Archive for August, 2009


The sign in front of the store literally shouted its message – NEW ANTIQUES JUST ARRIVED! I immediately wondered how the items could be called ‘antique’ if they were new. But after a quick glance around the store, it became quite obvious that the store owner had just received a new shipment of antiques. The items themselves were very old and long since rendered useless and forgotten.

For instance, there were gas pumps from bygone days with glass tops that filled up before it was dispensed into your car. Of course, pay-at-the-pump was years from being invented. And there were the usual assortment of antique tables, chairs, lamps, and a couple of old Gulf and Sinclair oil company signs. But the item that caught my attention, and sent me back to Route 4, was an old plow stock.

Yep, leaning up against the side of the store all by itself was one of the single most important  instruments of a way of life long forgotten. It even had a large turn plow still attached to it. The result of years of neglect and exposure to the elements was evident by the amount of rust covering its once sharp edge, something Daddy never allowed back home on the farm.

It was that plow, with the mule providing the power, that opened the ground where the seeds were planted that became food for the Route 4 family. The farmers market concept had not yet been thought of. Well, not like we know it today, anyway. The farmer’s market of fifty years ago was the kitchen table. That’s where the corn, pole beans, maters and taters, and yes, even the okra were consumed. No quick stops or grocery stores to pick up a couple of items on the way home.  

A trip to the woodshed could be earned by being too absent-minded (or in too big a hurry to play ‘scaredy cat’) and leaving the plow outside over night. Experience is a very effective teacher! Waking up in the middle of the night after remembering that you had forgotten to put away your plow and hoe and shovel would prevent any further sleep until you had taken care of the afore-mentioned tools.

I thought about that old antique plow the other day when we received an  email from our good friends, Shirley and Lew Jaynes.  Talk about the old and the new – an old plow and an email in the same old mind! Anyway, Lew has had recent heart surgery. And, according to Shirley’s email, everything went wonderfully and she and Lew are so appreciative of all the prayers offered in their behalf. She said that ol’ Lew is going to be ‘good as new.’ Boy, won’t that be a sight to see! He’ll be square dancing again before we know it.     

Shirley’s email made me think of that verse from Revelation 21:5 where God said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” In my Route 4 way of thinking, that means that God made the heavens and the earth and all that’s in it, but He’s not finished yet. There are still some things in store for us. He’s going to give us new bodies, too. And they won’t be just the ‘new and improved’ version of the old ones. No repaired or restoration jobs in Heaven. Jesus told His disciples that He’s going away to prepare a place for us – a mansion in Glory. And, again this is just me, but I believe that while He’s preparing that place for us, He’s also preparing us  for that place. 

Every new day, new thoughts, new mercies are all new reasons to offer our thanksgiving, or shall I say, ‘thanks-living!’ As we shave or put on our make-up every day, is there something like an old attitude that might be broken or worn out that we need the Lord to make new? He makes all things new.

The Apostle Paul was in bad need of a make over when he met the Lord that day on the road to Damascus. And God gave Paul exactly what he needed – a new mind! And Paul shared that when he was writing to the church at Corinth. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Did you hear that? Not an old one restored, but a NEW creation. The old one is gone and the NEW one has come!

Aren’t you glad that God’s not running an antique store? Right about here would be a good place for a shout or an Amen!



There it was – bigger than a bus. Here I was, driving down the highway, minding my own business, my head filled with the multitude of tasks on my to-do list. And all of a sudden, it jumped right into the garage of my frontal lobe, or wherever it is that the mental time-travel machine is kept for tune-ups and re-fueling between trips. What IT was was a sign for a well known hotel/motel chain inviting me to stay with them for an extended period of time. And in less time than it takes a chigger bite to start itching, I’m back home at Route 4. No in-flight movie. No meals. Not even a pack of salted peanuts poured in a bottle of Coke.    

The path to the the woodshed is well travelled. Be nice to the folks you see on their way to the shed or who already there ’cause next time it may be your time. And, every time I visited the woodshed, and I say visit because, folks, it’s not a place you where you want to take up permanent residence. But, anyway, every time I made an appearance at that  rural place where more lessons are taught than at a schoolhuse, my visit was always preceded by another of Daddy’s sayings that are forever burned into the hard drive of my memory. And before I learned that sometimes parents ask questions that they neither want nor expect children to answer, the devil in my mouth caused me extended stays at the shed. For many years I always tried to come up with an answer to Daddy’s question, “Son, when are you going to grow up and quit acting like a baby?’

Growing up – something we all have to do- is just part of life. But isn’t it amazing that some folks grow up quickly and others take a liftime and others aren’t even grown up when their pallbearers are taking them on their last trip? We come here as sweet, precious, little dimpled-cheek gifts of God, but sooner or later, we have to grow up. And being an observer of the human race, I believe that the Lord Himself must look down at us sometimes and ask that same rhetorical question that Daddy used to ask us at the shed – “My Child, when are you ever going to grow up and quit acting like a baby?” Yep, sometimes when we act like babies, God has to take us to the shed, too. Been there. Done that. But, according to Daddy’s next statement after his question that he wasn’t asking me to answer, “Boy, this is for your own good.” Funny how it takes thirty, forty, or fifty years to understand the truth of that statement.  

I can hear you asking, so what does it take to grow up and how can I know when I’m grown up? When was the last time you sat down at the supper table to enjoy a delicious, taste-bud tempting meal of strained carrots and green beans? YUCK! Yes, delicious baby food! What? You mean you don’t just absolutely crave that stuff in those jars from with the beautiful, smiling baby on the label? Here’s an earth-shattering revelation. Print this out and stick it on the fridge. The reason that baby is smiling on that jar of drool is because it is BABY FOOD!

