Farm Progress

What’s the best response when everything goes absolutely, positively wrong?

John and Kendra Smiley

October 1, 2018

3 Min Read
father and son standing in field

I’ve been learning a great deal since I became John’s “hired man” six years ago. Granted, the majority of my education has been about agriculture, but I like to think I’ve learned other things that have made me more of an asset to the operation.  

In August I flew to Tennessee for a speaking engagement. John stayed home, getting wagons and equipment ready for the upcoming harvest. As if flying out of O’Hare isn’t stressful enough, my flight was postponed more than once. When I finally boarded, the landing time had been pushed back over an hour, and I was feeling sorry for the folks who would have to wait longer to pick me up. At least I was seated in the Row 4 by the window and hadn’t checked any luggage. Those two things could help me make a speedy exit.

When we landed, I left the plane quickly and spotted my host right away. Whew! Now it was all smooth sailing.

Kendra called me from her hotel room that evening. The flight had been late, but almost everything had gone well. The “almost?” When she reached her room and unpacked she realized her laptop was missing. Then she remembered taking it from her carry-on luggage under the seat during the flight. In her hurry to depart the plane, she’d left it leaning against the cabin wall.

It was all I could do to not ask, “What in the world were you thinking when you raced from Row 4 leaving your laptop behind?” Obviously, she already felt bad enough.

So instead of questioning her about her sanity, I think my words were something like a gentle, “I’m so sorry. It’ll be fine. How did it happen?”

I couldn’t have asked to hear a better response. The thought of losing not just my laptop, but also the information I had just added during the flight made me feel awful. Getting out of my seat and off the plane rapidly was my primary objective. Checking the space around my seat was not.

This potential disaster occurred prior to harvest 2018. When things get hectic because of a later-than-expected landing, or rain that has slowed down harvest, it’s easy to get careless and make mistakes. When John learned of my careless mistake, he chose to respond (a thinking reply) rather than react (a knee-jerk retort).

Responding is always the next right choice in harvest, in planting, and in summer and winter, too — especially if one of your goals is to model for your kids (which, by the way, you are doing all the time, even when you’re not trying).  

There’s an old song by Phillips, Craig and Dean, and the chorus is simply this: “Lord, I want to be just like You, ’cause he wants to be just like me.”

So, through the years I’ve worked on my tone, my delivery, and my ability to respond and not react. I’m convinced this might be a lifelong challenge.

In case you’re wondering about the laptop, a worker at the Tennessee airport handed it to Kendra as she checked in to fly back to Illinois. Pretty sure that woman got a big hug!

And what did we both learn? A gentle answer turns away wrath ... (Proverbs 15:1). It’s true and it’s the goal — on the tractor and off!

John and Kendra Smiley farm near East Lynn, Ill. Email [email protected], or visit

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