Archive for September, 2009

EYE EXAM

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Have you had an eye exam lately? It’s one of the regular checkups we need to have as we reach ‘senior’ status. And I’m not talking about senior moments. I’ve been having those ever since I turned fifty. Eye exams are necessary, especially if the exit signs on the interstate are getting a little fuzzy. The conversation goes something like this. Wife to husband: “Why didn’t you take that road that we always take?” Husband to wife: “I will when we come to it.” Wife to husband: “We came to it about three miles back down the road!”

I’ve never really enjoyed an eye exam. First, they have you look in this big black machine with a small light and see if you can read some really small letters. It goes something like this. Lady in the white coat: “Read line 10 for me, please.” Me to the lady in the white coat: “I don’t see but four lines.”

And why don’t they have real words on those lines? They ask you to read something that looks like it’s straight from the Greek language – like G-B-D-R-Q-M. I’d have perfect 20-20 vision if I saw words like ‘c-o-r-n-b-r-e-a-d,’ or maybe ‘f-r-i-e-d  a-p-p-l-e  p-i-e-s!’  

Side road, please. I’m riding down the road the other day on my way to the eye doctor. I saw a small, hand-painted sign by the side of the road. I don’t mean one of those monster-looking, double-decker, lit-up-at-night, message-changing billboards. I think those things cause heart attacks, anyway. People with eyesight like mine are squinting and trying to read ‘em when the pickup in front of us slams on his brakes! He probably couldn’t read it, either, and wanted a second look.

But that little sign I saw about a foot off the ground said ‘homemade fried pies today.’  For the next 500 yards, I’m trying to find a place to turn around! Did it really say homemade fried pies? I must be seeing things. I really do need to get my eyes checked. But sure enough, after the traffic jam I caused cleared up, there it was. Hallelujah! Double blessing. Nothing wrong with my eyesight and a bag of fried apple pies to go.

Back to the eye doctor. After I couldn’t make out those strange looking letters on line 8 or 9, white coat said, “Follow me to the next room. We need to dilate your eyes.” There was a red ‘E-X-I-T’ sign right over her shoulder and I had absolutely no trouble at all reading it! Have you ever had your eyes dilated? Against my better judgment, I follow white coat into a dark room and she squirts battery acid in both my eyes.

Fifteen minutes later she comes back and says ‘The doctor will see you now. Follow me.’ I resist the urge to ask her where the seeing eye dog is. The doctor comes in and shines a billion-watt laser beam into both eyes, read this, read that, which line is clearer, what color is that, etc. etc. etc. And then he says, “Just like I thought.” Then he leaves the room.

I’m thinking he’s gone to get white coat and ask her how this blind guy got to the office. Now he’s back and says ‘It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.” Oh, boy, look out, here it comes. I’ll be blind before I get home. But he explains, “Your eyesight has actually improved since your last checkup. You’re not nearly as nearsighted as you were.” Thank you, Lord, for those candied carrots!

So I head for the car and my bag of fried apple pies. At the check-out desk, white coat says ‘you may need your shades when you get outside.’ Fine, no problem. I’m happy. No new bifocals or trifocals. I can handle the shades. Then I stepped outside. Immediate blindness! The brightest light I had ever been exposed to. I stacked up two pairs of ‘flippies’ on top of my glasses. And I still couldn’t stand the brightness. I had to put my hands over my eyes. Two kids in the car beside me thought I was playing peek-a-boo, and they started covering their eyes, too.

As the battery acid wore off, I thought, this must be a small example of what it will be like to stand in the presence of our Lord in heaven. And then I remembered Daddy’s woodshed words back home at Route 4. When one of us boys would make a dumb mistake, and he wanted to point out the error of our ways, he’d say, “Boy, you can’t see the woods for the trees. If you can’t see that, you need to have your eyes checked!”

Good ol’ Peter, an apostle of Jesus, had his eyesight checked and wrote these instructions (2 Peter 1:4-11) to help us avoid being nearsighted and spiritually blind in the corruption of the world. To have that 20-20 vision and be able to see God’s ‘very great and precious promises, there are some things we need to see. First, Peter says, add goodness to your faith. Then knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness, and love.

And then Peter adds the finishing touch to his prescription (v.8). We can’t just put on these ‘new glasses’ and then sit and soak. He uses the words ‘increasing measure’  to keep us from being blinded by the world and risk missing the rich welcome (v.11) in the Heavenly Light.

The Route 4 translation of that means we are to be green and growing, not ripe and dying.

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HEART TROUBLE

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

On a recent trip to the shed, we talked about all the good stuff we used to eat back home at Route 4. The ‘maters and ‘taters. The hot-buttered corn on the cob. Green beans cooked with ‘white steak.’ The cat-head biscuits and sawmill gravy and fried rooster for Sunday dinner. And for dessert, Mother’s homemade blackberry cobbler topped with those lattice-work strips of golden brown crust covered with sugar.

And for the holidays, Mother would bake thirteen-layer cakes. I don’t remember why they were thirteen layers, but I do remember how good they were. Especially the coconut cakes. One slice would cover your whole plate. And you didn’t mind washing and drying dishes after one of those. And I don’t mean putting the dishes in the dishwasher and hitting the rinse cycle, either. Never heard of dishwashers till I was married!  And then I became one. But I had many years of experience on my resume. Seems as though middle kids were good at that.

