Archive for May, 2011

ANNIVERSARY

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

It doesn’t take much. Sometimes it’s just a passing thought. Other times it might be a part of a song. And then, as was the case recently, sometimes it’s just one word. And before you can say, ‘Route 4, Seneca, South Carolina,’ I’m mentally kicking rocks down that sometimes dusty, sometimes muddy dirt road toward the old farmhouse. And I can thank my good friend, Gerald Ravan, for this latest trip.

Before you think that I’ve slid off into the ditch and can’t get out, let me see if I can ‘splainify’ what I’m talkin’ about. It all started the other day before Sunday School when Gerald said, “Hey, Freeman, I’ve got a good word for you.” Ok, Gerald, what is it? “Anniversary.” He must have noticed the blank look on my face, ‘cause he said, “Just think about it – anniversary.” So, folks, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Tickets, please. Thanks for coming along with me on this little day trip.

Some anniversaries are worth rememberin’ because of the joy they bring when they jump up into the frontal lobe from down in the brain’s basement of mildewed storage boxes. Other anniversaries you’d rather not put on recall because of the pain you feel just thinkin’ about them again. But you can’t forget them. Let me go ahead and deal with that second category first, and then we’ll get on with the good stuff. OK?

I don’t remember the date, but I have a little short film clip (no videos back then!) in my mental library about the time I tried to duplicate the accomplishments of the flyin’ Wright Brothers. Except I wasn’t at Kitty Hawk, in our neighboring state of North Carolina. George, Oliver, and me (the youngest and most gullible of the terrible three!) were in the barn loft one sunny Saturday back home on the farm at Route 4. It had to be Saturday because that’s the day that Daddy took Mother to the A & P. And therein lies the problem. No adult supervision.

Anyway, with all their persuasive powers, they convinced me that if I let them tie enough of the biggest green oak leaves off the cow tree to both my arms, I could soar right out the barn loft doors and gently glide all over the barnyard! Their reasoning sounded pretty good. Since I didn’t weigh a hundred pounds soaking wet, they said, it would be a piece of cake. Just tie enough leaves on my arms, catch a good updraft, take a big jump, and away we go!

Remember, I said their reasoning sounded pretty good? Well, they didn’t count on this one thing – me turnin’ chicken at the last minute! That didn’t matter one iota to them. I wouldn’t jump, so they just shoved me. And, folks, I’m here to tell you, there was not even a hint of a breeze on the farm that Saturday morning, much less an updraft, as they called it.

You can just about guess what came next. There I am. Flat of my back, in the rock-hard barnyard, with the breath knocked out of me, starin’ up at the most beautiful blue sky I had ever seen. And there’s George and Ollie, standin’ in the open door of the barn loft, laughin’ their heads off! And then the sound of Daddy’s ol’ pulpwood truck pulling into the barnyard turned their laughter to horror.

Mother came to check on me to see if I was dead, while Daddy went after the two perpetrators of this barnyard crime. I think if he could have reached that high, he would have jerked them right out of the loft door. But he waited on the ground for them to climb down. Suffice it to say, the woodshed was open for business most of the rest of the day, and the lessons were many.

My two older brothers learned how costly it was for using almost half a new bale of Daddy’s hay-baling twine. And I learned my lesson well about believin’ everything they said. In fact, it was a long, long time before I would ever believe anything they said again. Barn lofts and airplanes won’t let me forget the anniversary of that Saturday morning!

But, let’s move on to rememberin’ good anniversaries. It was exactly fifty years ago to this very day that my future mill-hill bride and I were graduated from dear ol’ Seneca High School. I’m having a bit of a problem decidin’ if this should go in Category One or Category Two. On the one hand, it means I’m officially older than dirt.

But, on the other hand, there are two great reasons to remember this anniversary. Number one, my mill-hill bride. And number two, our senior English teacher, Miss Barron, who taught a shy farm boy that words are the keys to the world. So, although it’s been 50 years, let’s leave high school graduation firmly planted in Category Number One.

