The Gift

How do I love God? How do I prove my love for God? By doing beautifully the work I was given to do, by doing simply that which God has entrusted to me, in whatever form it may take.

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Photo taken by my grandfather.

I started baling hay when I was ten. My first job was dragging bales toward the back of the wagon. Then someone decided I was better off in the driver’s seat of our Massey Ferguson 1100. So I learned how to inch the tractor forward through the hay field next to a school classmate’s house with the New Holland square baler and wooden hay wagon attached. Turns were tricky, but I got through them with my dad’s help. “Take it wide!” he’d yell from the wagon, hands framing his mouth. “Swing it.”

So I did, and even though there were trees on the edge of that field, I went on through without much commotion. I soon took pride in my ability to let out the clutch gently without making the crew of cousins and other high schoolers stumble.

Fast forward a couple of years to when I became more proficient on the Massey. I enjoyed driving it…but then, one day, I was switched to our John Deere 4020. I couldn’t stand that tractor (and now, it is the tractor I drive regularly). Where the Massey had three gears with low and high options, the John Deere had eight gears in a pattern that was seemingly impossible to get right. Second, fifth and the fast reverse were all in the same area.

One hay day in a later summer, down in our Big Bottom field next to the creek, I was moving the tractor off the baler and on to a full wagon. Two of the high school boys were waiting next to the wagon with the hitch pin while my great-uncle stood off to the side. I drove over to them, swinging out so that I could get in a good position to back up. I then decided to put it into fast reverse (I might have been showing off…). And back I went.

Or so I thought.

While I looked back to reverse, one hand on the wheel and the other on the back of the seat, the axles churned and green steel leaped forward when I let the clutch out. I let out a high-pitched squeal, quickly feeling embarrassed that I had done so. My great-uncle sprang between the wheels onto the tractor step, leaned over the steering wheel, told me to hold down the clutch, and slammed the gear from fifth, where it had stuck, down into reverse.

The fast reverse.

My left leg couldn’t hold the clutch when it reached the jump point. The tractor zoomed towards the wagon. Somehow, the boy holding the tongue connected the metal piece with the tractor, pushing the wagon back at a rapid pace and forcing him to jump on the tongue (incredible balance), yelling, “Whoa!” When I managed to stop the tractor, I looked back sheepishly for his reaction. He just threw the hitch pin in, laughing the entire time.

I quietly climbed down, as one of the older members of the crew would drive the wagon out of the creek bottom up the hill.

That day, the hay might have made it safely to the top. Other days, the driver would edge an inch too far on the slope and half the load would tumble from the heights to the ground below. Those were the worst days. The hay had been picked up off the ground, thrown on the wagon and stacked, and now, at the very end of the day, we had to do it all over again.

At this point, I was too small to throw the bales on the wagon, so I would be sent up to the house to feed the dog.

There are many more hay stories I could tell, like the choking air while stacking in the livestock trailer; the feel of the pitchfork in my hands as I walked the field straightening windrows when there was nothing for me to do on the tractor; the sweetness of Grandmother and Grandfather finding the tractors in the field with their small blue car, spreading sandwiches, cookies and sweet tea (and sometimes, a table cloth) on the trunk for the finest dining you could find for miles.

Through it all, good and bad, there was this peace that I was doing what I was given to do. And that peace has transcended the hay field to remind me of the gift of work throughout the years.

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