Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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