Friday, May 31, 2013

What Constitutes A Miracle?

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines the word miracle as: “1: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs; 2: an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment”

While the on-going restoration of Thomas Murray and Grete Sandberg’s Kearney, NE residence may not meet the first  description of a "miracle,  the fact that the occupants escaped the fire, which started some time around 3am, does.  

These pictures show the magnitude of the damage that ravaged their home on the morning of July 23, 2012 and  clearly confirm why the work done so far to restore this house is truly an outstanding accomplishment. 

 To view the photojournal of the restoration visit: 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Restoring the House on 30th & 4th

Update: The owner has given me permission to share the exact address of the house.

As I shared in my previous post,  I'm blogging from 27th Street in Kearney, NE and documenting the restoration of this lovely home on 30th Street and 4th Avenue.

The fire that nearly completely destroyed the interior of this home and subsequently took the life of one of the residents is still an unsolved mystery.  Since local police are actively investigating this tragedy, I will not be discussing any of those details on this blog. What I will be discussing is the near miraculous restoration of the home and surrounding gardens being done my contractor Lanny Johnson, a host of subcontractors and the owners.

The house was originally built in  a colonial style during the 1880s but has had several additions and remodels over the past 130 +/- years.  The task of restoring this property began this past January.  The goal is to have the owners back in their home by the end of the summer.  Some people think that this is mission impossible but the contractor believes it’s very doable. 

One of the first lessons that I’ve learned while working on this project is the importance of choosing the right wood. Lanny chose poplar wood for the window casings, baseboards, arches and all wood surfaces except the floors and stairs because it is the best choice for wood that will not be stained.   For the restoration, the window casings and baseboards will only be sanded to a smooth finish, primed and then painted.  The floors and stairs will be stained with a amber colored finish.

Here are photos of the new floors, which are in the process of being put in this week.

A little more background about Kearney, NE.

Kearney is situated between the cities of Grand Island and Lexington, NE.  According to the city's website the community was originally named Kearney Junction due to the fact that the town was located where the Burlington and Missouri made its junction with the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad.  The “Kearney” was taken from Fort Kearny, which was established in 1848 to offer protection to pioneers, Pony Express riders, and prospectors traveling west on the Oregon Trail.  According to the city's official website,  "Fort Kearny was the first U.S. Army Post on the Oregon Trail and was never attacked by Indians."   The site also notes: “ Observant readers are quick to point out the spelling differences between the fort and the town. The extra “e” in Kearney is not difficult to explain. Someone in the post office simply made a spelling error and by the time it was realized, no one felt a change was necessary."

In addition, to Interstate another major thoroughfare is U.S.Route 30, "an east–west main route of the system of United States Numbered Highways, with the highway traveling across the northern tier of the country. It is the third longest U.S. route, after U.S. Route 20 and U.S. Route 6. The western end of the highway is at Astoria, Oregon; the eastern end is in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Despite long stretches of parallel and concurrent Interstate Highways, it has managed to avoid the decommissioning that has happened to other long haul routes such as U.S. Route 66." -- courtesy of Wikipedia.

Shortly after my arrival, I had the opportunity to travel Route 30 from Kearney to Lexington.  One of my bags did not arrive with me and since, Kearney does not have an actual bus station, I needed to retrieve it in Lexington.  My first impression of Route 30 was, "Even I can drive this.  It's completely flat, has very few intersections and none of the curves that I'm used to trying to negotiate.”

Monday, May 27, 2013

Greetings from 27th Street

Sometimes when you help others rebuild their lives you rebuild your own in the process.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would be spending this Memorial Day in Kearney,  (pron.: /ˈkɑrni/) Nebraska.  Until two months ago, I had never heard of the place.  Yet, here I am.

For you history, geography and number junkies here are a few background facts about Kearney that you may find fascinating.  Kearney is the county seat of Buffalo County, Nebraska, Strategically located on I-80. with convenient access to major markets like Omaha-Lincoln, Denver, Kansas City, Des Moines, Wichita and Cheyenne,  Kearney is at the center of a 7-state region of 20 million people.  The city's longitudinal and latitudinal position is 40°42′3″N 99°4′52″W (40.700731, -99.081150).

While you may not have heard of Kearney, if you live in the US you've are probably familiar Interstate 80 (I-80), the transcontinental limited-access highway that runs from downtown San Francisco, California to Teaneck, New Jersey in the New York City Metropolitan Area.  I-80 is second-longest Interstate Highway in the United States (after Interstate 90) and is the Interstate Highway that most closely approximates the route of the historic Lincoln Highway, the first road across America. The highway roughly traces other historically significant travel routes in the Western United States: the Oregon Trail across Wyoming and Nebraska, the California Trail across most of Nevada and California, and, except in the Great Salt Lake area, the entire route of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

But none of this is what brought me to Kearney.  I came to Kearney, at the invitation of a new friend, seeking solace and a place to catch my breath and regroup. This is exactly what I have found. 

Thomas “Brick” Murray and Grete Sandberg have not only welcomed me into their home but into their hearts and their family.  This couple and their family are well acquainted with grief and loss themselves, having lost almost all of their possessions and more importantly a daughter to a devastating fire last year.   As one family member said to me, or awhile we were homeless. Therefore, they could empathize with this weary, grieving traveler.  

