The Land of Opportunity

This is a repost of a blog I wrote four years ago…right after I returned from Thailand to visit Hannah while she was on her mission trip around the world.  It is still accurate.

IMG_9772 I have spent the last year learning about the world. Through the eyes of my daughter, I have seen amazing and sometimes heart wrenching stories of poverty, slavery, and abandonment. I have gone half way around the world to see them for myself. Looking into hopeless eyes causes you to see things differently. They are like mirrors which show you your own reflection. What I saw there was disheartening to me. My ungratefulness for my blessings, my assumptions, the opportunities I have squandered away, all of it became crystal clear in the midst of the futility that blankets the red light district in Thailand. The traps, cycles, and living conditions are beyond anything I have ever seen.   To the people who live along this street it is how life is. There is no striving to make a different way. There is only life as they have known it, life as it is.

The ‘Land of Opportunity’ took on a whole new meaning for me this year. I guess I never thought about what the lack of opportunity would look like. It is built into our culture that you can be whatever you want to be if you work hard enough. You are only limited here if you lack vision. In other countries, you are born into your life. There is no question as to what you will do. To break away and do something different is rare. I have seen some beautiful stories of resilience among the poverty, but they are the exception not the rule. It is hard to describe how much appreciation this gave me for my own country. Don’t get me wrong, I know we have our problems…our divisions, and poverty, and social issues. I get that, but the choices we have are unending. We argue with one another because we are allowed to think for ourselves. We are a part of the process of deciding how we live our own lives. We have a say. Poor people here have TVs, bathrooms, and refrigerators for the most part. Our children are not usually sold into slavery. We do not have their kidneys harvested for money. We do not abandon them to the streets. Little girls are not forced to have sex night and day while being held captive. There is a chance that if you are born into poverty here you can get out of it. Hope lives here.

ImageI see why America seems like a beacon of light for so many who long to move here. They love our country without even knowing it. In America, we are free. In America, you can be anything. America is powerful. America is the Land of Opportunity to anyone who dares to dream of such a thing. People flock to see the “Americans” when you walk down the street in other countries. You have superstar status just because of where you are from. They ask questions about our clothes, our homes…our lives. They dream of having what we have…not necessarily in a material sense, they know well how to live without…they long for the freedoms we have. To speak freely. To pursue happiness. To gather. To worship. To be whatever they choose.

Image

All of this made me wonder what have I done with the opportunity I was born with. It also made me so very grateful for those men and women who have fought to keep us free. Have their sacrifices been wasted on me? Has the blood they spilled been in vain? It is Memorial Day…a day to honor those who died in battle, or as a result of their service. This year I get it. I have always attempted to pay my respects, but this year I see the true cost…and the benefits I have reaped my entire life from the price that was paid. My eyes are open in a new way. I cannot tell you how blessed we are. I cannot tell you how different life could be if I had been born in a different place on the globe. I cannot tell you how petty many of my complaints are, and how childish I am for not fully grasping how amazing our country is. Today I thank God for my country…and for those who knew this long before I did…and gave their lives in hopes that one day I would SEE it.

Image

God, bless those men and women…bless their families. Strengthen them. Show them the fruits of their sacrifices. Thank you for this land of opportunity. Thank you for hope, and choices, and freedom. Thank you for the men and women who died to give them to me…even when I didn’t get it. Amen.

Happy Aaron Day!

michelle-in-front-of-yonahI miss birthday parties.  Now that my children are grown, there are no more themed celebrations with cake, ice cream, and favors.  No more little voices screaming, laughing, and playing.  I remember the exhaustion at the end of the day after planning and pulling off a party.  I remember doing four of them a year.  Now, on birthdays it is quiet here.  They don’t live here anymore, and though sometimes that makes me melancholy, it is as it should be.  I take a moment to look back at their lives through pictures to celebrate their amazing births and their growth over the years.

IMG_0363Today is Aaron’s Day.  I look at the pictures of his birth and remember the trauma for both of us.  It was a difficult delivery due to his 10lbs. 5 oz. self.  We worked together, even back then to make it to his first breath.  In the pictures we both look exhausted, but content to have completed our first mission together.  In his first birthday pictures, there is a scab on his nose from learning to walk.  I remember thinking I might be tagged for child abuse with as many bumps and bruises as he had.  On his 9th birthday he had 36 some odd stitches in his face from running into a brick column.  There are other memories from the time he got into a yellow jackets nest and was stung over 56 times.  When I consider these snippets of his life, I wonder how he has made it to 26!