And babies will holler and scream at two o’clock in the morning like a bunch of crows in the corn field to let you know that they are hungry for some more of that stuff that they eat half of and spew the other half all over Mommie’s face! But, along about the age of seven (earlier for some, later for others!) after Gerber’s job is done, the baby crawls down out of the high chair and takes a seat on that bench beside the kitchen table. That’s where the fried chicken and mashed taters and cat-head biscuits and saw-mill gravy are being served. Now that’s what I’m talking about! Nourishment for a growing boy.

But wouldn’t it be less than intelligent to stick a drumstick in the mouth of six-week old baby? Or as Uncle Tack used to say, “Boy, you’re sprouting up faster than a weed. Are you old enough yet to eat corn bread without getting strangled?”  And, trust me, back at Route 4, you learned to eat, like, and love cornbread at an early age! We didn’t see many 12-ounce t-bones and baked potatoes on the farm. But, boy-oh-boy, I’m droolin’ right now just at the thought of corn on the cob, with lots of cow’s butter, fresh out-of-garden green beans, butter beans, and squash. Anything except okra! But, you know what? A new-born baby could choke to death on something even as wonderful as the seeds in Mother’s homemade blackberry cobbler. 

But baby food is for babies. You know, those little creatures that cry and scream, holler, bite, kick, spit mess all over your face, and by various and sundry other methods, make you wonder how long it will be before they grow up? Let me show by a show of hands – how many fathers can still remember changing your first dirty diaper? But that’s life, too. That’s how babies are supposed to act. But, you say you know some people who make life miserable for everyone around them and they aren’t babies anymore? Well, back up the pickup! When are they (we) going to grow up and quit acting like a baby?

What are some signs of a thirty or forty-year-old baby? Ever see any supposedly grownup folks pitch a fit? Temper tantrums, jealousy, greed, arguing, complaining, name-calling, selfish, impatient? Do I need to go any further? My good friend, the Apostle Paul, told the folks at Corinth, “I gave you milk, not solid food, because you still have jealousy and arguing in your heart.” (1 Corinthians 3:2-3)

And we read in Hebrews 5:12-14 that anyone who lives on milk is still a baby and doesn’t know right from wrong. But solid food is for the mature who have trained themselves through constant use to know right from wrong. Constant use of what? Thank you for asking! Focused, daily Bible study (speed reading thrugh it twelve months doesn’t count!) is the first baby step toward spiritual maturity. Mix in some other ingredients like a regular and appointed quiet time to talk to and listen to God; and praying without ceasing can help us digest the lessons God would have us learn. And don’t forget worship and thankfulness, joy and patience, forgiveness and kindness. By these (fruits of the spirit) the world and those we love will know that we’ve grown up and quit acting like a baby.   

How would you like your steak cooked?



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Sometimes I can’t remember for an hour three things that Helen asked me to pick up at the store on my way home from work, but yet I can remember something that was said or an event that happened on the farm over fifty years ago. Case in point. There were nine children in our Route 4, dirt-road family. In the order of succession, I was number four. Right smack-dab in the middle. I’ve often thought about starting a club called MK’s. The only requirement for membership in my club would be that you had to be an MK – a middle kid. 

In case you’re wondering, life is tough on a middle kid. On one hand, you’ve got the older ones above you who consider you too small, too weak, too dumb to be in their ‘circle.’ They find it easy to put the blame on the middle kid ‘cause he’s still trying to figure out what happened when trouble jumps up. On the other hand, you’ve got the younger siblings who think you’re too strong, too big, too old to be in their clubhouse. Blame it on the middle kid. He’s tough. He can take the punishment. So life is a constant balancing act for a middle kid. You’re always walking a fine line. And to get off course in either direction can cause calamity. Sorta like that famous game of cow pasture baseball or football. If you run out of bounds, you’re up close and personal with the barbed wire fence. Get too close to it and you’re gonna get snagged!

One particular free-for-all where brotherly love took the day off stands out in my memory. All the details are a little hazy, but I do remember how it started. It was just one of those endless ‘rasslin’ matches that a bunch of boys get into at times when they have too much time on their hands. At least, that’s what Daddy thought. So he tried to make sure that there was always more work to do than we could get done.

But when you’re in the middle of a ten-acre field of cotton and everybody’s lunch bag is in the shade over at the side of the field, the temptation is just too great. You come up with some kind of flimsy excuse to get away from the work, like you left your gloves at the house. So you head back to get them and when you’re out of sight, you just veer over toward the ‘lunch counter’ in the shade by the side of the cotton field and help yourself!   I’ll just let your imagination take over right here. Can’t you just picture the scene when dinner time is called and everybody finds out that a ‘little rat’ has helped himself to everybody’s baked sweet potato and sausage biscuits that Mother had packed in those empty Dixie Crystals sugar bags! 

It’s not a pretty sight – a lot of pushing and shoving and swinging fists and name calling! My excuse was always motivated by the fact that I was a middle kid. I mean, if the older ones were going to blame you and the younger ones were also going to point fingers at you when something went wrong, well, if you’re going to get blamed for it, you might as well go ahead and do it! But back to the cotton-patch ‘rasslin’ match! Tempers flare. Words are exchanged. Name-calling goes into high gear.  And before you say ‘here comes Daddy,’ somebody’s shirt gets torn. Somebody gets shoved. Somebody shoves back and it becomes a ten-round prize fight!

But sure enough, the ref (Daddy) arrives on the scene. He wasn’t wearing a black and white striped shirt. It was flannel. But the fighters were the ones that had the stripes when this was over. But, here’s where a particular word or phrase gets permanently burned into your hard drive. Before the blame game can even get into high gear, these words find their way into your memory never to leave. “Boys, there’s absolutely no excuse for this kind of behavior!” Bet you’ve never heard that, have you? Well, with six boys and three girls, there’s no excuse in the book that wasn’t used. But Daddy always came back with that statement. ‘No excuse for that kind of behavior.’

