God-Bumps: Dirty Fingernails

April 24, 2012 | 34 comments



This is the place where I perpetually discover who I am. Right here, standing in the upturned dirt. Soon, this palette of browns will give way to new green, sprouting under the steady and constant glow of the sun. Just now, I can feel its warmth on my back.

It’s here, where I remember that I am caught between who I was and who I will be. I am always becoming — and this is a kind of personal pushing through Earth.

I snap photographs of the first day of the 2012 planting season on the Lee family farm. As the shutter clicks, the names of Lee men whisper down through the decades: Ole, Milo, Paul. I think, too, of their wives: Emma, Eunice, Joyce. They were the ones who came before us.

And now, here we stand, in the spot where the same routine of planting and trusting has unfolded for more than 120 years — only with different people and increasingly more advanced equipment.

Same God, though. Same God. 

We are all like this one patch of dirt, upended and replanted year after year. All things become new again in our own personal liturgies and turning. This is the life-work of spring, and it sounds like the ripping open of a thread-zippered bag of seed.

A farmer’s work is God’s way of reminding us that great miracles can grow from something impossibly small.


My favorite farmer stops the tractor and leaps onto the dirt, kicking up a cloud. He adjusts his cap and shortens the distance between us with a smile and a happy wave. I sense an almost-giddy eagerness in him each spring — and in me, too. Here, in spring, we see God’s promises kept again and again.

It’s that one move — his leap from the tractor steps — that always reminds me who we’ve been, who we are, and who we’re still becoming. Him, the wannabe lawyer. Me, the wannabe journalist.

We both have dirty fingernails now. And faith.

“God’s got it.” Those are his words in springtime and in harvest and when life gets crazy around here. I’m writing a book, and these are the three words he daily tells me as I plant words.



He rips open one bag after another. This is the work of spring — the season of hope and promise in the planting of seeds.

My father is here, helping my husband. My Dad has readied the fields with a cultivator — a row of shiny, sharp shovels that turn the earth upside down. I sit in the tractor with Dad, and think of how I have trod the same ground, same territory, same routine — day after day in my everyday life. I think of the laundry piles, folded, and dirtied, and rewashed again.

But if I just adjust the camera angle, look at things a new way, upend old dirt, I see something new growing.





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 that was — for us — something of greater substance. We are daily brought nearer the dirt, the very substance God used to form man.

We prepare soil for the seed, and trust God to do something new in this season that eternally blooms with hope and new beginnings. And as I’m standing here, with the sun warming my back, I see again how it gives me a perennial case of God-Bumps. Every time.


This surprise life still surprises me. I did not make this life, but it is making me.

Have you come by to share you own story of God-Bumps? Do you have a God-Incidence to share? Oh good… We’ve been waiting for you!

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by | April 24, 2012 | 34 comments


  1. Shaunie Friday

    Jennifer, it does me good to see the good black dirt of home. It takes me right back to the days when I would watch from my Grandma’s kitchen window for the first sight of my Grandpa coming home. Off I’d race down the loooooonnnnnggg driveway, down to where it crossed the highway, and when I would get to him, Grandpa would hoist me up on his lap and let me “drive” the tractor home. I can still hear him laugh, thrilled by my delight! A lot that I am now was made in the first 8 years of my life in that same heartland–I am so thankful for the roots that still go deep there. Thank you for this and for the God-Bumps it gives me to remember.

    • dukeslee

      Shaunie — Did you have long hair then? Because when you tell this story here, I can see your hair flying behind you as you run down that driveway. What a beautiful, precious image.

  2. Courtney

    I’m linking up for the first time here today, (A Work in Progress) and I can’t believe how at home you’ve made me feel. I grew up in Southern Illinois, surrounded by scenes like the ones you described – just no hills. Completely flat. My dad was not a farmer, but my uncle was, and so was my great-grandfather, and pretty much all of my classmates’ dads. Like you and your husband, I also used to live in a big city and be a lawyer. Not any more. Now I’m a stay-at-home mom in a Southern town. It is a funny journey, isn’t it? Anyway, I love what you’ve written here and I appreciate the immediate connection that place can bring. Thank you for describing it, and the process, so beautifully. I look forward to hanging out here more often.