Back to Reason Number One above for pleasant memories of graduation. It was only three short years later that I took that mill-hill girl as my bride (I finally quit runnin’) and we moved on up, as they say, to the east side. To a thirty-five-dollar-a-month rental honeymoon mansion. Talk about livin’. This place had running hot and cold water, and a big ol’ oil space heater with a 55-gallon drum outside the window. No more cuttin’ and haulin’ firewood. Can somebody say Amen!

Now that I’ve cracked this walnut, here’s the meat of this message. This is Memorial Day Weekend, a time to celebrate and remember, an anniversary date to pay tribute to the valiant men and women who have served and are serving today to preserve and protect our way of life. And it’s especially important today to pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate price. All gave some and some gave all.

Just to see the rows and rows and rows of simple white crosses in our National Cemetery should produce a flood awe and respect in every American heart. There is no greater tribute than to honor their sacrifice. And may we never forget it.

And while we’re celebratin’ this Memorial Day, let’s also remember the sacrifice of the One who went to war all by Himself, conquered death, hell, and the grave, and reigns victorious today. I can hear Dennis Smith singing that solo right now, “He paid a debt He didn’t owe, because I had a debt I couldn’t pay.”

Jesus Christ proved that satan and his evil forces can be and will be defeated. And He has given all Christians everywhere the privilege of being foot soldiers in His army. It doesn’t take much research to look around us today at our world to come to the conclusion that God’s Army needs some more volunteers. If we sign up in His army, He’s promised great healing for our country (2 Chronicles 7: 14).

That great old gospel song written by Sabine Baring-Gould and set to music by Arthur S. Sullivan comes to mind right now. Sing out loud if you want to. Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before! Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; forward into battle, see His banner go!

This is just me, but maybe it’s time for some us to come off of reserve duty and enlist full time in His army. Wouldn’t that make this Memorial Day Weekend an anniversary to remember forever!

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HOW SWEET IT IS!

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

Back home on the farm at Route 4, Seneca, SC, we used to have a little song that we’d sing whenever we were thirsty. And, take my word for this, when you’re hoeing around the ‘maters and pole beans, a country boy could get real hot and dry and thirsty. I’ve seen times when I was so thirsty, I thought I could surely cough up a dust ball.

Of course, my thirsty-ness sometimes was due in large part to our water break being delayed due to a trip to the woodshed. And it’s a well know fact that the only kind of water ever found at the ‘shed’ comes from your eyes. And it’s a little salty when it runs down in your mouth.

Speaking of salt, I’ve never spent much time in the desert. Just workin’ in the fields during July and August under the scorchin’ South Carolina sun was hot enough for me. I do, however, remember promisin’ my mill-hill sweetheart that I’d walk bare-footed across the burning sands of the desert if she’d just go to the Fox Drive-In picture show with me.

But I’m headin’ down a side road. Back to the little song we used to sing. It went something like this. “If the ocean was Kool-Aid and I was a duck, I’d dive to the bottom, and drink it all up.” And just thinkin’ about that much Kool-Aid got us started on a little game of ‘I can do better than that!’

So Oliver would change the name of the refreshment to sweet ice tea. And then, I think it was Wade who changed it to Nehi Orange Crush belly-washers from the cold water drink box at Mr. Jim Stephens’ store. That boy always did have a vivid imagination. But all that singing, more like wailin,’ only did one thing. It just made us a hundred times thirstier than we were already.

And as soon as Daddy hollered, “Ok, boys, come and get it,” there would be a foot race to see who would get the dipper of cold well water first. We’d all be running lickety-split toward the well house, when just a few minutes before, we were so tired we couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. But, oh, how sweet it was to put that dipper to your lips.