I think the Lord must also look at His children sometimes and say to Himself, ‘there’s absolutely no excuse for that kind of behavior!’ Yes, His children – the King’s Kids can sometimes act like a bunch of farm boys in a cotton-patch free-for-all, anything-goes rasslin’ match. Why did I shake my fist at that slow driver? Why did I ‘set down’ on my horn when that guy (or gal) pulled out in front of me? Why did I let the devil get into my mouth and make me say those unkind words? Why am I selfish and unforgiving? Impatient, grouchy, unfaithful? It’s true. I have absolutely no excuse for that kind of behavior.

One of my favorite writers, the Apostle Paul had some words to say about brotherly love. Even though I don’t know his last name, I like ol’ Paul because he was a bad guy turned good guy. He had no excuses after the Lord brought his behavior to his attention that day on the road to Damascus. So, after he got his sight back, Paul began to preach and to practice what he preached. In Romans 12:9-19, Paul talks about putting our brothers (and sisters) above ourselves, having joy in our hearts and a smile on our face, being patient, and sharing with those in need. And here’s one that us farm-raised, middle kids could never get right. It just jumps right off the page. In verse 19, Paul words ring as loud as a fire engine at three o’clock in the morning! Don’t take revenge!

Paul was saved to serve. And so are we! So what’s your excuse? Moses stuttered. Thomas had doubts. Peter had a hot temper. Timothy was shy. Naomi was a widow. John the Baptist wore animal skins and ate locusts. Abraham was old. Martha worried too much. The Scripture is full of people like this who had all kinds of excuses for their behavior. But when they met the Master, they had no excuse. And realizing that, they became some of God’s most faithful and effective servants.

 Saved to serve? Absolutely! No excuses!



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I caught bits and pieces of a report on television the other day that almost caused a short-circuit overload of my Route 4 memory hard drive. There were a couple of experts discussing the state of our health and well-being in this country today. Both of them had more degrees than a thermometer. The first thing that popped up in my mind, like little bean sprouts sticking their head through the crusty dirt in the garden, was Daddy’s back-home definition of an expert. He’d always say that an ‘ex’ was a has-been and a ‘spert’ was a drip under pressure.

I think maybe he was just trying to teach a woodshed lesson to some rough-around-the-edges country boys about using their God-given brain to think for themselves instead of just repeating what somebody else said. That advice usually came about when we would start running our mouth before engaging our brain. Or in plain English Daddy would say, “Boy, if you paid a nickel to think about what you just said, you’re due four-and-a-half cents change.”

Anyway, back to the main road. These experts were using their fifteen minutes of televised fame to bring to the waiting world a startling revelation! And just before the commercials that preceded this earth-shattering news, the host uttered something like “News that could save your life – when we come back.!”  Now, doesn’t that just make you want to stop the coffee pot from perking and hold your breath for two minutes?

And on the other side of the break, the host set up the announcement in this most dramatic, suspense-building tone of voice you’ve ever heard! You’d think that Expert Number One was about to read from one of one of Moses’ tablets. And, finally, the moment comes. The proclamation is issued as Expert Number Two looks squarely into the camera lens and says, ”America, Wash your hands before you eat.”    

Along about here, I remembered one of Mother’s favorite expressions when she heard something like that. In her kind, sweet and gentle spirit, Mother would say, ‘that just takes the cake.’ Until I was old enough to understand what she meant, I’d get mad because I thought my brothers had run off to the barn with the last piece of chocolate cake and I didn’t get any. Now back to the news.

The experts quoted some numbers from ‘such-and-such’ study that revealed that over fifty percent of the people in this country don’t wash their hands before they eat. And out of that half, fifty-four percent said they don’t use soap when the DO wash their hands! Now, hold the phone! The math has just gone too high – never was too good with fractions. You’re telling me that half of us don’t bother to wash our hands before supper, and half-of-half-of-us can’t find the bar of Octagon soap? That does, indeed, take the cake.

Back home on the farm, our kitchen table was a big old oak thing that looked to be about twenty feet long when you reached for the gravy bowl. And there was a bench on either side of the table and a chair at each end. Yep, two benches and two chairs. I didn’t know till I got married that kitchen tables usually come with four chairs! Of course, Daddy guarded one end of the supper table from his chair and Mother rode herd on the gang of biscuit thieves closest to her chair at the other end of the table. And what his long arm couldn’t protect, her over-the-glasses stare could melt the ice in your tea glass!

And it never failed – one or more of us boys (the girls didn’t do anything to get their hands dirty) would bypass the Octagon and show up at the supper table with the day’s accumulation of red dirt, pine sap, and other various and assorted farm grime on our hands. Mother never, ever called her little darlings ‘hypocrites’ or ‘Pharisees’ or anything like that but then she never heard about something called Swine flu.  Not to make light of a serious illness going around today, but could somebody explain to me how the hogs got involved in this?

Why, just yesterday, I looked around to see if Mother was watching me when I went into the grocery store without washing my hands! They don’t have water and a bar of Octagon soap and a towel at the front door, but they do have some of those little anti-bacterial wipes right there where you grab the handles of your buggy. And everywhere you go you see people squirting stuff on their hands! The only stuff we ever squirted on our hands back home on the farm was some kerosene to cut the pine sap build-up on our hands from stocking the woodshed.

Germs, germs, germs, they’re everywhere! Before they get to the three R’s, teachers are telling their class to cough in their arms. They’re sending notes home to Mother and Daddy telling them to keep their little angels at home if they have a runny nose. The risk of infection is on everything we touch. Reminds me of Mrs. Pepper, my fifth grade teacher who broke me from biting my finger nails by sprinkling liberal amounts of her name sake seasoning on my hands every day for a month! Again, somebody please enlighten me – are there more germs in the world today than fifty years ago? And, guys, don’t even think about leaving the restroom at our favorite restaurant and grabbing that door handle without washing your hands! I have to grab that same door handle and I might just be carrying a bar of Octagon in my pocket!