IMG_0348Not all the pictures are of near death experiences.  There are swim parties with lots of smiles and watermelon.  The dinosaur party, where having a dinosaur egg hunt was a huge hit.  A cookout at the lake, a trip to the space center, and looking for alligators in the Okefenokee Swamp are in the scrapbook as well. Dressing as Bill Nye and having a science party where experiments were in abundance is in there too. (Will the items sink or float?)  Adventure.  Curiosity.  Experiments.  Those have always been a part of Aaron.  I might not get to see him this year on his birthday since he is on a cross country adventure, but I celebrate him anyway.  I am always looking both behind and ahead to know that God has a plan for my son…has always had one.  I am glad I was chosen as his mom to be a part of it.  Happy Birthday Aaron!

Rainy Sunday Morning

The rain is falling, gentle but steady.  Slow enough the birds are still singing and the herbs in my garden still have their faces raised.  There is a squirrel on a branch just a few feet from where I sit on my porch.  He has found a clump of leaves just over his head and he is still as a stone, crouched underneath his tail, which he uses as an umbrella. On occasion he flips it down to remove the accumulated water, but then it is right back up over his head.  A crow is laughing at the rooster, who crows in the distance.  The drips fall on my roof, inviting me to a lazy Sunday morning of reading, writing, and sleeping.  A chatter erupts to my right and it sounds as if two birds may be in battle over a worm.   The trees are full of leaves as spring moves into summer and the greens deepen, which causes all the light on my back porch to have a green tint to it.  It is a cool morning, and damp but still peaceful.

Here I wait on words to come.

There are none of any consequence.

Just the sounds of the rain, trees, and animals wooing me and calling me to listen.  All nature worships… even when I cannot seem to find that place…

Survival

teacher waving to kids on bus

How to survive the last two weeks of school:

  • Smile and nod.
  • Take deep breaths.
  • Restock your chocolate supply.
  • Wear jeans every day.
  • Drink coffee every morning.
  • Drink wine every night.
  • Take more deep breaths.
  • Make it through field day without killing anybody.
  • Smile and nod some more.
  • Do creative projects.
  • Include glitter and glue to keep them interested.
  • Keep them busy.
  • Pack up your room as a geometry lesson.
  • Sign 1,000,000 year books.
  • Give 1,000,000 hugs.
  • Accept gifts of coffee cups and candy with a smile.
  • Store the handwritten notes in your filing cabinet.
  • More deep breaths.
  • Refuse to pull your hair out or beat your head against the wall.
  • Enjoy your students one last time.
  • Do cartwheels as the buses pull away on the last day.

Thank you for all you do, teachers!  Enjoy your summer!!

Blackberry Winter

michelle-in-front-of-yonah

I stepped out into the cool morning.  “Brrrrr.  It’s chilly this morning.” I said under my breath.

“Blackberry Winter,” came a friend’s reply as she crossed the parking lot.

Two words which, anywhere else but rural Georgia, would need an explanation.  Here, no other words needed to be spoken.  A simple nod of acknowledgement and I was on my way.  As if to confirm the statement, the blackberry bushes along the roads on my way home held their faces up in full bloom. The 50-degree temperature settled in my bones.  Sure ‘nuff it was Blackberry Winter.

In case, you’re not from around here, Blackberry Winter is when spring days, which feel colder than a milkshake, come around just when you think it’s fixin’ to be summer.  For some reason, they sneak up on you like a cat ‘bout to pounce.  You’ve put your sweaters in the cedar chest thinkin’ you’re done with ‘em, when out of nowhere, bam! Winter again.  This happens each year right around the time the blackberries are in bloom.  Hence the term, Blackberry Winter.  Some ol’ timers may tell you that it helps ‘em grow like a weed, however, since they are already weeds it’s hard to tell if the cold snap is the culprit or if they would grow that fast anyway.  All I know is they tend to take over a place if you aren’t tendin’ to ‘em.  Before you know it those bushes will be bendin’ low under the weight of the berries.