And paper plates? I don’t think they had even been invented then. In the first place, they don’t make ‘em big enough to hold a summer-time  plate full of fresh vegetables from the garden. And then, I can just imagine the scene when a paper plate started leaking or folded in the middle just about the time Daddy was covering his cat-heads with a couple of ladles of sawmill gravy!

Back to the main road! I loved helping Mother make those cakes. I  can remember hand-grating that fresh coconut till my hands cramped. I haven’t seen one of those hand-held aluminum kitchen appliances in a long time. I guess they’re all in antique stores now! It had fine teeth on one side and larger ones on the other side. And sharp as knives, too. No electric slicing and dicing food processors in her kitchen! She raised nine food processors and lined us up on two benches every night at the supper table to ‘process’ that cornbread and milk.

Even though I was partial to the coconut, Mother also made lemon cakes. And if you had grating duty, you had to grate the lemon peels! Now, I liked grating the fresh coconut ‘cause when it got too small to hold on the grater, it was a delicious treat. Sorta like licking the bowl that she mixed up her cake batter in, or the long-handle spoon she used to stir the batter. Hanging around the kitchen could be advantageous back home on the farm when Mother was baking cakes. But deliver me from eating those lemon peels! Yuck!

And to go with the thirteen layer cakes, Mother always made a five-gallon bucket full of ambrosia. Or it looked like five gallons in her big ambrosia bowl. It had every kind of fruit imaginable, each one marinating in its own juice. Throw in some bananas and raisins and and cherries and other secret ingredients and cover with a layer of that fresh coconut that I had grated. Then you wait. Yes, she always made ambrosia a couple of days ahead of time and let it age while it ‘tortured’ us country boys to look at it and smell its delicious aroma. You could probably talk me into eating boiled okra right now if you promise me some ambrosia! I think Estelle has Mother’s secret ambrosia recipe. Hope sis is at the shed today!

Our neighbor, Cindy, was at the shed the other day, probably droolin,’ as we recalled those days of eatin’ anything we wanted without worrying about the latest health report. Cindy sent me a one-line email question – “who’s your heart doctor?” She stepped on my starter and cranked up the truck with that question. And I raced back to Route 4 where scenes of plowin’ and plantin’ and pickin’ are forever etched in my memory. Along with cutting firewood and stove wood. And building pasture fences with cedar fence posts planted three feet deep in holes dug with hand-held post hole diggers as big as the skinny country boys using them. I guess it was that four-letter word called work that kept us healthy back then. As Daddy used to say when we complained about how hard it was, “If it don’t kill you, it’ll make a man out of you.”

I guess that’s why we could sit down to a breakfast of scrambled eggs, three or four slices of bacon, and the afore-mentioned catheads and gravy without giving a second thought to heart health. Saw a restaurant menu the other day that had little red hearts by several entrees. Being heart healthy is important these days simply because some of us still like to eat like we’re back on the farm without working like we used to work back home on the farm.

So, thank God every day for the miracles of modern medicine and the doctors who have the God-given gift to keep us heart-healthy. Helen and I have the best heart doctors in the world. You’ll believe that, too, if you ever have the occasion where your cardiologist saves your life. We have all these cat-scans and EKG’s and cardiograms and echo-grams and heart caths and other procedures. And our doctors have been given the gift of discernment to look at some squiggly lines on a piece of paper and tell us what we need to do to take care of the physical heart muscle.

But when’s the last time you had a ‘spiritual ct-scan?’ David prayed for God to perform ‘open-heart surgery’ on him (Psalm 139:23-24). He was asking God to give him one of those tests where they look inside your heart and know everything there is to know about it. Except that David was praying for God to take a spiritual x-ray of his heart and see if there was any offensive attitude or thought that would do harm to his walk with God. Maybe it’s a cold heart. Or an indifferent heart. Maybe it’s a tired, discouraged or depressed heart. Could you have a hard heart or broken heart? David knew that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. And he knew the One Heart Doctor that could make him heart healthy. I saw a church sign the other day that said “Exercise your faith muscle by walking daily with the Lord.” And, if I could add, keep your spiritual coffee mug clean with daily Bible study.

So, I replied to Cindy’s email. Don’t you just love email? It’s like the six-party line phones that brought ‘new-age’ communication to Route 4. My reply simply said, “Dr. Jesus!”

Call Him up today and talk to Him. He accepts new patients. And you don’t need a referral.

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KILLIN’ KUDZU!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Have you ever tried to cut down vines that had been left unattended for way too long? I went after some in the back yard the other day with my trusty clippers. It must have been a sight to see. Probably could have won first prize on that home video television show!

Some of these vines had grown to the tops of the trees and out every limb until they completely covered a bunch of trees. I would cut some loose down low near the ground and then start trying to pull them out of the limbs and tree tops. It seemed like they had a life of their own.

The more I cut, the more they grew. Cut and pull. Pull and cut. And when I could get a couple of small ones to the ground, they took revenge for their friends by wrapping themselves around my feet and legs and dared me to take a step.  

