Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Faribault: The storm, the aftermath, the stories of kindness September 22, 2018

A tree fell onto these vehicles in my neighborhood during storms Thursday evening.

 

TORNADOES TERRIFY ME. So when severe weather, with the possibility of tornadoes, was forecast for southern Minnesota Thursday afternoon into evening, I felt a bit on edge. Not overly worried. But with the underlying thought that storms could happen here.

They did.

 

On the side street by my home, crews strategize the day after the storm.

 

Multiple confirmed tornadoes touched down in southern Minnesota Thursday evening, including one near Faribault. My community of some 24,000 was also hard hit by strong winds of up to 110 mph which destroyed the airport and ravaged my Willow Street/Tower Place/First Avenue Southwest neighborhood and many other neighborhoods.

 

The front page of the Faribault Daily News, September 22, 2018.

 

Two Faribault men are recovering from injuries sustained when a tree fell on them during the storm, according to a report in the Faribault Daily News.

In nearby small towns, it’s a similar story with downed trees and power lines and damage to vehicles and homes. In Morristown, though, homes were leveled and others uninhabitable.

From Granada to Cannon Falls, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms swept a swath of destruction across the landscape—demolishing farm buildings, flattening crops, downing too many trees and power lines to count.

Those stories I’ve read online and in print. The stories I’m sharing today are mine from observations and conversations. These are the stories that touched my heart, that even made me cry. But first, I’ll start with the sirens sounding and then, the storm.

 

My next-door neighbor’s flag was ripped from the pole, landing in the top of an evergreen.

 

THE STORM

It’s around 6:15 p.m. Thursday and I’ve just finished the dinner dishes. Randy is deciding whether to replace the radiator in our car or head to the basement to work on a stained glass window project for our church. He chooses the window.

He has just stepped into the shower when emergency warning sirens begin blasting. I look outside to a sky that seems anything but threatening. I switch on the TV. A tornado warning for Rice County and many other Minnesota counties scrolls across the bottom of the screen. I turn on the radio. The announcer warns listeners to seek shelter immediately with precise times the storms are expected to hit each community. Target time in Faribault is 10 minutes. I storm into the bathroom. As is typical with Randy, he shows little hurry, little concern, about the storm warning.

I already feel my anxiety rising. He did not witness the aftermath of a killer tornado that claimed nine lives and injured 125 in Tracy, Minnesota, in June 1968. I did. A tornado also hit my family farm and my hometown years after that. I grew up with a respect for tornadoes. I hope I can convince him this is serious.

As Randy showers, I close windows, gather flashlights, scoop up my camera bag and external hard drive. Within that 10-minute time frame we are in the basement with our cellphones, the radio tuned to the local station, airing its usual 6:30 p.m. reciting of the Rosary. I want local up-to-date weather news.

 

This image shows the conduit and power line ripped from our house, the wire lying across the driveway. Randy backed the van across the neighbor’s lawn to get out.

 

It doesn’t matter. Not long after, a loud bang sounds and the power goes out.

Randy continues cutting stained glass while I worry and text our daughter traveling in California. We hear and see little in our basement with two glass block windows. It’s probably better that way. But when I hear a roar, I ask whether that is rolling thunder or the signature tornado sound of a train. Randy says thunder, but not with significant confidence. Sirens continue to wail off and on for nearly 40 minutes. I’ve never heard emergency warning sirens blare that often for that long. Ever. I understand this is serious.

Our phones blast emergency alerts: Tornado Warning in this area til 7:00 PM CDT. Take shelter now. Check local media.–NWS

To say I am terrified would be accurate. I continue to text family who are keeping us updated from media accounts. We are trying to conserve our cellphone batteries with no way to charge them.

Around 7:10 p.m., we emerge from the basement to survey the damage.

 

Energy crews are working long shifts, up to 16 hours one worker said, to restore power in Faribault and neighboring towns. We were without electricity for 26 hours. Power could be out for 4 – 5 days for some people.

