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

The Storm–The Trip, Part Two

We arrived at Dawn’s house in northwest Ohio at about 2:30am on Saturday, June 24. I don’t think Orlando or I had ever been more tired.

We knew the moment we stopped that we would not be getting up early to leave. We decided instead to take a day off. We decided to spend the entire day at Dawn’s house, lay low all of Saturday and leave early on Sunday morning. And that is exactly what we did. Sunday morning at 6:30 our vans departed again. Our goal: make it to the farm by sundown. The only chink in my armor—my left headlight was blown out. No problem. It doesn’t get dark in Nebraska until well after 9pm.

Refreshed from the day of rest, I was absolutely ready to be on the way. We breezed through Indiana, didn’t slow a bit in Chicago—a minor miracle if you’ve ever driven that way—and rolled through the hills of Iowa with only the minor slow downs that come with the regular construction zones that occur on those roads. Crossing through that way, the unusual sights were all the water standing in the fields, the rivers that were running over their banks, and the small bridges that had been washed out. The effects of sudden storms so full of water that even the dry, Midwestern earth couldn’t contain it. I wondered, as I crossed what seemed to be just minor waterways, what kind of rainfall has to occur to get little runs like these so high they knock out a bridge?

It didn’t take me long to find out.

As we hit the familiar territory of the Omaha area and crossed the Missouri River, ominous clouds were gathering in the west. “Look at those cumulonimbus!” the budding weather geeks in the back seats declared. The sky grew dark, glowing strangely as we circled Omaha and headed toward Lincoln. My weather meters were pegged—this could be very bad. And then I remembered that my headlight was out.

The rain hit us halfway to Lincoln. The sky just opened up and poured. I could barely see right in front of me. Growing up in Florida, I’m used to these kinds of deluges so it wasn’t a big deal at first beyond worrying that I was going to get pulled over for that headlight. But then the lightening started to bang, and the rain began to mix with hail, hammering the car topper above us and the windshield in front of me. And my weather self was well aware that I should be looking for tornadoes in these parts. As my van started to shimmy on the swamped roads, I noted that cars were pulling off the road all over the place. The underpasses were now parking lots on either side. But we needed to get there before dark because my headlight was out. And it was so dark already. I couldn’t see Orlando’s van any longer.

I would have been okay if it had gone on for five minutes like these storms do in Florida, but instead it just went on and on. Fifteen minutes of rain and hail. Now twenty minutes of feeling the van lose grip on the road. Not only couldn’t I see the road, but I couldn’t see the familiar sights of Lincoln either. The skyline. The capitol building with the Sower welcoming us to The Good Life. And it was at that point that I began to be terrified.

Orlando called me on the On-star phone. “I can’t drive in this anymore!” I declared, my terror evident in my voice. “I can’t see! The van is shimmying across the road!”

“Calm down,” he said. “The sky is getting lighter in the west. It’s almost over.”

Generally speaking, I try to remain calm in such situations so that my children remain calm. But this time, I knew they were as afraid as I was. So I decided the best course of action for all of us was to recruit the members in the back seat for more than weather watching. “Boys!” I said to them. “Pray for us! Pray that mom can drive through this and we all get there safely!”

“I’m already praying, Mom.” said Anthony. “Me, too, Mom.” said Benjamin. “We’ll pray!” said Nicholas and Dominick.

Orlando pulled us over the side of the road under the last overpass around Lincoln and let me calm down. He held my hand. He pointed out that the sky was bright ahead, that the storm was about over, and that we were almost home. And knowing I had an army of little warriors behind me, a godly man ahead of me, and a great God to protect me, I found the courage to continue.

And sure enough, as we headed out on the road again, the clouds broke apart and the beautiful, Nebraska sunset came into view. The furious storm, now to the east of us, was slowly floating away. And suddenly, we were exiting the interstate, bounding over country roads, and pulling into the lane.

We made it. We were home.

The farm lane

Heading Out–The Trip, Part One

Thursday, June 22, 2011. The official date. The day we would finally leave our home in Pennsylvania behind and head west. The plan: load both our mini-vans to the hilt and caravan ourselves across the country—me and the boys in one van and Orlando and the fish in the other.