When I was a young girl, I ‘member going berry picking in the pasture.  I pulled on my cowboy boots to protect my ankles from real live snakes in the grass.  I braided my hair into two pig tails to keep it from gettin’ tangled in the briars.  Slipping into a long sleeve shirt, I rolled the sleeves all the way down, even though it was hotter than Hades in the summertime.  I grabbed my bucket and off I went.  Startin’ on the outside of the patch and working my way in towards the middle, I grabbed only the sweetest berries.  They had to be plump, and all the way black, any red on them and they would make you pucker up to kiss your grandma.  The best way to find the ripe ones was to put on your tongue and press it to the roof of your mouth.  If the explosion of sweet juice was like fireworks inside your mouth, it was ready.  If the juice dripped down your chin you knew it would be totally worth the purple fingers and briar scratches that looked like you’d fought with a bobcat.  The gnats you consumed while picking, were an appetizer to the main event, which was blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream.

As I’m driving down the road in the drizzly cold, a smile like a Cheshire cat creeps onto my face at the thought that all this rain and cold are just getting the berries ready for summer. They say not to count your chickens before they hatch, but no one ever said not to count the blackberries before they ripen!

6 Ideas for Teacher Appreciation Week

flower gift.jpg

Teachers do not do what they do for the glory…or the money…or the respect…or the appreciation.  They do it because they want to make a difference in the lives of kids.  That said, a little appreciation goes a long way to making teachers feel valued.  Who doesn’t like to feel valued?  Teacher appreciation week typically falls just after testing week, which is arguably the most stressful week of the year.  They receive trinkets of all kinds, such as I love my teacher coffee cups, candy, flowers, gift cards to Starbucks, socks, lotions, and numerous other small tokens.  Sometimes the community comes together to provide treats in the front office or luncheons, all designed to encourage teachers in their desire to prepare the next generation.

While the week-long celebration is nice, it is not all these things that make teachers feel appreciated; it is the heart behind them.  If you want to know what makes the biggest impact on lifting teachers up, I am going to tell you.  It is your words of affirmation. They are more treasured than all the money spent on items which are relegated to a closet, shelf, cupboard, digested or passed along to the local nursing home. The words are the gifts that make their way into filing cabinets to be pulled out on difficult days, to remind teachers of why they do what they do.  Here are five ways to use your words to inspire a teacher.

  1. An Email– This alternative to snail mail is instant encouragement. You don’t have to wait for Teacher Appreciation Week either.  Any time you see your child grow you can jot it down and hit the send button.
  2. A handwritten note– These notes never lose their appeal. They are classic, and when a parent sends one in on no particular occasion it is even more special. My “Why I Teach” file is full of handwritten notes from both parents and students. I pull them out on rough days and they take me down memory lane and make me smile.
  3. A homemade card– When students make a homemade card it is one of the cutest things ever. When those cards have made up poems or notes it is even more special.  No need to correct the spelling either, the mistakes are part of the heartfelt charm.
  4. A text message– These are instant. They can be just a quick word of appreciation, or a report on something good your child has said or done.  I love when parents send me a quick text telling me about a former student’s accomplishment because it makes me feel as if something I did made a difference.  Just don’t blow up their phone every day…it’s OCCASIONAL use makes texting a great gift. (If teachers won’t give you their cell phone number, don’t be offended, just use the other five gifts on this list instead.)
  5. A letter– You may ask how this is different from a handwritten note…a letter isn’t written to the teacher. (though it can be) It is written to the principal about the teacher. Most teachers would LOVE it if the principal got a letter saying they are doing something RIGHT.  We are all familiar with the sinking feeling of the principal getting a complaint.  Letter writing that expresses appreciation for a specific teacher turns that around and builds up positivity.  You could also write a letter to the paper if there is a particularly exceptional teacher. Around here being in the paper  for something good is a wonderful thing.
  6. A tag on a gift– I certainly do not what to imply teachers don’t want gifts. 🙂 If you have it in your heart to buy a gift, have at it.  Just don’t forget to add some encouraging words on the tag to lift the teacher up.

Affirming words are something teachers are good at giving to students, and they tend to give out of their own abundance.  By affirming teachers, they have even more words to pour into your kids.  It’s a win-win.

Shafts of Light

shafts of light.jpg

The light spills through my window.  It pours across the room illuminating the tops of candles as if they are lit.  It falls on the wall creating a secret golden window that leads to another world.  A world where light surrounds and permeates.  Where uncertainty is banished and heaviness is lifted.  A place I long for.