I remember a place back home at Route 4 that we called ‘kudzu hollow.’ All you could see in any direction in this place was nothing but kudzu. That stuff will grow anywhere anytime in any kind of weather. Daddy used to tell us that there are three things you just can’t get rid of – wild onions, crabgrass, and kudzu.

We even tried building a pasture fence around kudzu and turning the cows loose on it. Didn’t work. You can build an interstate highway through the stuff and it’ll keep on growing on each side of the road. I guess you could burn it up, but then everything that it’s growing on will be burned also.

Thought about that green stuff recently while I was studying what God told His messenger, Malachi, to tell God’s people (Malachi 4:1-4). It seems like God’s people were acting like kudzu. Going anywhere and doing anything they pleased. Even to the point of tripping up other people and making them fall. People were getting all tangled up in their lives. Like trying to walk with vines wrapped around your feet and legs. Through Malachi, God called them arrogant evildoers. And He told them about a day that was coming that would be unlike any other day they had ever known. That reminds me of a bumper snicker I saw once that said “you think it’s hot here?”

That day that is surely coming will be like setting a field of kudzu on fire! It will burn like a furnace (v.1), so hot that not even a root will be left. That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news. For those who worship and have reverence for the Lord, there will be a ‘Sunrise of Healing.’ Like a brand new sunny day after a rainy night. And He promises (v.2) that we will be like young calves let out of the barn into the pasture. I can identify with that. Have you ever stood at the barn and seen calves frolicking and kicking up their heels with joy at being set free?

On that day, and what a day that will be (we ought to sing that old gospel song more!), those who do wrong and evil in God’s sight will be just ashes for us to trample under the soles of our feet. If we keep our souls in His Commandments (v.4). Just like kudzu, bad people doing bad things will always be around. And sometimes they’ll even get us tangled up and make us fall down and get hurt.

It’s been a long time since Malachi the Messenger brought that message. And it seems like there’s kudzu everywhere. From the ‘backyards to the barnyards’ of the world we live in today. Evil in every direction as far as we can see.

But the promise of the Big Day (Judgment Day) should be enough to keep us out of ‘Kudzu Hollow.’

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HOW ‘BOUT SOME LEFTOVERS?

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

This ol’ country boy waded right out into a deep, philosophical discussion the other day. I should have rolled up my britches’ legs. It was that deep. I’m telling you – it was like a Harvard ‘think tank.’ My grammar school teachers, Miss Armstrong, Miss Pruitt, and Miss Finkenstadt, would have been proud of me. Why did we call them ‘miss’ even though they were married? Save that question for another trip to the shed. The topic of  this discussion at the shed the other day with three of my favorite folks was a lot deeper than that.

We were discussing the merits of cornbread and milk for supper. Say what? That’s right. Sitting down to a meal of cornbread and milk. You could tell that all of the participants in this culinary conversation were all over the age of, shall we say, old enough not to have to ask, “and what else are we having with the cornbread and milk?” Just try to convince me that you can think of anything else when the aroma of hot cornbread spreads all over the house like the morning dew on the pasture at Route 4!

I confessed that I like sweet cornbread. A little sugar goes a long way – in a lot of things – if you catch my drift! In fact, our daughter Kim, has a dessert cornbread recipe called Georgia Cornbread that will make you ask for seconds and sometimes thirds! But, I like cornbread baked in the oven in Helen’s small black skillet, turned upside down out of the oven, cut into quarters, sliced open and stuffed with butter till it’s running out the sides. Then you pour a tall glass of ice cold buttermilk and crumble the cornbread into it, and dive in!

Linda said that at her house they need the big black skillet. And she doesn’t care for buttermilk – just sweet milk – without the wild onions, of course! Tiny said she’s not a big cornbread lover (hence her name), but her children and grandchildren grew up loving it. And Tiny’s favorite daughter NeeNee seemed to be enjoying her birthday cake as we discussed cornbread.

Now that I’m droolin’ all over my keyboard (gotta start wearing my bib when we’re talking about cornbread and milk), next question, please. OK, here goes. How do you like warmed-over, leftover, microwave-zapped cornbread? I thought so. Not my favorite, either. In fact, I have another confession. I’ll just get it out in the open right here. I am not a big fan of leftovers, period. There, I’ve said it. Now I feel better. Go ahead, all you lovers of leftovers. Send me your comments. I’ll put on my big-boy britches and read ‘em while I’m enjoying my next slice of hot, buttered, ‘first-edition’ cornbread.

Case in point about leftovers. Helen makes a wonderful chicken casserole. Now there’s a word we never heard back home on the farm. I’ll bet our old Route 4 roosters never had dreams of growing up to be the featured ingredient in a casserole! Whoa, hold up, boy. I’m not going down that side road today.

I’m expecting any day now that one of those cooking shows you see on television will call to ask for Helen’s recipe for chicken casserole. It’s that good. The first time. We had it for supper the other night. Then the next night on my way home from work, I asked the question of the day – What’s for supper? She said the words that made me want to find the nearest squawk-box drive-through window – leftover chicken casserole!  My point, if there is one in all this silly talk, is that I’m not the only one who doesn’t like leftovers.

