To start the recollections flowing, all I need do is look at my hands. Missing hunks and chunks, scars, and even a partial amputation from the infamous “Lawnmower Incident of ‘91″ (that’s another story!) have rendered my hands rather tough. Their marks give me a lot to remember. On the back of my right hand there is an elongated burn scar. It’s almost as wide as a fifty-cent piece and maybe half an inch tall, tapered at the ends. Especially when my hands are on a keyboard, it stands out the most. Acquiring it was memorable.
We say our home is on the edge of the country. We live on a dead end, gravel road with five houses along it. The elderly couple who lived next door to us was the retired farm couple who had originally owned the land and cut the road into the woodlot. It was where they chose to build their retirement home not too far from the working, family farm now run by their kids. When they built the road they surveyed out five lots of a few acres each. One of them is ours today.
Our house sits a couple hundred yards from the neighboring house on each side. Beyond our lot line in the back is a field rotated annually between corn and soybeans. It stretches east all the way to the paved county road. It’s a great, quite place to live, and we’ve been happy here for more than 20 years.
The house we bought was built by a homebuilder. While he did a great job on the building and interior, he wasn’t too careful about leaving construction debris around the lot. Like the extra pallets of large red bricks from the cobblestone walkway, for example. They were stacked just inside the edge of the woods. In the summer you couldn’t see them, but as soon as the leaves fell, there were the bricks making the yard look unkempt.
Back in those days my work travel schedule kept me on the road a great deal of the time, so projects like moving the bricks needed to be undertaken whenever the opportunity permitted. In the naïvete of youth, I too often made the time for those projects on Sunday mornings rather than joining my wiser spouse in church. So it was, a sunny summer Sunday morning found me in the yard with a trailer hooked up behind the ATV to move the cobblestones.
The only trailer we had at the time was a steel-framed double snowmobile trailer with heavy wooden bed and small angle iron rails on the front and sides. It was better than six feet wide, about eight feet long, and extremely heavy. I had installed a hitch ball on the ATV so I could tow the trailer behind it around the yard. It wasn’t the most practical rig in the world, but it’s what we had and mostly got the job done.
I pulled this makeshift rig alongside the pile of bricks. It would have been better to back the trailer into position, but even empty is was too heavy for the ATV to handle backing well. The machine was giving me fits starting, so I decided to leave it running rather than having to mess with it again.
It took the best of half an hour to load all the bricks. I stacked them several rows deep all the way across near the back of the trailer, figuring they’d be easiest to unload and restack that way when I got them to the back corner of the lot.
With the load in place, I climbed aboard the ATV. I shifted into 4-wheel-low and eased around the house, across the backyard, and down the newly cut trail through the woods. The rig was especially difficult to handle now because all that weight in the back was lifting a lot of the weight off the wheels of the ATV. Control was even weaker than usual, but I figured, “What the heck? It’s only a few hundred feet.” So off through the woods I went.
I’d barely moved 50 feet down the trail when the rig lurched to a stop. The wheels on the ATV were spinning when I hit the throttle, but I wasn’t going anywhere. I tried reverse, but that didn’t work either. The low trailer axel was hung on the stump of a sapling I’d left too tall.
I got off, walked around the rig, pushed here and prodded there. All that weight! I wasn’t going to be able to do a thing. I definitely filled the air with language not appropriate for Sunday morning! “What to do, what to do?”
I surrendered to the realization I would have to unload the trailer, but didn’t want to spend another hour unloading then reloading the bricks. Snap! “If I just empty the trailer by dumping the bricks it would cut my time in half!” With no more than that fleeting thought, I leaned in with my right hand and released the lever on the top of the hitch ball. Bad move.
All the weight at the back lifted the tongue of the trailer up off the hitch ball at lightening speed. With my hand still on the lever, in a flash it pinned my three middle fingers between the top of the tongue and the bottom of the tube steel rack on the back of the ATV. I was wearing leather gloves, so I couldn’t see them, but with the pain of loosing a part of a finger on my left hand a couple years before still fresh in my memory, it felt like all three fingers were gone.
That was bad enough, but to make things worse the back of my gloved right hand was pinned against the hot muffler of the still running ATV! Even worse, I was in a position where I couldn’t even reach to turn the engine off. Instinct was to push down on the tongue and pull out my hand, but the combined weight of the trailer and the bricks was so heavy, I couldn’t budge it. And I couldn’t lift the back of the ATV high enough because the trailer hadn’t bottomed out. When I tried, the trailer tongue just kept the pressure on my fingers. Not good. I made several attempts before it registered; I was stuck. A bit of panic set in.