But the day went whooshing by and we hadn’t gone anywhere yet. Too much to do—the end of the road packing and sorting simply overwhelming us. Our belongings seemed to multiply as we struggled to empty out our house. Every time we turned around, we found another full drawer. Another stack. Another pile. We were drowning in a sea of stuff.

But God had mercy on us. Orlando’s sister Dawn came to help us finish the task. A veritable white tornado, our house was never as clean and scrubbed as it was when she was done with it. Our good friends Nelson and Nancy hung by our side for days, carrying box after box, and even letting us leave behind a list of to-do’s we just hadn’t gotten to yet. Such amazing, gracious people.

And so Friday arrives. Take two on our exit date. Plan B on the road to Big Red. Yet upon waking, I sense that something in my tummy isn’t quite right. At first I think it is nerves, but quickly realize I am dealing with another bout of the stomach flu. Not a big deal, I say to myself. I can buck up and make it. I’m a trooper. But in my heart I struggled a bit. Not over the idea of having to find strength I didn’t have—I’ll admit to being used to relying on God in that way. But this was not the fairy tale, riding-off-into-the-sunset exit that I had planned for us. In my storybook head, I thought we’d sail away into this bright new horizon with the sun dancing and the orchestra playing in the background. The stomach flu really didn’t fit into that plan so well.

But still, we are a day behind already and really need to get this wagon train moving. So we continue working feverishly to get going. Orlando packs the van with his amazing ability to cram as many pieces into the space as he possibly can. The silver van has just enough room in it to fit in me and the boys. The burgundy van is so full it’s sagging in the back.

Finally, at 2:30pm, the vans are packed. The vacuum put away. The house is ready to go.

The boys say “Goodbye House!” in their own little ways. They take a final swing together on the front porch swing. Dominick hugs the porch rail. I quickly move through the rooms, knowing I probably will not return and feeling like I just can’t cry another tear over leaving this place. I walk out quickly, trying hard not to think or feel too much, my stomach rumbling. The boys carefully climb past the mountains of bags and backpacks in the van. They click in their seatbelts, chattering excitedly. We are going. Finally. As I strap myself in, I can feel just how heavy the van feels around me. With the car topper on and the load in the back, I’m going to be driving a tank.

Orlando walks over and gives me a quick hug and kiss. Dawn is traveling in his van with him to Ohio where we will drop her off. This is it. I take my keys in hand, whisper a final goodbye to that old house I love so well. Set the radio. And turn the key.

Clickclickclickclickclick. The engine does not turn over. The battery is dead.

The failure caught me completely by surprise. It caught the boys by surprise, too. That van has always turned on. I can’t remember a single time it left us sitting. Orlando looks at me and drops his head back and looks at the sky in a “this can’t be happening” gesture. He quickly recovered and came over and said, “I think the battery is dead because the doors have been open all day. I’ll just need to jump it.” My first thoughts, of course, were complete frustration, but they quickly gave way to my need to explain the situation to the boys in the back.

“What’s going on, Mom?”

“Well,” I tell them, “The battery is dead and Dad is going to have to jump start the van. You’ve seen him do that before, right?” And they had. Orlando has always been that nice guy in the parking lot who helps out stranded travelers with his jumper cables. The boys had seen him do that several times.

But then I felt the need to add just a bit more. And maybe I was saying it more to myself than to them. Saying it more to my need for a fairy tale ending.  “Sometimes,” I tell them, “when we are doing the right thing, when we are doing the things God wants us to do, bad stuff will happen to try to discourage us. To try to keep us from going on or to try to make us doubt God’s plan for us. I think this is one of those moments. We need to choose right now to not be discouraged. We need to choose to trust what God has said to us. It’s not going to be an easy trip, but it’s the trip God has us taking.”

And in true fashion, my children understood this better than I did. They weren’t the least bit put off. They continued to chatter and sing while they watched the activity in the front of the van. They didn’t tense up when the first efforts failed. They waited. And they cheered when the van roared to life. And I was able to wait it out along with them, in peace. The kind of peace that comes from knowing you have the King of Glory on your side.

And with the engines running and God once again being firmly put in the driver’s seat, we headed out and drove off into the sunset. And this time, it was for real.

Together on the front porch swing.

 

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.

Already Gone

The computer drought has ended at the Roth house. I am writing this post from our new laptop, updated with new antivirus stuff, out of our new computer bag,  Unfortunately, I’m still sitting in my old house. I’m so ready to take the next step.

