Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin
It was just a little wooden sign about two feet high by the side of the road. But it might as well have been one of those double-decker lighted billboards. It was in the shape of an arrow pointing down a dirt road. And painted in red on the sign was one word. Collards. Funny thing about words. You see or hear the right word at the right time, and before you can say ‘hog jowls and black-eyed peas,” you’re in another time and another place.
Every New Year’s Day since I was old enough to eat cornbread without getting’ strangled, that’s what we had for dinner back home at Route 4. Black-eyed peas, hog jowls, and collards. And if we turned up our noses at this ‘finger-lickin’ feast, we’d get Daddy’s standard speech. Something about coins and greenbacks and good luck. But a farm boy can only take so much ‘yuck.’ So, one New Year’s Day, I got brave. Or just plumb dumb. On hindsight, it might well have been the latter.
I think it was Jan. 1, 1955. There probably were a lot of problems in the world back then. But the only problem this country boy could think about was how he was goin’ to be able to digest this stuff that you could smell down at the barnyard when Mother started cookin’ it in the kitchen. The problem was that we didn’t just have it on January first. Daddy could grow collards on that red dirt farm where kudzu wouldn’t even grow. And if he thought that two rows would be enough, he’d plant half an acre. “Just to be on the safe side,” he’d say. And I’d pray, “Lord, please let the worms and rabbits eat every bit of that stuff.” But it didn’t work. Wrong kind of prayer!
So, collards and hog jowls made regular appearances at our table. Maybe that’s why on that particular New Year’s Day, I should have been eatin’ instead of thinkin’. As Daddy looked down both benches at the kitchen table and saw nothing but facial expressions that resembled pretzels, he goes into that speech for the umpteenth time about how we needed all the good luck and coins and folding money we could get. And he emphasized every single word by pointing his fork at each and every one of those pretzel faces!
When he stopped long enough to get another mouthful of collards, I should have done likewise. But I just couldn’t help myself. “Daddy,” I said, “if that good luck story was true, we’d be rich by now.” You could have heard a pin drop in that kitchen. Except for Mother choking on her collards! And Daddy gettin’ up out of his chair like he had been shot out of a rocket!
On the way to the woodshed I was privileged to hear his other speech about how we should be thankful for having a roof over our head and food on the table. I didn’t interrupt this speech, but I’m thinkin’ that I really was thankful. So very thankful. That we didn’t have any boiled okra on the table.
So, today is Jan. 1, 2011. Don’t know how long it will take me to get used to saying ‘twenty-eleven.’ Hey, I just thought of something. Nine years from today, the Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, we’ll be saying ‘twenty-twenty.’ That’ll be neat. Easy for us senior citizens to remember. But it’ll probably be sometime in February or March before I stop writing 2010 on everything. But there’s one thing I do know. There won’t be anything green cookin’ in our kitchen today that the neighbors can smell out on the main highway! Heartburn and indigestion I can do without as we begin a fresh new year.
But before we get too deep into twenty-eleven, let’s take a quick look at how we did in twenty-ten. We chewed on a bunch of problems, didn’t we? The world is in a mess. And I’m not talking about a ‘mess of collard greens,’ either. Seems like everybody you run into these days is in a ‘stew’ over something or the other. Like Mother used to say when we’d complain about something, “If it’s not one thing, it’s half-a-dozen.” But the current heartaches, hurts, and hunger are very real and seem to be reaching epidemic proportions.
What’s the answer? I don’t know what it is. But I do know where we can look. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask Him to give us our ‘daily bread.’ And we readily accept the bread that feeds our physical needs. But what about the Bread of Life? This is just me, but I believe that way too many folks in the world today, some of ‘em in high places, have twisted their faces and turned up their noses at the Bread of Life – God’s Holy Word.
We get choked by chewing on problems instead of potential. While we could be getting daily nourishment for the soul by ingesting and digesting daily doses of His Word. Everybody I know would love to get rid of bad memories and tough circumstances that the world has seen in 2010. Don’t raise your hand, but I wonder how many people in the free world will actually read the Bible every single day of the New Year beginning today. Talk about a New Year’s resolution! There’s one that could change the world if we’d just stick to it.
The Apostle Paul, that great man of God, had some suffering, too. One particular problem he called ‘a thorn in his flesh’ (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). He even prayed three times for God to take it away. He really needed some relief from his suffering because it was making him very weak. But God didn’t take away the problem. Instead, He gave Paul the grace and mercy to live with it (verse 9).
This made Paul change his mind about his problem. He began to see that it was through his weakness and suffering that he could really understand how great is God’s Power! Talk about real change! That’s change we can believe in. When we recognize and accept that our weaknesses, hard times, and suffering are ways to show His Power in our lives, then we’re on the road to recovery.
So in the New Year that’s in front of us, instead of filling up our minds with problems that can affect our outlook for life in twenty-eleven, and beyond, could we just accept that ‘His Grace is sufficient?’ And as believers in Jesus Christ, we have a place where we can take our burdens (1 Peter 5:7). He’ll accept our cares and anxieties because He loves us. And that’s good enough for me.
Life doesn’t come all wrapped up in pretty paper with bows and ribbons, but it’s still a gift. As somebody said, “Don’t worry about the storm. Just learn to dance in the rain.” And don’t pray for a lighter load, just a stronger back. So in twenty-eleven, I think I’ll take some ‘dancing’ lessons. And try to make the old back a little stronger.
Just don’t expect me to eat those collard greens and hog jowls!
From our ‘shed’ to yours, Helen and I pray God’s abundant blessings for each of you in the New Year.
Ed. Note: How did you do on your New Year’s resolutions in 2010? If there’s some room for improvement, you’re not in that boat by yourself! The guy I see in the mirror needs to row that boat harder than anyone else. Originally published on Jan. 1, 2010, the words of this visit to the ‘shed’ have been echoing through my head for several days. Hence, the simple act of changing the dates seemed to make these words, which were written twelve months ago, so appropriate to yours truly, if to no one else. So forgive the repetition. And pray for the woodshed every day of 2011, please. And, on another note, as we begin the New Year, our heart is overflowing with gratitude for the many words of encouragement while the shed has been on sabbatical. We’re so excited about Woodshed Wisdom, Vol. 1 hitting the shelves of your favorite bookstore in 2011, to the glory and honor of God!
Now, butter the cornbread and pass the black-eyed peas.