About 400 years before Jesus was born, there was an Old Testament prophet named Malachi who had something serious to say about leftovers (Malachi 1:6-14). His name means “my messenger.” That means I’ll listen to whatever he has to say. And, long story short, Malachi said that we hurt God’s feelings when we give him our leftovers. And he’s not talking about scraps and pieces of food from our supper table.

It seemed like God’s people during Malachi’s time had lost their hope. They had begun to doubt God’s love and faithfulness. The fire and zeal of their passion had gone out, or at least been turned down to pilot-light. They had been lulled to sleep by the devil, just going through the motions in their worship, their work, and their walk with the Lord. Malachi was very vivid in describing how they (meaning God’s very own people!) “sniffed contemptuously” at God’s table. What a tragic picture! Have you ever seen a puppy dog sniff at its food, turn up his nose, and run away when he didn’t like what was in his dish?  

Sound familiar? Could this very same thing be happening right now in our country and even the entire world? It’s been over 2000 years since God served up His very best on a hill called Calvary. And ever since then, all He’s asked for in return from us is our very best!    

I cringe inside when I hear people cussing and using profanity. I get a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach when I see folks cuttin’ grass on Sunday morning. Empty church pews are common sights, but you let a disaster happen, and who do we call? Have we let the worries, cares, and concerns of everyday life lull us to sleep? Does the ‘busy-ness’ of business cause us to slide God over onto the back-burner on the stove of our life, and turn the heat down to simmer?

Oh boy, I’m messing up my own shoeshine right here, folks, but let me ask this question. When company is coming to the house, do we put last night’s leftovers on the table in front of them? Nope. It’ll be only the best for our invited guests. Hot, buttered cornbread, corn-on-the-cob, cathead biscuits and sawmill gravy, fresh ‘maters, squash, and maybe fried okra, too (yuck!)

Well, God demands, desires, and deserves our very best, too. After all, have we forgotten that He’s already given us His best many, many years ago? It’s sad but true. God gives and forgives; man gets and forgets.

We all sit down occasionally to leftovers on the supper table. And this is just me talking now, but I don’t think I can ever sit down to leftovers again without looking in the mirror of my mind and wondering if I’ve been guilty that day of giving God the leftovers of my life.

As Malachi, God’s messenger, said in Route 4 translation, “Give God What’s Right, Not What’s Left!”

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NEW WALKING SHOES

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I had to go shopping the other day for some new walking shoes. My feet were beginning to hurt. I didn’t want to, and probably waited too long, but my goodness, have you priced new walking shoes lately? I mean the kind that really give you support and make you feel like walking a couple of extra miles. And there are so many different kinds. Some built for speed, others for made for endurance. Some with gel, others with air. What ever happened to the old ‘black, high tops?’

Back home on the farm, there were two kinds of shoes. You had your Sunday shoes for wearing to church that you ‘painted’ with black liquid polish on Saturday night. And they started cracking and peeling before the last Amen on Sunday morning. But as soon as you got home from church on Sunday, you better remember to take off your good shoes before the first inning of cow-pasture baseball, if you know what’s good for you! 

Then you had your brogans with their metal hooks that you laced up around your ankles to keep the chiggers out. You wore those when it was time to go plowin’ and cuttin’ fire wood and stove wood. These work shoes were hand-me-downs that George and Oliver had already worn out. But they were good for one more winter with some strategically-placed pieces of cardboard over the holes in the soles. Holes in the soles (souls) – whoa, boy – I almost took a side road right there!

Speaking of side roads – I remember one Sunday afternoon my buddy, James McKee and I were walking down Red Hollow Hill near Route 4. And we got a ticket for walking on the wrong side of the road! Can you just imagine what would have happened when we told Daddy that we got a ticket from the Highway Patrol for walking on the wrong side of the road? Bless Mother’s heart! That was one time when she didn’t say, ‘just wait till your Daddy gets home.’ Instead, it was her opinion that we make this our little secret just between the two of us.

Besides, it was just a warning ticket, anyway. But, you know, that patrolman taught us a minor woodshed lesson that Sunday afternoon on Red Hollow Hill. For you own safety, he said, always walk on the left side of the road facing the oncoming traffic. And while the Broderick Crawford-look alike wrote the tickets, James and I were shaking like two oak leaves in a hurricane in the back seat of that patrol car. I could hardly hear him talking for the sound of my heart pounding in my ears! But what he said next taught a life lesson to a couple of scared-silly country boys. If you see what’s coming at you, you can deal with it.     

Anyway, back to the farm. You just learned that you didn’t show up for plowin’ duty wearing your go-to-church shoes. If you did, you’d hear Daddy ask, “Son, what are you doing wearing your Sunday shoes out here?” It didn’t take but one trip to the woodshed to learn that “getting’ ready to run away from here” was not the answer he was looking for.

Do you remember the old cars and trucks that had a starter button in the floor? For those of you not privileged with this experience, to start the old jalopy, you turned on the switch and stepped on the starter button. Well, my shopping trip for new walking shoes immediately turned into a trip back home to Route 4 when another potential customer in the shoe store stepped on my starter button by wondering out loud – “Do they make these with steel toes?” His reasoning was that ‘somebody’s always stepping on my toes.’

I guess my question for all of us, you and me, today is this – is somebody or something stepping on your toes? While we’re walking through this world, that’s bound to happen. Just par for the course if you’re around other people. Especially if we’re walking on the wrong side of the road where something can come up behind us and blindside us before we know what hit us. Which side of the road are you walking on today?