Call me crazy, but I think about that dipper every time I read about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 15:22-27). And then I remember VBS at Return Baptist Church, and the picture of Moses and his people walking on dry ground between a wall of water on the left and another wall of water on the right. You know, God not only parted the Red Sea, He also dried up the mud for His people to walk on. Now, this is just an ol’ country boy talkin,’ but I think I would have cut out runnin’ lickety-split toward the other side.

But those Israelites, bless their hearts, as Mother would say, had very short memories. Only three days after God’s miracle at the Red Sea, they were out in the desert lookin’ for some water to drink. If God could hold back the sea and dry up the mud for them to escape, and He did, I just wonder if any of ‘em ever had the thought, “Hey, I’ll bet God could give us some water to drink.”

But the first water they came to in the desert had such a bitter taste, they couldn’t drink it. That brought out a bunch of mumblin’ and grumblin’ and belly-aching. So Moses said, “Lord, what am I going to do with them?” Right then and there, God showed Moses a piece of wood and told him to throw it in the water. Moses did what God told him to do, and guess what? That water became as sweet as a dipper of well water on a hot day.

Right here, I’d like to offer a couple of ‘what-ifs’ like my two grandsons used to come up with. What if ol’ white-beard Moses had said, “You want me to do what with that piece of wood?” Or what if the Israelites had questioned Moses’ water-purification process? I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if some of ‘em even thought the desert heat had touched the old boy in his head.

But Moses obeyed and because he did, the people got some sweet water to quench their thirst. And then the Lord led ‘em to a new camp site that had twelve springs and seventy palm trees. I think that was a great woodshed lesson for the Israelites. And for you and me.

There will always be some bitter times and some sweet times for us in life. But if He can part the sea of danger and dry up the mud of bitterness, He’s fully capable of providing you and me a dipper full of cold well water. And maybe, just maybe, He knows when life has turned a little bitter for us, and we’re in a desert of disappointment. What He wants us to know and understand is that, even in times of testing, if we trust and obey, He’ll lead us to our own ‘palm springs’ where He’s already drawn up a bucket full of refreshing water to turn the bitterness to sweetness.

That brings up another memory. We used to live in a little town called Thomson, Georgia, which happens to be where my new friends Jimmy and Anne Coxwell live, by the way. Before the interstates sent folks flyin’ down the road past all the small towns, everybody goin’ to Florida used to drive through Thomson. And on that main road through Thomson, there was a sign that said, “Sweetwater Baptist Church.”

I can’t say this for sure, but I’ll bet that back when that church was built, they knew some bitter times and some sweet times. But when it came time to put a name on God’s house, they chose to remember the ‘sweetwater’ times. As it is in life, the more bitter the desert, the sweeter the water tastes. And all He asks is that we listen to Him, do what’s right, and pay attention to what He says.

If we had just learned that lesson back home on the farm, our ‘water break’ would have come a lot sooner than we expected.

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PASS THE BISCUITS, PLEASE!

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

This young man was a very good waiter. While he waited patiently for us to decide what we wanted to drink, he must have been thinking, “Come on, folks, how hard can this be? It’s either tea or water.” But he didn’t say a word. Remember, I said he was a very good waiter.

It was what Damian said after we had made our hard choices over tea or water that elevated his waiter skills to a handsome tip level. “Folks, I’ll be back in just a minute with some hot rolls.” Now, you probably won’t ever see a little cross-stitch frame or inspirational plaque with these particular words.

But it was truly inspiring to see and hear what took place next. All conversations about the weather, politics, and religion ceased immediately when my Sunday School teacher, seated to my left, said to Paul across the table, “Paul, why don’t you go ahead and say the blessing so we’ll be ready to dig in when he comes back with those hot rolls?”

It was not a suggestion. A poll did not need to be conducted. A vote did not have to be taken. Heads bowed. Eyes closed. And the second that Paul said amen, there was Damian, standing there beside the table, as promised, with a basketful of those make-you-bite-your-tongue little rolls and honey butter.

