Sunday, January 20, 2008

Day Ten

Day One began with an excerpt, so the last day should, too. The following was written by Robert Vivian, as part of an essay titled “Hereafter in Fields.” You can find it in The Big Empty: Contemporary Nebraska Nonfiction Writers, a collection edited by Ladette Randolph and Nina Shevchuk-Murray.

“The way the sun shimmers in the long Nebraska grass just off the highway can make you feel hope again, like there’s still time for lovelier, finer things. It hovers in every reed and dust mote, rippling out into the tiny eyes of grain that burn with winter’s fire, an ember so small and subtle you know something is burning inside you, too. It’s a destination that breaks the spell, that teeters into dread. Dusk can make the fields remote, haunted, the patchwork of all your silent prayers. I drive because I have to. I drive to get where I am going, making the fifty-mile commute between Omaha and Lincoln three days a week. But what about these fields, these grasses? Why do they suggest something about time, about eternity? I’m just another pilgrim in his crude bark boat, making his way across the waters; I’m just another commuter fiddling with the dial. But more and more I wonder what it is to arrive; more and more arrival becomes the thing bequeathed, but not desired.

If only we could keep going, out of harm’s way, and take with us only the best part of ourselves; if only we knew why we dream at the wheel or think more clearly while moving down valleys and across rivers. Driving toward the horizon on Interstate 80 can make you feel this. Driving anywhere flat and endless can. It can wear you down to sheer seeing, to that mesh of changing light just over the horizon that blooms like sunflowers drenched in a cut glass vase. Sometimes the clouds above the Nebraska plains contain such towering beauty that you sense the sky is exploding around you in myriad waters, bearing down on you like grace before dying. The grooves of the highway moan, and just outside Lincoln the view north is endless in rolling fields, undulations firm as a roadkill’s thigh, a rigor mortis of earth chipped from the moving plates of time.”


I woke up this morning to our last day in Nebraska. It’s funny how you can get into a little routine and get used to things, and then suddenly you wake up one morning and things have come to an end, and in a moment all those past routine days seem different somehow, more important in the past now than they seemed in the present.

Anyway. Other than that odd feeling, the morning unfolded like any other. Dr. Cook finished chores, the Mathewsons dropped off Anett, and we all headed into town – Zoey, of course, in tow. Well, not in tow so much as climbing over everything in the car and finally settling down in my lap for the duration of the drive to Sidney. Zoey, you sure are a crazy dog, but I’m going to miss you anyway.

Ok, ok, I’ll miss Ken and Leslie, too. I’d like to thank you for your hospitality, but hospitality is such an opaque word, like a candy shell that conceals the real goodies inside. So let’s review, faithful readers, just a little of what’s been inside my host family’s hospitality this week. A partial list might include a comfortable bed with an alarm clock (that alarm clock was well-used this week); a quiet, even private space in their home for me to unwind after busy days of meeting new people; access to the internet and use of their computer so that I could write this blog every night; watching Westerns and predicting which character would be the next to die; cooking lessons and veterinarian lessons and livestock lessons; the opportunity to do chores (yes, I’m thankful for this) and get a little 4-H crash course; great frou-frou coffee (now I have to find a place for Irish Crème Mochas at home!); lots of extra warm clothes to wear when the temperature dropped to colder than I was prepared for; three (three!) new shirts to bring home, including an especially awesome one from the National Western Stock Show; and of course making me incredible gourmet meals that I could brag about to the other students and a different variety of cookies to share with everyone for the long drives through the panhandle. Yeah, that’s just one host family in just one week. Everyone keeps asking me if I’m going to move out here now. If this is the hospitality of Nebraskans, I can’t wait to return.

After saying goodbye to our host families, our group of 6 students, 1 professor, and 1 trusty guide piled into the big van for the 67th time this week and headed out to Immanuel Lutheran Church (Weyerts) in Lodgepole to worship with the congregation there. It was wonderful to worship with the people of Weyerts, and we thank them for their hospitality, too. After worship we joined the Weyerts congregation for their annual meeting and potluck dinner, and enjoyed delicious homemade casseroles and dessert and, yes, coffee for the last time in Nebraska.

