A couple years back my wife Rolane and I visited ten of our wonderful Midwest Talbot alumni. What a joy to see them all thriving, finding God faithful, and knowing days of effective and challenging ministry. While we were in the area, we took the opportunity to visit my hometown of Hospers, Iowa and spent a little time with my cousins living there. Some of them I hadn’t been with in over 30 years - so long that we all wore nametags to keep from getting confused!
While I only spent the first seventeen years of my life on the farm, it played a significant role in who I am today. In going back home, certain impressions left their mark on my mind and heart. Let me elaborate:
My memories of the past are bigger than the reality.
It’s a common observation by anyone who visits the house they grew up in, or the school they attended when a youngster. It all seemed so much bigger then. As I strolled the main street of Hospers, I couldn’t believe how small it really was. And the famous World War I statue in the middle of the downtown intersection was half the size I remember when clambering over it on hot summer nights. The farm I called home was also much less imposing than in those childhood years.
This is a spatial phenomenon, to be sure, but it always surprises me. Maybe because I’ve grown physically, and seen a lot of the world experientially, my past has seemed to shrink in comparison. Nothing theological intended here, but this point leads to one that has solid biblical precedent.
My memories of the past are better than the reality.
You’ve heard the expression, “the good old days.” While that is sometimes true, often our past was not as great as we remember. Some folk think that living without electricity would be the greatest. Life without Facebook – really? We tend to think that things were better back when ...
For instance, take the Exodus account where Moses is leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. They come upon the Rea Sea, where they are boxed in with the army of Pharaoh closing in around them: “Then the Israelites were terrified and cried out to the Lord for help. They said to Moses: ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?’” (Exod. 14:10, 11 HCSB).
As if that’s not enough, after God’s rescue they add when getting hungry: “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate all the bread we wanted. Instead, you brought us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of hunger!” (Exod. 16:3).
Puzzling, this assessment. What God observed as the "misery of My people in Egypt ... crying out because of their oppressors ... and knowing about their sufferings" (Exod. 3:7, 8) has become in hindsight to those rescued, “pots of meat, lots of bread, and reasonable employers who only want to build cool urban environments.” What they wanted to go back to was a fantasy, one that twisted the truth and did not account for the wondrous love and saving mercy of their powerful God.
I’ve pondered this bit of biblical history often, and have come to understand that although we can’t go back in time or space, we can benefit from our tendency to try.
My memories of the past are precious reminders of the true reality.
My trip back to Hospers reminded me of a few truths in my life.
1. God is faithful. He provided a living for our family from the land. In spite of no irrigation system, unpredictable weather and periodic insect invasions, God saw us through all of this and more in giving us a life rich with all that really mattered. And just as a side note, on the road between my hometown and another, I drove past the spot where a car accident in 1965 could have easily taken my life – but didn’t.
2. My family of origin is a wonderful gift. Spending time with my first cousins was more delightful than I had hoped. They are good people – the salt of the earth, who easily share the good things God has given (especially food). And they believe in the Lord Jesus and seek to follow him faithfully in all of life. As we planned this trip, Rolane and I mused that it would be the last time I’d ever travel that way. While I have no need to see the geography again, I now think that another trip would be nice, if only to stay in closer touch with these delightful relatives.
3. My faith is a gift. While in Hospers, we visited with the current pastor of the church I grew up in and where some of my cousins still worship. Walking through the facility brought back a flood of memories. There was the pew where we sat with my grandparents – and Grandma Josie would feed me cashew nuts during the service, much to my mother’s dismay. The basement brought back youth group meetings where we struggled together to make sense of adolescence and the Heidelberg Catechism. I even poked my head into the furnace room where some of the men of the church would light up a cigarette between services. Oh my!
Farm life is one place where faith can take root like nowhere else. God not only gave me the gift of salvation through the faithful testimony of the people of Hospers Presbyterian Church, he showed me how trusting in Him for all of life is the only way to live. That’s the real world and the real life I still desire to know.
The people of Israel wanted to go back, but Moses knew better. He continued to follow his call and his Lord, all the way to the promised land. And once there, his successor Joshua made sure the blessings of the past were not forgotten, that lessons learned would be cherished for generations to come. “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ you should tell them, ‘The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the Lord’s covenant' ... Therefore, these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites.” (Josh. 4:6, 7 HCSB)
Those of you who have been in my office may recall the toy tractor, picture of the farm, and jar of corn. All these are memorials to the Lord God who has remained faithful to the Boersma clan through many generations. Though it’s true I can’t go back in time or space, there is still the sweet memory and appreciation for all my Lord has done for me and those I love. May you know the riches of his grace as we all remember the gift of his Son at this most joyful season.