Now, they’re only about the size of a banty hen egg, but you would have thought they were solid gold. That basket was empty before you could say, ‘pass the biscuits, please.’ I saw right away that my two friends named Wayne share much more than the same name. It gave a whole new definition to the term ‘breaking bread together.’ A couple of fingers could have been broken in that action.

As this warm and friendly scene was unfolding around our table, I was transported back down the dirt road of my memories to another table in another time. The kitchen table at the old farmhouse back home at Route 4, Seneca, SC, was also the scene of many near-misses. Just imagine about eight or ten hungry folks, all armed with forks, and all reaching for the last cat-head biscuit on the plate. The back of your hand would require medical attention if it got in the way of Daddy’s long arm, boardin’ house reach.

I say all that to bring up this question. Why is it that we’re so enticed with bread? Think about your favorite restaurant. Chances are that they serve some sort of bread to tempt your taste buds, either while you’re waitin’, or with the main course of your meal. Of course, back home on the farm, hot buttered corn bread was the main course almost every night at the supper table.

But just name any restaurant worth its gravy, and I could just about tell you what kind of bread they serve. My short list of favorites includes garlic and cheese biscuits, yeast rolls, Pumpernickel loaf on a little wooden slab, and soppin’-ready dinner rolls drowning in melted butter and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Any one of you could probably add many more to this list.

This is just me, but I think there’s something special about the aroma of freshly baked bread hot out of the oven. It sorta wraps around you like the feeling of an extra blanket on a cold winter night, if you know what I mean. And it goes a long way toward making you forget about being hungry. As a boy, I remember watching Mother’s hands covered with flour and buttermilk, mixing and kneading the dough, spreading it out with her rolling pin, cutting circles in the dough, and loading 35 of those circles onto her biscuit pan for baking in the old wood-burning cook stove. And when those golden brown delights came out of the oven and drove our hunger away, you could not convince me that it wasn’t a miracle.

Speaking of miracles, who can forget the story of that little boy’s lunch that Jesus used one day to satisfy the hunger of five thousand men, plus the women and children who were there (Mark 6:38-43). I love that story every time I read it. Having carried my lunch to school that Mother fixed and packed in a Dixie Crystals sugar sack, I think the miracle of a mother’s love was in that boy’s lunch pail that day along with the five little loaves of barley bread and two fish. She had probably taught him that it was nice to share. And maybe that’s why he didn’t mind when the disciples asked him if they could borrow his lunch.

Pardon me, but I feel the urge to chase a rabbit down a side road right here. I’ve often wondered what that boy told his mother when he got home. Did he say, “Mom, you’re not going to believe this, but I met a man today who used my lunch and fed about a zillion people. And guess what, Mom, when everybody had all they wanted, these men came around through the crowd and picked up a dozen basketfuls of leftovers.” And did his mother just smile at the wild imagination of her little country boy?

Back to the main road. There are many, many kinds of bread that can satisfy the hunger of our stomachs – for a little while – and then we’re hungry again. But there’s only one kind of bread that can permanently satisfy the hunger of our hearts. It’s called the Bread of Life (John 6:35). It never spoils. It’s never stale. It never goes out of date. And when you accept it, you’ll never be hungry again. Therein lies the miracle.

Lord Jesus, give us this day our daily bread. Amen.

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QUIET, PLEASE!

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

I’ve seen and heard about some strange things that grown men do while frailin’ away at a little round ball with a long stick. Things like twisting their bodies into something resembling a pretzel trying to coax that little white ball into that little round hole. Jumping into the air and falling flat on their face seem to be a couple of other favorite moves.

Or making a whirly-bird out of the stick they’ve just used when the little round ball found its way to the creek or down behind a big pine tree in the woods. Reminds me of the story about the guy who said he gave up golf because he spent so much time in the woods and the water that he came up with an 8-point buck and a 6-pound bass.