Jesus was the greatest Walker of all time. And He probably wore sandals. But His instructions to us for walking down the right side of the road of life are as clear as day. When somebody steps on your toes, the world would have you to react like David’s Old Testament prayer (Psalm 3:7) for God to ‘bust ‘em in the mouth and knock their teeth down their throat.’

But Jesus said turn the other cheek and keep on walking with people (Matthew 5:38-42). In fact, get some new walking shoes if your old ones are hurting your feet. And go an extra mile when somebody asks you to go one mile. Do more and give more than the minimum. Ever heard the expression ‘they’ll give you the shirt off their back?’

That’s someone who understands about walking the extra mile. About giving till it hurts and then keep on giving (walking) till it quits hurting. Especially when somebody whacks you upside the head and hurts your feelings. Like Mother always said when I felt like taking a stick of stove wood to one of my brothers, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Jesus said by walking like this when we’re with others, they will know ‘that you’re walking with me.’ That takes some real good walking shoes. Like those that I tried on at the store that have gel and air, too. If your feet hurt you to walk like that, maybe it’s time to turn in the old black, high-tops.

If somebody messes up your shoe shine today,  just remember, there’s never a traffic jam on the Extra Mile.

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HEAVENLY HEALTH CARE

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

There’s been a lot of talk lately about health care. From the halls of Congress and the nation’s capitol, to the state house, to the barber shops on Main Street USA, it seems like everyone you meet has an idea about health care. Large portions of almost every newscast you watch or hear are devoted to this health care plan or that health care plan. Committees meet for long hours every day trying to come up with a health care plan that everyone can agree on. If you’ve paid a health insurance premium lately, been treated by doctor, or had an extended stay in a hospital, you probably still need some more medicine for your ‘sticker shock!’

What’s the answer? I’m not smart enough to figure that one out. But here’s one thing I do know. Back home at Route 4, Mother and Daddy raised nine kids on a dirt-road farm, and I can count on one hand how many times they had to take us to see a doctor. I don’t even have to take off my shoes to add that one up.

One time I remember that we needed a doctor was when brother George, being the elder son, felt it was necessary to pass along to us  young whippersnappers the art of the two-minute bath. Of course, like most boyhood activities that led us down the path to the woodshed, this happened while Mother and Daddy were gone to town on Saturday morning to pick up the few groceries that we couldn’t grow on the farm.

One of our chores while they were gone was to draw enough water out of the well to fill up the Saturday night bath tub, sit it in the sun behind the house to warm up before all of us had to ‘pass through the waters.’ I didn’t know it at the time, but I guess that was our first use of solar heat on the farm.

But back to the bath tub. After, it was filled, George would show us how to  back up about fifty feet, get a running start, and jump into the tub full of water, landing like a cannon-ball in the tub and spraying everyone within ten feet. Sounds like great fun, right? Hey, don’t knock it. It beats watching the business end of mule all day long, or hoeing okra till the hoe handle rubbed blisters on your hands! Besides, Mother had already confiscated my Red Ryder bb gun for shootin’ Wade in the seat of his pants.

Anyway, George’s show-and-tell landed him in the doctor’s office when he caught his big toe in a tree root about a foot in front of the bath tub and landed with arms out-stretched squarely on the rim of that galvanized tub. The cast on his broken arm prevented him from any further water sports for the rest of the summer.

Another trip to town to see the doctor began one day when I woke up a tooth ache. It got steadily worse all day long. The more stove wood I cut, the more the tooth hurt. Get out of work because of a tooth ache? “Something else will hurt, boy, if you don’t get that wood cut and split.” But by late afternoon, the pain had become unbearable. I mean squawling and bawling and rolling on the ground. Just ask Wade sometime. He  witnessed it all. And still gets a good laugh when he thinks about it.

Daddy wasn’t home so Mother sent for one of our cousins, I think it was Melvin Nix, to carry me to the dentist. Now, I had never seen the inside of a dentist office. The sight of that chair and all those drills and all that other tooth-pulling equipment almost cured my pain. The only dental equipment we knew about on the farm involved Daddy tying one end of a string to a loose tooth and the other end to the door knob on an open door. And then slamming the door shut.

But, after poking around inside my mouth for about ten minutes with his sharp-pointed, stainless steel, over-sized tooth pick, the man in the white jacket delivered the verdict. “Young man, you’ve got a big ol’ abscess on that tooth. I’m going to have to take it out.”  I didn’t know an abscess from recess. I just knew I had to have some relief. If you’ve had any experience in ‘the chair,’ you know what I mean when I say that relief didn’t come for several days after that tooth was out of my mouth!

We probably ate enough dirt in our childhood to grow some nice pole beans and squash. And, if you had a similar childhood, you’ll agree that growing up on a farm is not exactly living in a sterile, green-house, lab-experiment kind of environment. And with those double-blade, razor-sharp axes, cross-cut saws, and other assorted farm tools, it’s only by the grace of God that our limbs didn’t get cut off like the tree limbs.

