Butterfly effect

LISD locksmith finds healing in unique hobby


Emily Lundell

LISD Locksmith Debnes Magnes credits her faith for helping her discover her passion for butterfly gardening. She wants to share it with others and always has kind words for everyone.

Editor’s note: This story was named as a superior feature in the TAJE Best in Texas contest. It also won third place for print features in the ILPC contest. It was also included in the portfolio that won first place for writer of the year in the 2020 National Scholastic Press Association individual awards competition. It also won first place for general features in the CSPA Gold Circle Awards competition.

LISD Locksmith Debnes Magnes often goes unnoticed as she walks through the halls, pushing her cart of tools from room to room with a bright smile. She shares positive messages throughout the day to encourage everyone she meets.

However, a closer look reveals flashes of color that pop out of her brown LISD uniform. Her ID is clipped on with an iridescent jewel. Yellow butterfly earrings peek out from behind her long brown hair. Her shoes are covered with a colorful floral pattern, shining red, orange, yellow, pink and blue. Her eyes sparkle with subtle shimmery eyeshadow. Debnes keeps butterflies close to her heart by wearing bright colors and accessories that remind her of the beautiful creatures.

They are a glimmer of hope that got her through her darkest days.

• • •

It was 1997 and Debnes had brought a camera to take pictures of the ultrasound of her fourth child. She was five months along and ready to see the baby for the first time.

But the baby on the ultrasound was still.

Debnes looked at the screen. The technician told her they didn’t see anything moving. Nothing made any sense. She heard the heartbeat the day before.

The baby was gone.

Debnes had to wait a week before the doctors could take her baby. In the following days, getting out of bed in the morning was difficult. She felt like she failed, like she lost a piece of herself. She questioned if she could keep something alive.

It was only a few months later that Debnes’s faith saved her.

“I didn’t get to stew very long in my depression and that’s what I wanted,” Debnes said. “I just kept praying and I said, ‘God, how long?’ and He said, ‘not another minute,’ and He took me outside.”

When Debnes stepped out into the sunlight, she was greeted by a butterfly.

Over the next few days, Debnes searched for butterflies, desperate to see the flutters of yellow and orange against the green plants, and took pictures to share.

She researched how to get butterflies to come to her home and stay there. Debnes read library books and searched the internet for hours to find what plants certain butterflies liked. She began to raise a small garden, growing milkweeds for monarchs and parsley and dill for black swallowtails. A passion vine covered her back fence for gulf fritillaries.

And the butterflies came to her.

“It brought me out of a depression that was horrible,” Debnes said. “When I started doing this gardening thing, I was like, ‘I’ve got to get up. I’ve got to go water that plant. I’ve got to go see what’s out there.’”

She was soon raising butterflies. Debnes watched as the first one came out of its chrysalis, unfolding its black and yellow wings, revealing itself as a black swallowtail. Only a few weeks before, the butterfly was a caterpillar. Debnes remembered how she, like the black swallowtail, could grow and change despite the circumstances.

Submitted by Debnes Magnes
LISD Locksmith Debnes Magnes raised these monarch butterflies since they were caterpillars. The photo won her third place in a photo contest on the Dave’s Garden website in 2008.

“This little creature has no choice, and just flows with its life cycles and just takes to the next stage of life,” Debnes said. “We should all be that way. We should all be that open to change and willing to grow and just focus on what we can do, and eventually, we fly.”

A year and a half after the miscarriage, Debnes didn’t want any more children. She already had three kids, who were becoming more independent, leaving Debnes more free time, most of which she spent in the garden.

However, she felt like God meant for her to have another child. Within five months, she was pregnant. She already had a name picked out. Benjamin Israel.

“I kept getting a clear and definite message in my heart that I needed to have another baby,” Debnes said. “I lost a baby and then God restored me before I even got pregnant.”

Debnes continued to raise butterflies after Benjamin was born, and as soon as he was old enough, he started gardening with his mother. Benjamin knew the names of all of the birds, butterflies and other insects.

