I was with my family in the Minnesota River Valley today. We were visiting an historical site, and as with many historical sites many of the old buildings were not original to the location. The historical society purchased historically accurate buildings in order to recreate the town which is now only represented by ruins which are populated by snakes and wild turkeys. The site has actually been populated for thousands of years as there are Native American burial grounds in the area some dating back to 3,000 B.C.E. In the early 19th century, the fur traders from Canada came through, then the pioneers from Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia. The land was used for subsistence farming and commercial farming in the late 19th century. An entire community was supported by this land. There was a schoolhouse, a town, and livestock. The land was even used to foster spiritual development as remnants of a monastery and nunnery still remain in the valley. A surrounding city developed in later years and used this land as a dump. When the Minnesota Historical Society obtained these 88 acres for its purposes, there was a lot of cleaning up to do, years of neglect to repair as well as dumped garbage to clear.
The garbage has been cleared. The buildings are being maintained. The gardens are planted and growing, and the sheep and chickens are thriving. Something else is happening here in the Minnesota River Valley. It’s called The White Oak Savanna Restoration Project. The purpose of this project is to restore to the valley its original flora while minimizing the effects of non-native invasive species. Original prairie grasses are growing. White Oaks which grew in large numbers before the Europeans settled in Minnesota are beginning to grow again. Why does this matter to me? Why should this matter to you?
Sometimes the natural world expresses the desires of our hearts, perhaps God’s own heart, better than any song, poem, or word. When a butterfly emerges from her chrysalis, it reminds us that there is hope for transformation. Things can always change. There is still beauty in the world even for us. Nature is crying out on our behalf, speaking for us.
What I saw in the valley today involved the efforts of men and women. Mother Nature did not remove the garbage from her own landscape or plant white oaks or native prairie grasses or remove the buckthorn. Humankind had left a mark. There were ruins, but there was a town, too, with a schoolhouse. There were farms and animals, gardens and barns. Not every mark left is a reminder of a painful history. Some marks are good.
We all have a history, a “story” to tell. Some of our histories are long, sordid, and painful. Some of our stories are full of joy and adventure. Many of us have some of both. If we were to assess our own lands, we might find that garbage has been dumped there. We might also find that we didn’t put it there. Maybe that garbage was put there generations ago, and our parents’ parents thought that it was normal or okay or acceptable. Maybe we are the first ones to see it for what it really is–rubbish. Maybe we have ruins on our property. Metaphorically speaking, maybe there used to be beautiful houses, barns, and schoolhouses that have fallen into disrepair through years of neglect and forgetfulness. Maybe we are the first ones to remember the beauty and value of where we come from. Maybe our lands have been overrun by invasive species like resentment, addiction, anger, illness, helplessness, and despair, and the native flora like power, joy, peace, self-control, hope, love, and faith have been suffocated.
These 88 acres in the Minnesota River Valley were not restored by one person. It has taken an entire society of men and women committed to seeing this particular land as well as its purpose restored to it. It takes help to clear away garbage. It takes help not only to clear out invasive species but to identify them first. Do you know what an invasive plant looks like? I don’t. It takes help to repair old structures, restore foundations, rebuild fences, replant gardens, repave roads, and plant trees. It is a group effort. We need each other. Practically speaking, what can you do? Find your own society. Call it the “You Historical Society”. People who are invested and committed to seeing you and your purpose restored to you. It may only be one or two. It only takes the deep and abiding love of just a few trusted individuals to spur us on, but, o, what their love can do! Their love can help clear away the garbage, identify invasive species, repair or even tear down old structures that aren’t useful anymore, build new ones, plant gardens, plant trees, and new fences (boundaries). The possibilities are endless when you are in the “You Historical Society”. And, what’s more, you can be in theirs!
Restoration is something that is on God’s heart for me, for you. Listen to this–“Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes.” That verse is from the book of Isaiah, chapter 58, verse 12 to be precise. I don’t know if every person feels “called” to assess their “land” and rebuild the places that have been long since deserted, but some of us do. Some of us are called to rebuild the walls and restore the homes not only for us but for all those that will come after us. When you endeavor to do this work, you will never do it alone because this is God’s work. You are partnering with Him when you enter into this calling because while it often feels destructive it is ultimately creative. You are replacing lies with truth, despair with hope, illness of many sorts with health of many sorts, doubt with faith, isolation with community, and hatred with love. Whatever your work might be, partner with someone else. Enlist in your own historical society and enlist in someone else’s.