My wife was miles away at church, but just in case one of the neighbors (or the Good Lord) might be able to hear me, I started yelling, “Help! Help! HELP!”
I tried again. “Help! Help! HELP!” At the top of my lungs I screamed it.
I forced myself to calm down and think, “If you’re going to get out of this, you need to figure it out.”
The way I was positioned, I was able to sort of lay down and wrap my other arm and legs around the trailer tongue. I did, and started bouncing. It hurt my fingers mightily, but on about the third bounce I took enough weight off the tongue for a split second so I could pull my hand out. I rolled away from the machine and lay there for a few seconds just squeezing the now free fingers of my right hand as hard as I could with my left hand. They seemed connected, and that was a relief. Then I leaned up against the side of the tire of the ATV and mustered enough courage to pull off the glove to see how badly the fingers were mangled. To my amazement, they weren’t cut or bleeding at all. They sure hurt, but now seemed to hurt a lot less when I could see there was no visible damage.
The back of my hand that had been against the muffler felt like an intense sunburn, but other than some red skin, I couldn’t see any damage there either. I got up shut off the machine and leaned on the seat. I realized how lucky I’d been. Right there I said a little prayer of thanks. Yes, sheepishly to the same God that was I too busy to worship at church. I looked at the fingers again, put the glove back on and unloaded the bricks one by one—albeit very gingerly.
I hadn’t moved more than 10 bricks when I heard a commotion in front of the house. Gravel flew at the end of the driveway and the dogs started barking. I heard a vehicle slide to a stop on the gravel driveway and a second later two people came running around the side of the garage. It was Gert, our elderly next door neighbor and Delbert, from the end of the road. The expressions on their faces clearly showed concern, then quickly turned to confusion.
I walked to the edges of the woods, saying, “It’s okay. It’s okay. Thank you for coming.” Then I explained what happened. As I did, I pulled off the glove to show them my right hand, and there was a burn blister now raised ¾ of an inch high. Concrete evidence, I hadn’t dreamed it.
Then Gert shared her story. She heard my yelling for help right from the start, but as a mother who had raised a dozen kids on a working farm knew she wouldn’t be able to handle alone whatever situation produced that kind of panicked scream. She was home by herself that morning, too, so she called the next neighbor down the road, and they came together on the fly!
Turns out, I had many protectors watching out for me that day. Gert and Delbert to be sure, but the Good Lord as well. In his infinite patience, he didn’t hold it against me that I’d skipped church to do yard work that could have been done some other time. He brought me through that incident with nothing more than a blister that turned into a scar. It’s a good scar because it’s an everyday reminder that he’s looking out for me no matter how badly I mess up or how poor the decisions I make.
When I forget God is always watching over me and begin to worry, the book of Psalms is the place to go for reminders. It’s filled with the ways God is always watching and will not give us problems greater than we can bear.
It’s right there is the most famous one, Psalm 23, Verse 4:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
And Psalm 121 is a short but powerful reminder God is always there:
PSALM 121, Verses 1-7: I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber or sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.
“Shade on your right hand?” Wow! Amazing how the Bible can be so specific to the problems we face in every day life … today!
I certainly was tempted to panic that day. In fact, I began to give into that temptation. But I believe the Lord has built a kind of circuit breaker into all of us. If we use our minds to control our emotions it lets us step back and handle the situation. If you look to the Bible as our owner’s manual, this reassurance is right there in the instructions! See:
1 CORINTHIANS 10: 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide you the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
The story and the analogies of the neighbors watching over me could end there, but they don’t.
A couple weeks later, cutting down some dead trees and turning them into firewood for the winter rose to the top of the work list. This time it was a Saturday morning. My wife was involved at an event at the school where she taught, so I gassed up the chainsaw and began cutting trees.
It was a warm morning, so I only stuck at it about 45 minutes before I decided to go back in the house for some water. While I was filling up a jug at the sink, the phone rang. It was Gert. She was chatty, which was unusual for her. She asked how my hand was healing, and I told her, “Fine.” Then she asked to speak with my wife. I’d figured that was who she had called to talk with.
When I told her my better half was in town, Gert reverted to her usual brevity. Her response was quick and to the point. “Ah ha!” she said, “Are you supposed to be out running that chainsaw when no one is around to watch you?”
God bless her!