That brings me to the end of this dirt road today with a question. Is there such a thing as a ‘good germ?’ What do people ‘catch’ when they’re around you? Have you ‘infected’ anyone recently with the twin germs of kindness and compassion? There was once a woman in a big crowd following Jesus. She had a disease and she just knew if she touched the hem of his garment, she would get well right then and there on the spot! She had a burning desire to be infected and affected with this Man called Jesus! And, Instead of getting sicker, she was healed when she touched Him!

And there was another time in the Bible where it talks about washing your hands before you eat. See what you miss when you don’t read the Bible! In Matthew, chapter 15, verse 2, a bunch of tattle-tale Pharisee boys saw the disciples come to the supper table one day without washing their hands. I can just hear them now – “We’re gonna tell Jesus on you!” I heard that a lot back home on the farm, mostly from Ollie and Wade who were gonna tell Mother on me for just sticking my hands in the wash bowl and drying them on my pants on the run to the table.

But it was Jesus’ answer to those old boys in Matthew 15:10-11 that makes me smile just thinking about getting tattled on! In so many words, He said, “Listen, let me make this perfectly clear. Get this through your noggin. It’s not what goes into your mouth that infects you and makes you sick. It’s what comes out of your mouth that makes you need to get up close and personal with the Octagon. And right here, I can testify that Mother was always much more concerned about washing our mouth out than she was about washing our hands! Jesus said in v.20 that eating with dirty hands does not  make you dirty. Let’s all sing ‘What A Friend We Have in Jesus!” 

Yes, it’s really important in today’s world to wash our hands with hot, soapy water and do everything we can to keep from making ourselves and other people sick. But, in the light of eternity, it’s also crucial that people ‘catch’ something when they’re around us.

And His name is Jesus – the spotless Lamb of God who left Heaven to wash up some ol’ country boys and girls who have the germs of life all over their hands.



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Sometimes I just can’t help but be flabbergasted  by modern technology! Can I give you a ‘for instance?’ My friend, John Head and his crew were doing some much-need work at our house the other day when they stopped to rest and get a drink of water. John and I started discussing how we drank water back home at Route 4. I can see what you’re thinking right now. You’re about three rows in front of me already, and you’re absolutely right! 

Ice cold water in plastic bottles! Buckle your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen, it’s pedal to the metal on this time-travel machine. Quicker than you can say ‘giddy-up, mule,’ I’m standing beside Johnson’s branch watching brother Wade show all us brothers the art of lying on our belly beside the branch and lapping up that cold, pure, fresh branch water.

And since today is his birthday, I might as well admit, he was good at it! When it came to plowing a mule or milking a cow, he might not have been at the head of the class. And speaking of mules, Wade just did not care for those beasts of burden. We had always been told NOT to try to ride a mule. As Daddy always said, mules are made for plowing, not for prancing around the Kentucky Derby! Well, one Saturday morning when Mother and Daddy had gone to the A & P Store for a few groceries, guess what we decided to do?

Right again! It’s time to start training for the afore-mentioned Derby. Now, hit the auto-focus button on your mental Kodak. Here we are, five country boys in the barnyard with an old mule that wouldn’t move fast if you set his tail on fire. A point of information here is in order for all city-slickers. A barnyard is not a soft place. In fact, as I learned, it was as hard as the tar and gravel up on the main road that our dirt road ran into. 

Since Ollie was the older of this Hee-Haw Barnyard Five (I think George had joined the Air Force), he decided that he would hold the old warhorse’s bridle while Eddie and Wendell held the milking stool for me to stand on while I mounted my future Preakness winner! I should have known something was up when Wade didn’t have an assignment. He did, in fact have one, as I learned in short order.

As soon as I swung one leg over the mule’s back, Wade raised his open hand like a race starter, took his best home run swing and smacked the mule’s rear end. The last thing I remember seeing as I hit that hard barnyard ground and had my breath taken away was the business end of that mule going lickekty-split through the woods behind the barn with Wade trying to keep up with it hollering at the top of his lungs “Whoa, boy, Whoa, Whoa.!” When Daddy and Mother got home from the A & P, suffice it to say that we had a group session at the woodshed that day! Life, indeed, is not about the number of breaths you take, but about the number of moments that take your breath away. That was a breath-taker!

Meanwhile, back at the branch. On those scorching hot July and August days in the field when you could cough up dust balls, Daddy would say, ‘Take a water break, boys.’ You’d think ol’ Wade had stepped on a yellow-jacket nest as he made a bee-line for the branch like he was chasing that run-away mule. He couldn’t drink it dry but that didn’t stop him from trying! Now, hit the fast forward button. Fifty years later, there’s so much stuff in the water, it has to be purified and put into plastic bottles! And the label always reads “Pure Spring Water.” I wish it would say “Ice Cold Branch Water.”  Probably couldn’t get two bucks for it at the game, though, if that was on the label.

The only water that was colder and better than the branch was at the well. And when the end of the plowed row was closer to the well than the branch, this meeting was held at the well with a bucket and a dipper.  And, it was during those water breaks at the well that we learned to appreciate what it meant to have our thirst quenched. And it didn’t come in plastic bottle.

Whenever I think about that old well back at the farm, I’m reminded of one of my favorite stories from the Bible. I guess I like it so much because it’s about drawing water. Yes, drawing water is in the Bible! Look it up. It’s in the gospel of John, chapter 4. Jesus was tired from his work so He sat down one day about dinner time at Jacob’s well. Daddy always believed that there was nothing wrong with being tired and he proved it in our minds! Anyway, it’s about twelve noon and while Jesus was resting, a woman came up to draw some water. There it is. Right there in verse 7!

After a discussion about their different countries and customs, Jesus told the woman that He could give her a drink of water that was so good and pure, she would never be thirsty again!