 Health care on the farm involved a lot of castor oil; Vicks salve, the mentholated miracle; and mercurochrome, the infection-fighter that left a brown stain running down your arm for two weeks after Mother poured a bottle of it on a briar scratch. But what was it about raising nine kids on a farm in the fifties with such primitive health care?

This is just me talking, but I believe that Mother and Daddy subscribed to the Heavenly Health Care Plan. To the best of their ability, I think they believed that if they raised their kids in ‘the fear and admonition of the Lord,’ He would provide health and safety for that bunch of country boys and girls when they had done all they knew how to do. Probably a pretty good health care plan, don’t you think? I think about God’s health care plan whenever I read about it in the Bible. Where is it in the Bible? Thank you for asking. Spend a few minutes with Psalm 92:12-15.

Here’s the Route 4 translation. The righteous will flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar tree when they’re planted on God’s Farm. Those tender little shoots will survive the storms that blow across the farm, and grow up to bear some pretty nice fruit. And while they’re doing it, they’ll be fresh and green. All because The Rock, Jesus Christ, paid the premium for our Heavenly Health Care Plan. Our spiritual health care plan cost Him His very life. But it’s paid in full. No more premiums to pay.

A real health care plan. That’s what I’m talking about!

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EATIN’ OUT

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

It does my ol’ heart good to see folks bow their heads and give thanks when they’re eating out at restaurants. More often than not, though, they just dive right in as soon as their plate lands on the table. That would have been ‘dangerous to our health’ back home on the farm.

In the first place, there was not a single restaurant or café on Route 4, so we had never heard of eatin’ out. To a bunch of farm boys, eatin’ out meant taking a couple of Mother’s sausage biscuits and maybe a cold baked sweet potato that she had packed in a Dixie Crystals sugar bag, with us to the field when we went to plow. Sometimes eatin’ out meant finishing supper on the back porch, especially if Daddy caught you using your ‘boarding house reach’ to grab the last biscuit on the plate.

Who would have ever thought you could drive up to the back of somebody’s store, holler into a squawk box, and tell somebody somewhere in the store what you want for supper, pay for it at Window Number One and pick up your food at Window Number Two? Fast food? At the farmhouse supper table, fast food was what we did with our cornbread and milk when we were so hungry we thought our stomach was gnawing on our backbone. And the split second that Daddy said, ‘Amen,’ you start gobblin’ it down as fast as your elbow can get your spoon to your mouth!

But a couple of questions always come to my mind when I see those folks ahead of me at the drive-thru take that big bag of vittles from the window and pass around its contents to three or four kids in the car.

First, I always wonder if they’ve had a hand inspection. And, secondly, I wonder if they took the time to say thanks before devouring their supper in a Styrofoam box? You didn’t sit down on one of the benches at Mother’s supper table before she asked, “Boys, did you wash your hands?” And even if you’d been in too big a hurry to get to the corn-on-the-cob and cat head biscuits, you’d start doing the pretend hand-washing routine.

That’s when you rub your hands as fast as you could on your britches and hope that most of the red dirt comes off by dry cleaning. To be sent back to the wash table for a second try while your brothers ate and laughed at you was torture in the first degree.

And, even if you passed Mother’s hand inspection, you didn’t dare reach for the cornbread before Daddy gave thanks for the food we are about to receive. It only took a couple of trips to the woodshed before you learned that you better not be quicker on the draw than the grownups. That’s not good table manners. And wondering out loud if the reason that the Lord gave us so much cornbread and milk was because Daddy thanked Him for it night after night after night, well, that brought on another lesson at the shed.

The psalmist knew how to give thanks. Check it out in Psalm 100. The sub-title, ‘for giving thanks,’ gives us instructions on how to be thankful for all things, including the food we are about to receive at the supper table. In fact, I think it would be a good idea if we memorized Psalm 100, only five verses, to give thanks for our daily bread and all the other blessings that God bestows on us, the sheep of his pasture. He has made us and we are His. Not because of anything good that we have done or will ever do. But because He alone is good. And because His love is forever and covers all our mistakes.

And this wasn’t something that God started yesterday. I have a feeling that even my Daddy’s great-great-great grand-daddy made his boys bow their heads and give thanks before having their cornbread and milk. God is, has been, and always will be faithful through all generations (v.5). That’s reason enough for me for all the earth to shout for joy and worship the Lord with gladness.

Like Mother always said – wash your hands, give thanks, and pass the fried chicken. Hold the okra, please!

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TAKE A WALK

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

We live in a walking neighborhood. Very early most mornings, Bill and his neighbor Cindy can be seen covering our streets at a pretty good pace. George is retired and walks at different times of the day. John is a regular walker, too. His dogs take him for a walk almost every morning! Most doctors agree that walking is good for the heart.

When I first started ‘hoofing it up the hill,’ I would go out to the church on the highway where my friend (and fellow bag-boy school graduate) Ted Edgar preaches and walk around the temple seven times. Ted came by one day and said he was glad to see me walking. “Just don’t shout,” he said. “I don’t want the walls to fall down.” Walking can make you feel like shouting. Especially early in the morning just about daybreak when the sun is just making its way back to our side of the world. It matters not when you walk, just that you do walk.

