How to Live a Remarkable Life

August 26, 2013 | 38 comments

“It all makes perfect sense now.”

Those were the words that an editor at The Des Moines Register emailed me. For more than a decade, the editor admitted, he thought I was a little bit nuts to step off the front page into a life of obscurity on an Iowa farm.

“I always shook my head at your decision,” he wrote. Why, he wondered, would I trade the newsroom for a life as an Iowa farm wife?

But, then, he said, he read my heart in these words:

I’m parked at the end of our country lane, right by the Lee mailbox and a long row of hay bales. I watch the sun rise right up over our fields, cutting a hole through the fog.

I’m surprised by the beauty. My two schoolgirls, in the backseat, gasp. I snap frame after frame with my Nikon while we wait for the school bus to crest the hill. I’ve learned something about mornings in Iowa: Always have your camera in the passenger seat.

You’d think the newness of an Iowa morning would have worn off by now. Shoot, I’m not even “new” here anymore.  I grew up 100 miles from this spot, where you find me now, snapping pictures. I was raised on sweet corn and simple prayers and county fairs and the luxury of wide open spaces. I’m as Iowan as a girl can get.

But for most of my life, I didn’t notice the magical, extravagant beauty of my own homeland. I had twice visited the Rocky Mountains as a child; now THAT was real beauty. I’d heard about other places: Iguacu Falls in South America, the great coral reef off the shore of Australia, the giant sequoias in California.

I lived in a land that everyone else called “fly-over country.”

And for a long time, this native Iowan agreed. I was determined to fly right over and outta here.

I’ve long had vision problems — missing the beauty right under my own two feet.

Growing up, I didn’t notice. Never batted an eye when the sun melted like orange sherbet over the fields in my backyard. Never looked twice when the grass sprouted a green, lush carpet under my bare toes. Only now, as I write it all down, do I remember that an early winter rain could turn a clothesline into a chandelier.

I didn’t notice the beauty of a whole lot of things — like, how death can be breathtaking. Have you ever seen the hopeful allure of a dying farmfield in October?

I saw boring, dusty roads that lead to nowhere and back again.

Maybe it takes a change of scenery to remember what you didn’t see the first time around.

The editor responded: “After reading this, I found the answers to all of those ‘why did she’ questions I uttered years ago.”

And really? I’ve only begun to learn the truth about such things myself: that the smallest moments are the biggest moments, and that the moments that really make a life aren’t front-page news.

I’ve only begun to learn that I’m being made somewhere between the hay bales and the sticky syrup bottle and the Monday laundry piles.

I have learned that the most spectacular parts of life didn’t come with a byline or a pay raise or a framed award for the wall.

Maybe some of you will make the Hall of Fame of Such and Such. And if you do? I’ll be there cheering you on.

But most of us? We’re being made in the simple, holy, ordinary moments in these unpretentious places. We’re living the remarkable, in what some find unremarkable. We’re taking out the trash, and feeding the cats, and packing school lunches, and folding denim. And if we’re parents, we’re raising our miniature humans to be people of light in a world that can sometimes feel dark.

The moments that shape us are the moments that might never get noticed–

You know the moments–

Those times when you’re holding a cool washcloth to a fevered forehead.
When you leave a love note on the counter.
When you’re in the middle of the long embrace. Or the short game of Husker Du.

The molding moments happen in the skipping of rocks, and the counting of stars, and the praying for God to bless your food and your family.

So how do you live the most remarkable life of all? By living the one you’ve been given.

Truth is, most of us are made in the mundane. And if we were waiting for the big moment, we will have missed the  beauty of the small one, the one where life really happens, one tiny miracle at a time. And maybe someone will think you’re nuts for embracing the ordinary, and then maybe a decade later, that Same Someone might send you an email to tell you it all makes perfect sense.

And maybe they won’t send that email. But that’s okay. Because you’ll already know the truth about such things.


by | August 26, 2013 | 38 comments


  1. Mrs. H.

    Husker Du!!! My baby sister was freakishly good at that game….This was beautiful, thank you

    • dukeslee

      I wondered if anyone else would know what Husker Du is. I only saw it at my house, growing up. And my girls love the game.

  2. Shereen Lynn

    Pure beauty, Jennifer, thanks! From the Nebraska side of the great fly over the country view is much the same and I often miss the brush strokes of Wonder in my canvas.

    • dukeslee

      Such beauty in your great state, Shereen. I caught a nine-pound walleye on one of your northern reservoirs. And … I lived in Omaha for three years. 🙂

  3. Evangelize To Me

    HI Jennifer! I loved this post. You are so content, and know you have made a great move for yourself, and are grateful for your life just the way it is. What more can anyone ask?