 

THE AFTERMATH

We are fortunate. In the last remnants of daylight, we see that the power line and meter are ripped from our house, the line slicing diagonally across our driveway behind the van. Everywhere, across our arterial street and up side streets, trees block roadways. It’s a mess.

As rain falls, we walk a half-block in the dark, my concern mounting that we could encounter fallen power lines. I don’t feel safe. Traffic is metro rush hour heavy and I wonder why the heck all these people are out and about. A man directs traffic around a fallen tree blocking a lane of Willow Street.

There is nothing we can do. Damage assessment will come at daybreak.

 

Across the street along Willow Street early Friday morning.

 

DAY BREAKS

We are up early after a restless night of little sleep. In the light of morning, we see trees down everywhere in our neighborhood. Passing by the remnants of a fallen tree, Randy points to three squirrels clinging to the trunk. They are shaking.

 

A half block from my home trees fell onto two vehicles along First Avenue Southwest.

 

Up the hill, just a half-block away, a tree lies across a car and a van in a driveway. We chat with the homeowner, who says both can be replaced. Life can’t. It’s a theme we hear repeated.

 

Across from our house along Willow Street.

 

 

Crews line Tower Place, the side street by my house, as they work all day Friday and also into Saturday.

 

A downed tree blocks First Avenue Southwest a short distance from our house at its intersection with Tower Place.

 

A young man pauses to talk to us. He’s checking on his brother. At one point during our conversation, I mention that we are conserving our cellphone power. He continues up the hill. Within 10 minutes, he approaches us as we chat with an elderly neighbor. “Here, I want you to have this,” Xavion says and hands me a cellphone charger. “God bless you.” I am crying at the kindness of this young father. He asks to pray with us. So there we are, the morning after the storm, standing in our neighbor’s front yard, the four of us circled, hands joined, Xavion praying. It will not be the first time of circled prayer. This marks a profoundly powerful moment for me, this giving of thanks by a kind stranger in the aftermath of the storm.

 

Three trees fell at my friend Lisa’s house, one against her house. This tree will be removed by professionals. Two others were removed by a friend and a crew of workers including Randy and me.

 

MORE KINDNESS

I expect many in my community could share similar stories of kindness. At Basilleos Pizza on Friday evening, Manager Connie tells us how, earlier in the day, staff baked 30 pizzas and then gave them to random people working on storm clean-up.

Saturday morning my friend Lisa’a neighbor drops off bottled water for the crew of 16 assisting with tree clean-up. Several others also bring water and another friend drops off scalloped potatoes, grapes and homemade cookies.

 

A city worker carries a chainsaw to clear a tree from a street in my neighborhood late Friday afternoon.

 

City crews clear away a tree blocking First Avenue Southwest.

 

The buzz of chainsaws is nearly constant throughout Faribault.

 

City crews continue tree clean-up.

 

An email went out the afternoon prior to show up at 9 a.m. at Lisa’s house. Three teens arrive with their dad and grandparents. A couple who live nearby also come; they’d stopped by on Friday with Klondike bars after losing power. Hours later when we’ve finished clean-up, we gather in a circle, all of us holding hands, the nearby neighbor—a pastor I would learn afterward—leading us in prayer.

 

Still working along Tower Place.

 

A shot through my dining room window of Xcel Energy crew members working on lines to reconnect to our house.

 

At the end of our driveway, workers prepare to string new power lines.

 

We have much to be thankful for. Each other. Protection. A beautiful Saturday of sunshine. Caring neighbors and co-workers and friends and strangers and professionals. It is said that difficult times bring out the best in people. I witnessed that firsthand in Faribault in the aftermath of this storm.

 

FYI: You won’t see photos of damage outside my neighborhood (except at my friend’s house) as local officials advise gawkers to stay out of storm-damaged areas.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Twenty years of perpetual prayer at St. Mary’s in Sleepy Eye March 22, 2018

This painting of a woman in prayer hangs in my home, a gift from the family of Faribault artist Rhody Yule. I met Rhody several years before his death and helped organize two art shows of his work. I treasure this inspiring piece by Rhody as a reminder of our friendship and of his faith.

