(…continued) LeRoy Iseminger was a Lutheran minister who grew up on a farm in South Dakota. He gave much thought to his life and the land he was raised on and the passage of time; and he thought about all this in the context of his faith. The South Dakota prairie he was from used to provide a home for one family to every 160 acres, but in just couple generations everything changed. The land is still all farmed, but it is no longer lived on. LeRoy’s home place, like most other home places in the Great Plains states, is now abandoned. He wrote this article about a visit he made to the old home place (paraphrased):
Today, I felt a feeling and a yearning within me that is too deep for words. I stood at my birthplace, which is also my father’s birthplace. I walked on the prairie land that was once my father’s dream. I stood in what was left of the grove of ash trees he had planted, and which for decades stood in defiance of the prairie’s wind, drought, and blizzards. But the trees are now all dead or dying.
Those trees had represented my father’s investment in and faith in the future. Those trees were planted for future generations– they were planted for me. But now I am old and I am not on the land, and neither are my children, and the broken trunks and branches reach toward an indifferent sky. The trees are dead. My father is also dead. “All flesh is grass,” says the Bible, “we flourish like the flower of the field,” it says, “but then it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”
All that remains of that homestead and that dream is the hog house that my father built. That’s still there, though not for long. The old wooden windmill has already crumpled into the prairie sod. That once proud tower that had pumped life into a prairie farmer, his family, and his livestock, is rotting in the dirt. The house that was a home for my father’s wife and their two little sons– that is gone too.
The concrete storm cellar remains, though without its door. In addition to offering shelter during summer storms, it had also been the storeroom for canned goods, garden produce, eggs, and milk. I went down the concrete steps into its cool darkness. And I remembered as a child curling up against the concrete wall with my parents while a prairie storm raged above us. I could hear in my memories my father whispering to my mother his hopes that the hail and the wind would not destroy the wheat crop. Usually it didn’t, though there were times that it did. But it’s all the same now.
Willa Cather, in her novel “O Pioneers,” talks about the prairie ‘reclaiming itself.’ This reclaiming is happening at this site which was once my home. The hog house is still there, but only with effort can I see the old foundations of the barn, only with effort can I see a small bump in the field where the driveway used to be. I can also see a clump of weeds covering a pile of old fence posts– another bit of evidence that someone once lived here. I step on a object and reach down and retrieve a part of a horse bridle from the long grass. Most of the place is plowed under. The rest soon will be. The prairie is slowly but relentlessly reclaiming my birthplace. Someday, the prairie will also reclaim me. The church yard where I will lay is not far away. It is all under the same stretch of sod.
“Out of the dust you are taken and unto the dust you shall return,” the pastor said in that churchyard as my father was buried, and then later, as my mother and my brother were laid to rest. Some pastor will say that for me also before long, and then the prairie will have reclaimed everything which once lived and moved on this place which was my home.
How long my parents, or myself, or any of us will lie in the prairie’s depths, I do not know. That, and what will happen then, is all in God’s hands, and we must trust him for that. We are promised in the Bible that we will live again, and we are told that Jesus will return for us.
I returned to my car. The tears in my eyes reminded me that this land was my home, and it has a hold on me that will never let me go. And that becomes a reminder for me of God, who for all eternity will never let me go, and He has prepared for me a home that no prairie will ever reclaim, but a home that will last forever.
It is not difficult to get sentimental about the past. And the older you get, the easier that becomes. You begin to have so much more behind you than ahead of you, and just about anything can trigger the memories: the sight of an old friend, the distinct sound of a certain old tractor, a drive by a farm where one worked or played as a child, or a look at an old photo album. Nostalgic thoughts about the past are a pleasure and a sadness all at once, and those thoughts of the past come to us often.
But the wisdom of the little piece that I just read is that the look back becomes also a look ahead. The writer remembers the past, and the decline of the old home place is a vivid reminder that the past is gone. But the writer does not get stuck in despair about the past. His faith not only inspires him to look ahead, but his faith also gives him the foundation for the hope that there is a future and that death is not the last word.
His first earthly home is gone, and soon his earthly body will be gone; all reclaimed by the prairie. But God promises a life and a home beyond all time, beyond all death and decay. The vivid reminders of LeRoy Iseminger’s past set his heart to thinking about that hope and promise that will never fail him.
Psalm 103:15-178 — As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children; with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.
Genesis 3:19 — By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.
Ecclesiastes 3:20 — All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.
Ecclesiastes 12:1…7 — Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them” … and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
Time, like an ever-rolling stream
Soon bears us all away;
We fly forgotten as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Still be our guard will troubles last
And our eternal home.
—O God Our Help in Ages Past, (v. 5, 6), Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Rev. LeRoy Iseminger (1931-2012)