Category Archives: Ruminations

Things I ponder

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.

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

Sweet, Sweet Home

It’s amazing how days just roll by here. So much, and so little, has happened it’s hard to know where to begin. Suffice it to say the farm in the summertime is a hopping place.

Really.

Last Monday morning we woke up to our first Nebraska morning. Cooler than I thought it would be but far from actually being cool, our first day was spent primarily in the sour cherry trees out in the orchard. Completely full of ripe fruit and not able to wait another day, the six of us stood on ladders and large buckets picking and picking and picking until we were all soaking wet and sticky with juice. With so many buckets of newly picked cherries, the only thing to do next was to pit them all. Sitting on the deck getting stickier still, I was once again captured by the quiet of the place. Peaceful. Tranquil. The breeze stirring the trees. A far-off tractor. The boys laughing off in the barn. It was enough peace to silence even the clamor that occurs in my own head.  Usually, when faced with a mundane chore like pitting cherries, I plug in my iPod to create rhythm and a quicker pace. Not here. I wouldn’t dream of interrupting the soothing sound of the place itself. And the clock isn’t running either so there’s nothing to be gained by rushing.

And so we spent our first days: picking from the garden, mowing the yards, planning what to do next. The boys were thrilled to catch a glimpse of the only kitten to be born this year on the farm. “Sparky,” as Milt named her, is just a tiny fuzzy, black thing with huge eyes. It only took us a day of hand feeding her to get her to a place where we could pet her. And now, almost a week later, she’s tame enough to pick up, cuddles up against us when we sit outside, follows us when we walk away from her. The boys are smitten with her. The fish we carted from Pennsylvania largely forgotten–except by Nicholas who still checks in on them daily.

On Saturday Orlando’s family began to arrive. It’s a tradition for he and his sisters to gather at the farm for the Fourth of July. As his sisters and their families trickled in, the house filled with kids and dogs and general chaos. Of course I’m used to it—we do this every year. And of course we all visited the local fireworks trailer to pick out rockets and sparklers for the holiday. And of course we made meals for twenty plus people and tried to squeeze them all around a single table. And of course we went to the pool to cool off from the heat that crested 100 degrees on the garage thermometer. And of course, when the day came, we went into Seward, the neighboring town and self-proclaimed “Fourth of July City” for all the festivities. We watched local pilots turn their tricks in the airshow, run by local crop dusters and pilots who love to wow the hometown crowd with their courage. We browsed the quilts and art at the huge craft show, complete with any kind of Go Big Red ware you could possibly want. We waved to the horsemen and antique tractor riders and clowns and politicians and Czech queens in the local parade, standing with the crowd as the flag passed and giving a standing ovation to every single serviceman who walked by. Patriotism in its most honest, purest form. And of course we enjoyed a cookout complete with watermelon and homemade ice cream.

But the best part came later. We gathered the boys in the van and drove back into Seward for the fireworks display. Of course it’s a busy place so we had to leave the van several blocks away from the park where they blast the things. As we walked through the neighborhood, true to Nebraska tradition, every home was shooting off fireworks of their own. And they weren’t little either. The boys’ eyes were as wide as saucers and we walked through a veritable war zone of sky rockets and roman candles and artillery. The boomers clashing and spraying sparks overhead, it was both exhilarating and frightening. And beautiful. Even in my adult knowing that shooting fireworks from the middle of the street while cars drive by isn’t a smart thing, I must admit that it was cooler than cool to walk through the canopy of colored sparks and sprays.

But then, sitting on a blanket in the beautiful evening air, we sat together with the boys as the “real” fireworks burst overhead with every color and fizzle imaginable. They “ooohed” and “aahhed” with the crowd, snuggled closer for the really loud booms, and came away sleepy and content, feeling like they’d just lived through the “best day ever.”

And as we drove down the country road and the lights of the farm came into view, it was Dominick in the back seat, sleepy-eyed but watchful, who declared, “There it is! I can see it! Sweet, sweet home!”

