Archive for June, 2011

FATHER’S DAY

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

Some jokester had changed a couple of letters on the church sign advertising the Father’s Day message. Originally it was an invitation that read, “Join us this Sunday to honor your father.” With the wit’s (or maybe half-wit) change, it read, “Join us this Sunday to humor your father.”

That thought was hanging on a mental nail in the back of my mind during worship service Sunday morning when our pastor, Bro. David, said, “OK, all you fathers stand up.” And, all over the sanctuary we stood to our feet to a smattering of applause from the congregation. This is just me, but I conjured (is that a word?) up in my mind a picture of a gob of daddies all over Heaven standing to their feet, clapping, and cheering. Some of ‘em might have been just a little pleasantly surprised, some shocked, and others overjoyed at seeing their boys and girls in church on the day set aside to honor (not humor) our fathers.

I saw a headline the other day about religious freedom that made me hop aboard the dirt-road shuttle bus back home to the farm at Route 4, Seneca, SC. The headline said, “Judge allows girl to wear nose ring to school.” My hand on the Bible. The story said that a young girl, just a freshman in high school, was given the okay by a judge to wear her nose ring to school as long as she belonged to, get this, ‘The Church of Body Modification,’ as she claimed in her defense.

Quicker than a gnat can blink his eyes, questions started popping up in my mind like popcorn over a hot fire. How did this become a court case? What about that judge’s daddy? What about the little girl’s daddy? Why did the judge even allow that to be called a church? Listen, there aren’t many guarantees in this world. But here’s one. If one of my Daddy and Mother’s ‘divine nine’ showed up in their presence wearing a ring in his or her nose, or any other part of their anatomy for which a ring was not suited, there would have been some serious ‘body modifications’ taking place.

Religious freedom, you say? Not where I came from. For instance, there was never a question on any Sunday as to whether or not we were going to Sunday School and preachin’ at Return Baptist Church. And even though we could have out-voted Daddy if he had put it to a vote, his vote was the only one that counted. Just like the Ten Commandments, life at Route 4 had a lot more don’ts than do’s. But the one ‘do’ that got us into more trouble for trying to avoid it, than all the don’ts put together, was trying to lay out of church.

And even that sounded like a don’t to a bunch of farm boys. The first words that I can consciously remember every Sunday morning were, “Get up, boy, don’t lay there asleep and make us late for church if you know what’s good for you.” For a long time, I thought it was one of the Original Ten that Moses brought back down from Mount Sinai.

On second thought, maybe we did have religious freedom. We were free to do what Daddy said. Or we could miss Mother’s fried chicken Sunday dinner while we were ‘freely’ attending preachin’ at the woodshed. Right about here I need to make a confession. Maybe the church sign was right. In all likelihood, there were many times that we kept our mouths shut and went to church just to humor Daddy.

I have this on pretty good authority (Romans 3:23), there are no perfect daddies. Not 60 years ago and not now, either. Mine wasn’t, and there’s a pretty good chance that yours wasn’t either. But if he made sure you were more than an occasional holiday visitor to the House of the Perfect Father, you ought to stop right here and breathe a prayer of thanksgiving.

Likewise, my second ‘Daddy,’ the father of my mill-hill bride, knew that Utica Baptist Church was (and still is) a filling station for people runnin’ on empty. He made sure that she and her brother would never have to raise their hands when the ushers passed out the visitor’s cards. And the fact that both of them today are very active and involved in their respective churches is right in line with one of the do’s that God wrote on Moses’ tablets that involved daddies and mommas, too (Exodus 20:12). In fulfillment of that commandment, both sister and brother honor their parents with the red-letter words of Jesus found in Acts 20:35. They will literally give you their shirt if you need it. Because that’s how their Daddy and Momma lived.

I can clearly remember walking to their house and being given the keys to her Daddy’s ’57 Desoto to go see their daughter who was away at college, and with whom this skinny farm boy was smitten. Being accustomed to my Daddy’s pulpwood truck and its ‘stick in the floor,’ I was in awe of this Desoto’s push-button-on-the-dash gear shift. That car was big enough to have its own area code. And it had fins that would make any shark proud.

