A Kansas farmer's wife shares how simple farm tasks can help anyone learn life lessons
Just before setting off to college, Caitlin Henderson walked toward her family’s home in downtown Anthony and was startled to see a young man sitting atop a buckskin horse in her parent’s front yard. A few weeks later, Caitlin was sitting in class at Kansas State University, but her mind was back home.
By year’s end, she dropped out of college and pledged her heart to Jake Henderson. But it was not just this country rancher she was marrying, it was his farm and more than 100 Angus cattle as well.
“It was the best decision ever,” Caitlin said. “I wouldn’t change it.”
Although Caitlin grew up in a town of about 2,000, a little more than an hour from Wichita, farm life was new to her. Eventually, the couple moved onto the farm and into the house Jake, his father and his grandfather grew up in, and the one his great-grandfather built.
Along with her children being in diapers and calves on the way, Caitlin started settling into the rhythm of farm life and the joys and disappointments it could bring. She turned to both her young family and her front porch, which looked out over the prairie, for comfort.
One day, Caitlin and Jake’s middle child, Porter, became ill. Caitlin turned to prayer; Jake had turned away from Scriptures as he was mad at God for taking his father at such a young age. The two struggled, leaning upon one another as well as pushing apart. It was then Caitlin decided to open her heart to others, mostly farmer’s wives, on her blog.
“We were in a hard season. I realized I needed to share the hard parts,” Caitlin said. “Every time I share something that’s vulnerable, I help someone.”
Caitlin’s audience grew to tens of thousands. She realized her small family’s experiences were as helpful to a farmer in Hays as they were to a reader in Kansas City. That is when she decided to write a book and share her tales as well as provide Biblical lessons based on her struggles. By then, Jake embraced his faith once more, and he also became Caitlin’s sounding board for her book.
“I heard this little whisper in my heart,” Caitlin said. “I had felt there was something God was telling me to do.”
'Faith, Farming, and Family' features stories, Bible verses, and lessons
Caitlin’s book, “Faith, Farming, and Family: Cultivating Hope and Harvesting joy Wherever You Are” was just published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Random House. Each chapter consists of an escapade, a Bible verse and a lesson each farm-related task teaches.
One story tells about Caitlin fuming over Jake not being on time for dinner. It turns out he was helping a cow give birth. He came home covered in blood — from his brown leather boots to the top of his carrot-colored hair. He had saved both the mother and her calf. That night, Caitlin learned how to give up control.
"Faith, Farm and Family" brings the reader from tears to laughter as it examines the everyday occurrences on the Henderson Farm, including the tale of how eight-months-pregnant Caitlin looked after the herd while Jake worked three outside jobs trying to keep the farm from foreclosure during a tough drought.
Jake, who still continues to find odd jobs, sometimes awakens at 3 a.m. to travel to a neighboring town to pick up a bale of hay or cotton. When he is not on the farm or is ill, Caitlin needs to do some of his chores.
One day, early on, she had to feed the cows. After picking up the bale, she drove out to the "girls." They came to the old pickup, knowing their food was arriving. Caitlin froze. More than 100 hungry 1,300-pound cows were waiting on her.
Caitlin realized she needed to do something, but fear took over. Jake always opened the pick-up’s door and walked to the bed of the truck, allowing the animals to eat. Eventually, she opened the cab's window and climbed onto the truck's roof, making her way to the hay. That day, she learned to face her fears. That was the last day, she climbed over the truck to feed the cows.
“If my story, including the hard parts, can help someone, then I’ll be brave and share it,” Caitlin said. “The lessons apply to us all.”
'It's not a job. It's a way of life.'
Jake, a fifth-generation Kansas farmer, is proud to call this land his home. Along with the house, the barns and the silos, Jake is thankful for his land on which he grows cotton, milo and wheat. But down deep, after his family, his animals are his No. 1 concern.
Along with having black Angus, the Hendersons are starting to breed Hereford cattle. Last year, the couple started a farm-to-table business, selling their meat nationwide.
“We sell our beef raised here on the farm, and we ship the beef all over the world,” Jake said.
The couple’s three children, Grady, 8, Porter, 6, and Finley, 4, enjoy performing chores around the farm. Grady rides out to the pasture with his dad, both of them on horseback.
“I love riding and playing down by the creek,” Grady said.
Jake enjoys his wife and children’s company as he keeps honing his farming and ranching skills. From learning to feed his cattle at night to introducing cotton as a crop to understanding how horses create less stress on cattle than machines.
“You can always improve,” Jake said. “I want to keep improving.”
Jake wants to continue growing their cattle business and help his children succeed. To make changes on the farm, he said, requires an open mind.
“It’s not a job,” he said. “It’s a way of life.”
Jake continues to help his cows with their calves. Last week, he carried an 85-pound little one to the barn just after it was born. The calf was struggling as his mother walked beside him and Jake, trusting Jake with her newborn.
"She trusted me 90%," Jake said. "We do everything we can to keep the calves and cows together."
Caitlin looks forward to raising her children on the farm. She also wants to keep writing and sharing her experiences on the land and explaining how they relate to biblical lessons.
“It’s important to admit that we’re all struggling,” Caitlin said. “The lessons in the book apply to us all.”