Outside my window shafts of light tumble through the trees.  The mist filters graceful beams through shades of green, which glow.  The arms of the trees reach for me, and beckon me to breathe in the light, only I don’t know how.

My chest is constricted.  Stomach in knots.  Sleep flees.  Exhaustion, my companion.  My only companion.  The one who understands, but does not relent.  Shafts of light beg me to pay attention.  Invite me into the secret world through the golden window.  Walls and doors all close.  The window is open.  Breathe the light.  If only I could ride shafts of light…

Testing Week

This post is a combination of my two regular series Pointers and Tidbits in celebration of testing week. Pointers for Parents and Tidbits for Teachers are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement as we set about educating our children.

pencil sharpening.jpg

It is testing time.  The week we have all been dreading all year!  Seriously, the pressure of standardized testing is one of the most agreed upon topics in education.  It’s all too much.  While teachers and parents both understand the need to measure growth of students, none of us agree with HOW we are currently required to measure them.  Our cries for relief, or at least some common sense, fall on the deaf ears of those in leadership who make the decisions. Rather than rehash same old arguments and repeat the concerns to be blown away in the wind, I have made a list. There are some not-so-serious tips, and a few poignant pointers for all of us, parents AND teachers, who need to survive the weeks ahead.  Happy Testing!

  • Relax. Haha…just kidding.  It is not possible to relax, so do your best to hide your stress.  Stuff it if you have to.
  • Photograph. Show your students/children that a picture only shows one moment in time…just like a test.
  • Eat. On testing weeks, we feed the kids healthy meals in the morning and at lunch, while parents and teachers get candy, cookies, doughnuts as comfort foods.  Since you are stuffing your stress, you might as well stuff your mouth, too.
  • Explain. Discuss what it means to be a good citizen.  How to be kind.  How to be caring.  How to take responsibility and show respect. How to be a community that honors one another.  Tell them those things are more important than any test they will ever take.
  • Resist. The urge to fuss at kids who finish in 2 minutes is strong. Let’s face it, you really want to do much more than just fuss.  Those who don’t read, who don’t use scratch paper, or work out any problems, those who use their paper to doodle, who write in incomplete sentences, who cannot type, those who fall asleep.  RESIST.  Go back to number one…stuff it.
  • Remember. They are kids.  No matter what the powers that be believe, they are just kids who don’t fully understand that all of our futures rest on their performance.
  • Cry. In private of course.  You know how they are doing.  You know it is not all good. You know you will be in the office explaining the low scores in defense of yourself, your parenting/teaching, and the quality of the job you are doing. Get all the tears out BEFORE that meeting.
  • Chin up. If your child/student doesn’t do well, remember their results are not yours. Don’t let it define you. Or them. It is not an accurate measure of success.
  • Dance. Every. Single. Day. Of. Testing.  It shows everyone the test isn’t so important AND it lets the stress explode out of you in a positive way!!  Not to mention it makes the kids think you have gone crazy.  They LOVE this idea.
  • Pray. If you don’t believe in God, this is the week to start.  Pray for calm and peace.  Knowledge to flow and that no one would throw up during the test.
  • Drink. If nothing else works get a glass of wine, beer, hard liquor, water, or sweet tea…whatever your taste, drink to testing.  Cheers!

Repurposed

This is a continuation of a story I posted yesterday entitled Repurposed. To follow this post you first need to read part 1.   

A Story (Part 2) 

At dawn, The Father rushed to the workshop to see the completed work. He stopped in his tracks.  Never had he been so glad to see his son, who was carefully polishing the wood.  The Man embraced The Father in a bear hug.  The two stood there, until The Wind blew them apart with a gentle breeze.  They circled the finished work, admiring the sheen.

“I can see your reflection,” said The Father.

“That was the plan,” replied The Man.

Looking at the scars of The Man, The Father asked, “Was it worth it?”

“Absolutely.  Just look at the result! A masterpiece. It takes my breath away,” beamed The Man.

“Shall we send the invitations then?” asked The Father.

“Yes, Father.  Let’s prepare The Table!”

garden table

With that, they carried The Table out into the garden among the trees and flowers. It stood within an open-air glass gazebo in the center of the garden. When the sunlight hit The Table, it nearly glowed.  The warm crimson color was rich and full and deep. It was ablaze with a luminous radiance that made The Man burst into laughter with great joyfulness.  The garden erupted in song as the birds danced on The Wind which encircled The Table. As a centerpiece, The Man set a loaf of bread torn into bite sized pieces, and a cup of wine.