But I was always proud to drive it, ‘cause I just didn’t think my mill-hill sweetheart would have climbed up in that ol’ pulpwood truck looking all beautiful in her madras blouse, white slacks, and Bass Weejun penny loafers. But after returning that ‘limousine’ to her Daddy’s driveway and walking back to our house, my Daddy would ask me if I put a dollar’s worth of gas in that Desoto’s tank to show my appreciation to her Daddy.

Honor thy Father and Mother. Just one of many lessons a boy can learn when he doesn’t have religious freedom.

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BOOT CAMP

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention, please?’ That handful of words caused a major mental meltdown when I heard them the other day. It was like a 40-car pileup in the morning fog on a busy interstate highway. And it sent my ol’ pickup truck mind reeling out of control down that dirt road again to Route 4, Seneca, SC.

For the first twenty years or so of my life, I can never remember Daddy asking us if he could have our attention when he had something to say to us. It was more like a drill instructor shoutin’ “Ten-Hut” in a raw recruit’s ear. And if we knew what was good for us, we learned to snap to attention, at least mentally, when D.I. Daddy said, “Boy, did you hear what I just said?” I knew it was one of those questions that did not require an answer, nor did he expect to hear any comment coming out of our mouths.

If we said anything, it should only have been ‘yes, sir.’ But sometimes it took several trips to the woodshed before a bunch of farm boys would believe that cow horns hook. On one such occasion, I don’t remember if it was Ollie or Wade. But whichever one it was let the devil jump up on his shoulder and whisper in his ear. I just remember that what came out of his mouth made the W-H-O-F (Woodshed Hall of Fame)!

‘No, sir, I didn’t hear what you said ‘cause I’m now deaf in one ear from all your hollerin’. Could you run that by me again?’ After I could breathe normally, I knew one of two things was fixin’ to happen. Either the rapture or a rupture. And I’ll bet you know right now what got ruptured. That boy ate at the mantle board for a month. And to this day, we’ve never talked a lot about it.

In basic training, drill sergeants expect and demand complete attention for about 16 weeks or so. And it’s all for the good of the ‘greenie.’ His life may someday depend on that training and how closely he paid attention. Growing up on a farm in the 50’s is a lot like basic training. Except it lasts a lot longer. Can you just imagine what would happen if DI’s and Daddies shouted their orders and some young buck replies, ‘OK, I’ll get around to that after a while?’

Have you ever stopped to consider that our military can produce a finished product in just a few weeks with undivided attention and complete obedience to every command? What kind of results could be achieved by God’s Army if we gave Him the same kind of attention and obedience? But God is patient with His new recruits. DI’s are persistent. God wants everyone to graduate from basic training. DI’s just want to get the job done as quickly as possible. Could it be that basic training for God’s Army lasts a lifetime because we have trouble hearing and obeying His commands?

The children of Israel were in boot camp all their life. And they never graduated. They never got to see the Promised Land because they had trouble paying attention and following God’s orders. This is just me, but I’m wondering – what’s the purpose of spending your whole life in basic training if you’re not planning to graduate to the Promised Land? Instead, they just wandered around in the wilderness for 40 years like a blind billy goat. Let’s just imagine for a minute how differently things might have turned out for them if Moses had had just a little DI in him.

The first word in Deuteronomy 6:4 is ‘hear.’ What if Moses had said, “Alright, you bunch of jug-heads. Listen up! I’m fixin’ to put into your empty heads the greatest command that’s ever been or ever will be heard. And if you don’t want to be a permanent potato peeler, you’d better clean the wax out of your ears and pay attention.”

Well, we all know that Moses went on, in Deut. 6:5, to give the Israelites what Jesus called the greatest commandment. And that is to love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and will all your strength. If they had been truly listening, that little three-letter word, appropriately applied to their lives, would have led them to graduation from boot camp. And into God’s Promised Land.

And that brings up several questions that I have to face every day. Am I just hearing or am I really listening to, and hanging on every word, and trying my best to obey God’s commands. Am I giving it my all every day while I’m in basic training as a soldier in God’s army? You know, it really does last a lifetime. But, at the end of that boot camp, if we’ve been good soldiers, we have the promise of a promotion to full-time, active duty with the one and only Commander-in-Chief. Oh, what a ceremony that will be. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

To do otherwise would risk being assigned to eternal KP duty where the heat never lets up.

