Blooming Where You Are Planted

August 22, 2011 | 22 comments

And I discover it again on a city bus — how this surprise life is still surprising me.

The girls and I, we were headed to the Iowa State Fair. We parked at the State Capitol, with its gilded dome, and planned to take the metro bus to the fairgrounds to meet our favorite farmer. 

We stood in the queue at the curb, and everything about us shouted the answer to the question: “You aren’t from around here, are you?”

Maybe it was the way I didn’t realize I needed exact fare for the bus until the last moment. A passenger in line took pity on the farm wife and her daughters, trading single dollars for my ten-dollar bill. And the girls, they were wearing their Pioneer seed-corn caps and their farm-girl tans.

We wended our way to the back of the bus, finding two seats across from a graying man with a thin face, ruddy cheeks and a broad smile. He wore a shirt – with corn from the collar to the hem. He was headed to the fair.

“You from a farm?” he asked, and I told him we were. He clapped his hands together twice, glad to have made the discovery.

“My grandparents were farmers,” he said. Most Iowans are just like the man in the corn shirt – with a rural past and an urban existence. In another generation, as fewer hands tend the soil, thousands more will join him.

(And isn’t it true that we’re all from the dust — even those of us who aren’t farmers or never were farmer? Even those of us who live on the cul-de-sacs or on the eleventh floor?)

Maybe that’s why the man in the crazy corn shirt is drawn to the farm family. He feels the connection to the land, the place where dirty hands turn the soil and tend the animals. The man knows that his shirt came from a farm before it came from a store. He knows that hamburgers don’t come from WalMart.

The man wants to know our story.

I tell him that my husband and I met at Iowa State University. That we lived in the city and chased corporate dreams. That I never wanted to go back to the farm. Never. And that golden domed Capitol? I used to click my high-heeled feet up those steps most  mornings, with a reporters’ notebook in my briefcase. The governor’s press conferences and marbled halls are a dim memory now.

I tell the man that in 2002, we did the thing I thought we’d never do: We moved back to the farm. The law-school graduate packed away his suit jackets and ties. (He wears Carhartt now.) The reporter had to stop chasing politicians, but began to chase the redemptive story of Christ.

I like to say we traded up our dreams for a surprise life on the farm. The Good Book says the Lord knows the exact places each of us will live.

The bus rumbled to a stop, and the man with the crazy corn shirt rose to shake my hand.

“What a wonderful story,” he said, and he clasps my hands in his. “And would you please, please tell your husband thank you for being a farmer?” 


For statistics on Iowa farms, click here.  

For a story I wrote on the changing nature of Iowa farm life for The Des Moines Register, click here.

For a reassuring devotional by Rick Warren … a reminder that God created you with a purpose, and has you right where He wants you, click here.

by | August 22, 2011 | 22 comments


  1. Chris

    Thanking God for sending you back to the farm…

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Chris. Glad we’re “neighbors.” 🙂

  2. Megan Willome

    I never get tired of your story!

    And what is that photo at the bottom, the one with the cool font and the Acts verse?

    • dukeslee

      Hi Megan. Thank you for “listening” to the retelling.

      About the photo: I took that last night from my iPhone while sitting in the backyard of some good friends who live about three miles northeast of us. I added the verse through Picnik.

    • dukeslee

      Oh Megan … I should explain further, in case you were wondering about the actual content of the photo. It’s a cornfield, at sunset, with another farmers’ buildings in the background.

  3. floyd

    I enjoy more than all others, the ones where God calls people to a vastly different life and His children are obedient. It gives us all hope that we would have the guts given by God to the same.
    Good for you! And tell your husband I too said thanks for being a farmer, but even more than that, for both of you and your trust in God.

  4. Crystal

    What a wonderful memory! I love the story of how you both met and were called back to the farm. And I love this gentleman’s response for your family. Thanks for sharing – it’s perfect for a Monday morning as I head to the field to cut more silage 🙂

  5. Diana Trautwein

    LOVE, love this – even though I cannot imagine myself on a farm, I love that you could – and you did. I couldn’t imagine myself a pastor, either…but guess what??

  6. Deidra

    I love that he clapped his hands twice.

    What’s a corn shirt (asked the city girl)?

    • dukeslee

      Yeah … I didn’t write that very well, so anyone could be easily confused — whether you’re a city girl or a country girl. It was a shirt that was literally screenprinted with a corn design. It looked like a whole field of cartoonish corn on this guys’ shirt. I tried to find one online, to link to it, but couldn’t find anything.

  7. Jeanne Damoff

    So great! Thanks, Jennifer. My whole soul rises up to shout amen to that scripture. God writes our stories! Such a wonder. I know a lot of Christians revolt against such certainty, as though God planting us would be an offense against our freedom. But I’m amazed He takes such intimate notice of us, and thrilled to know that our days are written in His book. The thought grows even sweeter to me in view of our impending move. He knows. He determines. What grace.

    Love to you, your farmer, and your sweet farm girls.

  8. Linda

    My thanks to all of you Jennifer. I know that He, if we are willing to listen, will guide us to the very place He had always planned for us to be. And when we find that place, there is such a peace and contentment.
    You always, always say it so well dear friend.

  9. Lisa Lavia Ryan

    Jennifer, what a great post. And a belated “thank you” for all your posts that have touched me.

  10. heather

    I’m glad they haven’t issued us handheld scanners yet! Talk about taking work home with you…

  11. laura

    There is so much to love about this story, Jennifer. I love picturing you and your girls on that bus chatting with the corn shirt man. You are one cool lady, have I told you that lately?

  12. Donna

    First time “hearing” your engaging story. I am grateful that you and your husband followed where God led you nine years ago. We can bloom anywhere when we embrace the placement that comes from the One who knows us, loves us, and will never leave us. Blessings and grace to your family.

  13. Lori

    Hi Jennifer….isn’t it great, you just take the farm with you wherever you go. Most of our ancestors probably started out on farms, I know my Grandparents did. I think all of us in American owe quite a debt to farmers and their families….farms are close to my heart! Thank you for a sweet post! Lori

  14. Sandra Heska King

    You know what’s cool? On my dad’s side, I had relatives with the last name “King.” There was a King farm on that side. I have a piece of the home’s wallpaper. And now I live on a King farm–though we don’t do the actual farming.

    I love how you tell The Story.

  15. Blue Cotton Memory

    I love that your spirit was open to share God’s love with the man on the bus. You didn’t talk about God, but you acted about God. And you let that man give you something, words that he needed to give someone on that day, thankful words that needed sharing. What a blessing!

    I think my husband and I thought our boys would be raised on a farm – but God kept pulling us away to other places. We’ve found joy in those places, though – planting and harvesting different things:)

  16. Jennifer@Adam's Rib

    We are all dust–it’s a humbling fact we just have to learn to come to a Savior. I’m catching up tonight from this week’s postings (and thinking about your last post’s picture. This farmer’s wife wants to know just how do you keep that nail polish on?)

    • dukeslee

      LOL! During the school year, when I teach and work, I try to keep up my hair and nails a little nicer. Plus, the man of this farm doesn’t let me play with tractors and pigs. 🙂 … I think I’ll be in for real trouble next spring when Lydia gets her bucket calf. Bye, bye nails! 🙂

  17. Anne Lang Bundy

    I LOVE the way the NIV brought Acts 17.26 alive for me today! It was a hard lesson learned concerning my geographical location. I’m learning to trust it in a whole new way concerning my location in other circumstances. Your post is God’s loving milepost for me on this journey. Thank you, Jennifer.



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