On occasion I have even felt some of that frustration. Like trying to knock that little white ball through the turning windmill. With no sense of timing on my part, the turning blades of the windmill just kept knocking my ball back to where I started. Then after seven tries to hit it through the windmill with no luck at all, they told me I had to pick up my little white ball and move on to the next hole. And that’s where I gave up golf. I could’ve sworn that the alligator statue closed his jaws every time I hit a ball close to him.

But I should have known better, anyway. I had the same kind of ‘skills’ when it came to playing stick-ball back home at Route 4, Seneca, SC. As farm boys growing up in the fifties, there were no fancy little dimpled white balls to hit. Or fancy metal titanium golf clubs with those fancy socks on the end of ‘em. We just had rocks and sticks. Except one time, we found an old baseball with the hide already knocked off. Wasn’t long before it was just a mess of unraveled string. And then it was back to rocks. And our clubs were tree limbs of varying degrees of straightness.

Put the two together and you just never knew where the ball (rock) was going or where it would land. And that fact was the cause of one of my most memorable woodshed experiences. Ate off the mantel board for about two weeks while the backside was healing. But with short britches and brogans as my golf attire, I made up my mind that I would out-drive my older brothers, George and Ollie, and give Wade, Eddie and Wendell something to shoot for.

Long story short. I swung that crooked tree limb with every ounce of strength my 98-pound weakling body could muster. And I set a record for the longest-drive. That ball (rock) curved around the cow tree and headed straight for the back door of the old farmhouse. Now, you have to get this picture. Like many others of that era, our old farmhouse had a heavy wooden door on the kitchen side of the back porch. It stayed open most of the time during warm weather.

And then there was the screen door, the only ‘air conditioner’ that we ever knew. And, without a screen door, the flies would tote off every left over piece of cornbread or cathead biscuit they could find. Can you guess where my longest-drive, record-producing shot landed? Yep, you’re right. Smack-dab in the middle of that screen door.

I can still see Mother standing there in the kitchen, her face outlined by the hole in the screen door that looked to me like it was as big as a watermelon. And in her hand she held my longest-drive, record-producing ball (rock). She knew the answer before she ever asked, “Who did this?” The look of absolute terror on my face, and the giggles of my brothers behind me were dead giveaways. They didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘quiet.’

That scene came flooding back down the dirt road of my memories the other day while watching a golf tournament on television. One of the players had taken what seemed like an hour and lined up his shot just like he wanted it. And then while he was standing over it, I saw one of the tournament officials hold up a sign that literally screamed “QUIET, PLEASE!” Even the announcers on television were whispering. What I would’ve given for one of those signs back home on the farm!

This world we live in these days is such a noisy place. What with planes and trains and automobiles and machines of all kinds, it can be just almost impossible to find a quiet place. We’re light-years removed from the old front porch back home on the farm where sometimes about dark-thirty, the only sound you heard was the symphony of the tree-frogs and katy-dids.

And it’s not just the external noise that we must contend with in today’s world. How about the internal noises in our heads and hearts? Sometimes the roar can be deafening from job responsibilities, marriages, children’s activities, civic and volunteer duties, earthquakes, floods, tornados and all the other demands on our time and energy. It leaves many folks these days searchin’ for something called ‘me time.’

In times like these, you ask, where can we find that sign that says, “quiet, please?” Is it even possible to silence the roars, both external and internal? Thank you for asking. Here’s your sign. It’s found in Psalm 46:10. God is holding up the sign for our tournament called life. And, like the sign at the golf course, I believe there are serious consequences if we don’t follow its commands.

The Lord’s first command here is the simplest but hardest thing in the world for many of us. “Be still,” He says. In our rush to nowhere, just stopping and being still and quiet for a few minutes is a wonderful medicine for what ails us. It is in those still and quiet moments that He can help us understand the second part of His sign, “and know that I am God.” No matter how noisy or how busy we get, He’s still in charge. He created the world. Nothing that happens surprises Him. That’s an invitation and a guarantee that, whatever happens, we can trust Him.