    • dukeslee

      Yeah, Courtney! I’m so glad you’ve linked up.

      I like you already. Work in Progress? Me, too.

      Yes, the journey is crazy, and winding, and circuitous, and thankfully at times it’s wildly fun!

      I appreciate your voice here in the comments, and in the community. I look forward to hearing what you’ve shared over at your place.

  3. r.ellott

    I love this…all full of hope…new life…upending the dirt to see something new grow…a bit of what was in my heart today too…blessings~

    • dukeslee

      Thank you for being here today, turning over the dirt and seeing how He makes all things new.

  4. Melanie

    “This surprise life still surprises me. I did not make this life, but it is making me.”

    Amen to that, every morning of every day. 🙂

    Found you on The High Calling. Lovely post.

    • dukeslee

      Hi Melanie! Waving hello to you from Iowa. I’m so glad we’ve connected, and through TheHighCalling.org. Fantastic. Hope to get to know you more.I’ll be heading over to The Frozen Moon … soon.

  5. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    The farm was never home to me.

    But we drove through land worked like this on our way to my uncle’s farm, a few times a year. What sweet, sweet memories.

    And this? “I did not make this life, but it is making me.”

    I need to ponder that, and remember it. Thank you, Jennifer.

  6. JoAnne Potter

    “I am caught between who I was and who I will be.” Oh, Jennifer, you have spoken to my heart today. My husband and I are considering moving to Tennessee, the seat of his ancestral home, for the precise reasons you have illustrated so lavishly here. We repeat, as the seasons, the pattern laid down before us and in doing, honor not only what God is doing, but what He has done. I have resisted and this helps. Truly. Thank you.

  7. Deborah

    I love how you convey the way being in and with the land brings us close to God. I love the repetition of planting, growing, harvesting, and the thought of this being done faithfully by generations of family, that you write about so sweetly.
    I’m a townie, but I confess to a secret fondness for looking at farm machinery – thanks for the thrilling pictures! 🙂

  8. Laura

    From my childhood, I have powerful memories of my grandpa’s farm. I swear God visited the farm more than he did my house in the city. The cycles of farm life, the dependence on God, the beauty of growing, it left a powerful impression on me. Thanks for reminding me.

  9. Michele-Lyn

    I often find myself somewhere in the middle of pondering the past and imagining the future. It is a good thing to do sometimes, and see the wonderful things God has done and will do. He is always FAITHFUL… even when we are not, because He cannot deny Himself… I love that kind of security.

    Amazing… it ALL starts with a seed. Beautiful post here… beautiful soul, you.

  10. Joe Pote

    Beautifully written, Jennifer!

    Spring planting really is a season of hope and faith, isn’t it?

  11. Rona

    It starts with a seed and grows.

  12. Jody Lee Collins

    “A farmer’s work is God’s way of reminding us that great miracles can grow from something impossibly small.”
    Yes! the season of seeing things turn green with growth! I look out my back window and think “This is a brand new green, never before seen. First time. Every year. It’s a miracle.”

    You are a great ‘wannabe journalist’. 🙂

  13. kd sullivan

    There will always be seasons…and I am encouraged, because farmers get a new season every year…I think that sometimes we are afraid of a new time or season in our life, but we need to embrace them, because it is in them that He can breathe new life.

  14. Nancy Franson

    I love the way you honored the names of those who have worked this soil in generations past. It reminds me of some of those Old Testament genealogies, sections I’m sometimes tempted to skip past. But those names are there for a reason–each one’s life mattered, each name was known to God.

    So much about this post that I loved, but that’s what popped out to me.

  15. Megan Willome

    Can’t wait to see the growth from your newly-planted words when that book comes out!