She couldn’t imagine that, either. All she could think about was how deep the well was, and how Jesus didn’t have anything to draw the water with, and did He think He was better than Jacob who gave them the well. Jesus was offering her a drink from a Spring that will never run dry and all she could think about was how He was going to draw it up from the well!

The world is so full of thirsty people who have never met Jesus at the well. And, like the woman at the well, they don’t have a clue about what He can do!  And after He’s touched our lips with the Dipper holding the Water of Life, we’re not to take a bath in it. No, it’s our duty and privilege to share it with other thirsty travelers along the dusty, dirt road of life.

Remember, the Dead Sea is in that condition because it has no outlet. It’s water is stagnant and un-fulfilling. On the other hand, the Sea of Galilee is alive and vibrant because it’s water continuously flows out. Let’s all get under the Spout where the Glory comes out!



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

My grandchildrens’ Mimi said to me the other day – ‘All this stuff is going in our next yard sale.’ Why is it that something you just had to have last year or two years or five years ago winds up at the yard sale this year?  Could it have something to do with the declining worth of that bright orange, yellow, blue, purple, and green dress with matching knee-high socks that were ‘just darling’ when we bought it? And what is it about a yard sale that will draw people like ants to a cube of sugar? What is it that makes Mimi and her friend Betty Pinion get up on Saturday morning at an hour when only farmers, deer hunters, policemen, and paper boys are up? Could it be the search for lost treasures?

And why did we never have a yard sale back home at Route 4? A line of cars coming down that dusty dirt road could only mean that a bunch of people are lost or the family reunion is at our house this year!  So many questions painted across the canvas of my memory at the mention of the words yard sale. Why, I’ve even heard of one continuous yard sale that stretches across Kansas or some far western state for miles and miles and miles.

Could it be that the thought that somebody might want an old pair of denim pants with holes in the knees never entered our mind back in those Camelot days of corn-shucking and cotton-picking? And besides, there was always a younger brother or sister to wear those hand-me-downs. Except, of course, when Estelle entered the Martin line-up there were five boys ahead of her. Mother was so happy to see a little girl, she wasn’t about to dress her little darling in OshGosh overalls and brogan work shoes! So she had that unique privilege of picking out something from the Sears & Roebuck catalog and sending away for it and hoping it arrived in time for Easter Sunday. And then Anne would get the hand-me-downs! And overnight and next day shipping have almost eliminated the element of anticipation for anyone under forty years old. But I’m down a side road here – back to the main road!

What something is worth is usually determined by what someone is willing to pay for it, right? Have you ever watched a yard sale negotiation? ‘Does it work’ and ‘where are the rest of the parts’ are worth-determination questions. The value has already been determined. Why else would it be in the yard sale, anyway? Come on now, is that lava lamp that doesn’t lava anymore really worth ten dollars? It’s just gathering dust in that great hole in space we call an attic! So, when someone offers fifty cents for it, they just became the proud owner of that lava lamp! You take their fifty cents before they change their mind, right? And as they walk away, they’re heard to remark about what a nice door-stop it will make! Now why didn’t I think of that? Oh well, maybe I’ll see one at the next yard sale. Load up, let’s go – it’s almost daylight. Somebody might get that lava lamp before I get there!  

Worth and value – two words to consider as we look at that person hiding in our bathroom mirror today. If worth is determined by what someone is willing to pay, how do we determine value? This is just my opinion, and you can put fifty cents with it and buy you a lava lamp door-stop, but I think in today’s world we sometimes confuse value and valuables.  Something that has no value to us anymore could be valuable in the sight of someone else. And the price they are willing to pay for it determines its worth.

So just how much are you worth? Not net worth, but self-worth. I think I remember somewhere from some class in school many years ago that the elements of the human body are worth about a buck-fifty. There used to be an old Route 4 saying about somebody that thought very highly of himself. We would say that if we could buy him for what he’s worth and sell him or what he thinks he’s worth, we’d be rich! Also, back home if we really, really liked something, say  like that new hand-made sling-shot or that new Barlow pocket knife we picked cotton to buy, we’d say it was worth more than all the cows in Texas. Or more than all the tea in China. Or more than all the gold in Fort Knox! And you would never, I mean never, see my sling-shot or Barlow pocket knife on a table at a yard sale!

Aren’t you happy that God never has a yard sale! Again, this is just my opinion, but I don’t believe there will be any yard sales or junk yards in Heaven ‘cause God doesn’t make any junk! You and I and every person He has ever created or will ever create are like rare art work that sells for a gazillion dollars at an art auction! You see, our value was determined over two thousand years ago when God was willing to pay a huge price for our life. In 1 Corinthians 7:23, Paul told the folks at Corinth that ‘you were bought at a price.’ And that price was the very life of God’s Only Begotten Son! No piece of art or antique car or ancient pottery ever sold for such a dear price as was paid for you and me. Red and yellow, black and white, we are all precious in His sight. Right about there would be a good place to shout ‘Hallelujah’ or at least say ‘Amen!’ 

 It’s not the change in our pocket that counts – it’s the change in our heart. One can get you a lava lamp; the other can get you a walk on the streets paved with gold! And that will be worth it all.



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I saw some of those cute little solar-powered lights in the neighborhood the other night. Lots of folks have them in their yard around the sidewalk or beside the driveway. They store up the sun’s energy and then light our way when the sun goes to China or India or somewhere else on the other side of the world. Plus you have those daylight-producing street lights and night lights, too. But it was the glow of those little ankle-high solar lights that took me back home to Route 4 and the twilight scene around the old barn and farmhouse.

Even after a hard day’s work in the field, there were still chores to do before gathering around that long kitchen table to enjoy a bowl of Mother’s cornbread and cow’s milk. And now that I think about it, we could be so tired from working in the field that we couldn’t remember how to put one foot in front of the other. But, boy, just get me to the house and let the games begin. See there were no nightlights, street lights, and for sure, solar powered lights had not been invented yet! Although we did have solar-powered bath water. We didn’t call it that, but that’s exactly what it was. Fill up a wash tub with water on Saturday morning and sit it behind the house in the sun all day.  When it came time for the Saturday night bath, you had warm water.