 

Pray without ceasing. (I Thessalonians 5:40)

“Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (Matthew 26: 40 – 41)

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

 

Praying during a service at the Old Stone Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2010.

 

FOR THE FAITHFUL at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Sleepy Eye, those words from Scripture hold deep meaning. Not simply as words they should follow. But as words they do follow.

 

At Moland Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, prayer needs are posted. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2013.

 

For 20 years, 24/7, the parishioners at this southwestern Minnesota prairie church have practiced Perpetual Adoration by praying. Every single hour. Of every single day. In one-hour shifts. For two decades. Remarkable.

 

A statue of Mary in prayer stands outside St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Elko New Market. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2017.

 

Today they pray in the Adoration Chapel housed in a new addition to the aged St. Mary’s Church. Originally, congregants prayed in the convent chapel, then the church.

 

The priest is about to proceed up the aisle to begin Mass at the Basilica of Saint Stanislaus Kostka in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2015.

 

Randy Krzmarzick has taken the 5 a.m. shift for all those 20 years. He writes about his experiences in a column posted on sleepyeyeonline. (Click here to read.) It’s an interesting read, especially for someone like me, a life-long Lutheran married to a former Catholic. But no matter your faith—or not—you will find value within Randy’s honest and humorous story. He suggests that we all need to quiet our hearts and seek silence in this busy and noisy world.

 

Praying at a car show at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

 

Even he struggles to follow his own advice, admitting to sometimes thinking about the price of soybeans or a baseball game when he should be praying.

 

One of life’s simple delights: Wildflowers in the prairie of the Valley Grove churches, rural Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Life brims with distractions. We’re too busy. Too scheduled. Too whatever to notice the simple things in life. Or the people we love. Or those who are strangers and need our compassion.

 

Photographed at St. Stan’s in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2015.

 

There is much to be learned from the faithful of St. Mary’s in their two decades of dedication, discipline and devotion to prayer. In the silence, they have heard the quiet. And I expect, too, have found peace.

RELATED: Click here to read a story about Kathy Wichmann, who for 20 years has scheduled parishioners to fill those 24/7 prayer slots at St. Mary’s.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A joyful labyrinth honors faith & family November 3, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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MY FRIEND JOY is one of those creative types whose talent and energy seem endless.

She carves and builds and creates, always working on some project that enhances the rural Faribault home she shares with her husband, Steve.

Indoors and out, Joy’s house and yard reflect her individuality, her appreciation for family and history and that which is old or useful or meaningful. Her faith is often interwoven into her projects.

An overview of Joy's backyard labyrinth.

An overview of Joy’s backyard labyrinth.

A few years ago, Joy constructed a labyrinth outside her walk-out basement. It presents for impressive and practical backyard art.

A close-up, without the overall impact of the meditative walk way.

A close-up, without the overall impact of the meditative walk way.

Until this past summer, I’d only seen the labyrinth in the dark, walking it during an evening campfire. I wasn’t prepared for the stunning beauty of this twisting path in the fading hours of daylight.

A mosaic created by Joy.

A mosaic created by Joy.

Wow.

Sample tiles were used in the labyrinth.

Sample tiles were used in the labyrinth.

No wonder this took my friend some three years to construct. She began the labyrinth in 2010, laying selected tile into sections of concrete. Some of those tiles were sample tiles acquired from a friend.

The horse tile celebrates a granddaughter's love of horses.

The horse tile celebrates a granddaughter’s love of horses.

Joy proves always resourceful in reusing and repurposing. There’s not much she will throw.

Precious imprints of loved ones.

Precious imprints of loved ones’ hands and feet.

Grandchildren imprinted hands and footprints.

The focal point and end of the labyrinth, perfect for a prayerful walk.

The focal point and end of the labyrinth, perfect for a prayerful walk.

Memories. Faith. Time. All are intertwined here.

Walking portions of the labyrinth during a photo shoot.

Walking portions of the labyrinth during a photo shoot.

