Cultivating This Life on an Iowa Farm

April 14, 2010 | 24 comments

We walk down rows of black Iowa dirt to find our favorite farmer waking up Earth. He has hitched up the disk to the back of the tractor, and sweeps fields to remind ol’ Earth that it’s spring.

We’ve come to watch, for this is the first time the John Deere has lumbered over fields since winter’s hiberation.

Anna runs on ahead, waving one of last year’s corn stalks as if she’s a baton twirler on parade.

Lydia, the family historian, hangs back near her mama. We walk against the wind, and kick at the dirt clods. She starts in on the questions like a four-foot-tall anthropologist.

“What were the names again of the other farmers?” she asks. “What were the names of the Grandpas before Daddy?”

She sees the cycle of life rooted in this place. She knows that there were others who came before our favorite farmer. He is the son of a farmer, of a farmer, of a farmer.

And I remind her that before Daddy,
came Paul,
and before Paul,
came Milo,
and before Milo,
came Ole.

That means the ground we trod has been awakened and cultivated and planted and harvested by Lees for more than 100 years, I tell her.

“So Ole has been in Heaven for a long time, huh?” Lydia says. And this clever little one plants her feet in Lee ground, lifts hands and voice to the wind and bellows dramatically: “Ole, Ole, Ole is with the Lord God Almighty!”


This is our favorite farmer’s first week cultivating, and his tractor cab rumbles with fresh hope — a hope that springs eternal every April. I revisit the archives of the blog to remember what we’d felt one year ago.

I uncover same feelings, on same ground:

The giddy anticipation that April brings.
This brushing-up against Heaven that comes with the loamy smell of spring awakening.
The swelling in my heart for my husband, now the only man on this farm.
The sadness that his father isn’t here, for he loved this time of year.

I remember Scott’s words last spring, the first spring without his father: “God’s in charge. God will provide. If I learned anything from my Dad, it’s that you can’t control it.”

Before he died, Paul told his son that he felt closest to God on the seat of a John Deere tractor, tending to God’s Earth.

It must be in the DNA sequence of the Lees, for I recognize that trait in the man I love.

And yesterday Anna asks me: “Can I be a girl farmer?”

“Of course, you can, Anna,” I tell her, and alternating parts of me hope she will and hope she won’t. That’s why we leave these things in God’s hands, for His plans are inifinitely wiser than our own.

But I do wonder, will our family be the last of the Lees to work this ground? Does the cycle end with Scott, the 38-year-old patriarch of this farm?

I’ve only recently begun to realize how we’ve been grafted into this cycle of family and its link to Earth. Before we came home, we never lived anywhere long enough to see lives come full circle with seasons. We had moved from place to place, career to career, groping for more of something that we couldn’t quite name.

But we abandoned the grasping at air to settle into a cycle of greater substance. We are daily brought humbly low to the dirt, the very substance God used to form man.

We are but dirt, working the dirt, waking up dirt. And in these rows — farmed by the hands of Lee men who’ve come before — we cultivate dirt.

We prepare soil for the seed, and trust God to do something new in this season that eternally blooms with hope and new beginnings.

We’ve come home.

holy experience

Each week, I join Ann Voskamp in her “Walk With Him Wednesday” series. This week, we consider Cultivating the Life God Desires.

This life — this Iowa farm life — is the life that God has called our family to cultivate. And He says to us: Not just the ground, but hearts, too.

We ask the Lord: What do you require of us as we cultivate a life You desire? And He whispers into our Spirit-ears:

Act justly.
Love mercy.
Walk humbly with your God.

– Micah 6:8

by | April 14, 2010 | 24 comments


  1. Michele Williams

    What a wonderful life you all have! Thank you so much for sharing your blessings.

  2. jasonS

    Just beautiful.

    Also I was wondering how to pronounce "Ole" then you're daughter helped me out greatly and made me laugh at the same time. 🙂


  3. Stephani

    What a rich story about your life, the life God has given you. Thanks for sharing. It brought tears to my eyes to see the infusion of God in your land and in your hearts.

  4. Lyla Lindquist

    Seems Ole Lee could've gotten by with just the first name. Adding the last name seems just a little, well, redundant.

    But seriously, Jan, er, Jennifer, your trip through dirt clods to the John Deere gets me today. It reminds me as we approach 20 years in a place I never thought I'd be that there's real value in the time, the relationships, the staying. This digging down here, it's something I once derided as "settling."