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IT’S VACATION TIME!

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

It’s that time of the year again. The signs are everywhere. No, I’m not talking about the stores being filled with kids in the morning hours when we chronologically- challenged citizens (old folks!) like to get our shopping done. That’s a sure sign that school is out for the summer. And speaking of summer time, how can it not be ‘official’ when the ol’ thermometer hanging on the back porch hovers close to triple digits?

Yep, you guessed it. It’s vacation time. Tell tale signs are empty pews at church. And travel trailers being drug up and down our highways with a couple of bicycles tied to the back bumper. And the pickups pullin’ ‘em are runnin’ hot, and gettin’ about 4 miles to each four-dollar gallon of gas. It seems like vacation is all folks are talking about these days as they head to the mountains to camp beside a cool creek. Or to the beach to walk across the blister-burnin’ sand to sink their toes in the salt water of the ocean. I once saw a guy on the beach wearin’ combat boots and knee socks with his Ber-moody shorts, and Hawaiian pineapple shirt. Probably the smartest guy out there!

But, hey, it’s vacation time. It’s what we work 50 weeks for during the year. And dad-gummit, it don’t matter if it’s 108 degrees in the shade during our pre-determined week off, we’re going on vacation! So pack up the sun block and beach towels and flip-flops. Throw the lawn chairs, the charcoal, and the grill in the back of the pickup. We’re hittin’ the road.

Take our long-time friends, the Alewines, for example. Last night, my mill-hill bride punches speed dial on her cell phone, and, to her amazement, Julie answers on the first ring. Mill hill and cell phone – sounds like a contradiction – just sayin’. Before I slide off into a ditch of trouble on that side road, let me move on. Anyway, my MHB asks Julie if she and Jim would like to join us for some cornbread and milk, or other equally delicious supper that you don’t order while shoutin’ at a squawk box, and get it shoved out the window to you after you drive around to the first window.

Declining our offer of supper time fellowship, Julie surmised that it would be mostly impossible since, at that very moment, they were 23 miles from Panama City, Florida. Which was about 700 miles, give or take a few, from where my MHB had punched her speed dial. We should have known. It’s vacation time. The Alewines, like millions of other people, have hit the open road.

Funny how a couple of words can trigger a flood of memories. Or, in my case, not even a trickle. When I try to connect vacation time with growing up back home at Route 4, Seneca, SC, my memory projector shows only a white light on the wall. Nil. Nada. Nothing. There are no slides in the memory carousel about vacation time because there was no such thing.

Can you just imagine loadin’ up a family of twelve, in and on Daddy’s pulpwood truck and headin’ for the beach or the mountains? Or to the amusement park to see a couple of over-sized mouses, a flop-eared dog, and their silly friend? Let’s get real here, folks. Just how goofy can you get? Summer time on the farm meant three things – work, work, and more work! Hoeing the garden, plowin’ the corn, picking the maters, squash, and cutting the dreaded okra. Vacation? Unheard of. Except one place. Church.

It was the only vacation time, the only non-working time, we ever knew. A couple of hours in the morning for a week, and usually the first week that school was out for the summer. Oh, how I loved Vacation Bible School. Probably for the wrong reason, at first, just because it got us out of work for a little while.

I especially liked our VBS recess at Return Baptist Church. Chocolate chip cookies and grape Kool-Aid were my favorites. Nothing like that back home on the farm. And that’s why I almost got expelled from VBS one time for stuffing a couple of extra chocolate chips in the pockets of my short britches. But I repented. And they forgave me. After I promised Carl’s daddy, Preacher S. T. Dickson, that I would memorize the Ten Commandments.

But in a world goin’ downhill with the pedal to the metal, I think there are just too many distractions in today’s world for kids. And mommas and daddies, too. This is just me, but I believe there’s so much competition for our time these days that the folks who run VBS have started coming up with themes to get kids’ attention. One time it was a jungle theme. And then there was an out-of-this-world space trip theme for VBS. And one year VBS was even about the ever-popular amusement park.

