Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I’ve always liked things that were made by hand. Probably because I’ve never been really good at  making anything with my hands that anyone would recognize. Early on, I was scarred for life by this one particular incident of working with my hands. It was a 4-H project, and we were supposed to build a bird house. Fairly simple task for any farm boy, right? Just look around the barnyard, gather up a few boards, a hand saw, some nails and a hammer. And in a few minutes the blue jays and robins will have a roof over their heads.

Simple enough for anyone who can drive a nail with a hammer. And with as much time as I spent around wood (a.k.a., the woodshed!), I was sure that my birdhouse would win the blue ribbon. Don’t worry about straight lines or squared edges or any of that other stuff on the 4-H instruction sheet. Make it look like a box, drive some nails, put out the ‘For Rent’ sign and watch the bluebirds move in to their new home at Route 4.

But before the little chickadees could sign the lease and unpack their flight bags, all of us in the 4-H Club had to bring our projects in for inspection. So, I even found a used paint can, ‘borrowed’ one of Daddy’s good paint brushes, slapped some whitewash on my feathered friends’ housing project, and started making room on the mantle for the blue ribbon.

Well, Birdhouse Judgment Day arrived. They were all lined up on tables, and every 4-H’er had to stand behind his or her own creation. There I was with my little whitewashed, wobbly, shoebox-looking contraption down at the end of the table. That should have been a clue right there. But then I made the mistake of looking up toward the other end of the table at all the other wonders of construction.

I had never been so embarrassed in all my 12 years! Why, some of those jokers had built bird hotels and condos! And high rises with penthouse suites! I thought they must have hired architects and building engineers. Every lumber yard in the county was sold out. I can’t say this for sure, but I’ll bet some of ‘em even had hot and cold runnin’ water. They had more conveniences than the farmhouse that we lived in!

Any bird that had ever built a nest in a tree would be out of his gourd not to want to move his family into one of those deals. I looked at them. And then I looked back down at mine. I don’t think even a woodpecker would take a second glance.

As the Birdhouse Judges made their way down the line, they were smiling and laughing and making comments like ‘marvelous, wonderful, very creative, great job, and how interesting.’ And then they came to the end of the line. I had long since pushed the blue-ribbon idea out of my head. All I wanted to do now was find my way to the back door and hightail it out of there!

But the Birdhouse Judges just had to have their say. One of them pointed at my creation and here’s what I heard. “You made that with your very own two little hands, didn’t you, sonny boy?” Whoa, back the mule up, mister, them’s fightin’ words where I come from!

But, for fear of another trip to the woodshed for disrespectin’ grownups, I was able to bite my tongue and not say, “First of all, sir, I ain’t your sonny boy. And second of all, no, I didn’t make that with my very own two little hands. My brothers tied one of my hands behind my back.”

But then, this Birdhouse Judge Lady comes down the line. Her nose is so far in the air, she would have drowned in a shower of rain. She looks down at the table. She looks back up at me. All 3-foot-5-inches of raw bone country boy. And then she drove the final nail in any future plans I might have had to be a builder. “Is this a snake trap or a birdhouse?” Farm boys knew about snakes, and I thought I had just caught one. But I let that thought hurry out the back door of my brain, too.

Maybe you can see how I’ve come to appreciate handmade things in my old age. I think we’ve kept every refrigerator-art picture the kids ever made. And, packed up somewhere in one of those plastic tubs out there in the garage are two sets of their handprints set in plaster of Paris. And what card-carrying grandpa doesn’t love those handmade birthday cards?

So, it was with a great deal of anticipation that I came home from church last Sunday with a gift bag from our good friends, Nell and Mike Woodall. Inside the bag was the birthday present of a country boy’s dreams! Four of the most delicious homemade fried pies I have ever tasted. And believe it or not, I was able to follow the instructions to heat just enough till the crust was crunchy and the peach insides were oozin’ out.

As good as they were, it’s the thought of Nell making them by hand that will leave a sweet taste in my mouth for a long time to come. Some folks are just good at making things with their hands. It’s a gift. And the blessing of being on the receiving end of that gift is something that I’ll remember long after I’ve forgotten about my ill-fated birdhouse project!

Jesus was a carpenter’s son. He knew how to make things with his hands. He also knew and teaches us about sharing our gifts. The Bible says that it brings a smile to God’s face when we share. Don’t forget to do good and share with others for with such things God is pleased (Hebrews 13:16).

We know that all good and perfect gifts come from the Father. So I don’t think it matters to Him if our gift is as ugly as my birdhouse or as sweet as Nell’s fried pies. What matters most is that we share the love He’s given to us through whatever gift He’s entrusted to us. And then we come to Judgment Day, as we all will, it won’t be at all like Birdhouse Judgment Day. We’ll hear those sweet words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come on in.”

I just hope and pray He doesn’t hand me a hammer and some nails.