“Where is the rest?  If there is to be a wedding, we need a feast!” proclaimed The Father.

The Man smiled and said, “Consider this the appetizer.  The main course is yet to come!”

bread and wine

Oh my Beloved,  Do not think you are worthless, set aside, and abandoned in the dark corners of your life. You cannot be hidden from me under a tarp in darkness.  On the contrary.  You are seen.  You are loved.  You have great purpose.  You do not belong in the barn, do not let The Owner convince you otherwise. (He is not really The Owner…his real name is The Deceiver, and he does not truly own anything! ) You are bought and paid for.  I bathe you in my word to remove the ilk that has covered you.  I disassemble you in order to see you better, sothe healing will be complete.  I scrub down through the layers peeling away each one, removing the old colors that were so unbecoming.  Beloved, there is no need to hide them with another layer, when I can remove them altogether.

The sanding of your life takes time. The roughness of the grit smooths out the gouges and scrapes, and it hurts.  Each successive rubbing feels less intense though, and the resulting dust is evidence of your progress in the process. What remains is a life which is raw and real, and covered in dust. I wash you in my word to remove the vestiges of the old wounds and scars. It feels refreshing to be clean, unencumbered and beautiful, but I am not finished.  You will be a masterpiece when I am done, because I always finish what I start.

I will cover you with a protective coating before I begin to reassemble your life.  The pounding seems harsh, I know.  It seems as if it will never end, and as the nails go in you feel as if you are being crucified…because you are. But without the nails you will fall apart.  Without the nails, you remain in pieces.  The nails are the key to holding you together.  I do not take this step lightly. Brokenness is never easy, but it is necessary. It causes me pain to think you might not understand the necessity of such work.  I sweat more with each nail inserted, but I want you to know each one is important to your purpose.  I do not add them frivolously or needlessly.

Once you are reassembled, The Father stains you with my blood.  I was happy to give it up for you, my love, so that all the richness of your life could be displayed.  You are worth every drop. The Father covers each piece one by one, saturating your life. The result is depth and fullness.  Restoration and renewal.  Hope and healing.  The Wind of the Spirit seals the work by breathing on you.  As The Wind blows, the sheen on your life increases.  Soon my reflection is clear in the finish, and it serves as an invitation to others around you.

Do you not believe I can repurpose your mess into beauty?  Give you beauty for ashes?  It is my specialty to locate messes and create masterpieces out of them.  Masterpieces which draw others to come and enter into communion, as well. Then communion gives birth to community and my bride grows in beauty.  Right now, you may doubt I can do this for you, or that I will.  You do not think yourself worthy of such artistry, but I disagree.  I know your worth, Beloved, even if you do not.  I say you are worth every drop of my blood, sweat, and tears.  You are worth the cross and the tomb.  You are worth resurrecting!

Resurrection is simply death… repurposed.      

Repurposed

old barn.jpg

A Story (Part 1)

A Man arrived at an old barn in his faded jeans and flannel shirt.  His kind eyes were piercing.  His smile, quick to surface.  He had a purposeful gait, but was not in a hurry.  As he stepped into the barn, he waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light.  The Owner caught up to him, as he perused the junk within.

“May I help you find something, sir?” asked The Owner.

“No, thanks. I will know it when I see it,” replied The Man.

He continued his quest, stopping to look at each piece as if it were the only one.  He slid his hands across desks to feel the grain of the wood.  He pulled the drawers of dressers out to see if they were stuck.  Wardrobes were opened and closed and opened again.  His eyes scoured the wood for imperfections, but also for character.  He made mental note of scratches and chips as well as the richness of the grain.

The Owner of the barn grew uncomfortable with The Man’s attention to detail.  It was obvious he knew furniture, and even more so that he was familiar with each type of wood. The Man rubbed an old trunk with a cloth he had in his pocket, as if to polish it, when The Owner spoke up with a sneer.

“Sir, I must insist that you not do that.  It makes the old furniture look new and folks come here for antiques.  Now, what can I help you find?”

“I am merely looking at the potential of each piece by removing the grime and dirt,” answered The Man.

