Contemplating the Do-Over–Part 2

It’s been almost a year since I did this the first time.

One year since Orlando and I finished a week of prayer and fasting with the conclusion that we were going to pack up our tents and move to Nebraska. And the next six months of that decision, chronicled so well in this blog, were a whirlwind of tiny pieces and bits of what it took us to make that move. All the conversations and goodbyes and boxes and miles. All the contortions our hearts made as we left our home and friends and lives. All the anxiety mixed with all the hope and dreams of things to come.

And now we’ve been here on the plains for six months. And the firestorm of endings and preparations gave way to the gradual work of building a life. Our life. Our new life. And as simple a concept as that may be, the work of it has been quite challenging.

It’s a different world here. I knew that, of course, before coming and you knew that because I told you. But it’s an amazing thing to live in a place where people stay. I’ve met person after person who have lived right here in this small, Nebraska town their entire lives. Or at least have lived nearby. (I’ve lived so many places I can scarcely count them all.) And although there are plenty of people who seem to come and go, it is this strong core of “lifers” that actually create the community as I know it. A small, tight community. They’re committed to this place and their way of life, and sometimes it feels as though they are watching to see if we’re committed, too. And waiting to see if we will become part of them.

And slowly, slowly, slowly we move closer to them. And slowly, slowly, slowly they let us.

Now for someone like me, who is much more inclined to burst into a room and yell “Ta Da!” at the world, this slow dance can be a little maddening. But I understand it’s importance. These are people who stay. Their children will be friends with my sons from now until college. We will sit next to each other at potlucks, basketball games, and banquets for the next decade. And because they stay, they need to know we’re for real. They need to know we mean what we say. They need to know we’re worth their trust.

And that puts us just about where I thought we’d be the first time I contemplated the do-over.

So I guess we’re on schedule.

The Grid

When I met Orlando, everybody called him “Lanny.”

Maybe some of you still do and if you do that’s not a big deal to him. But somewhere early in our marriage he asked me to call him Orlando. It is, after all, his given name and he would prefer to use it. So I obliged and now “Lanny” is a name I seldom, if ever, use. And the result, after 15 years of doing it, is that a lot of people only know him as Orlando. It’s a name we’ve grown used to. Until recently, I kind of forgot I ever had to work at switching.

But here in Milford it does cause some consternation.

First of all I should tell you that when I meet people in Milford, the first order of business is their plotting me on the grid. The map. The Milford family tree. It’s impossible to know somebody here without knowing “who they’re with” (Godfather reference intended). It’s important to them. It’s not like those of us from the crowded coasts who meet people every single day that come from nowhere or everywhere. Here, people have an origin. A heritage. To know me is to know where I fit.

So when we meet, they consider me with a pleasant expression and say, “Okay, so you’re a Roth. Who is your husband?”

“Orlando,” I reply.

I watch as a strange look comes over their faces. “Orlando?” they puzzle. “Orlando? Who are his parents?”

“Milt and Wilma,” I answer. “You know, the ones who owned the restaurant.”

“Oh right! Wow, do we miss that place! And they have a son named Orlando?” I watch as the person mentally ticks through the family members, one by one, until….

“Oh, you mean Lanny!”

“Right,” I say.

And without a doubt, one of the following statements will emerge:

“I went to high school with Lanny.” “I’ve know Lanny since I was a little kid.” “Lanny and I used to be in the same Sunday School class.” And the ever famous, “Lanny is my second cousin.”

And then the person and I will small talk for a little while.  I try feverishly to remember the name of this person and they succeed in nailing my place in on the grid. The exchange making them comfortable in knowing where I fit, and even helps them infer several key pieces of information about me without even having to dig for it. Knowing Lanny  means they know me.

But does it?

Well, yes, to one extent it does. To know Lanny means to know I must be a committed Christian. He wouldn’t have married anyone else. And it also means that I probably hold to his values: strong family, education, hard work. All true–I value those things. And I admire my husband more than I can say for how he lives out those values in the real world. But is that it? Is that all there is to know about me?

Well of course it isn’t. The rest is a mystery to be unraveled. It would be as much of a mistake for the good people of Milford to assume that Lanny and I are identical as it would be for me to assume that they are all identical. Or defined by their places on the grid. It might send you in the right direction, but in the end we become the people we choose to become.

And I think that’s part of the reason that I am married to Orlando and not Lanny. He’s been away from here a long time. Has changed and grown and been refined by experience and the intervention of a loving God. He’s a teacher, a husband, a father.  And he’s a man, not a boy.

I guess that makes both of us a mystery. Who is this masked man? And who is his wife?

