Pa had always set great store in fasting and prayer. He never doubted that the Lord would answer a righteous prayer of faith. And my pa was a righteous man, so I never saw his faith go unanswered. But in the summer of 1876, during my twelfth year, his fasting and prayer brought about the most curious answer I’ve ever seen.
Whenever Pa was thinking hard about something, he would tug his left ear. He had been tugging that ear for three or four days, so I knew something important was on his mind.
He mentioned it to Ma that night at supper. “Emily, that upper five acres could mean the difference between meeting the payments at the bank and losing the farm.”
Ma stopped pouring the thick, frothy milk and looked at him. “What do you mean, Edward? You haven’t said anything before.”
“I can’t keep water on it, Em. No matter how I plot a course, the water either won’t flow across the field or it backs up and floods half the crop and leaves the other half dry. I don’t know what to do.”
Ma sat down heavily. “We could really lose the farm?”
“If we don’t get a good crop. And we won’t get a good crop unless I can figure out some way to irrigate that land.”
The next couple of days were really low ones for us. Pa would stand each morning, staring across those five acres, then tug his ear and walk off, glum-faced. Usually after supper he’d play with me and Baby Sam, read out loud from the big family Bible, or pick on his banjo. Now he just sat at the kitchen table, drawing figure after figure on pieces of paper—diagrams of an irrigation system.
It took me a minute to realize what was different that morning. There was no sound of sizzling bacon, no mouthwatering aroma almost lifting me out of bed. Then I remembered—we were going to fast today. I swallowed hard, wishing I had drunk one final glass of water before we had had prayer last night to start our fast.
The loft door lifted up, and Pa came in smiling and wrestled me out of bed. That kind of surprised me because Pa had been so quiet and preoccupied lately. I thought maybe he’d found a way to irrigate the cornfield, so I asked him.
“No,” he said, becoming serious again. “But we’re going to put it to Heavenly Father today during our fast. He knows how to get water to the crops. We just have to ask Him and have faith that He’ll give us the answer. I’ve done all I can.”
We knelt around the kitchen table for morning prayer, and I settled myself into a comfortable half-sleeping position, because Pa’s prayers can get pretty long sometimes. Suddenly my ears pricked up. Pa’s tone was different this morning, and his prayer was short and direct:
“Father, our crops are dying. I’ve tried everything I know to irrigate the land, but the water won’t flow on that hilly ground. We turn to Thee for help. We dedicate this fast to finding the answer we need. Please help us.”
After Pa finished, we knelt there quietly for a minute or two, then got up together. Pa looked relieved and ruffled my hair. I asked if he’d gotten an answer already. He smiled. “No, Son, not yet. But I will.” And much of that day he spent off by himself, praying.
The next morning Pa picked up a long stick as we walked out to the cornfield. Then he walked across the field, dragging that stick behind him! He didn’t turn to look until he was at the other end. And when he did turn to see that crazy wavy line, he stood a long time, tugging on his ear.
“Well, Son,” he said finally. “The Lord moves in mysterious ways, and this has to be one of His most mysterious.”
I couldn’t believe he meant what I thought he was saying! “You’re not going to follow that line to make the irrigation channel are you?” I asked.
Pa grinned. “If that’s what He wants me to do, then yes, I guess I am.” And he pulled the hand plow to the edge of the field. I stood at the side, watching his muscles bulge against his shirt as he plowed a deep, crooked furrow that looked more like a sidewinder’s track than an irrigation ditch.
This is one time, I thought, when Heavenly Father just hasn’t come through.
When Pa had finished plowing the furrows, he removed the board that held back the branch of the creek next to the field. The water rushed along his newly dug furrow, then slowed and found natural furrows that flowed throughout the corn patch and carried the life-giving water to every stalk of corn.
We had a successful crop that year, and I never again doubted the power of fasting and prayer. If ever my faith began to waver, all I had to do was remember my pa and the day that he plowed the crooked furrow.