The biggest question out there, the one we hear from everyone we run into, is “Have you heard anything yet?” And of course the answer is an exasperated “No!” The LPS school district is recovering from the loss of their offices, but just now restored email at the end of this week. They had a Facebook post up asking those who were looking for jobs to give them a bit of time to get it together so we have tried to do that. I think Orlando patience is about over, however, and I suspect he will send them an email before this Sunday evening is out. He just can’t stand the wait. I’ll admit I think it would be nice to hear something from them myself after all this time and I’m not the one waiting to be hired.

In the meantime, our house is slowly being emptied out. We’re stilling living amongst the furniture, but most of the cabinets and chests and drawers are now empty. The “new and improved” plan is that as we box things up, Orlando is moving them to one of our two rented storage units here in town. One is almost totally full.  Within two weeks, we want everything we own stored in those units (well, except the piano and the freezer) and then we’re going to jump on the interstate and head to Nebraska, taking only what our vans can carry and our faith that we are going with God’s wind at our backs.  The house will go up for sale empty. And when Orlando nails down this job and our house is sold, we’ll come back and get the rest of the stuff. It’s not like we’ll need it immediately anyway.

The boys are down to sleeping in sleeping bags on the floor (which they LOVE by the way) and they have their little backpacks all set with only the most indispensable toys and gadgets. I’ve held out just one set of sheets for our bed,  bought a boatload of paper plates and bowls so I can pack away my everyday plates, and next on my program is figuring out what to do with the clothes in the closets. If I were moving across town, I would just throw them all in the backseat with the hangers on, but moving 1200 miles away makes it a bit more complicated. Just how many pairs of shoes, I wonder, will I need between now and September? Will the boys need jeans in the 100 degree Nebraska summer? Will Orlando need more than one shirt and tie to interview in? Such inane, yet fairly critical decisions. I’m sure we’re going to get there and I’m going to be kicking myself for what I do or don’t have on board.

Truthfully, I’m finding all the packing harder than ever. I feel like I simply can’t sort out one more thing. Either it’s trash or I’m moving it. I refuse to take the time to find another home for another stray object. “Don’t know what to do with that dryer we don’t need, honey? Let’s just throw it out.” I think there is only so much the human brain can take before everything starts looking like junk. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chided myself recently for buying some silly thing that, at the time, I just “had to have.” Want to cure your materialism? Move across the country! I miss the days where all my clothes could fit in my army duffle bag and all my furniture could fit in my junky, old Renault Alliance.

Forgive my crankiness. I just want to get out of here and the remaining piles in our house are the proverbial ball and chain.

Of course, I see a bright side to all of this. (The optimist always wins.) The time this is taking has me so ready to leave, the thought is no longer torturous. I’ve seen almost everybody. Said thousands of goodbyes. Doffed my hat to all my old haunts. Let go of just about everything I need to let go of. As a matter of fact, I might even feel a little bit like Marley’s ghost. You know what I mean–a disconnected spirit who hasn’t yet “passed over.” All of a sudden people seem surprised to see me, like they thought we’d be on our way by now. And you know what? In my heart, I’m already gone.

Can’t believe it, but it’s true.

Basil Rathbone as Marley's Ghost. basilrathbone.net

You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me!

It’s June–finally. The month the Lincoln Public School District promised to call Orlando for an interview. So of course he’s been staring at the phone. Wondering, waiting, holding his breath.

On Tuesday, he tried to log on to their website to see if they had posted any jobs, but the website was down. This worried him a bit. He tried to get on many times in the next few days but to no avail. Should he call, he wondered?  Should he wait it out? And then tonight, not ten minutes ago, he finally got onto the website. The site was still down, but there was a message. “We’re still trying to recover from the fire of May 31. Please log onto our Twitter or Facebook account.”

I’m sorry. FIRE?

And so we quickly logged onto the local media page and saw a tremendous video of the entire district office burning to the ground. The office that employed 250 people–one of whom is supposed to call this week and hire my husband this month. They are working on finding places for these people to return to work. They are working on recovering their data which, thankfully, was backed up off site. But their computers are gone, bulldozed under. And if Orlando had a paper file anywhere in that building, if they jotted down a note on a sticky reminding themselves to call him,  it’s toast. Literally.

