Chris is a sixth-generation farmer. I'm a fifth.
You might say things have changed since our ancestors first started farming.
And you would be right.
My side of the family includes the first white folks to break ground in our county in Iowa, right alongside the Native Americans.
Chris's family's history has its own set of stories as well, like how his Grandma Heins worked her teenage years in a garment factory, saving money so that when she got married, she could buy nice furniture for her new home. But when she did get married, she ended up using the money to help put a down payment on their first farm, and the furniture had to wait.
But while we're no longer using horses and oxen to break ground, we're still doing the same thing as our ancestors: working land, caring for animals, enjoying sunsets and watching herds of deer run through the bottom ground while our dogs sleep obliviously through the whole ordeal.
Maybe not that last part.
A few weeks ago, Chris burned an old hay barn. It had served its purpose and was in disrepair. It looked like it could collapse in a strong wind.
It needed to go.
First, he and some of the guys removed all the barn wood. Then an excavator pushed the rest into a big pile. Finally, Chris lit it up.
We wondered, as we watched it burn, what the men who built that hay barn would think: if they believed the little valley that barn sat in was as beautiful as we do; if they ever looked out over those same hills and thought, "This is really living'!"; if that barn was one of their biggest accomplishments; how much sweat went into putting the roof on; how many animals they owned; what the hay inside was worth when the barn was in its prime.
And we wondered what our future generations will think some day, what will go through their minds when they will burn down a barn of ours, if they'll love the country as much as we do, if they'll still be caring for hogs and cows and even dogs who can sniff out a piece of sausage through the smell of a smokey fire.
Chris always says that farming gives tangible meaning to Matt. 6:19: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal."
That verse is a farmer's reality. Insects eat your crops. Rust wears down your buildings. And every day, you fight to preserve your land and your assets despite the never-ending wear of this world.
We're in the middle of Lent. It's the time when we remember, in vivid ways, that we are mortal; that we were created from dust and that one day, just like that old hay barn, we will be dust and ash again too; that moth and rust really do destroy.
It's also the time that we remember that we have a Savior who has spared us from those ashes, dunking us in baptismal water and marking us with a dusty cross on our foreheads and our hearts, marking us as His own.
A lot has changed in farming, but there's a lot that hasn't. Calves still suck on your fingers like they're bottles. Ponds still silt in. Geese still fly in undulating Vs. Dogs are still oblivious to deer. And barns still need to be burned.
But God is merciful, even in the ashes, and we are thankful for it.