I followed Mug, our brown boxer, into a field of wheat when I was almost four. She was probably past seventy in people years, but may have seemed older than she was because of her limp. Mug’s hobbled gate went as far back as I remember, the result of having too much success in catching a passing car. Success can come with a heavy cost, especially if we chase the wrong things.
In the winter months Mug noticeably favored her injured leg. On the coldest mornings Mama would let her come inside to warm by the gas heater in the kitchen. She doctored Mug with Bayer aspirin tucked in a biscuit flavored with warm bacon drippings from her cast iron skillet. Sometimes I wondered if Mug exaggerated her limp just to get a treat.
Warm weather was much kinder to Mug’s bad leg. The sunny spring days of 1956 inspired her to wander into the ripening wheat growing on the farmland beside our home. She was probably tracking a rabbit’s trail but didn’t explain her intentions that I recall.
Mug led the way far into the field of tall wheat, two adventurers exploring uncharted territory. Even when I couldn’t see her, I knew where she was from the limber stalks moving as she parted them to make a path. But I ambled along too slowly or maybe she ran too fast. With Mug out of sight the wheat seemed less inviting as it towered menacingly above my head. I called her name as loudly as I could, but she didn’t come.
I walked on for a while, hoping to find Mug or the edge of the field. No breeze could be felt in the jungle and once pleasant sunlight became stifling heat. Prickly heads of grain scratched my face and arms and made me wish I had stayed in our yard under the pecan tree. But Mug had grown tired of making mud pies and we already had more than enough for supper.
The sun grew hotter and the wheat more foreboding as misery and fear enveloped me in a way I’d never known. So, I did what my muddled thinking suggested. I sat on the ground and cried.
Mama looked for me in all the likely places. She checked both shelters and the barn and the pasture with its ancient persimmon tree. She shouted my name, but I didn’t hear. It’s hard to listen while crying I’ve since learned. But when Mama paused to pray, she heard my distant sobs.
She carried me to our backyard faucet and washed my face and arms. Mug lapped at the dripping water, not waiting for it to fall into her bowl. As Mama dried my face with her apron, I scratched Mug gently behind her ears, knowing she wasn’t to blame.
Daddy later taught me what to do if I ever got lost again. He said to look up and fix my eyes on something in the distance, like a treetop, a light pole, or the shiny tin at the top of the barn. He told me to walk in a straight line toward the place I wanted to go, that if we focus on what’s close to us, we can end up going in circles.
It took a while for me to realize the tall wheat wasn’t the cause of my woes. My problem was looking at where I was rather than where I wanted to go. I’d been staring at ground level obstacles instead of searching the sky for direction. And even though I now understand that’s a foolish approach, there are times it still happens.
When my focus is on troubles more than solutions, I sometimes think about Mug and the lessons from that day. And I find comfort in what a man after God’s own heart wrote long ago.
King David, in Psalm 121:1, said, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” I hadn’t yet memorized any scriptures back when Mug led me into the field, and I can’t quote many verses today. But I know the One who inspired the psalmist to look upward, and I’m thankful He knows me.
Several decades ago I wrote an early version of this story. That’s when it first occurred to me that getting lost in our wheat field was a blessing. I’m glad an old dog with a limp reminds me of something I find tempting to ignore. The best way to stay on the path that leads home is to keep looking upward. Perfect guidance can only come from above.