CAUTION: Our spontaneity is showing!

The thesaurus offers such synonyms to spontaneity as naturalness,

Cathy, Houseparent
Cathy, Houseparent

freedom and impulsiveness. What a way to describe the summer break home at St. Joseph’s Indian School!

The structure of time is different. Routines are missing but not missed. There is plenty of unscheduled time to fill with spontaneous adventure: riding bikes and then ditching them and running into the woods to build (or add to) teepee-like forts – one for the boys and one for the girls. Finding a dead bird while playing outdoors becomes a search for the perfect burial spot complete with prayer and a homemade headstone. Walking to town to go swimming may include rolling down grassy hills at Barger Park or stopping at the Derby for a cookie. For now, there is no “have to.”

One of the children’s favorite things to do (still) is to go out to the new playground at St. Joseph’s. One recent afternoon, there was a noticeable shift in mood on the playground.

It could have been because of sun shining too brightly… or just being tired. Instead of mirth and mischief there were complaints and grouchiness. The decision to move on from the park was simple. On to the next thing!

Except no one could agree on anything… We moved to a grassy area and just sat. We talked about what they were experiencing and the next moment throwing handfuls of grass in random directions. “Random” meaning in my direction…

I was covered in green and laughter! Then Scott, one of St. Joseph’s Family Service Counselors, appeared and invited us to be part of a prayer circle with the high school students. Within moments, the children went from feeling restless, to rolling around in the grass, to actively praying. No planning necessary.


I am partial to spontaneity and the idea of being open to “Divine Appointments.” One afternoon a student, I’ll call him R, appeared to be very unhappy. I asked him if he would be willing to help carry some things back to another home.


His response seemed more like a test than just a “no.”

I turned away and then heard a quieter “Ok – sure.” I must have passed the test.

So I gathered up the supplies while R enlisted the help of his younger brother A. I let them lead the way, which seemed important, even though I would have preferred staying away from the mosquito-infested grass. Moving quickly, wanting to complete this chore and move on to the next unplanned activity, I almost missed our divine appointment.


A baby bird was perched on the back of the bench. I turned and saw R and the bird, starting at each other with no more than two feet between them.

Why isn’t this bird flying away?

Something important was happening.

A and I stopped at a distance and watched in awe at the connection happening between R and this delicate-looking bird.

“Look we are both the same!” exclaimed R.

Both R and the bird had a bit of white hair on top of their dark heads. The boy and the bird seemed taken with each other.

Then, perhaps because of the awkward load we were carrying, all of us started walking again. I wish we hadn’t. A spell seemed to have broken. The bird continued to watch as R walked away.

He wondered out loud if the bird would still be there after we finished. It was. This time A cautiously approached and the bird quickly flew away.

Something then dawned on R and a smile brightened his face. He turned to face me, his gaze saying “See I am special. This bird that looks like me told me so.”

A tear fell as the purity of this moment hit hard. It transformed this child with his very bad mood, into feeling something very extraordinary.

To have correctly experienced this natural, unplanned and unprompted event, you kind of had to be there. It loses something in the written delivery. Thinking of it, even now, brings up emotion. I hope R clings to this spontaneous and significant moment forever…

He really is exceptional. A bird that looks like him told him so.



In the summer break home at St. Joseph’s, there’s free time for ice cream breaks and relaxation.
The Lakota children in the summer break home enjoy a spontaneous stop for ice cream on a warm afternoon.


Author: St. Joseph's Indian School

At St. Joseph's Indian School, our privately-funded programs for Lakota (Sioux) children in need have evolved over 90 years of family partnership, experience and education. Because of generous friends who share tax-deductible donations, Native American youth receive a safe, stable home life; individual counseling and guidance; carefully planned curriculum based on Lakota culture and individual student needs and tools to help build confidence, boost self-esteem and improve cultural awareness. All of this helps children to live a bright, productive, possibility-filled future.

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