But back to the main road! About dark-thirty every night when the chores were all done, it was time for SCAREDY CAT!  You know, fear can make you run fast. Let me explain. The farmhouse was not equipped with lights on timers, dimmer switches, or even fancy on-off switches mounted on the wall. A long string with a washer tied on the end was our on-off switch. And we always knew when Mother pulled that string in the kitchen to fix supper, the glow of that 40-watt bulb would shine just far enough out in the yard to make perfect shadows for a game of Scaredy Cat. And the goal in this game was to see who could stay out of the house the longest as the velvet blanket of darkness covered the farm.

And I have to tell you, as the shadows grew larger and larger, the imagination of a ten-year-old boy seemed to increase in direct proportion. Monsters were everywhere! In the trees, under the house, behind the barn, in the smokehouse –  green-eyed, two-headed monsters everywhere you looked!  Speaking of the smokehouse, one night I thought I had found the perfect hiding place. Ollie was always hungry so he was waiting in the kitchen for Mother’s cornbread to come out of the oven. And Wade, Eddie, and Wendell, the younger brothers had already accepted their loser status as Scaredy Cats by seeking safety from the monsters in Mother’s kitchen. Well, there I was hiding in the dark in the smokehouse, feeling pretty good about winning my first game of Scared Cat. When all of a sudden, something moved over in the corner! First, I heard it move and then it bumped into me!  

Call me Scaredy Cat if you want to, but you could call me Speedy Cat that night! After I was able to un-freeze my legs and feet from the spot where I stood, I probably could have set a new land speed record for the forty-yard dash to the house! Especially after a hand reached out and grabbed my arm as I flew out the door of the smokehouse. After a couple of weeks, I was able to calm my nerves enough to play the game again, but I gave up my hiding place in the smokehouse. And, I never knew for sure, but Daddy always had a funny look on his face, and looking straight at me, when he asked, “Who’s the Scaredy Cat tonight?”

Is there anything that you’re afraid of today? Do you have any fear and trembling when you look around? Anything waiting just down the road to reach out and grab you? Are you facing the ‘D-Monsters’ of disease, debt, divorce, death, doubt, or depression? There was once a well-driller named Isaac who was having so much trouble, he had to keep moving from place to place to avoid his ‘monsters.’ But one night in Beersheba (Gen. 26:23-24), Isaac saw the Light that ran the darkness out of his life. In so many words, The Lord told him to quit being a Scaredy Cat. “I am God, I am with you, I will bless you, don’t be afraid.”

And In this scary world we live in today, His words can still put the monsters on the run. Don’t be afraid. Even in those times of our life when you’re too scared to whistle in the dark, He is with us and will bless us! Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6).



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Have you ever seen a sign in a department store that read “All Loafers and Sneakers Half-Price?” That one caused a mental double-take. Was it referring to people or shoes? Flipping back through the pages of life at Route 4, you definitely didn’t want to get caught ‘loafing’ or ‘sneaking.’ As in these words of warning. “Boys, there’s entirely too much loafing going on around here.” Or how about this one – “Don’t let me catch you sneaking around the kitchen after supper if you don’t clean up every bite on your plate.” And these words of warning always came in a tone that made you know it wasn’t just a suggestion.

But let’s talk about shoes, not people. I don’t remember a day in life on the farm that I ever wore a pair of loafers or sneakers! Never heard of ‘em till one day in high school some city-slicker mentioned something about getting some new Bass Weejuns. And then I thought it was some new kind of small-mouth fish in Grandpa Martin’s (Granny to us) fish pond! See, we knew about bass and bream down at the pond, but they were mostly large-mouth bass.

But when I found out they were shoes, I almost had a laughing fit! Try to zoom in and focus on this picture – you’re tromping through the woods; or wading across Johnson’s Branch; or playing Kick The Rock – and you have something on your feet called sneakers or loafers! I don’t think so. Nope, from the time we learned which was the business end of a mule, we wore BROGANS!  Just the name sounds like something connected to hard work, as in “Boys, lace those brogans up tight, we’ve got work to do today.”

Here’s another photographic image that’s missing from my Route 4 memory album. I don’t think, no, I’m positive that I never saw Daddy in a Hawaiian shirt. And I don’t think he ever went to the field to plow or to the woods to cut firewood wearing shorts and flip-flops. Different jobs require different styles of work clothes, right? Some folks wear suits and ties. Others wear denim jeans, hard hats, brogans and gloves. Some only need casual slacks and pull-over shirts.

Billy Cauthen, one of my best friends (and I’ve been blessed by knowing a bunch of characters!) grew up in Mayberry. Or pretty close to it, in Mt. Holly, North Carolina. Billy’s working life began as a welder for a nuclear power company. Do you think Billy got up every day, put on his Bermudas (not with those legs!) and t-shirt that Robin had picked out for him, and went off to work welding some more steel beams? I don’t think so.

Work in the real world, whether it’s at Route 4 or in the steel factory, requires full-body protection. Likewise, in order to be a strong Christian and stand up to the forces of evil (put a ‘d’ on that word) in the world today, we need to wear work clothes that Paul calls the full armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18). The belt of truth, says Paul, must be buckled tightly around your waist to hold up the protective gear. I feel sorry every time I see a youngster without a belt and his britches hanging around his knees, because I know he’s in danger of tripping up, falling down, busting his head open, or messing up his face! Around the waist, that’s where the belt goes.