But, as someone asked the other day, how can you be still in the world we live in today? I know you’re not supposed to answer a question with another question, but my response was this. Do you have a quiet time? The other person replied, do you mean a ‘me time?’ And I said, “No, I mean a me-and-God time.”

I find that a quiet time in the early morning hours can be the most spiritually refreshing time of my day. The whole house is silent save for the ticking of the clock. The only light in the house is from my desk lamp. I begin with prayer that includes thanksgiving, intercessory, and personal. If you’re an old farm boy like me that needs help remembering, I just have T-I-P written on a sticky note on my prayer journal.

After prayer comes a time of Bible study. That’s when God talks and I listen. Now, I realize that you might not think I learned much while I was growing up, but if you don’t remember anything else, remember this. God has a woodshed, too. And just like the farm boy back home, I have two choices. Be obedient or head for the ‘shed.’

In the grown-up life, I think that translates to this equation. No spiritually refreshing quiet time equals woodshed suffering time. That’s where we get introduced to things like worry, weary, and worn-out. In your rush down the super expressway of life, could you have missed God’s sign somewhere along the way? If so, it’s not too late to turn around and read it. He’s still saying, “Be still, and know that I am God.” And once you get started, your quiet time will turn into a spiritual swap shop. You give God your cares and He gives you His peace.

Me-and-Him time. As my pastor says, not good English, but good theology.

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HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

Writer’s Note:
Originally posted on Mother’s Day, 2010, this is dedicated to the honor and memory of my mother, Mrs. Iva Belle Martin and Helen’s mother, Mrs. Marie Carter. It’s a double celebration weekend for Helen’s Mom. Not only is it Mother’s Day (how I miss those warm pound cakes just out of the oven!), but it’s also the first time in 19 years that Helen’s Mom and Dad are celebrating their wedding anniversary together today. They were re-united yesterday when Helen’s Dad, Gus Carter, threw off the shackles of this earthly life and re-joined his wife of 72 years.
This Mother’s Day card is also dedicated to the honor and memory of godly mothers everywhere, those mortal lighthouses that God put in all our paths with their beacon lights shining bright to show us the way home.
Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord (Psalm 150:6).

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

You never learned to drive a car, but you were so proud when we did. You never took a trip on an airplane to far away places. You never went online and surfed the world wide web, but you taught us that we could go anywhere and do anything we wanted to do.
You never went over fifty miles from home; in fact, the only times you were not at home were when you went to the grocery store, or took us to church.

You never had a microwave oven, but you bore, reared, and raised nine children on cornbread and cathead biscuits cooked in a wood-burning stove. You made sure that we never went hungry, but you taught us to always be hungry to learn.

You spent almost seven years of your life being pregnant, but not once did we ever hear you complain. Your health care plan covered one hundred percent of our aches and pains, splinters and scratches, stumped toes and skinned knees. Without a co-pay or an HMO.

You picked cotton and tobacco; you hoed the beans and corn and maters; and you taught us that hard work hardly ever killed anybody.

You never had to remember your user name or password, but you taught us that a good name was a treasure. You never knew about sending a text, but when you had something to say, we got the message loud and clear.

You were never gave a presentation in front of an audience, but the front porch was your stage where we heard the greatest Message the world has ever known as you rocked us to sleep singing Amazing Grace and Jesus Loves Me.

You never tweeted or had your face put in a book; with your life, you just taught the Good Book and why it’s important to have our name in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 21:27).

You’ve moved from the dirt road to the streets of gold, so I imagine you’ll just spend the day worshipping and praising the Lord. And visiting all your brothers and sisters like we used to do down here at the family reunions. And while you’re visiting, please say hello to Marie, Helen’s Mom, and tell her we both said Happy Mother’s Day!

It’s Mother’s Day in Heaven, and although you didn’t have to get a bunch of country boys and girls up and ready for church, I‘m pretty sure that George, Oliver, and Eddie are giving you Mother’s Day hugs in person today.

The rest of your boys and girls send their love today in this knee-mail!

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