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A long two hours had slowly passed by from staring out the car window into the darkness of the night. The headlights on the car made a subtle right turn, which pointed down another highway. The long blacktop roads seemed to never end, until seeing the small white sign embroidered with bricks and the words, “Axtell The Windmill City.” It wasn’t a large town, with the school, two churches, and the grocery store taking up most of it. The dead of night left it dark, mysterious. It was late so the town was quiet, not a person in sight. The sounds of the engine roaring and tires along the pavement seemed to be the only noise being made. One left turn and two blocks straight led to a house on the corner with the lights still shining through the windows. The car slowed to a halt and my dad opened the front door to the house, leaving a loud screech in the dead of night. After a hug and few exchanged words, I was grabbing my bags out of the back of my mom’s car with my head low and eyes watery. 

My life, before living in Axtell, was very different compared to who I am now. I watched myself walk down the hallways, day after day, staring down. I swear I could memorize the different kinds of flooring that were in that school. One peek up, and I would see the foul look on someone’s face or the whisper and laugh spread between two. I could hear my name being spoken between voices and the giggles or remarks that escaped their mouths shortly after. The daily routine followed with sitting down in class and staring forward, looking at no one and avoiding everyone looking at me, falling deep into the white walls with the blank stare on my face. In that time, the skies were gloomy and dark, even if the sun was shining. There wasn’t much meaning to anything. The gaping hole in the middle of my heart was just waiting to be filled with a place to call home. My eyes wandered, searching for the light at the end of the tunnel, even if it was subtle. 

I came to Axtell knowing about the country and always wanting to experience it, but never getting the chance. Axtell is a small rural town just twenty miles south of Kearney, Nebraska. It’s a small town with roughly 730 people and just enough in it for it to be considered a town. Axtell is only about 282 acres, keeping everyone in town nice and close. The attractions in the town include Kat’s Corner, the grocery story, with a park right behind it, the school, which is kindergarten through 12th grade in one school. There’s the library, the bar, the post office, and community hall that are all located along Main Street. The only reason why other people may know about this town is because of Mosaic, a place which serves people with intellectual disabilities. 

Coming to this town threw my past away and kept in out of my mind.

The darkness may have come from the schools or the people, but it didn’t feel right. This wasn’t how things were suppose to be. I saw the light in others eyes, and they seemed to miss the darkness in mine. Although now, I see the light shine brighter and brighter, as I’ve turned from the past, and look to what new opportunities one little town has gave me. My life changed in a day. The new school changed everything. I was looking up, from face to face, smiling and even getting one in return. People would say my name with purpose and with meaning. I was not reaching out to others, not afraid of being judged for my every move. I walked with dignity and talked with others in class. My life changed, in a matter of a day. 

I am able to say this is the place that built me. 

Growing up, I visited Axtell several times throughout the year because both my parents were raised there. My grandparents lived there as well, so we went west for the holidays. I loved it even as I was growing up. I loved going to the farm and playing around in the barn, or talking and feeding the cows. I remember going on tractor and combine rides with my grandpa and uncle, those were my favorite. To most people it’s a boring back and forth motion, but I was fascinated with the sight of the corn being knocked over and “magically” going into the trailer, or with the soil parting behind us in straight lines. 

Visiting my great grandparents house was one of my favorites. My great grandma always had all kinds of sweets around the house, especially the windmill cookies. I would sit on her lap in the recliner with the blue blanket draped over the side. She would tell me how much I’ve grown and how I become more and more beautiful each day, even if I had just seen her the day before. My great grandpa would take me out back and show me everything he had growing in the garden. We would go through picking cucumbers, tomatoes, grapes, crab apples, and check on the watermelons as he told me stories about times in his life. 

He had even told me the story about the time when my mom had got bit in the face by their dog and had to get stitches. My mother was young when my great grandparents had a german shepherd. The dog was eating and my mom was playing with her toys nearby, but apparently she had got too close. Their german shepherd was very protective and territorial, especially when eating. My mom may have reached for the food, but my grandparents only know about her running into the house with blood running down her neck. This called for a trip the emergency room and several stitches. 

His stories always lit up my day, no matter what mood I was in.

Great grandpa and grandma always had this special pew that they sat in at church, and the rest of my family would always gather around them, as if our names were imprinted on the back. 

Something that really changed my life was going to church. In Lincoln, that wasn’t something I did. I used to think that I didn’t have time for it, that I was simply too busy, when in reality, I was being lazy. I had gone to church before, but not on a regular basis.     

As for people in a small town, God is a very important factor.

I guess you could say that because I had been going through such a hard time, I had lost some of the faith that had built up inside me over the years. I was constantly questioning, “why me?” Most people are going to question that at some point in their life because of the trials and tribulations that occur, but i had completely let it destroy me. I had never known that I had let go, but I know I see what had happened. I had sat in bed awake so late at night wishing I had known the answers as to why any person should have to go through what I was, that I forgot about how my actions may be affecting what was going on around me. 

I know what happened because my actions were much different and I was doing things solely for myself. For example, if I did anything to help my mom around the house, it was for myself, like cleaning my room. Now, I know to do things not only for myself, but for the benefit of others. 

The first time going to church was nothing I didn’t expect. Bethany Lutheran Church is painted white with beautiful stain glass windows and flowers that surrounded the church. We walked through the glass front doors and took a right, leading to the several rows of pews, both upstairs and on the main floor. The church was beautifully decorated with fall colors. The service was wonderful and I had a strong realization moment in my life. I had been struggling for quite a while now, and I was already beginning to trust in God and His plan for me, after just one sermon at church. I remember the sermon was about having faults, but getting back up stronger and trusting in God. I knew that this was speaking to me and it was exactly what I needed to hear.

There were times when I would stay after church for a while just to talk to my pastor about things that were happening in my life, like the struggles I was facing and having to completely start over at a new school. He was very good at listening to what I had to say and returning with godly answers that helped me realize why these things were happening. I realized that sometimes you truly do have to fall down only to get up stronger than ever before. 

Since I was new to town, I seemed to be the center of attention, which wasn’t something that I was ever used to. Everyone was so interested in who I was, but the more and more I got asked that question, the less I knew the real answer. I was lost.

The first day I went to school, I had several people wanting to show me around, which made me feel welcomed. The teachers were all inviting and everyone seemed to be interested in the new girl who came to town. I was instantly invited into many events and people wanted to hang out with me. 

Being on the basketball team with the girls at my school completely changed my perspective of things. Being in Axtell Wildcat made me realize I was where I needed to be. I had never been so close with a group of people before. We would call each other family and support each other. Everyone was patient with me as I needed to learn the plays. They accepted me into their family even though they usually don’t get new members. Before every game we prayed together, and that was something I had never experienced before, especially for a public school. We also hold hands and we would squeeze our fingers along with the beat to the national anthem that the band was always playing. I had never felt like I belonged somewhere in my life, more than these moments. It is a true statement that Wildcats are family. 

Now that I’m living in Lincoln, the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do was go back. I fell in love with the community and the people who surrounded me. I loved how close everyone was, even if someone was always in your business. I loved how much the teachers and coaches cared about how you were doing and would talk to you at at any time. I loved how small my class was and how i knew every person on a personal level. I fell in love with the town, Axtell. 

This is the town that showed me what I want to do for the rest of my life, that pulled my head up and held it high, and that gave friendships to last a lifetime.