    The idea that we have to stick out and be the best and shine and all that stuff…who says you aren’t doing that right now? I’d say you are.


    • dukeslee

      Amen, on all accounts, Ceil! Thanks for dropping in.

  4. Kim

    I’m so blessed to live and experience similar scenes from our Kansas farm. I loved your girls’ photo on what I assume was their first day of school. Thanks for so beautifully painting pictures with your words and photos.

    • dukeslee

      Yes, Kim … That photo was from the first day of school, which began Wednesday. Due to heat, school let out early today. And it will let out again at 1 p.m. tomorrow. We’ve had such a cool August … until the very day school started. 🙂

  5. Ro elliott

    Love this…. I am learning to live and thrive in the obscure ….you and Ann speaking the same truth… Here’s a quote from her blog…..’Sometimes doing the most important thing eternally – doesn’t look like you are doing anything noticeably. God is whispering His love…. Thanks for listening

    • dukeslee

      Ooo … Lovely quote from Ann. I adore her. (And you!)

  6. lynndmorrissey

    I think you live a remarkable life, Jennifer, and I love the way you mark your days by marking it all down on your blog. You obeyed God and came home to raise your girls, and God blessed you with great things in small moments–and a different setting in which to write. He didn’t take away the gift. He just placed it in a different wrapping. And I would say it’s hardly obsure. Likely, you are reaching far more people than you were at The Demoines Register. I wouldn’t make a dichotomy between writing for a newspaper and writing words on a Christian blog, in that all work which God assigns is sacred. But you did a wise thing in allowing Him to shift the focus of your work, because He knew how much your daughters would need you. I will never forget when I resigned as Executive Director for the (world’s largest airport) USO in order to raise my daughter. Unlike you, at forty, I went kicking and screaming into motherhood, and I was scared to death to leave the USO five months after Sheridan was born. My identitiy was wrapped up in it. It didn’t help that a two-star general on my board and in charge of a big military airlift command called to ask me what on earth I was doing?! The implication was, “You have to be kidding!” But God wasn’t. He made it abundantly clear that I was to leave, and He graciously allowed me to wrestle with Him for five months. But finally I succumbed. I have never been sorry. I think it is amazing how large the world can grow in the confines of one’s home when God is at the center of it. Bless you for this beautiful post. You are so precious (and REMARKABLE), Jennifer!

    • dukeslee

      Oh Lynn… Thank you for sharing this part of your story. There was more kicking and screaming on my part than I’ve shared today, though I have shared it in previous posts. Early in our marriage, I told Scott that I would never, ever, EVER move to the Lee farm. Well, look what happened to that “I’ll never.” 🙂

      Like you, so much of my identity was wrapped up in my work. I address that a little bit in my forthcoming book.

      Thanks, as always, for engaging here in the comments. I always look forward to hearing from you, Lynn.

      • lynndmorrissey

        Jennifer, I so appreciate your humility……I had no idea! Of course, your book is top priority on my reading list when it is published. I canNOT wait!!! And thank *you* for briefly sharing this aspect of your story here. Perhaps there are other readers like me who had not heard this before. Ok… I’m one in a long line of eager, anticipating readers! =]

  7. lynndmorrissey

    P.S. Your girls look *remarkably* more grown-up than when I last saw photos of them. This must be their first day of school. Tell Miss Lydia she has legs that go all the way to DesMoines! Michael is always telling our Sheridan that she has legs that reach all the way to Detroit! From where do these long, lanky girls come?! Remarkable! =]

    • dukeslee

      I know, Lynn! It’s crazy. Like sands through the hourglass …

  8. Laura Rath

    Jennifer, as a fellow Iowan, I totally agree with you about how beautiful the mornings here are, as well as the evenings! I don’t remember ever noticing until we moved from east Iowa to the DM area. The sky looks bigger here, as if that’s possible. And now I can’t not notice.

    “So how do you live the most remarkable life of all? By living the one you’ve been given.” – Love this! The grass always seems to look greener somewhere else…until we find out it’s not.


    • dukeslee

      I swear it is, that sky being bigger. I get that, Laura.

  9. Karrilee Aggett

    Whenever I visit you here… I just breathe in deep… and as always – it’s just so refreshing!

    • dukeslee

      Squeezing your hand. … Glad you’re here.

  10. Holly Barrett

    So lovely and so true! Thanks for helping us rethink the ordinary days of our lives!

  11. Lisa @besidestillwaters.blogspot

    I’m a transplanted midwest girl. Your words today make me long for narrow farm roads winding past fields of corn, the sun setting over golden tassels.

