Looking Back With Grandpa…

Jesus answered, “Anyone who starts plowing and keeps looking back isn’t worth a thing to God’s Kingdom…”  Luke 9:62 CEV

When I was 13 years old, we had been out on the West coast for several years, and my Grandma Jones called up from Michigan and asked if one of us kids could come back and help Grandpa on the farm for the summer.  They had found some gall stones and he was going in for surgery and couldn’t keep up by himself.  I wasn’t the oldest, but I’d saved money from my paper route & volunteered and I talked my folks into letting me take the Vista-Dome Empire Builder train from Seattle to Chicago.  What a great adventure.  I’ll never forget going across the Great Plains in the middle of the nite with all those stars.  Grandma & Grandpa Jones picked me up in Chicago and we drove back to the farm in Battle Creek and I went to work the next day with Grandpa; he had a few days to show me things and rest up before he went in for surgery. 

 Plowing and cultivating were things I’d done with Grandpa as a young boy sitting on the fender of the Allis Chalmers tractor, but now it was finally time for me to sit in the drivers’ seat and Grandpa to sit on the side while he made sure I learned to do what he wanted me to do while he was getting well.  We’d spent the morning cultivating corn, but after dinner break we were back out by 1pm to one of the fields that had lain fallow from last year and Grandpa wanted it plowed.  He had me stop on the lane that ran along the top of the huge rectangular fields, and he walked over to the center of the field, and hung his old red hat on the fence post.

 “What are you doin’ Grandpa?” I asked.

“You’ll see Brucie” ” he said as he climbed back onto his spot, “just head on down to the other end now”.  So I did, going up one side of the field where it was smoother.   Then when we came to the fence at the other end, he had me follow it toward the middle, and then we turned back toward the way we came and stopped.  There we were way down on the opposite end of the field right in line with his old red hat.  Grandpa reached over and turned off the tractor.

 “Now Brucie, I’m going to teach you how to plow right”.

“I already know how to plow Grandpa.  I’ve plowed with you dozens of times sitting right where you are!”

“Yes, you know how to plow Brucie, but I told you that I’m gonna teach you how to plow right.  There’s a difference.  And if you’re gonna plow for me in my fields your gonna plow right Brucie.  Okay?”

“Okay Grandpa” I said, but I remember thinking I didn’t really understand why Grandpa was so intense about this; it was only plowing.  How hard could it be?  I was anxious to go and kind of bouncing up and down a little in the big old springy steel tractor seat, just waiting for the word to start.

“Now look at me and listen Brucie”, and when I did his eyes locked mine with an intensity I rarely saw in Grandpa.

“When cutting a field like this, the first row is the most important row.  Every single row you plow will follow the first row you do, because your left front wheel will always ride the furrow of the rows you’ve done the time you went around before, right?

“Right” I said, and that made sense.  Once you got a field started, the left front tire simply followed in the furrow of the previously plowed row and it was very easy to simply go up and down the field like that.

“So, look down there at the end.  You see my hat on the post?”

“Yup, course I see it Grandpa”

“When we start, I want you to drop your blades, and from when they touch till you lift them at the edge of the lane at the other end; never take your eye off that hat.  Can you do that?”

“Yup, sure I can.  You ready to start now?” I said and I started bouncing a little again, anxious to get this thing going.

“I’m ready Brucie but I mean what I said.  Don’t take your eyes off that hat”.

“Okay Grandpa” I said and I put-er’ into gear and eased out the clutch and started rolling, and dropped the lever putting the plow-blades down.   Grandpa watched closely and in a couple seconds goosed the throttle up a little to give us a little more speed for smoothness; and I was plowing.  I was plowing just fine all by myself! 

 My eyes were watching the old hat real good and Grandpas’ tractor sounded just fine. The sun was bright and warm and the bugs were kicking up out of the clover we were turning under and you could smell the sod and new earth that was being turned-up, and after about 50ft I turned my head to look back at….

“DON’T TAKE YOUR EYES OFF MY HAT” Grandpa screamed in my ear before I could even get a quick glance backwards.

“KEEP YOU EYES ON THAT HAT AND DO NOT LOOK BACK” he screamed in my ear as I hung on to the steering wheel for dear life drilling both eyes into that hat ¼ mile away.   At that distance it was really only a red dot; but I had it and I wasn’t about to try to look away.

“YOU CAN’T PLOW RIGHT IF YOU KEEP LOOKING BACK” he was screaming again over the roar of the tractor, and even though I had only tried to look back once at that point I wasn’t about to argue with Grandpa. 

 And so we plowed.  I could literally feel Grandpa’s eyes drilling holes into the side of my head as he watched me.  The tractor wasn’t just loud now though, it was roaring, and the sun had somehow became too bright and real hot, and those bugs seemed like they were swarming around me now as I leaned forward, pulling myself up as tall as I could to see that darn hat.  It’s strange how strong the temptation grew and grew and grew to look back at what I’d done.  And even though I knew I shouldn’t, and even though I knew Grandpa would nail me if I did, when we were about 100ft from the end I was gathering myself to do a real quick spin-and-look and out of no-where came,


 Those last three words rang into my ears clear down to the center of my heart.