This year I’ve seen VBS signs all over the place about something called Panda-mania. I have no idea what that’s all about. Don’t get me wrong. Get the kids to VBS any way you can. Promise ‘em double chocolate chip cookies and all the grape Kool-Aid their little tummies can hold. Just get ‘em there. And then start filling their little heads and hearts with stories and songs and the afore-mentioned Commandments.

In fact, God listed those commands in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy. And then in Deut. 6:7, He told Moses to tell the Israelites (and us) to impress them on your children. He goes on to give us strict orders – you know that’s what impress means – to talk about them when we sittin’ around the house, and when we’re walking down the road. Of course, nobody walks down the road anymore, so I think it would be okay if we talk about God’s Rules with our kids while we’re riding down the road on vacation.

That means turning off the X-Y-Z boxes, the Ipods, the satellite radios, and the portable DVD movie players. He also mentions two other good times. When we go to bed at night and when we get up in the morning. I just wonder how many kids these days have been taught to say their prayers when they go to bed. And what if every child memorized Psalm 118:24, and said it out loud when they get up every morning. But Hold on. You let me get started down another side road. Back to the main road.

I can’t remember what I did with my glasses that I had an hour ago. But I shall not soon forget the impression that Vacation Bible School, and the teachers and workers, made on a skinny, country boy in short britches. Everybody’s in a hurry these days, so they just call them shorts. VBS always started the same way every morning. Attention. Salute. Pledge. To the American flag, to the Christian flag, and to God’s Holy Word.

And then it was into some wonderful stories from His Word. It was in VBS that I first learned about a little bitty, short guy named Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-6). In fact, little Zack was so short he couldn’t see over the crowd. So he had to climb up in a sycamore tree so he could see this man called Jesus who had just healed a blind man in Zach’s home town of Jericho. Well, lo and behold, Jesus saw little Zack ‘up a tree’ and told him to ‘come down right now ‘cause He was going home with Zach for supper.’

I was spell-bound by that story because I had climbed up in the chinaberry tree in our front yard many times. Trying to see past the end of that dirt road, I guess, or maybe it was trying to see the hungry kids in India that were the reason I was supposed to be thankful for my suppertime cornbread and milk. And many times Mother would step out on the front porch and say, “Come down out of that tree right now, wash your hands, and come to supper.” I don’t climb up any chinaberry trees anymore, but I am still thankful for suppertime cornbread and milk. And for the way my VBS teachers told that story from God’s Holy Word.

I can’t begin to count the number of times in the past 60 years or so that life has had me ‘up a tree,’ so to speak. And this man called Jesus would say, ‘Boy, come down out of that tree. I’d like to come to your house if you’ll let me.” Maybe you’ve had some of those ‘up a tree’ times in your life. If so, maybe you ought to testify. I think everybody at the woodshed would love to hear you praise the Lord for them. If you haven’t ever spent any time up a tree, praise the Lord for that, too. Either way, the woodshed is a great place to praise Him.

There were, and are, many other great stories being taught at VBS. Like the one where Joseph was not very popular with his brothers, so they sold him to some slave traders passing through town. When I came home from VBS and told that story, Daddy had a stiff warning for my brothers not to get any ideas!

Or how ‘bout the baby boy named Moses who started life as a basket case. In my farm boy’s mind, I could just see that basket floatin’ down Coneross Creek past our swimmin’ (skinny dippin’) hole. And then Moses grew up to be chosen by God to lead His people to the Promised Land.

After God chose him, Moses picked two guys named Caleb and Joshua, and sent them, along with some other guys, to scout out the land flowing with milk and honey that God had promised to give to His people. IF they would just listen to Him and obey His rules. But they wouldn’t listen and wound up in God’s woodshed many times. See how fascinated I was by all this? Anyhow, in the Promised Land, they found some grapes that were so BIG that it took two men to carry one bunch of them on a pole (Numbers 13:23). Wow! Maybe it was just me being a farm boy, but I had never seen any grapes that big.