And Orlando turned to me and smiled.

So we’re off to a good start. And even with the uncertainty of Orlando’s job and whether or not we get to stay or go, the sweetness of our new home and faith in the One who sent us is building within us. And for now, that’s enough.

Picking cherries

Nicholas and Dominick watching the tractors go by

The Midwest's smallest airport--in other words, that plane landed on top of that Suburban

Sparky

When Words Fail. . . .

“Ouch!”

It’s the only word in me to adequately describe our last day at Petra.

So many people and so many hugs and so many tears. We didn’t even get to hug them all, which is how it goes when you church with 1,500 other people but sad all the same. I was prepared for the bawlfest, really I was. Orlando decided that maybe today was a day he should have skipped, but he was prepared for all the sadness, too. We just gave up and let our eyes be full of tears all morning. It was the boys, however, who were really taken aback by it all. I was not at all prepared for how sad they would be. I guess I didn’t give them enough credit for seeing ahead quite as far as they can. But when you think of it, they don’t remember us being a part of any place like we’ve been a part of this one. There were times when we at breakfast, lunch, and dinner in that building. It’s been a second home to them; many of the people as close to them as family. And this was it. Our last Sunday.

It began with Dominick, of course, getting teary and boo-boo faced when he said goodbye to his beloved friend, Tee. He stood looking at her a moment waiting for her to notice him–when she saw him she immediately came over and gave him big hugs. If you don’t know her, there is something tremendously soothing about Tee’s big hugs. They have always worked strength into me and peace into little Dominick. She’s been his Sunday morning angel, taking him for walks and and giving him things to do and handing him little treats. But mostly she just paid attention to him and talked with him in her quiet, generous way. When you’re the youngest in a busy family, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Tee always watched out for him and he loves her. Understandably, he had a hard time leaving her. He cried as we walked away. We cried, too. Of course!

The older boys had their moments, too. Nicholas shared his sadness with Nancy, his Sunday School teacher. Benjamin quizzed me on when whether or not we would visit Pennsylvania, and if so, would we do it on a Sunday so we could visit our friends at Petra? Anthony just didn’t say too much–not really like him at all. But I could see it in his face, his little armor chipping away as the morning wore on as he gave more and more hugs goodbye to the people who have loved him so well. The last hugs were the worst. Pastors Lester and Erma, who always had a kind word for them. Terry the kid Magnet, who always joked and played with them and his wife Marg, who never forgot to tickle them. Pastor Ken, who always had a hug for them. Miss Esther, who took such good care of them. Miss Kim, who always took the time to listen to them tell their stories. This was pretty grueling for all of us, but when we finally made it to the van, poor Anthony just broke. As we drove away, he turned his face to look out the window, and just sobbed and sobbed. It took him fifteen minutes to recover. And of course Orlando and I cried watching him cry.

The last thing we saw as we left was Pastor Erma waving goodbye in the doorway. It seemed so fitting–she waved hello to us back when we first walked in those doors–then carrying three babies. And it occurred to me in that moment that it’s amazing how deep our love for these folks goes when we’ve only been with them for a little over five years. Five years. And our lives were changed and our hearts were knit in to the point that we feel such tearing today as we  leave. It’s a miracle, really. And if there is an overall lesson to be learned from our time at Petra, it is that when you follow God’s heart to a place, His people will be there to take you in. They may not be like the people you left behind, they may be different socially or economically or culturally. But His Spirit will reign and will speak to you should you have an open heart and willing hand. Should you choose to dive in and build His kingdom alongside them. Should you choose to take the risk, let down your walls, and become part of the place. And if you become part of the place, know that it will also become a part of you.

So thank you, dear friends from Petra Christian Fellowship. Words fail in telling you how much you’ve meant to us.  Thank you for all you’ve given us. Thank you helping us become a better family. Thank you for loving our children so well. Thank you for being a place of healing and rest for us and letting us be, well, just be us.

We love you all.