And that’s with or without the grid.

A Haze of Purple Glory

It’s amazing to me how quickly my boys have caught on the local scene. The common thread that unites every Nebraskan from the lights of Omaha to the powder of the sand dunes to the trees at Arbor Lodge. The pastime that defies seasons and almost showed up on the state quarter. Don’t know yet? Let me help you out:

Football.

A couple of weeks ago we took the boys to see the local high school football team–the Milford Eagles–in their first home game. I should tell you that football is not a new thing for us. We have taken the boys to see at least one high school football game every year since they were toddlers–Orlando always felt it was his duty as a teacher to show up to such events, plus the football coach in Lititz was his friend and we enjoyed going out to support him. And we’ve always been Nebraska Huskers fans, so it’s not like the boys have never seen a football game or watched us cheer on our teams. So why now, all of a sudden, have we been struck with football fever?

It all began a few Friday’s ago when the boys got in the van after school. Everyone filing out of the school building was wearing purple and my socially savvy Anthony had taken note. “Mom,” he said,” We should get Milford Eagles shirts. We are Milford Eagles now, you know.”  “I’ll work on it.” was all I said, but it dawned on me that this is their first experience actually going to school in the town they live in and they were wanting to be a part of the community of Milford Eagles fans. I took that as a good sign and logged into my memory the need to find some purple shirts.

Later that evening we were sitting in the stands behind the band. We were all jazzed up by the inflatable Eagle Man and the boom of the snare drums.  Then came the kickoff and the Milford Eagles lined up along the sidelines in front of us. It was Nicholas who noticed it first. “Hey Mom, there’s a guy down there wearing a shirt that says ‘N Roth.’ That’s just like me! I’m ‘N Roth,’ too!”  And before you knew it, we had identified an N Roth, T Roth, B Roth, and Z Roth on the field in front of us.

As the game went on, it became obvious to all of us that Z Roth was quite a football player. It seemed like on every other play “The ball was carried by Z Roth for a total of umpteen yards.” My in-laws and their friends started murmuring, “That Z is some player.” “Is he only a junior? Really?” “Wow, he can kick the ball, too?” His dad must be proud.”

His dad? Finally it dawned on me to ask Orlando about Z Roth and his teammates, and as it turns out, Z’s dad is Orlando’s cousin. Our closest neighbor. His roosters wake us up every morning. And N Roth is his brother, also our neighbor. And T and B Roth are also cousins.

“Z. Roth is our second cousin? And he’s our neighbor?” They boys were shocked, amazed. Could not believe their good fortune at being related to not only one, but a whole line of football players.” Anthony immediately declared the news to the second grader sitting in the stands in front of us. “What?” said the boy. “Didn’t you just move here? That’s so cool!”  And in that moment  Z Roth and his teammates were elevated to rock-star-status. Cooler than cool. Milford Eagles–the thing to be.

And now my boys want to be football players. All of them. Not that they would ever abandon their love of baseball, instead they have added this to the repertoire of things they want to do. “You know, Mom, in Milford third graders can play flag football.” “You know, Mom, we’re allowed to play football on the playground.” “You know, Mom, they make football helmets for kids–maybe I could get one for Christmas?” And of course Anthony, with his theological summary of the situation: “You know, Mom, I’m a big guy. We’re all big guys. Maybe God made us big to play football.”

“Maybe.” I said.

But I can see it. The Milford Eagles lining up on the sidelines with B Roth, A Roth, N Roth, and D Roth standing in a row. A band of brothers all carrying the ball in a haze of purple, football glory. It’s the stuff little boy dreams are made of.

And who knows? It could happen.

Maybe.

Proud fans

 

The Inflatable Eagle

 

Sidelines

 

Navigating the New Ordinary

For the most part–most of the day, most of time–the daily reality of life is a constant that defies geography. It has a rhythm that does not change, even for those of us who are making a home 1400 miles away from the last one. We get up, get dressed, make breakfast, lunch, and dinner, clean up, go to work, go to school, go the church, wash the clothes, take out the trash. The work is similar. The rhythm is consistent. What changes is the scenery. The people. The differing customs and cultures of American life so slight you could miss them if you aren’t careful and will certainly step on them if you’re too clumsy.