And one of my Top Ten, All-Time Favorite VBS stories is about a little shepherd boy named David (probably wearing short britches, how do you know he wasn’t?) who had a bulls-eye, deadly aim with his slingshot. You just had to grow up on a farm to know how important a slingshot was in a boy’s life. Then you’d know how this VBS story caught and held my attention. I went home that day from VBS and started practicing with my slingshot. However, 99.9 percent of the birds and squirrels on the farm survived my practice. And actually made fun of me. So I switched over to tin cans setting still on the pasture fence.

Then, after VBS recess (cookies and Kool-Aid), it was song time. I never was very good at memorizing words to songs. But these VBS songs came alive in a country boy’s heart and still remain in his memory even now. It’s okay if you sing along with me as you read this.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so; little ones to Him belong, they are weak, but He is strong.

The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me; I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E. (I think Ralph Nix and I had to stay in after Bible School one day for trying to mess up the other kids while they were trying to sing and spell at the same time!)

And this one makes my Top Ten, All-Time Favorite VBS songs. Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the Cross, lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss. It was so much fun to sing that one in VBS ‘cause we’d get to stand up and sit right back down every time we sang those words. Of course, I won’t mention any names, to protect the guilty, but some of us tried to see how high we could jump, instead of just standing up!

Back to Deuteronomy 6:7 – ‘Impress them on your children.’ Boldly and unashamedly, I still say Vacation Bible School is the still the best method available to Mommas and Daddies, even in our world today, to impress upon little boys and girls the life-changing power of following God’s rules.

This is dedicated today to all VBS teachers and workers who could be doing many other things during the first couple of weeks of summer time. But you chose to make a difference – a generational impact – for God’s Kingdom here on earth. Who knows but when there just might be a country boy or girl, or two or three, who’ll still be talking sixty years from now about what you taught them in Vacation Bible School.

And may you be blessed with a Lazy-Boy recliner on the front row of Heaven while Jesus serves you cookies and Kool-Aid.

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GET RIGHT OR GET LEFT!

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

The discussion down at the woodshed recently has been about directions. More specifically, are you a good direction hearer? That’s right, I said hearer, not giver. In other words, do you hear directions as well as someone gives them? Case in point. My friend, Tommy Day, gave me some great directions the other day. No pun intended, by the way.

Tommy pointed me to the road I needed to be on. And he said, “Just go straight through two 4-way stops, turn right, go one mile, and take the first left.” Real simple instructions, right? Any third grader could understand those directions, even if he didn’t have a smart phone. Well, it wasn’t that simple. Nothing wrong with Tommy’s directions, mind you. They were great. The problem came with the hearer of those great directions.

A simple question from my mill-hill bride in the navigator’s seat made me start wondering if I, indeed, had heard the directions correctly. Did Tommy say two 4-way stops, or did he say four 2-way stops? Was it turn left, go two miles, and take the first road on the right? Rights and lefts can be so confusing. In situations like these, there are two other questions that I’ve never liked to hear from the navigator’s seat. Are we there yet? And, Are we lost? But these days, there’s now a new statement from the co-pilot that follows those two questions – “If we just had a GPS, this wouldn’t happen.” Yeah, right! Like I need another woman tellin’ me where to go.

Excuse me, but I just have to run down this side road for a little ways. I learned early on that giving directions was not a strong necessity for growing up on the mill hill. After all, you had the main drag, Goddard Avenue. That was all you needed to remember. Everything else connected to Goddard somewhere or somehow. No need to get good at giving or hearing directions. Or so I thought.

Reminds me of the time many years ago that we were headin’ back home to our honeymoon cottage in the hills of South Carolina. It was late in the day and my new bride from Goddard Avenue was providing the directions. When she was finished, it was dark. That means nap time. A couple of hours later, I began to suspect something was amiss in her direction-giving when a sign appeared in my headlights that said, Welcome to North Carolina.

Of course, I have no reason to brag. Back home at Route 4, Seneca, South Carolina, there was only one direction that you needed to give or to hear. Once again, real simple. To get to our farm, you only had to remember one thing. Take the first dirt road past Return Baptist Church and go to the end of it. If you showed up at our house, you were coming to see us. Or you were lost. Either way, when you left, all you had to do was just turn around and head back up that same dirt road to the tar and gravel highway. Speaking of which, I need to get back to the main road right now.