    Like that's a bad thing. But God works here.

  5. Graceful

    Beautiful writing, Jennifer. And oh I love the name Ole — my husband having Norwegian blood and all.

  6. Lisa notes...

    Such a beautiful moment that you captured with your daughter!

  7. Duane Scott

    This looks like my backyard. I've been watching those tractors go across the dark Iowa dirt too. Great thoughts!!!

  8. Solveig

    My father left the farm to become a pastor, but the farm never left him. Having lived with the sense legacy he experienced, this touched me deeply. Many of God's promises revolve around land, and I believe He wants us to nurture–and even to claim or restore–His legacy, wherever it might be. Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota. Anyway, thanks for your post. The love come through.

  9. mom2six

    Jennifer – just wonderful! We are waking the earth here yet without the heritage. It is all a new learning experience for us. Perhaps we will leave a legacy for those who come after. I will hold Scott's words close…"God's in charge. God will provide." Thanks.

  10. Andrea

    Beautiful life…beautiful adventure GOD has chosen for you guys.
    Blessings, andrea

  11. Missie

    i love that verse…and thank you for doing what you do…farming is hard, but necessary!

  12. Rose

    Jennifer, again, I feel my words in response to you eloquent post will sound pitiful. What a wonderful legacy for your children to know where they come from! This is a lovely post!

  13. Beth E.

    How cute is that??? Ole, Ole, Ole…I'll always remember that whenever I hear the song! 🙂

    You weave a beautiful story with your words. I am always blessed when I read your posts!

    Blessings to you and your family. May God provide a bountiful harvest to you this season!

  14. LeeAnn@Encouragement Is Contagious

    "Gods in charge, and God will provide." Oh I love that. Your father-in-law was a wise man and it's wonderful that He passed on down to his son.

  15. Karen

    Wonderful legacy…precious memories…thanks for sharing with us!

  16. Janis@Open My Ears Lord

    Such a beautiful picture of freedom and hard work. There's something about the wide open spaces, working in the dirt, and being close to nature that brings us close to God. I also like your husband's comment about what his father taught him–"God is in charge." And I liked the verse from Micha.
    Thank you for sharing your joy.

  17. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience

    I. love. this. post.

    I think it's because I love you?

  18. Megan Willome

    My grandfather, who died in January, farmed for 70 years (he died at 94). He used to feel the same way about spring — a chance to start over.

  19. Bonnie Gray

    THANK YOU for keeping me company at Kelly's place, when I guest posted last week on the REST post.

    I loved what you said about focusing on life in 3D.. and prioritizing in-the-skin relationships… I watch for that ALL THE TIME. I think that's where the real soul-work comes out of… and breathes into our writing.

    I can sense your soul breathing through.. each time I come, I get something from your heart, hot & fresh, Jennifer.

    "God's in charge. God will provide. If I learned anything from my Dad, it's that you can't control it."

    — I love this.

    If you're up for it, I want to invite you to take the "What If" Challenge today with me

    I would LOVE to "jam" with you. 😉 Game?

  20. Missy

    Oh my goodness! I'm bawling like a baby! Your words are beatiful. Thank God for blessing you with wisdom and words to touch so many hearts. Perhaps I'm also a little sentimental because I am also a Lee from Iowa. Not familiar with farming, but familiar with the love for life and love for God spoken from the mouths of MY Lee men! Thank you!

  21. Tony C

    You make this mountain boy of East Tennessee want to move to the plains to find what you have!

    Great stuff Jennifer. If your local Chamber of Commerce or Tourism Board doesn't know about your writing…they sure should!

  22. Kristine

    This is so beautiful and brings such memories. My grandpa and uncle were farmers and some of the happiest times in my life were when I was a child and we were visiting them. I got to watch my uncle milk the cows. I helped my grandpa slop the pigs. I would sit for hours at the fishing pond. What a blessing those memories are for me. Such a legacy your husband shares with his forefathers and is passing on to his children. So lovely to find your way home. 🙂

  23. Jennifer

    You may just have a "girl farmer." My little girl just howls if the tractor moves and she's not behind the wheel.

    Wonderful heritage for your kids–the land and the God who provides through it.

  24. S. Etole

    Just yesterday I watched a John Deere turning the soil for a new crop … I feel so blessed.


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