“Who couldn’t be thankful after that? Who couldn’t think that ‘my creator thinks I’m special enough to bring me back whole again with everything he had in nature?’” Debnes said.

No matter what Debnes faced, butterfly gardening gave her the strength to push through. In 2001, her brother passed away from kidney failure. In the next 12 years, she lost her brother-in-law, father-in-law, father and lastly her husband, Kevin. Losing Kevin came as a shock to Debnes — he was only 51, young to die from a heart attack.

But Debnes looked at the hardships as new beginnings, not ends. Debnes used everything she learned in the butterfly garden as a source of strength to face the hardships.

“The things that make me have a lot of fortitude … are the same things that I learned when I was doing the butterfly garden,” Debnes said. “Just keep trying. Keep waking up. Go out there and look. It’s going to be different, and it was.”

When she discovered how much hope and healing the butterflies brought her, Debnes knew that she had to share her saving grace with others.

“Everytime it would help someone else, it would pick me up a little more,” Debnes said. “I felt like there was a deeper purpose than just me liking my garden. It was way more powerful.”

She started teaching classes and speaking at events. She wrote articles for the website Dave’s Garden and created the Butterfly Forum, where people can post photos of their butterflies, write about them and discuss their experiences.

“The gardening, it does so much because I let those butterflies go that I raise and they go to somebody else’s yard and somebody else goes, ‘oh wow,’” Debnes said. “They look up and they see something moving, that’s alive, that’s transformed.”

Design by Emily Seiler and graphics by Amber Luther

• • •

It was 2014. Debnes stared out the classroom window into the LISD elementary school courtyard. Kids ran around with huge smiles on their faces as they snapped photos of the monarch butterflies fluttering in the air.

A year earlier, Debnes had helped a teacher grow the butterfly garden. She drove across Fort Worth to buy the best full-grown candle trees and milkweeds she could find.

As she stood watching the kids, Debnes was amazed at the impact the little insects had.

“Just observing and how much they’re learning, it can’t be put into words,” Debnes said. “It’s just beyond incredible. God had been good to me.”

• • •

For the past six years, Debnes has grown as many plants as she could in the limited space at her apartments and rented houses. She shared her passion with neighbors, family, friends and students, but the whole time she dreamed of owning her own house where she could grow as many plants as she wants.

Debnes saved up and searched for her own place, but nothing seemed right. After a while, she began to lose hope in finding the home she wanted. But again, she said that she got a gift from God.

The perfect house.

It has a big backyard with sunny and shady spots for her plants. It’s only a few blocks away from the lake, making it a great habitat for butterflies.

As soon as Debnes saw it, she started buying plants and planning exactly where she wants to put them. In early December, her dream will finally come true when she moves in.

When Debnes looks back at the pain and hardships she faced, she doesn’t understand why any of it happened. But she doesn’t need to. Debnes trusts God.

“I’ve always been more happy with how He works things out than I would work things out on my best day,” Debnes said. “I’ve learned a lot of truth from the butterfly gardening. Everything about the process is true, and that’s all I needed.”


Not one of the guys

Locksmith serves as only female

Debnes has been a locksmith for 35 years and has worked for the district for six years. She is the only female locksmith. When LISD orders the brown work shirts, only one comes in a woman’s size.

“I hate to say this, but gender did come into play because there’s a lot of guys that at first, they’re looking at me like, ‘oh, well what’s she going to do?’” Debnes said. “Well, I’m a really serious locksmith… it wasn’t that I’m just this little girly person. I’m a really serious, technical service person. I’m a craftsman.”

Anytime someone has a jammed lock or an issue with their door, Debnes is immediately there to fix it, promising that it’s no trouble at all with a smile. That’s who she is.

“I know that she’s really passionate about her job of securing the building and making sure that she treats everybody with a lot of respect on top of it,” West Zone Facilities Service Manager Steven Jones said. “She takes it personally to take care of each client or student, teacher, makes sure everybody is safe and secure.”