All this talk about rights and lefts and finding your way and following good directions started gatherin’ in the back of my frontal lobe the other day like a dust cloud behind your pickup on a dirt road. When you stop, it’s all over you. So, excuse me, but I’m just tryin’ to wash it all off. The first little dust ball jumped up when I read something written by another mill-hill wonder child.

You know that book where you put your face and then you write something beside your face that you hope a lot of people read? And I’m not saying it’s wrong to write stuff by your face in the book. Down here at the shed, we hope people all over the world read about the woodshed and get a blessing that makes their toes tingle.

Another side road, please. Most of the time, we’re the ones gettin’ the blessing just writing about the shed. That happened again the other day. My toes are tinglin’ right now just trying to tell you about it. One of our nation’s many heroes, a young Army man by the name of Andy Robinson, just back from serving our country, told me that he had read the Woodshed about his granddad, Jake Robinson, while he was in Iraq. God used this thing called the internet to take something from home and carry it to a young man on the other side of the world. That just makes goose-bumps run up and down my back. I believe even my goose-bumps have their own goose-bumps.

But, back to what I read beside the face of Mill-Hill Phil. You probably know him as Phil Burgess. I almost fell on my three-legged milkin’ stool when I read what Mill-Hill Phil wrote in the electronic book beside his face. I don’t know if he had been out in the heat too long or what. Maybe Jennie needs to check his temperature. Anyway, here’s what Mill-Hill Phil wrote beside his face about playin’ hide and seek with his grandchildren. And I quote – “a scavenger hunt where you use your android phone implementing global positioning technology.”

I’ve fried a couple of boards on my main frame just tryin’ to figure out what in the name of Sam Hill that Mill-Hill Phil was talkin’ about. You mean to tell me that if he hides behind the barn while his grands count to ten, they don’t have to spend the next hour lookin’ for him? Somebody told me that all they have to do is type in Mill-Hill Phil on some kind of gadget, and a picture pops up on a tiny screen showin’ them exactly where M-H Phil is hidin’. What in the world is this world coming to?

To make matters worse, my mental hard drive achieved total burn out when M-H Phil’s boyhood buddy, James Carter, told me how his GPS had saved his life. The way I heard it, and you know how I am about hearin’ things, but it seems that James, the mill-hill brother of my mill-hill bride, had a flat tire while he and Ann were draggin’ their worldly possessions up and down the road in a fancy wagon hooked to the back of their truck. Oh, no, you think. A flat tire. And we’re many miles from home. No problem, according to Mill-Hill James. Just whip out the ol’ GPS, punch in “Wally-World,” and, voila! There’s one right up the road from them.

And you’re just not gonna believe this. After M-H James got his flat tire fixed, Ann said she just punched in the word ‘home,’ and this thing in her hand showed her a picture and gave her directions about the best way to go home. No rememberin’ all those rights and lefts and detours and road construction and heavy traffic and all that stuff. Just listen to that ‘woman in the box.’

I sure am glad I don’t need a GPS to find my way home. My Heavenly home, that is. But wait. Come to think of it, I actually do have one. It’s called God’s Positioning System, the Holy Bible. It’s a book in which Jesus has written simple and exact directions for us all to follow while we try to find our way as we travel this road called life. In fact, the first people who followed His directions were called followers of the Way.

Take a minute and read Proverbs 22:6 in God’s Positioning System. It talks about training children in the way they should go, and when they get old they won’t forget it. Then, to nail it down, turn over to the book of John, chapter 14, verses 1-6. Jesus was gettin’ ready to go away. He told His disciples that if they had been listening to His directions, they knew where He was going.

And then ol’ Thomas started doubtin’ what he had heard. That’s how he got his nickname. He didn’t even remember where Jesus was going, much less how he and his buddies could find their way. But don’t be too hard on Doubtin’ Thomas. He was a lot like many of us today. Where are we going? And which road do we take? How many rights or how many lefts? And what about the potholes? What if the road is under construction or the bridge is out? After all, he didn’t have one of these fancy GPS boxes to help him when he was lost. But he did have the words of Jesus in verse 6, “I am the way.” Not a way, but THE way.

And that’s all Thomas, or any one of us, ever need to find our way home.

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