Case and point, back in Pennsylvania when I took out the trash, I put the glass and cans in a bin that was carted away somewhere by one truck and everything else in a can that was carted away to an unknown landfill by another truck. I did my ecological duty by sorting it out, but had no idea what ever became of it. Here in Nebraska when I take out the trash, I take the recyclable material and sort it into separate bins: aluminum, tin, glass, plastic, and paper. (Minus the egg cartons which we save to give to the local second hand shop to sell farmers who can use them.) Later we take them into town to be recycled, but they have different destinations. I give the food scraps to the animals. I compost the remaining organic leftovers for the garden. I put the “junk metals” in a separate container that almost never gets full that will eventually go for scrap. And then finally,  I take everything that is left, throw it in this enormous barrel, and I burn it. Nothing goes down the garbage disposal. Little goes to the landfill.  So even though the end is the same–I get rid of the trash–the process is lengthier. Here, through the lack of convenience, people not only know what happens to their trash, they have to deal with it themselves. And that dealing has the effect of making them more mindful, more conscious, and less wasteful. So I’m still doing the ordinary and taking out the trash, but you could say that it’s a “new ordinary.”

Other new ordinary activities are equally different. I still have to grocery shop, but am back to square one in deciding what the cheapest and most efficient way is to get this done. I’m used to having a variety of grocery stores within five minutes of my home.That is not the case here.  There is one in town, but it is more of convenience store than a grocery store. The big ones in Lincoln have more variety and are cheaper. So this means I have to think way ahead and plan better, otherwise I’m paying ten bucks for a pack of hot dog rolls or driving an hour there and back for a gallon of milk. No more figuring out what to make for dinner on the way home after school unless I simply deal with what I’ve got in the cupboard. And if I have a last minute craving for Chinese food because I’m too late to cook, you can just about forget about that and put on some mac and cheese for the kids. There is no last minute. There is no “could you run and get me some….” There is no “convenience.”

Don’t get me wrong I don’t find all this bad, it’s just different. And it does occasionally trip me up. I can’t buy a cup of coffee from the local coffeeshop after 2pm. That same grocery store is closed on Sundays. And we are at the way far end of the line for internet–the technician thought it was a miracle we could hook up at all.

So here I sit, typing away on my slower-than–I’m-used-to computer, working at adjusting my thinking away from a world full of “quick and easy.”

And trying hard not to tap my foot while I wait.

Far Away

Every now and again I have a moment.

You know, a moment. A moment when I’m not sure. A moment where I hope all we believed we were meant to do is what we were truly meant to do and not some hideous, horrendous mistake. A moment where I find myself struggling with all we left behind. A moment where I feel displaced instead of where I belong. Lost instead of found. Empty instead of full. Absent instead of there.

Far away.

And I chide myself for it, these moments. My mind knows better than to indulge them because I know the pitfalls of backward looking. Sometimes you just can’t second-guess going in the direction God takes you. It smacks of looking back to Egypt and might land you wandering in the desert for 40 years. Better to seek Him further, pray for direction, find your way, and be content.

But I can’t. Not today.

In these last few weeks, I’ve struggled. In our absence, our former town has been earthquaked and hurricaned.  An old friend from Lititz, newly back from Afghanistan, lost his home to the raging fires in Texas. Our church lost one of its youngest members to cancer, a courageous little warrior named Conner, gone home to be with Jesus and just five years old. And tonight, at his memorial service, the entire county has been flooded like it hasn’t been since 1972.

And here in Nebraska it was a beautiful 72 degrees and sunny. It just doesn’t seem right.

Funny,  I thought the simple missing of my friends and work and house and life would be the tempter to send me looking backward. But instead all the calamity and loss has taken me there . I’m far away from my friends and they are hurting. And even though there probably isn’t a single thing I can do for any of them to make it better, my heart longs to be there. If only to stand there. If only to pray with them.

And so from here I pray. I can’t be there but He can be. So know, dear friends, that I’m praying for you all tonight. For your safety, for your sadness, for your broken hearts. I’m praying that the clouds will part, the sun will shine, and that God will keep you close.

And in that, maybe I’m not so far away after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retroblog: Thank God I’m a Country Boy

Dearest Blog Readers: After a six-week blog hiatus caused by the lack of working internet service in the faraway fields of Nebraska, I am now officially online and ready to roll from Big Red. I’m going to start out with a few “retroblogs,” written over the last six weeks and stored away here in my computer. I hope you enjoy catching up with us!

July 22, 2011

First thing in the morning, after snuggling in my lap for a few minutes dressed in his basketball pajamas, Nicholas looked up at me and asked the defining question of the day:

“Mommy, are we farm boys now?”