Policemen and baseball catchers know about the next piece of armor that Paul talks about – the breastplate of righteousness. There’s a reason why policemen don’t wear their bulletproof vests around their knees. And catchers don’t wear their chest protectors on their back. It’s called guarding your heart! Then Paul talks about wearing the right kind of shoes (v.15). Brogans, combat boots, call ‘em what you want, but if the devil can pull your feet out from under you, the war is over. Belt, breastplate, boots – critical pieces of the armor of God.

Next, Paul describes the shield of faith to knock down the devil’s flaming arrows, the helmet of salvation (you don’t play football without a helmet!), and the sword of the Spirit. That’s the notebook that holds our Game Plan. You’ll recognize it by the title on the front cover – Holy Bible!

And now that the full armor is protecting the body, Paul describes what must go on inside our heads at ALL times (occasions) – pray with ceasing, stay alert, and pray some more! And, twice in these verses, Paul urges us to put on the ‘full armor’ of God. All of it, not just the helmet or the shoes or the belt. If you want to be left standing when the fight is over, you need it all.

 What kind of work clothes do you wear? Like Daddy always said about five o’clock every morning back at Route 4, “OK, boys, play time is over. It’s time to go to work.”



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

There it was – right before my eyes. I couldn’t help myself. Driving down the street in good ol’ Hometown USA the other day and, lo and behold, what do I see? I had to blink twice. And when I looked again, I’m back home on Route 4. What was it that put me into the mule-drawn time travel machine? None other than the Tuesday morning Farmer’s Market on Main Street!

 Spread out under the downtown ‘shed,’ and that’s really what it is – just doesn’t have any sides, but still a wooden shed with a green roof – were a bunch of tables with just about any kind of produce you could imagine. Corn (on the cob), pole beans, butterbeans, ‘maters, you name it, they had it. Why, I even saw some jars of honey with the comb still in it! If I had looked closer, I probably would have seen some homemade blackberry jam or fig preserves. All that was missing was some of Mother’s cat-head biscuits with cow’s butter dripping out the sides.

 But what landed the dirt-road time machine right smack dab in the middle of our Route 4 garden was a sight that made my goose bumps have goose bumps of their own! A huge table of that long and green dreaded stuff that made my hands and arms immediately start itching – OKRA! Probably wasn’t more than a bushel or two, but to me, it looked like enough to feed every family in the county for a week or two at least.

 Can I tell you how much I dislike that slick, slimy stuff when it’s boiled? And even when it’s covered in corn meal and fried, it’s just a missed opportunity to enjoy a mouth-watering piece of buttered cornbread! I’ve thought long and hard over the years about my Okra Relationship. Adam and Eve, the First Family of Farmers, must have had some in their Garden. Why is it that I have a mental block about that stuff?

 I think I have traced it back to its roots – pardon the pun. When you plant okra, you don’t put the seed in the ground one at a time. You grab a handful, run down the row that Daddy plowed, and when your handful runs out, you go get another handful of seed. And on and on it goes until you’ve planted about fifty rows each a mile long! Daddy never wanted to run out of okra.

Then when the little green shoots start sticking their itchy little leaves through the earth’s crust, you have to thin out a few of them with your hoe so the stalks can grow strong and tall. What a complete waste of garden space. Why couldn’t it all be watermelons and cantaloupes? Anyway, I’ve traced my feelings for okra back to a garden incident that occurred over fifty years ago.

 I had been assigned the duty of thinning the okra. With Daddy’s razor-sharp hoe blade, it was a breeze. With every swing of the hoe handle, I imagined that I was eliminating this stuff from the face of the earth, and I’d never have to endure that slick stuff sliding down my throat again at the supper table! Thinning is probably not a good word to use for what I was doing. Thinning it out indicates that some was left. Not with my little ten-year-old hands at the controls of that hoe handle!

I think I had wiped out about a half a row before Daddy came to check on me. Have you ever seen a feather pillow hit the blades of a fan when it was running? That’s a good description of the dust flying out of the seat of my britches when Daddy saw what I had done! That was the day the woodshed moved to the middle of our garden.

 It didn’t take me long to devise a plan after he left. If I couldn’t chop all the stuff down, I could just do away with the hoe. With all the force and might that I could muster in my 85-pound body, I sunk that hoe into the ground. The sound of metal meeting rock is still firmly etched in my mind. The metal and the rock collided and the wooden handle split into three pieces. Now, there’s no way he can make me help that stuff grow.

Wrong again! Here comes the woodshed again tromping across the garden! After a meeting of the board of education at the seat of my learning, I was instructed to get down on my knobby little knees and finish my okra-thinning job with nothing but the blade of the hoe! And that’s how dogs came to love okra fed to them through the holes in the floor under our kitchen table. I feel better already!  

Thanks to the Farmer’s Market, I’ve been thinking way too much about okra lately. What are you thinking about today? The bad economy? Lost jobs? Dwindling 401-K’s? Death, disease, debt? Just like boiled okra, all that stuff can be depressing and totally ruin your day. God gives us free will to control our own thoughts, but our thoughts are influenced by our choice of what we see, hear, read, watch, and listen to. If all we watch, see, listen to, and believe are the ‘talking heads’ of the world, pretty soon we’re down on our knees thinning okra with just the blade of the hoe!

 It’s called the GIGO principle – Garbage In, Garbage Out! You can’t plant okra seed and expect to enjoy an ice-cold watermelon! Doesn’t work that way on the farm, and it doesn’t work that way in the garden of our minds. After he got knocked off his donkey and got his sight back, the Apostle Paul came up with some pretty good advice that I believe is still good stuff today for you and me. In Philippians 4:8, Paul encourages us, and for good reason, to think about and focus on things that are praiseworthy, excellent, pure, noble, lovely, and right. In my mind, at least, that doesn’t include okra. But I can smile when I think about buttery corn-on-the-cob, sweet ‘tater pie, and homemade ice cream! My legendary friend Mack Poss, another Route 4 boy, or was it Route 2, the number doesn’t matter, but Mack describes thinking about the good stuff as ‘Burgers, Fries, and Cherry Pies!’