Back home at Route 4, walking was a way of life. We walked everywhere. Or we didn’t go anywhere. Except for the rare ride on Daddy’s pulpwood truck. We walked to church. I can even remember walking to the two-room Return Grammar School. First grade in one room with second and third grades in the other room. Went to school one morning in the second grade and walked home that afternoon in the third grade. Just moved across the room. Mrs. Pruitt probably moved me to get me away from Ralph Nix and the other eraser-dusters that she kept sending outside! Truth be told, I think they’d rather be outside beating the erasers on the trees than to be in the classroom studying geography!

And then later, as a love-smitten teenager, captivated by the charms of the mill-hill girl, I’d walk to town just to spend a couple of hours with her. And then walk back home! Sometimes we’d borrow her daddy’s car and ride back out to the farm to see the folks after ‘turning the Time-In a couple of times.’ She could never stay very long, though, at our place at Route 4. Many years later, I found out why. Something about our bathroom being down behind the smokehouse! But even when we borrowed Pop’s car, I’d leave it and her at her house, and walk back home. Ain’t love wonderful!

That was a ten-mile round trip. With some hills along the way. And a couple of mean dogs, too. And sometimes it’d be so dark, you couldn’t see your hand if you held it up in front of your nose. But if there happened to be a big, bright moon driving the darkness away, I’d be thanking the Lord all the way home!

Jesus had a first cousin named John, and they walked together a lot during Jesus’ ministry here on earth. Come to think of it, I guess they walked everywhere they went. Couldn’t catch a bus or call a cab. But John was a fisherman, and Jesus loved him and taught him how to be a ‘fisherman of men.’ So John became one of Jesus’ disciples. They ate fish together. They walked together. And John got to see Jesus perform many miracles in person.

I have a feeling that when they were walking together, it never was dark, as far as John was concerned. I think John probably felt safe and secure walking with Jesus, even at night. In one of his letters to other early Christians, John wrote about walking in the Light (1 John 1:5-7).

He said they didn’t need any street lights, or even a big full moon. Because Jesus IS light,  and when you’re with Him, there is no darkness at all (v.5). I like those two little words – at all. To me that means no dark corners for monsters to jump out and scare the heebie-jeebies out of you along the road of life!  But only IF, and that’s a big, little word, too, only if you’re walking with Him.

If we’re not walking with Him, there’s darkness all around us. With Him, there’s no need for street lights, spot lights, or flood lights. And when we get to Heaven, there won’t be any street lights, either. But, unlike those country roads we used to walk back home, there won’t be any need for street lights because Jesus is the Light of the world. When you’re walking with Him, darkness takes a vacation. His cousin John saw that Light up close and personal as they walked together.

Is it dark where you’re walking today? Do you imagine that there are monsters out there in that dark ready to jump out and devour you at every turn? The road of life without the Light can be a scary place, for sure!

Maybe it’s time to tell darkness to take a hike. Turn the Light on and go for a long walk.

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MUDDY ROAD AHEAD!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Tire companies used to advertise their “best mud and snow” tires for winter driving. While some parts of the country still need good tire tread for driving in the snow, you hardly ever hear anyone touting the benefits of tires that give traction in the mud. And for good reason. There just aren’t very many dirt roads anymore. Hey, if you’re having trouble finding something to be thankful for, may I suggest that when you’re on your way to or from work today, take a minute and say, “Thank You, Lord, for this paved road.”

Growing up on a dirt road is a different, and sometimes slower, way of life. And that’s not all bad. Paved streets and super highways have helped to usher us into the world we know today where everything and everybody seem to travel at the speed of light.

Back home at Route 4, we learned early on that when it rained, you better slow down when you turn off the tar and gravel and head down the dirt road to the house. One of our many trips to the woodshed stands out vividly in my memory. One rainy day, Oliver had persuaded Daddy to let him borrow the pulpwood truck to go to Junior Stephens’ store. I begged my way on the ride already tasting that bottle of Coke with a pack of peanuts poured into it. Even though I had to stand on a milk crate and shove my hand down into the icy cold water of the drink box, it was always worth the effort!

So Ollie had his RC and Moon Pie, and I had my Coke with peanuts, and we’re loving life as we heading back toward the dirt road and home in the old pulpwood truck at warp speed – probably doing 38 or 39 miles per hour! And then it happened! Turning off the tar and gravel onto the dirt road we lived on, the rain had caused the dirt road to get slick.

When Ollie threw the stick shift up into third gear, the back end of that empty pulpwood truck came around to meet us in the cab! After I had choked on my Coke and peanuts, I looked over at Ollie and he’s grinning from ear to ear! Oh, no, I started to think. But that thought never made it to a sentence before he was gunning the engine! Here we go again from one side of the muddy road to the other, with me begging Ollie at the top of my voice to slow down. The road behind the Gibson’s farm toward our house was a slight downhill grade. But there was a curve at the bottom of the hill that Ollie didn’t factor into this carnival-ride-in-a-pulpwood-truck! Needless to say, trying to turn the steering wheel of an out-of-control pulpwood truck on a slippery, muddy road was useless.

After we came to a stop in the ditch, and both of us had climbed out the window on my side, I let Ollie know that I never wanted to ride with him again! Or something to that effect! But, all he was interested in was being sure we had our stories straight when we got to the house about what we would tell Daddy. What we didn’t know until several years later was that he was sitting on the front porch watching our little joy ride the whole time! I never could understand why I had to be included in that lesson at the shed until I found out that Ollie had told Daddy that I had dared him to see how fast he could go in the mud.