Our stories of loss, while different in origin, are very similar.  It is the story shared by everyone who suddenly loses everything that once made a place, home.  Whether the loss is the result of a natural disaster or financial setback the narrative themes are the same.  It’s the story of: lost photos and irreplaceable keepsakes; family recipes written in notebooks and clipped from magazines; gardening tools and holiday decorations that will have to be replaced; looking in a closet and knowing that your old work shirts, favorite jeans, the perfect white blouse, the little simple black dress that fit just right, the hats, boots and even perfumes that reflect your personal style, aren’t there.  All of those tangible things that held a lifetime of memories are gone and most can never be replaced. More importantly, it’s a story of no longer seeing the face or hearing the familiar voice of someone you love.  It’s about waking up one morning so grateful for being alive and waking up the next wondering how you are going to be able to go on. 

Grete and Brick are in the process of rebuilding their lives and their previous home and I have been given the privilege of being a part of their process while I am trying to rebuild my own life.  For the next few months, I will not only be documenting the rebuilding of the their home but I am actually participating in the rebuilding.  In fact, I’ve spent the last three weeks sanding wood and helping to rip up old flooring.  It was physically exhausting work that left my muscles aching but my spirit feeling good.  It’s just what I need right now.

In fact, for now this place in America’s heartland, called Kearney, feels like just where I need to be.

  The healing process has begun for all of us. 

To view the entire photo album of the restoration on the house visit:

Thursday, May 2, 2013

My Prayer for the United States ... Everyone Should Travel the Road

I was supposed to write this blog post yesterday but I'm glad that I waited until today.  It seems more suited for today.

Today is May 2, 2013 which also happens to be the National Day of Prayer in the United States, a day on which persons of faith are asked to seek God in prayer and meditation for the health and well being of our nation. If you do a Google search on "National Day of Prayer",  it will return headlines like:   "On National Day of Prayer, America needs prayer like never before" ; "On the National Day of Prayer, time for a revival"; and  "Utahns join in National Day of Prayer."

This morning I had a strong suspicion that while millions of us may be praying we will probably not be praying about the same thing. Whose prayer does God answer if we are not in agreement on the nature of our prayer needs.  Do we pray specific prayers like, "God fix the economy" or "God keep us safe"?  Or should we pray general prayers like "God give us guidance"?   I'm sure that there will be a mix of both uttered today.  As for me, my prayer today is for our nation's leaders, in fact for all of its citizenry,  would be that they take the time to travel the nation as I have over the past month and really discover who we are as people, then pray.   

During the month of April I traveled a large swatch of this nation via Greyhound and Trailways buses through America's big cities like: Philadelphia, PA;  Washington, DC; and Chicago, IL;  medium sized cities like Richmond,VA; Winston-Salem, NC; Des Moines; IA; and Omaha, NE; and small towns like Maple Shade, NJ,  Cookesville, TN; and Rock Island, IA-IL. 

In addition to having the opportunity of enjoying the beauty of the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains, this journey has reconfirmed something which I have always known about Americans, we are more alike than we are different.

 I used the term swatch intentionally because it brings to mind the  swatches of fabric, (remnants of larger pieces that were used to make garments or other creations) that are used to make quilts.  A quilt is who we really are as a nation, not a melting pot.  The United States is a patchwork of races, religions and social classes held together by the simple common threads of our humanity and the country we call home.  Sadly, sometimes we forget that.  Too often we spend so much of our time focusing on our differences in politics, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and geography that we overlook the very simple truth that we are all humans. 

On a bus trip you experience humanity, at its best and worst.  While road trips by car can be equally enlightening there is nothing like a bus trip for people watching and simply listening.  As you sit quietly, trusting your driver to take you from point A to point B, you'll hear the conversations of families excited about going on vacation;  lovers telling each other how much they already miss each other; relatives asking other passengers to look out for their loved ones; and people just checking in to give someone at home their itinerary.

Even in this age of smartphones and iPads, you can't isolate yourself from those around you.  You are simply too close together.  You hear the snores, you see the struggles of those who need a little more leg room and, smell the morning breath of people next to whom you would not normally wake up :-) 

You can experience amazing kindness and civility like; the angel I met in Maple Shade who helped me pay for shipping my excess package, she was not asked, she just offered; the  gentleman in Winston Salem who helped me carry my bags through the terminal;  the guy in Asheville who looked out for me all the way to Chicago;  or the bus driver who tried to help me adjust my ticket because the route seemed to be way out of the way.

Of course, this is reality and the world is not perfect.  So you may also encounter the people who will stand by and watch you struggling with bags;  people who won't move out of the aisle even after you say, "excuse me"; people who won't assist a woman traveling with small children get a seat; people who will stare at you across an aisle as if you remind them of some hated enemy or are from another planet; and people, who when the boarding announcement is made, jump in the front of
people who have been patiently standing in line for nearly an hour. 

If you take the time to strike up conversations you will meet: the woman in the ladies room who is fixing her make-up to meet a boyfriend for the first time; the guy moving from one city to another in search of work; and the young woman traveling home so her parents can hold their 5 week old grandchild. 

This is who were are as Americans.  The race, religion, politics  and national origin of any of these people is irrelevant because their stories could be anyone's.  This is what we so often forget.

So on this National Day of Prayer, my prayer is that everyone will have the opportunity to experience the world as I have.  To travel this nation's big cities and small towns and get a deeper understanding of what's really on the hearts and minds of people.  To understand people's fears, concerns, hopes and dreams.  Then maybe our prayers will be more focused. 

For those of you familiar with the ministry of Jesus, this is exactly what it did. He traveled the road and met the sick, the hungry, the homeless and the heartbroken.  He listened to, conversed with, broke bread with and touched the hearts of the multitudes.  He ministered hope and encouragement to those he met and having compassion for them, he prayed.