their hesitant looks turned serious, as they began to plan their individual works of art. Once again, the gardening class offered something new and exciting, challenging them to use their talents and grow their skills.

            The young gardeners were busied themselves fashioning their own arrangements from the piles of shrubs, herbs, and mid summer flowers.   They put their individual touches to their work, and soon, there was a lovely selection of beautiful flower arrangements in the center of the table. 

            Even the most hesitant young florist immersed himself into the project.  Conversations and questions about texture, color wheels and flower selections filled the air as they set to work. 

            The hoop house, our schoolroom, filled with many of their propagated works, became a florist shop, and our focus could turn to our mid morning snack.  The just baked shortbread and freshly simmered strawberry-rhubarb sauce filled our noses with delight, and we quickly formed a line to create our own culinary delight. The promise of ice cream in the morning also enticed us.

            Our plates filled, we gathered around the fire circle, and fell into relaxed conversations. I caught up with their challenges and successes, both in the garden and in their lives.  Proudly, they showed me their vegetables and flowers, their chickens, their compost, and the new additions to their garden.

            Our time grew short and I gathered up the plates and forks, and the glasses that had been drained of the special iced mochas that quenched our thirst this August day.

            I started washing the dishes and was soon joined by a young man who offered to help. He didn't want me to take on the task, saying that it was a boring, mundane thing for me to do.

            "Oh, I rather like it," I said.  "Washing dishes gives me time to do some thinking, organizing my day and planning ahead.

            "I get necessary work done, and I also get some 'me' time," I said.

            “I enjoyed the weeding this morning for the same reason,” I added.

            He nodded, his ears taking in a new idea on what he had said was a minor task, not worthy of my time.

            "It's not a minor thing," I said, "Cleaning up helps everyone, and builds community.  Every job is important."

            He nodded.

            "I guess so," he said.  "I never thought of it that way."

            "I see what you mean," he said. "Even though it doesn't seem like an important job, it really is."
            Our time was up. Class was over and he needed to go.

            "I'll finish this up," I said.  "I promise not to have too much fun."

            He laughed.

            "Do some thinking for me, then," he said.

            We grinned at each other, building another bridge between the old guy gardening guy who comes here once a week, and the young man, whose garden of his soul grows well in the springtime of his life.

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