“Of course!” I told him, and truthfully although they are really only farm boys-in-training, they’re certainly off to a good start. We spent the day working in the state approved job—cornhusking. This spring Milt planted twelve long rows of sweet corn and this week it was ready to go. Right after breakfast, before the temperatures reached the promised 115 degree heat index, Orlando and Milt walked through the rows twisting off the corn while the boys and I played bucket brigade, exchanging their full buckets of corn for empty ones and then loading the ears into the bucket of the tractor. Then we went over to the trees and husked and husked and husked some more. They kids and I husked the corn, Wilma and Orlando’s sister Janell and her husband brushed off the silk, Milt cut off the yucky parts, and Orlando cooked off the stuff in a huge iron pot suspended over an open fire. I have never seen so much corn in my life. It took all of us—six adults and seven children, four and half hours to get it all cleaned and cooked. And for the kiddos, the job was done. Time for lunch.

But for the rest of us, the day had just begun!

We had to get it off the cob. Another five hours of cutting and bagging while the corn sprayed and splashed all over—my shirt was actually stiff from the homegrown corn starch. I felt a little silly being my age and having never done this before, but I’m pretty good with a knife and seemed to catch on well enough. Afterward my hands were cramped and I think it took my back an hour to straighten out the crooked position it took on so I could cut the corn at the counter. But when all was said and done and we spread the corn out in the freezers to cool, we had 62 bags of corn. There’s nothing like looking at stuff like this. Most of the work we do is momentary—I do the dishes now and I’ll do them again later. But in just a few days we stocked up 130 bags of corn– food that I’m going to use again and again for the next year. It does my heart good to work at something that I can actually see.

But yet one thing remained to do–clean up and get rid of the cobs and husks. So we loaded the leftovers back into the tractor and got ready to haul them off to feed to neighboring cows. Milt’s brother Arnold has a field nearby, so Milt hitched up the hay wagon to the tractor so the children could go with him out to the pasture. Orlando and I went along for the ride—I was again struck by the beauty of the fields and meadows of this place—rolling and rugged and in some places, unbelievably green. I sang old John Denver songs while riding along to road—it just seemed appropriate to me. When we reached the pasture, Milt jumped off the tractor and moved what appeared to be a single wire acting as a fence. We continued down the road and encountered the herd of cows.

Now truthfully I have seen a million cows in my life up till now. Pennsylvania is full of them and I drove by field after field of them for years. However, I have never actually been in the field with the herd before, and that was a different experience entirely.

As soon as we drove in the cows looked up at us and started running—right toward us! Soon these enormous black cows were swarming around the tractor and trailer, coming close enough to try to take a bite out of the hay we were sitting on. Alarmed, the boys and I thought we were going to be flattened for sure, but just at that moment Orlando jumped off the trailer and started to direct these huge animals around. He walked right through them, pushing them and shooing them and moving them to the husks and cobs we’d brought for them. He looked really small out there with all that future beef, but not the least bit concerned. He knew just what to do.

And for a moment I was again amazed at all that the man I married is. One moment he is the consummate professional who has schools lining up to hire him. The next he is a gentle daddy hugging and tickling his sons. And now another reality surfaces. He is, in fact, a farm boy. He is completely in his element here with all the cows and the corn and the tractors. Happy and free with his hands in the dirt.

Just the guy I need to bring up these little farm boys-in-training.

Country Boys

Hitting the Water

Today is July 21, 2011.  It is Nicholas’s seventh birthday. And as much as we are thrilled for our little boy and his seven candles, it was what happened yesterday that has us truly rejoicing.

Orlando was hired to teach in Lincoln. Finally.

Okay, so it took a bit longer than we expected, but he was offered two jobs and took the one at the school that he really, really wanted to be part of this entire time. The school he had worked for previously in Nebraska. A school that had just one job opening this year. A position they were happy to give him and he was honored to accept.  God truly had his hand in this because believe it or not, the timing was just about perfect.  I think our entire family heaved a collective sigh of relief upon hearing the news.

Through the whole adventure I’ll admit not allowing myself the luxury of considering a Plan B. I didn’t want to even begin to think of how we would restore the  life in Pennsylvania we so neatly dismantled to come here. But when the word finally came and the reality of our move was finalized, I had to take a moment to catch my breath. Wow, I thought, we’re really not going back. And for just a second I was struck with all those mixed feelings of loss and joy that have so marked the journey here. It felt like we jumped to take the plunge so long ago, but even after the long way down, the shock of hitting the water was still, well, a shock.

So here we are. Residents of Milford, Nebraska. Population 2052. So on our first day of being real residents, the boys and I went to town and did the right thing: we applied for a library card. And tomorrow, the search for an internet connection on the farm begins. Can’t do the blog from the library forever!

And tomorrow we figure out how to get our stuff from there to here in the next week. Orlando begins his new job on August 2!

More later friends. Thanks for your patience with the sporatic blogging. I promise to catch you when I’m connected.