At least once a week, if not more, Joy walks this labyrinth. It is her quiet place, her place of prayer. Right here, created by her gifted hands, in her backyard.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dear God, please restore the power October 14, 2014

Parked outside Trinity Lutheran Church North Morristown on Sunday morning for the congregation's annual fall dinner.

Parked outside Trinity Lutheran Church North Morristown on Sunday morning for the congregation’s annual fall dinner.

THE IRISH I M van parked outside the German Lutheran Church makes me laugh.

And it’s good to laugh on a Sunday morning when the power has been out for hours and the Lutheran ladies have been scurrying, along with their anxious husbands, to cart roasters of hot food from the church basement.

It is the morning of Trinity North Morristown’s annual fall dinner and the worst possible date for the power to fail at a nearby substation.

Before worship services on a Sunday morning at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown.

Before worship services on a Sunday morning at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Upstairs in the sanctuary, pews are nearly empty as congregants scramble to move food to the homes of parishioners with power and to nearby Camp Omega. Eventually the pews fill. The church organist gathers her songbooks from the balcony and hurries to the piano at the front of the sanctuary.

The pastor jokes, during the morning worship service, about his strong and resilient German Lutheran congregation, then prays later for the electricity to come back on.

But when he blesses worshipers, the lights are still out.

So the well isn’t working and the toilet can’t be flushed except it can with water hauled in milk cans to pour into the toilet tank.

Outside, the scent of coffee wafts from an open kettle set atop a propane fueled burner.

Tickets for the dinner are selling and diners file in a side door, up the steps and into pews to await dismissal to the basement. Food has been hauled back, down the stairs, into the semi dark kitchen.

In the dim light of the sanctuary, conversation flows with the comfort that comes from visiting within the close confines of a small country church.

Then, just like that, the lights flick on at 11:10 a.m. Applause erupts. An audible gasp escapes, though, when the power flickers, off and on, before remaining on.

Dinner, tables set

Tables await diners in the church basement. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Diners file to the basement, the IRISH I M and the Lutherans, to feast on ham and turkey and to give thanks for an answer to prayer.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The challenges of aging & prayers answered August 22, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:38 AM
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Me with my mom in her Parkview Home room.

Me with my mom in late May.

AS THE DAUGHTER of an aging parent, it is the call you do not want to get—that your mother has fallen and is being transported 130 miles via ambulance to a metro area hospital.

That exact scenario played out earlier this week when my octogenarian mom fell in her assisted living room and suffered multiple severe injuries that landed her in a trauma unit.

It’s been a difficult week. Worrying. Waiting. More injuries added to the initial list. Questions. Tests. Rest, recovery, therapy.

So many emails, text messages and phone calls have been exchanged among siblings, other family members and friends that I’ve lost count. And prayers, lots of prayers, prayed this week.

In the end, Mom, who has faced many medical challenges throughout her years, rallied. Today she is back in the care facility where she moved earlier this spring. She is happy to be home. The staff in this rural small town facility welcomed her with open arms. I am grateful for their concern and care.

And I am thankful for answered prayers. I believe strongly in the power of prayer and the faithfulness of God. So many times this week, I found myself requesting prayers for my Mom and asking for God’s healing hand upon her. Those prayers continue now for her recovery.

I have not seen my mother; she did not want visitors. She realized her need to focus on rest and recovery. That was difficult, but for the best. However, I have seen photos of a woman who appears to have been on the losing end of a bar brawl. She claims to have been scrimmaging with the Minnesota Vikings. It’s good to laugh in the midst of challenges.

And my mom faces the challenges now of recovery, of ongoing physical therapy, of regaining her strength. Her goal is to attend her granddaughter’s wedding in a few weeks. I have no doubt she will achieve that goal. She is a strong woman.

FYI: The online news source, MinnPost, published an interesting story today in a late-in-life healthcare series. The piece focuses on options for those living in rural Minnesota. I’d suggest you read it by clicking here. With families today often living far apart, rural elderly face challenges unlike those of previous generations. I live about 125 miles from my mom.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What I’ve learned about prayer April 27, 2014

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I WONDER IF GOD ever tires of hearing my prayers.