 So what are you thinking about today? Remember, every sixty seconds you spend sad is a minute that you’ll never get to spend being happy. Penny for your thoughts? Please don’t sell ‘em that cheap – they’re worth much more than that!



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Have you ever seen so many signs by the side of the road? I don’t know if it’s my advancing years or what, but it seems like more and bigger billboards seem to be shouting for my attention as I drive down the highway. And what is it with these huge, lighted, double-decker creations that seem to block out the sun? And every message the mind can imagine! Every product and service known to exist on this planet seems to be shouting from the roadside. From ‘Multi-Family Yard Sale Friday and Saturday’ to ‘You Missed It, Turn Around and Go Back One Mile!’ There’s a Sunday morning sermon in that one, but back to the main road for now.

Recently on a country road, what we used to call two-lane tar and gravel, I began to notice these little signs that literally shouted with their simple message. Most of them are nailed to trees or ‘light’ poles, and some are even one-word messages. The first one that caught my eye caused one of those VBS songs to stick in my head for the rest of the day. Its message was ‘Jesus Loves Me.’ And then I began humming that little tune learned in Vacation Bible School a half-century ago, ‘this I know for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.’ Another little sign with a big message read “Repent.” Still another shouted “Hallelujah!” That one put a smiley-face on my heart that a brick mason couldn’t erase.

 And the other day I’m driving along in the left lane of a four-lane highway, at the speed limit, I might add, when I noticed a long line of cars in my rear view mirror. For a second I thought that I had pulled out in front of a funeral procession. That’s when my very observant and loving wife said sweetly, “Didn’t you see that sign back there?” No, sweetheart, I’m too busy trying to keep from being rear-ended by Big Foot and his pals! What sign? The one that says ‘Slower Traffic Keep Right.’ So, after I obediently pulled into the right lane, the world went speeding past on my left. Thank you, Jesus and Helen, now I’m in the ‘right’ lane! And that reminds me of another sign I once saw that read, “Directions to Heaven: Turn Right and Go Straight.”

 I say all that to say this – someday I dream of being in the ‘right’ lane on the interstate when I see this sign that says, ‘DIRT ROAD NEXT EXIT!’ Don’t care where we’re going or how late we are getting there, we’re taking this exit. I just know that I know that I know there’ll be a woodshed lesson at that exit that I shouldn’t miss. Life passes so quickly and dirt roads are almost extinct. Like the time my boyhood buddy, Ralph Nix, and I were happily bouncing along down the dirt road behind Return School House in his daddy’s pickup truck.

 Now get this picture. A picture-postcard sunny day, two barely-teenage country boys, riding down a dirt road in a pickup truck with the windows rolled down (no power windows) and the breeze in our face. We could have been singing Joy To The World! But woodshed moments have taught us that life can change in the blink of an eye! And, boy, did things change that day some fifty years ago. Ralph loved to drive fast and the faster he drove the harder I held on. We must have been doing about 37 or 38 miles an hour – like a bullet down that dirt road!

 Without a warning sign, the front wheels of Mr. Dave’s pickup truck hit some loose gravel in the middle of the road. You just know – this is not going to turn out good. Well, ol’ Fireball Ralph hits the brakes and we start spinning like that tilt-a-cup ride at the county fair! After what seemed like a lifetime, we both looked up to see the front end of that pickup getting ready to meet the road bank up close and personal. That’s one thing about dirt roads. They had ditches and banks so you can’t spin out of control forever.

 After my noggin popped the windshield, leaving a clump of my hair imbedded in it, the next thing I remember was standing outside the truck on the driver’s side. Did I mention the windows were down? That’s because there were no door handles on the inside, so you kept the window rolled down to reach outside to open the door. I didn’t bother with that process. I just went through the pickup’s open window and ran around the truck to Ralph’s side. Shaking like a pine needle in a hurricane, I saw Ralph with his head on the steering wheel. I learned to pray at an early age! “Lord, just let Ralph be OK.”

 After I must have asked him a hundred times, ‘are you OK’ and ‘what are you doing,’ brilliant Mr. Einstein raised his head and said, “I’m thinking!” To which I replied, ‘about what?’ Sometimes now, I go a couple of weeks, maybe even a month, without thinking about that day. But when I do, the first thing that pops into my head is Ralph’s answer to my question – “I’m trying to think of some story to tell Daddy how this happened.” See, Mr. Dave Nix and my Daddy were a lot alike. They both had a gaggle of kids, mostly boys, and you better have your story straight when it was ‘your day in court.’  

 Which brings me back to the shed – in Psalm 90:10, Moses, a man who knew God face to face, urges us even today to get our story straight. He lived to the ripe old age of 120 and spent a lot of time at God’s woodshed. And Moses said that we’ll live about 70 or 80 years. And all during the span of those years, there will be trouble and sorrow. But they quickly pass and then we fly away. Like Daddy used to say at the woodshed back at Route 4, “Son, we’ll both feel a lot better when this is over.” Easy for him to say!

But what will be our story when it’s over? Focus on the trouble here or think about how much better we’ll feel when it’s over? I think that’s why they call it Heaven! And why we sing How Wonderful Heaven Must Be. It’s just not supposed to be a rose garden down here. Else, what would we have to look forward to – and, ironically, in knowing that, we get joy that should give us a smiley-face while we’re here. Still In Psalm 90, Moses prayed (v.12) a prayer that, like Ralph said about fifty years, should help us get our story straight, “Teach us that our days are numbered so that we might have a wise heart.”  So, do the math – 80 years (with God’s blessing); 29,200 days; 700,800 hours; 42,048,000 minutes! That’s forty-two million and forty-eight thousand opportunities to be a ‘Compass for Christ’, pointing the way to Heaven.   

Are we making every minute count, or just counting every minute?