From there we pointed the Immersionmobile toward Denver and Denver International Airport, where Jim hoped to catch the Patriots game, Adam hoped to catch the Packers game, and all of us hope to catch a plane home.

In the next few days, we’ll regroup as a class to present projects for the course and talk about what we’ve learned and how we’ve changed. We’ll even welcome Kent to Chicago, though we’ll take away his 15-passenger van, thereby stripping him of his power to drive us 100 miles a day. Don’t worry, Kent – we’ll show you how us city dwellers have an even slower pace of life than you do.

I’ll continue to post reflections that come out of our discussions until the end of this week. Please continue to comment; it helps me think about things. More than that, it’s helped me keep writing these little reports night after late night. Thanks so much.

This experience has been more than I could have ever dreamed possible. I’ve learned a lot about the Nebraska panhandle and rural ministry. But here’s the kicker: These last ten days, I’ve felt reconnected to God and the people of God in new and extraordinary ways. That is a gift for which I am deeply grateful.

Thanks, Nebraska.


Day Nine

Every morning this week I’ve tried to get up early enough to do chores with Dr. Cook, and every morning I’ve failed, usually because I stayed up too late blogging. (Just so we’re clear, by “sleeping in,” I mean that I got out of bed at 6:45 AM.) On this particular morning, however, Adam was sleeping over in the next room, and he had said over and over the night before that he was determined to wake up for morning chores. Sure enough, he was knocking on my door by 6:15 and out with Dr. Cook by 6:30. Kent Miller doesn’t call him Ricochet Rabbit for nothing.

Since Ricochet Rabbit clearly has problems getting enough energy, Leslie decided he needed some caffeine. She took us out to the Coffee Corner, where she treated us to an almond latte and an Irish crème mocha. Starbucks has got nothing on the Coffee Corner, and there was certainly a heck of a lot more seating than in our tiny local Starbucks. (A friendly suggestion for Nebraska’s next state tourism tagline: “Nebraska: There’s a lot more seating.”)

Our first stop for the day was at another local family farm, where we were to have coffee and conversation with a group of local laypeople. It was a productive and insightful conversation, but a highlight was getting a tour of the farm from two kids who knew the terrain as well as anyone. They even introduced us to the chickens!

Again, since we’d only had giant coffee drinks and delicious baked goods all morning, it was definitely time for lunch, I mean dinner. Kent took us to Big V’s, a local hangout where we enjoyed the best steak sandwich ever (seriously, if you are ever in Dalton, Nebraska, you have got to try this thing) and also a certain red beverage that is apparently particular to Nebraska. I almost don’t want to post this picture because I’m afraid my mouth will start watering again.

On our way back to Sidney, Kent finally granted Adam’s weeklong wish: To get stuck at a railroad crossing waiting for a train to pass. Seriously. Adam totally geeked out, and then we kept going…until we had to stop and grant Jim’s weeklong wish: To get a photo of winter wheat. What a trip.

In Sidney we settled down at Holy Trinity for the last time to have conversation about ministry with Pastor Schambach. What I should really post here are the pages and pages of notes that I’ve taken during Pastor Schambach’s talks. It’s difficult to put into words what I’ve learned from him these few days, and I can see how he’s been a great colleague and mentor to so many of the pastors we’ve spoken to this week. May God continue to bless your ministry. I hope LSTC sends an intern out to you very soon.

Finally, finally, finally it was time for our concluding celebration with all of our host families. We enjoyed appetizers and a delicious meal of prime rib and awesome potluck goodies at the Goose Pit inside Buffalo Point Restaurant. Wow. Nebraska’s an incredible place for a lot of things, but it’s especially an incredible place to eat, with old friends and new friends alike. The crowning dish for our food-filled trip? A delicious cowpie!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to our host families. And thanks to all the people of the Nebraska panhandle who have shown us unimaginable hospitality, who have opened their hearts and homes and histories to us, who have met, supported, taught, encouraged, laughed and prayed with us these last ten days.

Tomorrow is Day Ten. We’ll head out to Weyerts Immanuel Lutheran Church, where we’ll worship with the congregation, join them for an annual meeting, and then we’ll be off.