As an adolescent, I spent many summer hours wandering the woodlands bordering the fields and rolling grasslands of our family farm in southern Nebraska. Instead of of lego bricks, I had a pile of used lumber and a vivid imagination for the latest and greatest in new treehouses. I didn’t have many playmates, but I had freedom and a community of farmsteads to roam. My community was known locally as “Spring Valley”, and included a country church and a one-room country school with about 25 students in grades K-8 when I attended there. Spring Valley was where my Mom and Dad grew up, met, and married, and where they eventually made their home on the family farm. The valley was also home to two of my Mom’s uncles and also her two brothers, so our little Methodist church was pretty much a family enterprise, where the Sunday School classes were taught by the older kids, and everyone helped out because we had to.
So it’s March again, and it’s been three years now since Pastor Roger Frederick, relatively new to southern Nebraska, asked for a quick tour of Spring Valley as he was preparing to officiate at my Mom’s funeral the next day. Although only 15 miles from town, it seemed like a trip of about 50 years. With my sister and my brother, we drove “around the block”, showing the itinerate Pastor the hills and streams and the few remaining farmsteads that were my Mother’s world for most of her life. We showed him where our one-room school had stood on that wind-swept hilltop, long since gone, and stopped at our old deserted church, still standing but slowly deteriorating from disuse and lack of maintenance.
The next day at Mom’s service, Pastor Frederick spoke with passion and a simple eloquence of his visit to Spring Valley, of the love and sense of community he felt while he was standing in that place, as if it he sensed it in the air or could hear a distant echo from my Uncle Pete’s rendition of “The Old Rugged Cross”.
Sometimes, in a world awash in social media and instant communications to anyone, anytime, I worry that we’ve lost track of the time it takes to create and nurture communities where relationships can grow and prosper and where individuals are recognized and appreciated. Though it’s taken me many years to fully appreciate it, Spring Valley was that kind of community to me. Yes, it was family, but it was more than that. It was about sharing our joys and hardships, it was about experiencing drouth and hailstorms and blizzards together. It was about helping each other when it was time to harvest the wheat and corn. It was about spending time, breaking bread, and facing the challenges of life together. It was about worshipping together.
So thanks again, Mom. Thank you for raising me within a nurturing community and thank you for making our little church in Spring Valley a central part of my youth. Thank you for loving Jesus. Thank you for loving Dad, and thank you for loving me.
Your loving son,