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Pioneers and Settlers

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

Just back from a Sonnenberg Family Reunion 2021 in northeastern Colorado. And I have a few reflections about my family of pioneers and settlers.

As something of an educated guess, I’d say our larger human family shares one thing in common: we are all a mix of pioneers and settlers. That, as much as anything else, perhaps, is what it means to be human.

If our personal lives find meaning in the telling of our story, certainly it is important to find connection with other persons through the telling of our larger human story. This is what anthropologists strive to get right. But family reunions can help the rest of us get it right, as well, and this past weekend was an opportunity for me to get my own story right.

My story, by necessity, includes four sets of Great Grandparents. One such ancestral quadrant was my Great Grandpa Henrich Paul Sonnenberg (1852 – 1935) and Wilhelmine Caroline Lewein (1861-1936). Theirs was a marriage of pioneers on their way to becoming eventual settlers in my own community of Leroy (unincorporated) Colorado.

I’ve always considered myself something of a pioneer first and a settler last. Now I’m closer to knowing why that is.

I’m one of those free spirits who believes in life-long learning and the evolutionary spirit of survival. To stop growing and only “settle” for a maintenance life-style feels foreign to my nature. I left home for college at age 18 and have been changing and growing ever since; although I did manage to settle into a home community out in Ohio (last 53 years) and into a marriage (last 54 years) proving I’m more than “just” a pioneer.

Perhaps there really is a pioneer in all of us waiting to leave our old settlement and “move on” to some greener grass over there…..wherever “there” is. And perhaps there really is a settler in all of us waiting to just settle down and stay in place for awhile longer….. whatever “awhile” is. Maybe there forms an inner tension in each one of between our conflicted tendency to “go out” and also “stay in.” Maybe we’re all torn between those dueling instincts of “letting go” and “holding on.” No matter how simple we’d like to think our story really is, it always gets complicated when it accounts for both our inner pioneer’s desire to “move out” and our inner settler’s desire to “stay put.”

Oh, to be a fly on the wall observing some of Great Grandpa’s and Great Grandma’s marital, uh, discussions. The ones about whether to take off again for someplace new or keep on “settling” for what they already had. Pioneers and settlers may make even the strongest of marriages feel a bit week at the knees sometimes. I can almost hear Caroline saying it now: “H.P., you wanna move again where?????”

We pioneers eventually settle. Growth eventually decides upon maintenance. None of us are as young as we used to be. And after awhile, even a rolling stone doesn't mind a little moss here and there.

The Bible tells us we are made in God’s image. Maybe we humans get our pioneer side from God; and our settler side as well. Maybe God sent Jesus Christ as His pioneer self from His heavenly home here to start up His “Kingdom on earth as it in heaven.” Maybe God sent the Holy Spirit as His settler self to help KEEP up that same Kingdom. Maybe God’s pioneer Son brought along His settler Spirit much like my Great Grandpa H.P brought Great Grandma Caroline. Pioneers and Settlers make the best possible team!

My own “take-away” from this past weekend’s 2021 Sonnenberg Family Reunion was that these pioneering Great Grandparents brought their German agricultural “know how” to several points of Nebraska and Colorado only to then become settlers intending to stay for generations to come. That’s our family story, and I'm sticking to it!

God's pioneering Son and Holy Spirit brought His Heavenly “know how” to earth to build that eternal settlement we call the Kingdom of God, intended for generations to come.

That’s our God story.

And I'm sticking to it!

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