I must admit, my first reaction to hearing all this was to laugh. It’s a funny thing sometimes, this faith business. Our lives are in His hands, but how easy is it for us to trust in things other than Him. Things like numbers and odds, computers, sticky notes, and even people. Sometimes it takes a fire to remind us who’s in charge. Sometimes it takes a “You’ve got to be kidding me!” moment to bring us back to a place of trust in the right One.

So here we go. Trusting in the fiery furnace.

You Are What You…..Yard Sale?

I’ve got a serious case of the Yard Sale Blues.

For months Orlando and I have been sorting through the piles in our house, looking for whatnot’s that we don’t really use, don’t really need, don’t really want to move. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I can be a sentimental sort of person. But the truth is that I pale in comparison to my husband in this. Part of this, I’m sure, is because he has the superior memory. He can remember who gave us that dish as a wedding gift. He can remember the trip where we found that seashell or bought that knick knack. He can remember which baby wore which outfit in which picture. I’ve always been a bit different. I can get weepy over specific memories, but it’s generalizations that do me in. I’m not attached to that baby shoe, but remembering our lives with all those babies can choke me up. I don’t need an object to get to that thought–maybe just a boy crawling into my lap who is so big and tall I have to work to get him to fit. So generally speaking , I would say my brand of sentimentality isn’t usually connected to stuff. Or so I thought.

Our front room is now nothing more than a huge pile to be “yard saled” on Saturday. We have so much stuff in there, it’s going to be more of a front yard sale, porch sale, patio sale, side porch sale, and backyard sale combined. It’s such a mountain and has eaten so much space, I can’t wait to get it all out of here. But when faced with the task of deciding whether or not to “yard sale” a said item, I’ve found myself balking over things that, frankly, I’m surprised I actually care about. Me? Sentimental over mere objects? You can’t be serious.

Well, I’ll admit it’s not the valuable items I’m having trouble with. You can take all the crystal and gadgets and televisions I have. I’ve been pretty cutthroat with those things. I’ve been looking at some of these decorations around my house for over 15 years. Time for something new, I say. But I really don’t want to get rid of my dented canner, even though I know my mother-in-law has a few. It’s the only thing I’ve owned that has ever given me any inclination to be domestic. I feel like Martha Stewart when I have that canner out. And I really don’t want to part with my stuffed frog because it was the first baby gift anyone ever gave me. I don’t want to forget how exciting that was for me. I won’t sell the laser photo that Mike Steinbacher from the Lewisburg Pizza Hut gave me for Christmas in 1984 because if I do, I might forget the boy entirely and I resist erasing people from my memory.  But today was the worst of all.  I had go through the VHS movies and practically found myself having an identity crisis. Some people are what they eat. Some are what they read. In my family, you are what you watch.

Now I understand that these movies are on VHS and it’s a dying medium. I know this, but still it’s not likely I will ever spend the cash to upgrade these movies and my VCR still works. (So does our 8-track. Seriously.)  Even so, this collection is something I’ve worked on since video was invented and I have ALL my favorite movies. Richard Dreyfuss in the Goodbye Girl. I saw that one at the Ormond Mall when I was  freshman in high school. Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly in Rear Window. Have you ever seen a more perfect woman? I SO wanted to be her when I grew up. How about A League of Their Own? A movie dedicated to women baseball geeks like me. Twister. Not a great film but about tornados and you all know how much I like the weather.  And I bet you don’t have a copy of a very young John Travolta in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. I do!  And how could I part with my tape of Jaws? I might actually go swimming in the ocean without thinking about Great Whites if I don’t watch it every year. That could be downright dangerous.

So for the first time ever, I reneged on lightening the load. I did put a whole bunch of movies into the yard sale pile, but they weren’t movies I cared about at all. And I kept far more than I purged. I decided that parting with my movie collection was just not worth the heartache and anxiety it was causing me. Take the baskets and the candles and the lanterns and the mirrors and the bookcases. Sell the dolls and the dried flowers. Get what you can for the antique bird cages. But by golly, leave me my movies. I may never have time to watch them, but I need to know they’re there. Just in case.

Crazy, I know. But suffice it to say that there are some things that are far too sacred to be subjected to the indignity of a yard sale.