Around 8pm Friday, my family and I (in two separate cars) were making our way home from Omaha. The sky was looking quite ominous from the north. About 20 minutes out, before crossing over the Platte, the rain and wind came down—or more accurately, sideways. Visibility diminished instantly, and steering my little Honda Civic became a nightmare. We pulled off the highway. With limbs and debris hitting the cars, we got back on the road to get off only a mile later at a gas station. Torrential downpour. The gas station became a crowded parking lot for every vehicle in the area. The thought of driving in this weather was unimaginable. After the storm appeared to calm down a bit, we got back on the road. Limbs were strewn across the highway, causing traffic to snake around from one side to the other. Arriving in Mead, immediately we could tell the power had been knocked out across town. It looked like a war-zone as several houses were missing chunks of siding, limbs and whole trees were laying throughout yards and streets, and personal possessions that had been on porches were elsewhere. We had no idea what awaited us at home. Making the corner, we looked to see a few limbs down. Thankfully, no damage to the church or parsonage. Comparatively, we had been blessed. Some homes fared, others not so much. Reports of tornadoes to the southeast reminded us how it could’ve been far worse had they turned this way.
In town, though we had lost power we still had water. Those on the edges and outside of town found themselves without both utilities. Thousands of people across multiple counties were without power. Some had lost much more. For us, the nuisance of no power lasted about 31 hours. Around 3am Sunday morning the power finally came and stayed on for good—thanks to hardworking electricians from OPPD. Others in our community did not have it restored until Sunday night or even Monday morning. For those with wells, that meant no access to that water until then. Honestly, for me—a city boy—it was a sore reminder that we’re not in Kansas (er, Texas) anymore ToTo. Take it as you may, but when you’re not use to such a storm and such a stint without power—momentarily returning you, in part, to frontier times—it’s an unwelcome wake-up call. In such a time, amidst a growing list of explicit words that come to mind, someone like me who is still quite new to this context has to finally surrender to saying: “well, that’s rural life.” It’s the truth. Storms don’t just hit certain areas. Disaster doesn’t strike specific populations. But, when things happen, turning on the power, making do, and recovery look somewhat different in rural communities.
Saturday morning as I was working on writing a sermon (because worship is not based on if we have power or not), I couldn’t help but notice particular sounds from outside and sights through my office window. At any given moment, you could hear somewhere between six to a dozen generators running in the vicinity (likely a hundred plus throughout town). The sound was a reminder that even when we are without, we’re still never completely without. Mind you, those sounds were not for the sake of running air conditioners or televisions. It’s fairly safe to assume those hums were powering fridges and deep freezers which held families’ food—preserving hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars of food in a home—and perhaps assisting with lights at night. I wouldn’t be surprised if some such portable power sources in the area were being used to assist those with medical machines that needed running. Yet, generators weren’t the only hum heard. Trucks and cars could also be heard driving around—people assessing the damage of others, neighbors coming across town to help one another in clean-up. Chainsaws and chatter carried throughout the nearby countryside. The sound of friendship broke the silence left by the storm. In hindsight, realizing how insignificant that sermon was in comparison to the many opportunities to help others clean-up their yards, I wish I had been looking at it all through a “rural life” mentality: my stuff can wait, So-and-So needs some help right now. It’s a tough pill to swallow after the fact, but the opportunity was right there before me and I missed it—a ripe opportunity to live rural life to its fullest in that moment. What mattered the most this weekend was not the right words for proclamation, but the need to use one’s hands and heart for the care and support of others—neighbors helping neighbors.
I learned something this weekend. It was a tough lesson in “rural life.” The education came not through my own doing, but from hearing and witnessing the doings of others. I may never fully understand rural life the same way as those who were born and raised in this context. But, I trust the Spirit is constantly using those around me to guide me into better understanding on how I can more faithfully live and serve in this place. Even amidst the storms, in the darkness of power outages, with the humming of generators and chatter of neighbors helping neighbors, Christ is present here—in and through this rural life.