  16. Jen Ferguson

    This is the sentence that soothes my soul: A farmer’s work is God’s way of reminding us that great miracles can grow from something impossibly small.

    You know, it seems impossible that the seed knows what to do — when to open, when to sprout roots. And yet, God has made it so. We do what we know to do – feed, water, nourish and the seed grows. It doesn’t take something radical. It just takes God.

  17. Robert J. Gerryts

    Love the writing. Love the pictures. You must be a bit ahead of us season wise. I’m in Ontario, Canada. Cultivator is hooked up, but not quite warm enough yet to work ground and put the corn in. Nothing quite like putting seed in the ground and then praying and watching it grow. A miracle every time.


  18. Stephani

    I tried to link up today, but there was no Mr. Linky that I could find. I’ll try back later as there may be a glitch or something. I love your writing. Such a good storyteller.

  19. Alicia

    LOVE THIS- ” I did not make this life, it is making me!” I can still remember standing in my Grandpa’s field and taking in the miracle of dirt, seeds, and hope. Just this morning my little guy and I planted daisies and dreamed about what color they might be, how tall they might stand, and when they will pop from the earth. Ahh.. can’t believe Jesus came as a carpenter not a farmer 🙂

  20. Alecia

    One of the things I liked the most about visiting my grandfathers farm when I was little, was imagining my mom and her brothers and my grandparents out working the fields and caring for the animals. What they would have looked like out there. And then knowing how it looked then as I was standing there daydreaming.
    Now as an adult I find we are in the cycle you mentioned moving place to place, grappling for more, just not sure what. Maybe soon we will stop grasping and settle. And have some dirt under our feet to call our own.

  21. Shelly Miller

    I love what we learn from working the earth. It makes me feel closer to the way we were meant to be. And having generations of family doing just that is such an inspiring legacy Jennifer. I can feel that dirt, smell it, feel the air blowing my hair and exhale deep. BTW, I got to meet Courtney inRL when we met Ann Voskamp together in Charleston. So glad she linked up. She’s lovely.

  22. kendal

    dirty fingernails. yeah.

  23. Dolly

    How wonderful to have all of that history and dirt and HOPE…blessings, Jennifer 🙂

  24. Barbara

    Love this ” God’s got it.”

  25. Lori Poppinga

    I can totally relate to your farming analogies. Growing up on a farm is priceless gift to give children and second is growing up in a small town! 🙂 We have to get together soon because I want to hear all about Haiti and all that’s going on with your writing! God continually flings open the doors of my heart to see new things in new ways…and often to see the old things in new ways as well.
    Keep up the God work, Jennifer

  26. Dayna DeLaVergne


    We, too, had a Milo in our family–way back.

    Your writing is so beautiful! I’m not a writer, but I truly enjoy reading yours!

    Your last two sentences (“This surprise life still surprises me. I did not make this life, but it is making me.”) really spoke to me, as I never envisioned any part of my life turning out as it has. And it has turned out way, way better than anything I could have planned.

    Looking forward to your next post.

    • dukeslee

      Dayna! So fun to see you here in the comment box! This encourages me greatly. Can’t wait to get down to Laity Lodge again, and breathe in that canyon air!

      So glad that your surprise life is better than you could have expected. What a blessing!

  27. Nancy Kehr

    I love to get my hands dirty and work in the yard. Our yard is small so it is arranged for chickens, cats, and our berries and veggies and some flowers. All things beautiful.

  28. Summer Gross

    Jennifer, I can’t wait to read your book! Love your planting of word seeds and know that God enjoys growing things with you.

  29. Dawn Shipman

    Hi, Jennifer,
    I’ve been receiving your blog for a couple months now and have often been touched, but this one just made me come to a standstill and think. The concept of each of us needing to discover ‘who’ve we’ve been, who we are, and who we’re still becoming,’ really struck me. Made me ask myself–who am I now? Have I progressed in this walk of faith? Am I on my way to being…something more? I hope so. Thanks so much for the encouragement.


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