I grew up knowing Len Nyberg as the friendly man at church who always wore a suit and tie, and who always greeted me with a handshake no matter how young or uninterested I might have been. I also knew Len Nyberg all dirty and prowling around his farm. I especially remember one Saturday when he was bundled up against the cold and I was helping cut wood at the Nyberg farm with my grandfather and his brother and my father and my brother. I remember how pale Mr. Nyberg looked that day– he was recovering from heart surgery– and we were all careful to make sure he didn’t over-exert himself. But I guess our worry was wasted– he lived a hearty life and didn’t quit until this past Monday.
My most distinct memory of Mr. Nyberg is from my grandfather’s funeral. I was honored and overwhelmed to deliver the eulogy, and did my best to pay respect to a giant of a man in a few words. Afterward Mr. Nyberg approached me with his customary handshake, looking very old and very lonely. Though I was instantly embarrassed that I had delivered the eulogy instead of my grandfather’s best friend, he was as magnanimous as ever as he covered our right hands with his left and said what a good job I’d done. And then he continued, “I would only add one thing: Ivar Stavlund was the same man in the field on Friday as he was in church on Sunday. Your grandfather was a good friend, through and through. I will miss him.”
Those words that speak of character ring in my ears regularly. This elevation of the ordinary to the level of the holy has never left me. I think about it when I pick up my tools, when I care for my kids, when I try to be a friend, when I write, when I cook, when I shovel, when I lead a worship service, and when I pull weeds. It’s popular in progressive Christian circles these days to quote slogans like “Everything Matters”, but these men knew it all along.