I think about that muddy road every time I read the story of the Israelites walking through the Red Sea on dry ground (Exodus 14:21-31) with a wall of water on their left and their right. The awesome power and life-saving protection of God for his chosen people not only involved dividing the sea, but here’s the amazing part to a dirt-road, country boy. God also dried up the mud that might have thrown the Israelites into the ditch, or at least slowed them down long enough for Pharaoh’s army to catch them!

So, if your road of life is a little muddy and slippery today, and you’re having a hard time holding on to the steering wheel, and you feel like you’re headin’ for the ditch, God just might be trying to slow down your ‘pulpwood truck’ before you have a more serious crash! If you do find the ditch, make some mud pies while you’re there. If He can dry up all the mud under the Red Sea, He surely can take care of that ‘muddy’ situation that’s in front of you today.

And when the Israelites saw the awesome power of God (v.31), they put their trust in Him, and His driver (Moses).

Good advice – even if you’re doing 70 on the interstate!

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THE PERFECT JOB

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

On a recent visit to the shed, we talked about the three p’s of life at Route 4 – plowin’, plantin’, and pickin.’ And how lots of folks like to pick the red-ripe, juicy ‘maters, but the crowd dwindles down when it’s time to go to work in the garden plowing and planting.

And, from all the comments and discussions we’ve had about the three p’s, it’s obvious that many of you have also spent time in the garden. Including my friend, Michael, who I’m not sure could find the business end of a mule if he had a GPS locator.

Another friend, John, remembers getting up at five am, putting on your shoes while sitting on the wood box beside the cook stove, feeding and watering all the animals, bringing in the water and wood, and all this before breakfast, was not always the most pleasant experience. And then you go plowin’ and plantin’ from sun-up to sun-down before it’s time to do the evening chores all over again. Like the bumper sticker I once saw that said ‘A bad day fishing always tops a good day at work.’

But Daddy always reminded us how lucky we were when it was pickin’ time in the garden. And how those hungry little kids in China would be glad to trade places with us and do all our work with a smile on their face if they could have what we had at the supper table! I wasn’t very much on world geography at the time, and wondering out loud how long it would take for them to get from China to Route 4 prompted a woodshed experience for me right there in the middle of the pole beans and squash!

But as so many of you have pointed out, going to work in the garden back home on the farm had many comparisons to going to work today. Just what is it that makes some people smile and whistle while they work, while others act like they’re about to step in something that smells bad? I know that bunch of country boys and girls who called Route 4 home back in the fifties could come up with some amazing excuses to try to avoid the work at hand. Daddy used to say that a couple of us wouldn’t work in a pie factory. I won’t call any names, but when he looked straight at me and Wade while he was talking, I persuaded Wade to ask him what kind of pies the factory was making. I was ready to volunteer if they were making pecan or sweet potato pie! The woodshed was running a two-for-one special that day!

This is just me talking, but is it possible that the “IT” we’re looking for here – that little something that makes some people actually enjoy going to work in the garden of life where they’ve been planted – could be traced back to our attitude? Work is a four-letter word. On that we all agree. Sure it’s hard sometimes. Sure it’s tough sometimes. Sometimes the dragon, a.k.a. boss, has flames coming from his nostrils. Maybe he’s been scorched by his dragon.

In this world of profit-loss statements, economic depression, angry customers, lost jobs, dwindling 401-k’s, exorbitant prices, budget blow-outs, and other things that ‘don’t smell good when you step in them,’ Is there such a thing as a PERFECT JOB?

There once was a man who indeed had a perfect job. And here’s what makes me smile – it was in a garden! All he had to do was work it and take care of it. He didn’t have to do the plowing’ and plantin’! All he had to do was the pickin’. And this garden was a beauty. It had lush trees, all the fruit and vegetables he could ever hope to eat – the original all-you-can-eat buffet! It had flowing rivers to water the garden. He never had to tote water from the creek to water his corn! He didn’t even have rocks in his garden – only gold and onyx! And only one rule. Can you imagine having a job where there was only one rule? Yep, ol’Adam had the perfect job – just take care of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8-17). And don’t eat the apples from that one tree. But then he ‘stepped in it.’

Like many of us in the working world today, Adam lost his focus. Instead of understanding how good he really had it, and accepting what he had to do in the garden where he had been planted, he took his eyes off how good he really had it at work, and starting wondering ‘what if.’

What if I had this, or what if I had that, what if I had a better job, what if I was smarter and had more degrees. The list can be as long as your arm when we lose the ability to be happy where we’re planted. Work hard every day and be happy. Could that be the “it” that so many people are missing in today’s workplace. After all the first part of that word is work. Even in that pie factory that Daddy talked about, there was still work that had to be done.

Our time in the garden of life is but a few days. Accepting this fact and being happy at having work to do, in spite of difficulties that might crop up, is a precious gift from God. He gave Adam everything that he could possibly need to be happy in the garden except one thing. There was one thing Adam had to bring to the garden himself. And that was his attitude about the garden.

With “it,” he could have had the perfect job forever.

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