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I Should be Missing Toes

July 7, 2011

“I should probably water my garden,” mom said to me the other day; and that’s all it took to transport me to my childhood. In my mind I could hear the steady swsh, swsh, swsh of hundreds of sprinkler heads spraying out showers of water. Alfalfa tugged at my legs as I trudged across the fields.

Beyond our 300 acre farm, the land turned into a desert covered in nothing but cheat grass and sagebrush. The land was good for little but grazing cattle; but a strong irrigation system of canals, ditches, and wheel line sprinklers transformed the ground into fertile soil.

Wheel lines are almost obsolete now. They’ve been replaced by big circle moves that rotate around the fields on their own, but we didn’t have those. Instead, somebody had to change the water morning and night.

The mainline, a huge pipe, ran through the center of the farm and brought water from a nearby ditch. Enormous hoses hooked the irrigation pipes to the mainline. Great valves turned the water on and off to the pipes which would be unhooked so that the whole contraption could be moved forward to the next hookup.

The wheel line consisted of a long row of pipes running the length of the field. Every 30 feet or so, the pipe ran through a big wheel that must have been five feet high. Between each set of wheels was a sprinkler head, and the engine resided in the very center of it all.

Like a small car, the engine was attached to four wheels, and a big old chain ran out from the engine to a short pipe connecting the two sets of wheels to each other. That engine and chain propelled the whole mess of pipes forward, and somehow it worked – not well – but it worked.

Long before school let out for the summer, the crops were growing, and that meant somebody had to get out early in the morning and move the wheel lines and exactly 12 hours later go back and move them again. Sometimes dad changed the water; sometimes my brothers did it; and occasionally grandpa would go out into the fields.

I always liked to tag along after grandpa; he had a lot of good stories and showed me interesting things. One day grandpa taught me how to hook my toes into the bottom spokes and my fingers into the top spokes of one of the big wheels up by the engine. As the chain slowly pulled everything forward, I gradually turned a complete cartwheel. Oh what fun!

I couldn’t wait to tell everybody I knew about it. I told the kids at school; I told my brothers and sister; and I told my parents during supper. I’d barely finished telling dad about this terrific new stunt when he said, “I don’t want you kids doing that.”

The phone rang, and he got up to answer it, and I was left wondering why. I usually obeyed dad without question, but I couldn’t figure this one out.

A few days later I was out in the field with grandpa. How I missed turning the cartwheels. Grandpa wouldn’t tell me to do something bad, I reasoned with myself. I guess dad doesn’t want me to have any fun. I looked toward the house and couldn’t see him anywhere; so I hooked my toes into the bottom spokes and my fingers into the top ones.

At school the next day, everyone was talking about Angie. Gruesome details were forthcoming. She’d caught her foot in a wheel line chain and cut off all the toes on her right foot. This was horrible but exciting news; and I could hardly wait to tell mom and dad about it that night.

“That’s why I don’t want you kids doing that cartwheel thing,” dad said when I finally paused for breath. “It’d be so easy for your whole leg to slip into the chain, and it’d cut your leg clear off.”

Realization dawned, and I felt sick to my stomach. I was the one who’d told Angie about doing the cartwheels, but she wasn’t disobeying her dad. I was the disobedient one, and I was the one who deserved to be missing toes.

“Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right,” rang heavy in my mind. The Bible didn’t say to obey because it would keep me safe or out of trouble – even though those were good reasons for obeying. It said to obey because it was the right thing to do.

I didn’t find out for quite some time that Angie hadn’t been doing wheel line cartwheels when her toes got cut off. She’d simply been trying to start a stubborn motor. Bracing her foot against the pipe, she’d pulled hard on the starter rope. As the engine roared to life, her foot slipped and caught in the chain.

It didn’t matter to me how it’d happened, I knew who the disobedient child was.

Sometimes obedience to God doesn’t make sense to us. We can’t figure out why He’s called us to walk a certain path, but it doesn’t have to be logical to us. He is our Father and does not owe us an explanation. Our duty is to obey.

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