Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Raise your hand if you remember when we used to have two tags on our cars. Yes, I see those hands. Thank you. When the state went to the one license plate system, it gave us the freedom to express ourselves. On our front bumpers. Come to think of it, some folks even do that on the official tag on their rear bumper with personalized plates. But they cost extra. And what you’re willing to pay for says a lot about who you are. But that’s a story for another day. We’ll get to the rear bumper another day, but today it’s the front tag.

I like readin’ those things. Some are funny, even downright hysterical. I remember seeing one on the front of a pickup truck that said “I Love G.R.I.T.S.” And I thought, gotta get me one of those! Back home on the farm in the 50’s, we’d have an AYCE Breakfast Bar when Daddy brought home a new 50-pound bag of grits. Those were real grits, not the flavored, individual packs of pop-‘em-in-the-microwave-for-2-minutes kind that we get at the grocery store today with the smilin’ Quaker man on the front of the box.

Oh, no, the real cooked grits would stick to your ribs for most of the day if you had all you can eat. Especially if you threw in a slab of hoop cheese and a spoonful of sugar that doesn’t come in a pink or yellow or blue pack.

But that front tag wasn’t talking about filling up a farm boy’s tummy on a cold winter morning. When I got close enough to real the fine print, it said Girls Raised In The South. And when the pickup passed by, I just had to grin and giggle when I saw the real tag. It was from New York!

Yep, we see all kinds of things on those ‘I red-heart’ tags. Some say I love my truck. And that one was on a VW. Others say I love horses. Or I love cats. Or I love my wife. That’s a good one! I even saw one that said I love my husband. But it was on a bumper sticker on the rear bumper instead of the front. Whoa, buddy. I’m not going down that dirt road!

And there was one that said “I Love Jesus.” It was on the front of the car driven by the lady who sat down on her horn and shook her fist at me when I accidentally pulled out in front of her! I hope there wasn’t a tape recorder runnin’ in her car ‘cause I saw her lips movin’. And I don’t think she was tellin’ me to have a nice day!

We all need to be careful about what kind of tag we have on our front bumper for the whole world to see, don’t you think? And more importantly, what kind of lives we lead for the world to see. Let’s play a little game of what if. When you’re drivin’ down the road today, consider this question. What if they passed a law that every car on the road had to have one of those on-board video cameras like the police have? But, instead of pointing out in front of the car, what if our cameras were focused on the driver’s seat? Would we win a guest appearance on Candid Camera? Or would they use our video as a training film on how to handle road rage?

But amidst all the hullabaloo (my spellchecker is so old, it remembers hullabaloo!) out there in the world today, we take one day a year and just go absolutely ga-ga over love. You guessed it. It’s Valentine’s Day. A lot of people scream, holler, cuss, and pitch fits on their loved ones for 364 days a year. And try to make up for it on one day a year. Hello! What’s wrong with this picture? It’s almost like we’re saying ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. ‘Cause tomorrow I’ll go back to treatin’ you like dirt.’ 

Scientific research (whatever that means!) has come up with some mind-blowing numbers about how much we spend to put band-aids on our guilty consciences. And what we spend it on. It’s estimated that we’ll spend an unbelievable $14.1 BILLION this year on our little honey buns, sweetie pies, sugar dumplin’s, and love muffins. And while I’m on my stump, why do most terms of endearment sound like something that will stop up my arteries and cause my cholesterol to shoot off the chart?

And what are these staggerin’ amounts of money spent on? Yep, you aced that question, didn’t you? Cards, flowers, balloons, and candy. And the male-female breakdown shows that 58% of men list flowers as their number ‘sweet-thang’ gift. Cards came in second at 47% and candy was a close third at 44% for men. And what do you ladies buy for your ol’ grouch? Survey said – cards at 62%. Candy was second at 50%. Let him read sweet words while you’re readin’ the life insurance policy! Just kiddin’!! A night out on the town was a distant third at 30%.

It’s all in the name of love, right? But will the love remain after the flowers have died, the balloons lose their air, the cards are in the trash, and the chocolates are all eaten up?

I stand convicted just like most other guys. So this year, for the 47th Valentine we’ve spent together, I’m giving my sweet thang something just a little bit different. It’s called A Country Boy’s Valentine.’  And it goes something like this,

-If I could give a speech like Winston Churchill or John F. Kennedy, or if I could sing like an angel, I would just be making a bunch of noise if I don’t have love.        

If I was as smart as Alfred Einstein, and if my faith was strong enough to put the Blue Ridge Mountains in our back yard, I would still be nothing, zero, nil, nada if I don’t have love.

-If I gave away everything we own to help the poor, or if I walk across burning hot coals, I get no gold star by my name if I don’t have love.

-If I’m impatient and unkind, envious and braggadocios, rude, crude, self-centered, short-fused, and a holder of grudges, I don’t even know the meaning of the word love.

-But if I have a smidgen of an idea about what love is and does, it protects like a warm blanket on a cold night; it’s watered by trust; it lives and grows in the rich soil of hope; and it’s fertilized by hangin’ in and hangin’ on through thick and thin.

-Always, always, always, and always.   

But, you say, that’s not very original at all. And you’re exactly right. It was written many years ago in the original Book of Love. You can find it right there in the Love Chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. And like it says in the 13th verse of Chapter 13, when it’s all said and done, at the end of the day, when it all comes out in the wash, “these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is Love.”

But the question for the man in the mirror, is it a Valentine-kind-of-here-today-and-gone-tomorrow-love? Or is a Love worth dying for? The kind where self dies and love lives? We’ve already been given the best Valentine a person could ever receive. But it’s also the most expensive Valentine ever given. Even more expensive than the 14-billion dollars we’ll spend this year for candy, cards, and flowers.

This Valentine cost Jesus His life’s blood. Because He has a love worth dying for. And He doesn’t mind if we give it over and over and over again. Even after Valentine’s Day has come and gone.

For God so loVed the world,
        That He g Ave
                His onLy
                             That whosoever
         Believeth In Him
           Should  Not perish,
        But have  Everlasting life.’     John 3:16.