He doesn’t. Not even when I repeat myself.

A billboard along U.S. Highway 14 between Janesville and Waseca, MN.

A billboard along U.S. Highway 14 between Janesville and Waseca, MN.

Scripture advises continuous and constant prayer. Pray without ceasing.

I didn’t always pray the way I should, praying in a more me-centered manner than asking for God’s will to be done. But I figured out awhile ago that this is not about me getting what I want, but about God figuring out what is best for me. He is in control, not me.

This doesn’t mean I can’t pray for specifics. I can. I do. Often. But in the end, I realize that whatever the answer, it is as God intends.

Do I always like the answer? No. At least not until I determine why God responded as He did. And sometimes I never can quite decipher what He’s thinking. I’m pretty certain, though, that God is way smarter than me. Way smarter.

Patience and trust, I’ve learned, are keys to a healthy prayer life. I’m still learning. God is patient and a good listener. For that I am grateful.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hello, God, it’s me March 1, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:02 AM
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NEVER UNDERESTIMATE the power of prayer. Never.

Prayer provides a powerful personal portal to God. Consider that connection as immediate as a text message or a phone call away.

The thing about God, you won’t get his voice mail. He’s always listening. Twenty-four seven. He is, after all, our heavenly Father. And what parent wouldn’t love to hear from his/her child on a daily basis? Love works that way.

Yet, just like an earthly father, God doesn’t always give us what we want. Prayer doesn’t work that way. God responds in ways that he deems best. He really is a lot smarter than us.

Oftentimes that’s hard for someone like me, who desires to be in control and possesses minimal patience, to accept. I want the issue resolved yesterday, the direction given immediately, the prayer answered right now exactly as I prayed it.

I imagine God wonders sometimes if I will ever learn. I’m trying, God.

Prayer necklace

Recently I began carrying a medallion in my pocket to remind me of the need to always be prayerful. It’s really a necklace, minus the chain, a piece of jewelry I received during my childhood. I don’t recall who gifted this to me, but I’ve had it for nearly 50 years.

On the front side is an image of praying hands, on the back this inspirational prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

Prayer necklace back

You likely know this as the Serenity Prayer adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous. I am not an alcoholic. But I am in need of serenity in my life. I tend to worry and stress about issues. Ask my husband.

I recognize that flaw. So this silver dollar sized medallion slipped inside my jean pocket reminds me daily that God is in control. This doesn’t mean I should sit idly and do nothing about certain situations. God doesn’t expect that. But rather, he needs me to understand that he is the one walking beside me through my days.

Oftentimes these days, I find myself sliding my right hand into my pocket, my fingertips brushing the outline of those prayerful hands, the imprint of the raised letters. A sense of peace fills me as my lips whisper a silent prayer.

Another window shows Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Even Jesus prayed, here in the Garden of Gethsemane. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

DEAR READERS, please join me today in praying for the families and friends of three Carleton College students who died in a car crash Friday afternoon at Minnesota Highway 3 and Dakota County Road 47 just outside of Northfield, three miles from campus.

The trio were killed and two other students seriously injured when their car apparently went out of control on an icy and snowy roadway and was broadsided by a semi, according to news reports.

Dead are James Adams of St. Paul, Minnesota; Michael Goodgame of Westport, Connecticut; and Paxton Harvieux of Stillwater, Minnesota. Hospitalized in stable condition in the Twin Cities are Conor Eckert of Seattle, Washington, and Will Sparks of Evanston, Illinois.

I cannot imagine the depth of grief felt by the families, friends, the Carleton College community and the community of Northfield.

A vigil is being held at 11 a.m. today at Skinner Memorial Chapel on the college campus with counseling staff and chaplains available. (Click here to read a message from the president and dean of students at Carleton.)

Please pray for peace, comfort and healing. Prayer provides a powerful personal portal to God. At all times, in all circumstances.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling