Monday, September 7, 2020

Our Nehemiah Narrative # 1 – The Story of Rebuilding

 I went into City Hall that day to acquire a “capacity sign” needed for the current school building in which we were renting. A kindly gentleman, adorned with a city official name tag and security badge came out to meet me.  I asked him about the capacity sign and told him I was with Hand In Hand Christian Montessori. 

 

He looked up knowingly and responded -  

 

“Oh! You are the school that just bought the abandoned armory on McCarrons Blvd.  I read about you in the city hall news.  Sounds like you are trying to restore it?

 

“Yes! That is us! And yes – we are hoping to rebuild and restore the building and move into the building by this fall!” I answered eagerly wanted to share the good news.

 

Skeptically, he raised one eyebrow and said, “Lady, have you seen that building?”

 

Confidently I smiled and replied, “Yes, I have! But have you read the book of Nehemiah?”

 

The story of Nehemiah has intrigued be ever since we embarked on a super-natural rebuilding project over two years ago.  I have been following the narrative ever since, trying my hardest to learn from the wisdom of a restoration project in 444 B.C. 

 

We first learned about the property from a board member, who knew we looking for a permanent home for our school.  Since we were in the eleventh year of a ten-year lease, and had outgrown our current situation, our landlord decided not to renew our lease. We were in a save-our-school-moment and it was crucial for our school’s survival that we find a new home.  We had looked at, toured, and even attempted to purchase one property when a board member sent an email about a location.

 

It was an abandoned 55,000 square foot armory, owned by the US National Guard, currently in disarray.  The building was vacant and vandalized. It was boarded up and both an eye-sore and bother to the neighborhood.  The building was situated on nine acres of land, also overgrown and neglected.  All past plans for the property had fallen through despite the city’s best intentions to level the building and put up high-density housing in its place. 

 

Truly the wall had been broken and the gates had been burned. 

 

I had my first showing of the property in February of 2018.  It was a cold day in Minnesota but the building inside was colder and darker than the outside temperature – and that is saying a lot.  I went inside the building alone with my cellphone flashlight. I remember the emotion of excitement, fear, and suspicion all mingled into one thought – “what am I doing here?” Besides being dimly lit and shuffling along, I remember the mixed smells of standing toilet water, damp walls, and motionless air. My feet found shell-casing bumps left from the years of canine-training and artillery practicing. Particle board walls were placed in random places along with thousands of yards of metal cages for weapon storage. I tentatively called out for my real estate agent – “Peter?? Peter??”” From the darkness emerged five guys – two real estate agents who represented me and three, no-nonsense, military men who represented themselves.  It was completely intimidating to say the least. 

 

Despite that first encounter being one of the strangest in my life – I went home that night, took out yellow legal pad paper and accurately drew what I believed could be the new blueprint for our school.  With God’s help, I could visual a completely restored and redeemed building – absolutely perfect for our people.  The kitchen and library have since found a new space from the original drawing – but all other rooms are completely in-tact from that first download. 

 

But, it wasn’t as easy as all of that. First, the US Military had to accept our low-ball offer, much lower than their posted sale price.  Second, we needed to raise the money to even buy the building and land. Third, we had to find a bank willing to finance the entire construction project. Fourth, even if all of the first three hurdles were miraculously overcome, the city would have to approve the sale and change the zoning. The city would only agree if the neighbors did. Fifth, the neighbors had been presented with a survey a few years earlier. The consensus was to remove the old building and replace it.  We would have to have neighborhood support for such a change. Finally, if we ever had the chance to get this far - we would have to restore a building we were buying, in the dark, literally and figuratively, with little or no information about what laid quietly beneath the soil, or glazed tiles since its original construction in 1936. 

 

The US Military, after several rounds of discussion, and some face-to-face encounters – agreed to our sale price.

 

A Family Foundation stepped up and generously offered to fund the purchase of the property and building – offering cash at the closing.

 

A local bank, known for its faith-filled endeavors and philanthropic ways agreed to finance a short-term construction loan. 

 

The City Council, unanimous voted to change the zoning and approved our plans to commence with a remodel of the armory.

 

The neighbors were invited by mailed invitation from the city, to an open-town-hall meeting, where we were allowed to present our ideas. (Prior to the meeting, we also went door to door to over 100 homes.  We brought the children from Hand In Hand, dressed in their uniforms and warm smiles. They knocked and said “Hello! We would like to be your new neighbors!” The invitation worked.  Many came to our Neighborhood Meeting and we served our special book-club cookies, gluten-free, chocolate chip).

 

Our architect, builder and designer, all worked together step by step to ensure that the entire project from the foundation up, original wood framing, steel studs and brick walls, were restored efficiently and 

 

It took Nehemiah 52 days to rebuild the walls.  It took us 52 weeks. We closed on the property in July 2019. We completed the first two phases of construction and received a temporary Certificate of Occupancy in July 2020. 

 

How did this happen? 

 

B y   t h e   h e l p   o f   t h e   L o r d ,   o u r   G o d .

 

There was a prayer team. This prayer team literally prayed for over one year, every day, for the project.  Prayer walks happened. Daily prayer reports went out. Chris Berg, our Community Engagement Specialist, was the leader of the charge in this regard.  Enough words cannot be spoken over the impact she had on this project from a spiritual and physical viewpoint.  We are all forever grateful for her and her leadership. 

 

There were work teams.  They came when “all calls” were made. Painting, cleaning, moving, sweeping, lifting, moving-again, weeding, planting, pruning, digging, clearing-again, landscaping, designing.  Every hand mattered.  There were big hands. And little hands.  Working hands and praying hands.  Together – hand in hand – next to each – we rebuilt the walls. We are so grateful for staff members, their families, and members of our community who provided the consistent draw of volunteer labor throughout the entirety of the project.  

 

The professional workers are also to be commended.  The building turned out so beautiful mostly in part to the excellent craftmanship, management, and expertise of those hired to the job over the last year.  We are so grateful and we honor them! A special thanks to Vanguard Builders for the excellence in project managing, helping us to finish Phase 1 & 2, under-budget and on-time. 

 

The Donors and Tradition Bank, who provided the temporary Construction Loan should be mentioned along with the others.  Without Tradition, Veritas, IDC, Manella Family, Warner Stellian and many, many more to provide the funds, big or small, this whole endeavor would have remained a dream and never a reality.  God used these individuals and their generosity to advance this project and fund it.  

 

This is our Nehemiah Rebuilding Project. This is our story and testimony.

 


Monday, August 31, 2020

Desert Bloom


Final thoughts in the “Desert Proceeds Destiny” series.

 

Somewhere between the promise and the promise land – you will find the desert bloom.

 

Step by step and hand in hand

We journey to the promise land.*

 

Just when we though it couldn’t get any more desert-like, it did.  It would be our third move in one year.  The main campus of Hand In Hand was comfortably settled into 2129 Fairview for the past eleven years.  In June 2019, twenty-moving trucks came and went to various locations. Professional movers loaded up our biggest reception desk and tiniest golden bead and everything in between.  They brought some items to our Bloomington campus, some classrooms materials, including the grand piano were brought to Advent Lutheran, and the rest to Church of Holy Childhood – three floors with eleven environments.  

 

The moving didn’t end last June however.  Come January, due to a Fire Marshall’s orders, we needed to move again – this time – in house.  Five rooms flipped flopped spaces.  

 

The moving and changing wasn’t over because just two months later – March 13th, 2020, to be exact, the decision was made to provide distant learning for most of our students due to the COVID19 while continuing to offer quality childcare for essential workers. And then, just as our school year ended, our world again tipped to one side, as we all witnessed the murder of a man, recorded on video.  This single event triggered a multitude of events ranging from peaceful protests to racial riots. All of us were left asking questions, asking God to search our own hearts, and desiring reconciliation and justice to be served for all. Things would never be the same after these events and daily life as we knew it would forever be changed. 

 

In light of the Desert Theme and the lessons learned through stinging sand and scorching sun, I shared some final thoughts about Desert Blooms. Here’s a few excerpts from this year’s Gala: 

 

I am so glad you decided to join this year’s event. Due to Covid19 pandemic, we weren’t about to be together in person instead we are gathering virtually. We invited everyone to take their favorite appetizers and join us, sit back and enjoy. Let’s start by remembering our theme.  We have been in the desert.  We have talking about what desert experiences are all about.  All this year’s chapels, homilies and my blogs have all been focusing on the desert. This specific theme for the Gala is the “Desert Bloom” and the beautiful graphic has been created from Molly Adams for today’s event.  Between the promise and the promised land, look for the Desert Bloom. The scripture verse says Isaiah 58:11 “The Lord will guide you always;  He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched and strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”  

 

Let’s walk through the desert journey in our minds, shall we?

Last March we met together at last year’s gala – we met together and talked about the promise from Lord.  We didn’t have any means to purchase the building. We were in a save-our-school moment. 

 

Then, God miraculously provided. 

 

The #nexttoimpossible campaign was launched and we set out on rebuilding a vacant and vandalized building to house our 300 plus students. 

 

Then through twists and turns in the journey, we realized that detours, disappointments, delays and discouragement were all things experienced while journeying through the desert.

 

And just when we thought it couldn’t get more like a desert – there was a novel virus creating a world-wide pandemic. Suddenly it felt as if there was a world-wide desert.

 

So last Sunday, I was sitting in my pajamas, in my living room, with my husband, girls, and niece, attending church (SubstanceChurch.com/).

 

Pastor Peter Haas’ message was about “walking through waters without being drowned. Walking through fires without being burned.“  The message was based on passage from Daniel, describing the fiery furnace when three brave, Jewish men decided not to bow down to the king’s edict.  They went before the king one last time with one last time to recant.

 

They declare – “We will not bow down.  Our God is able to save us from this fire.  But if He doesn’t – we will not bow down.”

 

Then, they were bound.  The fire was stoked even hotter than before.  And the three men were thrown into the flames.

 

But as the King looked into the furnace he saw them walking around “unbound” and he saw a fourth man. We know that was Jesus.  

 

The only thing they lost when they came out the fire was the ropes that bound them. Not one hair was singed, not one bit of their clothing burned. If there is anything that is keeping us “bound up” that through this desert, through this fire, we would lose what is unnecessary. What is keeping us

 

If we have spiritual eyes to see, Jesus is with us in this fire. He is the one with us in this pandemic. In this desert-season. That we draw near Jesus and realize that Jesus is the Desert Bloom,  He creates the beauty, the provision.

 

I choose to wear green for this gala because it reminds us of the Well-Watered Garden. God will provide all we need. You will be a well-watered garden.  Blooms will come. Thank you for being a part of our community and seeing Jesus in the middle of this desert with us – our Desert Bloom.


*original song by Michael Jakubiec and lyrics by Susan Jakubiec for Hand In Hand 2019-2020.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Way Forward

"I may not understand, but I will hold your hand"

The following OPEN LETTER TO OUR COMMUNITY was issued on behalf of our Board of Directors, Executive Leadership, Campus Directors, and Faculty and Staff – who met together and prayerfully considered our response, and humbly submitted by the Head of School. 

Today is the Memorial Service for George Floyd.  The Minneapolis Memorial Service for Mr. George Floyd will be held at North Central University in Minneapolis on Thursday, June 4, 2020, at 1 p.m. CDT.  We weep with those who weep. Last week, on Memorial Day, we witnessed the horrific video of his death and the aftermath of reaction to police brutality and the reality of a broken world. It was up close and personal and in our own city. In the midst of our unprecedented week of beautiful Hand In Hand ceremonies and firsts-of-its-kind, these celebrations were shadowed by ugly grief and a torrid of emotions. 

To the families at Hand In Hand (HIH), especially those of color, we want to communicate empathy and solidarity in light of overwhelming grief, fear and unrest during this pivotal time; we stand together as we work toward racial reconciliation in our city, our state, and our nation; to our families downtown Minneapolis who were personally affected by the rioting and destruction, we pray for your safety and strength to rebuild ; we support the efforts of board members and their spouses who were on the front lines of cleaning-up, while offering tangible kindness and concern for those around them; we pray for family and staff members who left their homes to find safer refuges for themselves and their children as well as rejoice with these same people who have experienced an outpouring of unity, kindness and love from their very own neighbors; we are grateful for a country that offers constitutional rights for peaceful protests and differing points of freedom of speech; we earnestly desire swift justice in this case and long-term systematic changes ; and finally thank our HIH family and staff who were gracious as our events were changed or cancelled in memory of George Floyd and respect for the government mandates and requests. 
 
All of us in Hand In Hand leadership, have personally asked ourselves hard questions regarding our next steps, and we call out to God to help us.  We humble ourselves before Him and seek His face.  We are looking inward to turn from our own wicked ways, ask for forgiveness and pray that God heals our land. At this moment, we offer the following to our own HIH families and friends as we explore "the way forward”: 

Address Injustice: Systematic racial political policies and practices must stop.  We declare that racism, police brutality, injustice, violence, destruction, and the striping of another’s God-given, human rights are wrong. As the declaration of Independence states,“we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Beyond citizen rights of our country, each of us are precious in the sight of God - created in His Image, and each person from womb to tomb - should be valued and honored. Let us learn again, read, recall and practice the words and actions of Christian abolitionist, William Wilberforce who said, “Let everyone regulate his conduct... by the golden rule of doing to others as in similar circumstances we would have them do to us, and the path of duty will be clear before him.”

Talk to the Children: We have been, and will continue to be, advocates for the home.  We believe that parents are the first and foremost teachers of their children. We leave sensitive, important, spiritual and difficult topics to be presented and sorted-out at home first.  While we provide a facilitation of discussion at school – we always defer to the parents on their best judgement and wisdom in leading and guiding their children.  We stand by to support you if you need us in any way.  We can recommend children’s books regarding individual identity, racial harmony, unity and grief.  We will walk alongside the families in prayer support this summer and personal care this fall. Your children are known by name by their teachers who love and care for them. We are praying for ways that HIH is more accessible to more children, especially those who need Jesus and different kind of educational model. Ms. Bethany Finnern, our Art Instructor, has offered ideas about books to reinforce positive identity and the uniqueness of God’s design. 

Furthermore, CREO Staff for 7th-12th graders have made themselves accessible to our CREO students.  Here is a reflection from the Dean of Students:

Dear CREO community, as I walk the streets of my neighbourhood, I am overwhelmed with grief and sadness. I am deeply disturbed by the killing of George Floyd and the generations of systemic violence and marginalization of my neighbours and friends that it represents. 

Although school has finished for the year, I thought it would be appropriate to reach out to you all and ask that in this season of uncertainty and unrest you find ways to connect with each other and build bridges. I believe that now more than ever it is vital that we as believers join with our neighbours across dividing lines and find creative ways to both acknowledge deep pain, hold it for each other and forge pathways to restoration. I think that the kind of radical restoration that Jesus initiates involves vulnerability, love, creativity, risk and wisdom. 

I know that many of you are already connected with churches and other groups and are involved in many creative initiatives to work for lasting peace. However, I think it is important that as a school community we also address these pressing issues. 

Rather than being teacher-led, we would encourage you as students and parents to connect with each other and seek out ways to be Jesus among our hurting Minneapolis community. I am happy to host a zoom meeting to initiate this process. There is no pressure to attend, it is completely optional. 

Bring Donations: Our African-American neighbor in Blaine, Pethuel, is the Executive Director for Oasis of Love Crisis Intervention Center – located inside of Jordan Life Church, 1922-25th Avenue North, Minneapolis. She is asking on behalf of their center for donations for toiletries, cleaning supplies, and laundry detergents.  Please bring bags of supplies between 10am – 3pm, Thursday, Friday or Saturday (June 4-6th) this week. For more information and to support this cause visit: https://www.oasisoflove.center

Pull the Kingdom Down: As we prayed on our Facebook Live message and the SNAP last Friday - we plead again, Dear Lord Jesus, quickly come. As the world seemingly tips to one side, unstable, with fears unseen and hard to understand viruses, with rising curves of abuse and alcoholism, video images of excessive force, murder, as unheard voices cry out in riots and all face an uncertain future – we lift up our eyes to you. Where does our help come from? Our help comes the Lord, Maker of Heaven and Earth. Come Lord Jesus Come. “Through prayer and belief, we can ask God to come, Kingdom Come, during a time like this and make His Presence known. Prayer warriors believe that God’s hands are unearthing and pulling up roots. New beginnings can come from things that are burned down to ground and new sprouts can now come up. Join us in prayer on Monday mornings at 9:00 am, Praying Hands, to continue to ask for these substantial changes. 

Watch the Video: We were challenged by the message offered by Baltimore city minister, Jimmy Rolling, to 1)There’s destiny in the detour into different situations and neighborhoods than our own, like Jesus did when he intentionally decided to go through Samaria to visit the woman at the well; 2)delight in a different diet that Jesus did when he declared that his food was to do the will of the Father; 3) dominate diversity as Jesus did when he made us all brothers and sisters in Christ, through His blood and by the power of the Holy Spirit; and 4) dig deeper into the well – because Jesus is Living Water – He offers more than we could ever offer by ourselves because the well is deep. Please pray that God opens each of our hearts to the beauty of a textured Kingdom of God in terms of ethnicity and socio-economies, equality between male and female, and young and old. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tj23BwvPLAs from Substance Church.

Call for Conversation: One staff member is offering a safe-space for conversation. She is a trained counselor, is encouraging all of us to have an “open posture” towards one another. This would relay a posture of curiosity, listening and empathy towards another's lived experience, not necessarily needing answers but validating and acknowledging someone else’s sacred story, recognizing all are created in God’s image. 

Visit the Memorial. Visiting the George Floyd memorial downtown Minneapolis may be an incredible experience of healing and solidarity of humanness. Those who have visited were offered food and drink and exceptional kindness. Instead of going to give something – they were surprised at what they received instead. The peaceful memorial can be found at 38th and Chicago. 

Meditate on Restoration and Rebuilding: This year, as a theme we focused on our Desert Journey concentrating on Isaiah 58:11. Rereading the entire passage, we found the verses around it speak to this situation more than imagine. We seek to be used as God’s feet and hands. And truly be the community He intends for us to be. Let’s close on this scriptural meditation. Join us in living out Isaiah 58:6-12. This is the true way forward.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness
[a] will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

UNPRECEDENTED

“Dear Lord Jesus, quickly come. As the world seemingly tips to one side, unstable, with unseen fears, hard to understand viruses, with rising curves of abuse and alcoholism, video images of excessive force turning to murder, as unheard voices cry out in riots, all are facing an uncertain future – we lift up our eyes to you. Where does our help come from? Our help comes the Lord, Maker of Heaven and Earth. We look expectantly for you to come again. And make all things right.  That day, the day of your Glorious Return, will truly be unprecedented.”
  
Unprecedented.  Probably the most, over-used word during this pandemic. I guess one more use of it won’t hurt and will solidify the finality of my series of addresses and COVID 19 “words of the week.”  Makes ironic sense to end with this word. We now have lived through a definition: Webster's 1913 Dictionary. Un-pre-ceden-ted. a. 1. Having no precedent for example; not preceded by a like case; not having the authority of prior example; novel; new; unexampled.


Unprecedented is the word to describe these last weeks of May 2020 at Hand In Hand.  We haven’t had a case(s) like this before, it is unexampled.  1) We closed our essential childcare program and took our last temperature readings and completed our distant learning programs; 2) We are zooming for our honoring ceremonies; 3) We are visiting our select students homes and making house calls with graduation caps, Bibles, food, yard-signs, well-wishing; 4) We will are hosting a virtual Banquet of Blessing; 5) We will celebrate with our CREO senior high at our first ever Baccalaureate worship service; 6) We will graduate our first senior who will don her cap and gown at a Facebook LIVE graduation ceremony. 
We wrote our very last rent checks, ever.  Next month, we will move into our new property and transition from renting to owning.  

COVID19 was novel.  Not only in a virology lab but in its presentation. Its twists and turns kept the state, the nation and the world on the edge of their proverbial chairs – waiting to react to its new challenges.  Hard to know what would happen next. Reactions were polarized and with the newness of the coronavirus came a variety of unparcelled experiences.  Here’s just a few from the Thompson quarantined household, which I am sure, is similar to your experience:

·      Zoomed. 5 people on Zoom Calls at the same time (2 in college course, 1 in a virtual dance studio, 1 in construction and business and 1 in educational discussion) I stopped counting when I logged in over 100 Zoom calls….

·      Working and learning from home. Often would forget what day it was. More than not I would only dressed from the waist up.

·      Tried curbside delivery. Door Dash.  Distant Learning. Socially Distant. Drive-by Birthday parties. Binge watching.  Virtual Bible Studies. Church On-Line. Tried it - liked it.

·      Shopped on-line. Bought more stuff. After we cleaned, cleaned and cleaned and got rid of stuff.

·      Walked more. Slept more. Took more vitamins. Built up physical immunity
Painted more. Listened more. Read more. Wrote more. Prayed more. Built up spiritual immunity.

·      Cried. And took a deep breath.

·      Sheltered in place. Which meant we baked bread. Made meal plans. Ate three meals at home for almost 10 weeks. That’s over 200 table-top times together. Baked and cooked like never before – and I mean never.

·      Ran out of toilet paper. Several times.


·      Pondered the term non-essential as we were labeled essential construction? Essential childcare? Essential barista?  Non-essential hostess? 

·       Pivoting  our strategies remaining anchored to our mission in several of our businesses.

·      Tried home-style haircuts, shaving heads, spray color and yes, I cut my bangs.

·      Asked ourselves - to mask or not to mask? To leave home or #stay home stay safe? To hug my mom? To visit my dad? To sing in church or even go? To risk.

King Solomon writes,  Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV). What has been will be again,    what has been done will be done again;    there is nothing new under the sun.


So, while these experiences might feel new to us – they are probably not new for mankind - or even more so, not surprising to God. Our omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (everywhere always), and omniscient (all knowing) God sets the precedent! Those words have never been more important at a time when all of our predictable, stable routines, and heart’s desires are hanging by a thread.   

Come Lord Jesus.  I echo the prayer above. The world is tipping and all seems unstable - please bring your Kingdom to earth. 

Amen and amen.

Blessings from home - the last of the COVID series and reflections,
Michelle Lee Thompson