 What a strange thing to say about plowing….But, well, something happened inside me and that’s all it took.  I knew for sure then that God must be on Grandpa’s side and He was talking to Grandpa or something and I had no hope, and I stayed glued to that old red hat. 

 When we came to the lane at the end I lifted the blades and wheeled left and Grandpa had me stop and then back up till we were even with my first row.

 “Well Brucie, what do you think of that?”  Grandpa asked now that we were stopped, and could look back up the field, and I was amazed.  I stood up to look better and Grandpa reached over and turned off the key and instantly the quietness of the fields grabbed us.  I climbed up on the seat and looked all the way back up the field where we had just worked; and I had just plowed as straight as I’d ever seen Grandpa plow.  It went up and down with the land gently, straightly, and the 3 blades had made 3 perfect parallel rows rolled over just right; and they were mine.

 “Wow Grandpa.  They’re beautiful”, I said.  “Look how straight they are”.  But when I looked down Grandpa wasn’t looking at the field, he was looking at me.  In his weakened condition and in his pain, the intensity of the last 20 minutes had left him drained, and he pulled out his red bandanna and wiped the sweat from his face and his balding head.

 “I don’t need to look back there Brucie, I know how straight they are.  I was watching you and where you were going and I know you plowed right.  Now sit yourself down here so I can tell you something”, so I did.  He tied his bandana around his neck cause he know he’d be needing it the rest of the afternoon and said, “It means a lot to Grandma and me that you’re here to help with the farm this summer Brucie.  But listen now.  You and me only have another couple of weeks before my surgery, and then I’ll be laid up, so when Grandpa tells you that something needs to be a certain way, you gotta listen to me and do what I say.  It don’t matter if you understand it right now.  If you trust Grandpa the understanding will come from the doin’ – not the talkin’.  You trust me, and I trust you.  That’s how it works.”

 “Okay Grandpa” I said looking down, and although I didn’t really understand everything he was saying that day in my head, my heart knew this was really important to both Grandpa and me.  He put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed it hard enough to hurt a little as he said,

“I’m proud of you Brucie.  Don’t you forget what you learned today and you always plow right”.

“I won’t forget Grandpa, I promise”.  And then I started the tractor up and we went back to work till supper-time.

 Not long after those few days together, Grandpa went into the V.A. hospital and the surgery was a complete success and Grandpa did fine.  We laughed and gawked at the gallstones they put in a jar for him when we visited the day after, and then that nite when the hospital called Aunt Jackie’s where I was staying till Grandpa came home, the news that a blood clot had killed him hit us like a ton of bricks.   We all piled into the car and raced the few miles to the hospital but it was over.  Grandpa was Home now. 

I finished the summer and into September helping Grandma and the family that pulled together as I could; bringing in the crops and taking the pigs to slaughter for the last time, and closing everything down and getting stuff ready for auction – and I became a man that summer; and I never forgot.

 I never forgot my Grandpa Jones and how he trusted me and how he taught me that you can’t plow right in this life if you keep tryin’ to look back at what you’ve already got done when your in the middle of the field…and it doesn’t matter what field you’re working in the various seasons of your life.  You might be in a field of joy or sorrow, tragedy or windfall increase, or the field of raising your family, or watching your family raise theirs.  You might be in the field of  bereavement or disease, pain or loneliness or betrayal or financial hardship or fearfulness or just the plain old grinding field of getting’ up each and every day and dealing with too much to do and way too little time-and-money to do it in. 

 And It’s not that there aren’t proper times to pull over & turn off the tractor & look back & reflect after the work, but I never forgot that when it’s time to work you need to keep your eyes fixed on what’s up out in front, cause if you try to steer while looking back, the rows you plow will just keep getting more and more crooked.  And I especially never forgot that the understanding does not come from the looking back and worrying, or from the watching and the talkin’; it comes from the trusting and the doin’…

 Years later when I came to God and began to learn His Ways, it became clear to me that these were eternal Truths the dear old saint was building into me; Straight from the Master Gardener Himself.

 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Heb 12:1-3 NIV

 “… Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Phil 3:12-14  NIV

 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.   Col 3:1-4 NIV

 So remember…..

Jesus answered, “Anyone who starts plowing and keeps looking back isn’t worth a thing to God’s Kingdom…”  Luke 9:62 CEV

 He didn’t say that if we keep looking back we aren’t’ in God’s Kingdom; this isn’t about salvation.  His point is that if we want a relevant, powerful life of Service working in the Field the Master has for us; we need to apply ourselves & live our lives here on this Earth according to His Ways and Perspectives.

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