  12. Nancy Ruegg

    Where I live, graceful egrets, twisted limbs of live oak trees, and dripping Spanish moss are ho-hum everyday sites. Yet tourists from the North ooh and aah over these southern mainstays. It’s all about perspective, isn’t it. You have eloquently described the everyday miracles of the Iowa prairie, and prescribed the antidote for the “mundane-doldrums,” no matter where we live: EMBRACE the ordinary, and look for the tiny miracles. There are thousands for us to enjoy.

    Thank you, Jennifer for lifting our spirits with your poetic writing!

  13. sabrinaharnish

    So beautiful. A lovely lady from our church tweeted this over to me and I love it so much. Your heart is all over the page. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  14. Amy

    I understand the incredible beauty of Iowa. My family farm is there and my heart most days, too. Beautifully said, Jennifer.

  15. saleslady371

    You are a beautiful story teller! I loved every word. I live in the Grand Canyon State just outside of the beautiful red rocks of Sedona and pray continually that I will never take advantage of all the beauty around me so you can imagine how much your post meant to me.

  16. Kris Camealy (@KrisCamealy)

    Jennifer, seriously, this. is. it. “Most of us are made in the mundane”. Yes. How I sometimes struggle with the minutia of the monotony–but I am learning to lean in. I’m settled here in this small life of mostly unseen glory. It’s so good, and it’s such a gift. Beautiful write, my friend. ((hugs))

  17. Lea

    So, how do you live a remarkable life? By living the one you’ve been given. Oh, I love that and need to remember that every day for sure!

    I think I’ve told you before that my brother lives in DesMoines and we just love it there. We were there visiting he and his family in June and had a great time.

    Happy week!

  18. Donna

    Thank you, Jennifer, for putting into words what I have felt all along. I am a rural Wisconsin farm wife. My children are grown now and having families of their own. I miss them, but love all the grandchildren. I tell most young parents that it’s the everyday stuff of life that makes the best pictures and memories to look back on one day. Milking the cows, feeding the hogs and calves, the cats at the milk dish, the kids doing what kids do, sitting on the fence waiting for Dad to call them to “gopher” another something or other, playing on the slip n slide, swinging on the rope in the haymow, hayrides, first time driving lawnmower or tractor. So many precious memories captured in my heart and in photos. Special events come and go but doing every day life together is what builds families. Blessings to you for sharing your heart with us.

  19. danivanzyl

    How can you always be spot on? Thanks for always being so transparent and frank…you are a gift!

  20. elizabethfstewart

    My eyes have been opened to the ordinary beauty through counting along with Ann Voskamp and through discovering photography. Both were like getting new eyes. Your words here inspire me to look even more diligently, to notice the wonder all around me.

  21. Mary Bonner (@TheMaryBonner)

    This almost makes me cry Jennifer…it is so beautiful and true. And those fly over states…I love them. I lived most of my life in one before moving out east.

  22. Beth Y.

    This morning I was awake before the sun on our Iowa farm. Now I am heading outdoors to walk the dusty, gravel roads and think and pray how this ordinary day can be beautiful. We left our freshman daughter at Dordt College a few days ago. My flower garden reminds me of her because it has flowers blooming that she has planted. She won’t be able to help me pick and peel the ripe, red delicious apples from our tree this September. My kitchen will miss her presence yet the apple tree remains and reminds me of her. The kitchen table still reserves a spot for her and I am forced to learn to cook less.The ordinary things on our farm comfort me in my time of change.

  23. Cori D.

    Beautiful post! And it’s so true. I always look elsewhere for the beauty when it often is right in front of me.

  24. Dea Moore

    I might start loving folding laundry after reading this post. 🙂 Lovely, true, and grace-giving. We all hold hands with Mundane. His middle name is Beauty. He’s everywhere. We only have to be awake to His presence. Thank you, Jennifer D. Lee!

  25. Janis@Heart-Filled Moments

    You live the most remarkable life of all by living the one you have been given~don’t we always look elsewhere for the grand moment, the recognition, the plaque on the wall, the thrill of the crowds and bright lights. Whatever it may be for each of us.
    But I will hang on to that quote of yours~remembering the most remarkable life is the one we’ve been given.
    Thank you, Jennifer.

  26. Mindy

    I love all of this! Thank you for your inspiring words.

  27. amandaconquers

    Oh, Jennifer, this is just beautiful. And inspiring. Thank you Thank you for this.

  28. Linda Gibbs

    Live the life we have been given. I was e Nebraska girl who flew away to California to live. My journey lead me home again the to house I played in as a child. I learning how to live my ordinary life through God’s remarkable sight.


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