“Ah, so you refinish furniture then?  I have just the piece for you, sir.  What about this old dresser here? Isn’t she a beaut? Of course, being in a barn with the humidity the drawers are stuck closed, but they would do better if it were inside,” said The Owner.

The Man gazed at the piece.  He noted the wood and the sticky drawers.  The hardware was missing, so there was no way to get into them. He smiled at the smooth talking Owner.

“Not refinishing exactly, I prefer to think of it as repurposing…taking an old beat up piece and giving it a new purpose,” then he continued, “It would take more than moving this inside to get the drawers to open.  This is quite a project.”

“Is it beyond your ability, sir?  I am sorry.  I have some easier items to deal with which do not require such work.  I pegged you as a carpenter with great skill by the way you were looking at each piece.” Moving deeper into the barn, The Owner pointed out a bookshelf against the back wall.  Brushing the cobwebs from it, he told The Man, “This requires a simple sanding and a coat of paint.”

“How would you know?  You do not repurpose furniture; you merely sit it in here to decay.  And why would I paint that beautiful wood?” asked The Man.

“Well, sir that just shows what you know,” The irritated Owner said.  “This shelf has scrapes and scratches in it which need to be covered over.  Paint is the way to make it look like new. You can see I am right by the layers already on it. Obviously, I am not the only one who paints to improve a piece.”

The Man just shook his head, refusing to argue with The Owner. Instead he replied, “No. This is not the piece I am looking for today.”

His eyes caught a glimpse of a shadow in the corner of the barn, but as he moved towards it, The Owner jumped in front of him and said, “Sir, allow me to show you another piece.”

Undeterred, The Man continued to move towards the shadow, his piercing eyes fixed upon it.  The Owner chattered incessantly, trying every technique to dissuade him from his path.  Once standing in the shadow, The Man saw the item was covered with a tarp.

“What is under this tarp?” he asked.

“Nothing sir.  I have many more items for you to look at.  A man such as yourself cannot be bothered with a project such as that.  It is too much for you,” The Owner stated.

“I beg to differ, there is no project that is too much for me,” said The Man. As he pulled back the tarp, dust flew in a million directions.  “This is the piece I have been seeking.  It is perfect for what I need.”

Incredulous, The Owner replied, “Sir, how can that be?  It is just a pile of wood. It is completely undone. Nothing much to look at, and even less useful.”

old wood.jpg

“In its present condition it is true.  But I see beyond the mess.  This is exactly what I am looking for.  I’ll take it!” proclaimed The Man.

“But wouldn’t you like something better suited for you?  This is so much work.  It will take all of your efforts to repurpose this one,” whined The Owner.

“I determine what I am willing to give, not you!  I will do whatever is necessary to complete this project.”  The Man picked up the shabby pieces of wood.  He headed towards the door, but The Owner blocked his way.

“Sir, I cannot let you have that piece.”

“Step aside.  This piece belongs to me.  I do not care the condition, or the amount of work required.  I will be taking it with me.  It is already paid for, as is every piece in this barn.  Do not stand in my way, or you will regret it,” The Man said, with fire in his eyes.

Swallowing hard, The Owner stepped aside as The Man carried the wood into the blinding light of the day.  He dared not step out into the light, instead he stepped back into the dim barn, sliding the door closed with a bang.

When The Man got the piece to his workshop he opened the doors and windows to let in the fresh air and sunshine.  He began to look over each section of wood.  It was true that the piece was a mess.  The dust alone was enough to make the shafts of light dance, as it floated down to the floor.  Pulling each plank of lumber into his hands, the man carefully examined it for blemishes. He was not intimidated by what he found. He took a washcloth with warm water and began rubbing.  When the water in the bucket got too dirty, he simply refilled it with fresh and continued bathing.  Once he finished, he stood back to determine just how to proceed.  The wood had layers and layers of paint that was chipped and scratched.  It was in rough shape.

“It’s going to have to come off,” he said to no one in particular.  He knew to pull out the true beauty of the wood he would have to strip it all the way down until it was completely unfinished.  He began the work of stripping all the old layers off.  It was an arduous process which took days to complete, but he was not once discouraged.  He even hummed as he worked, because he knew what it would look like in the end. The scraping created a bigger mess than it was the beginning.  Each layer seemed to cling to the wood, refusing to let go.  Each time, he used force to scrape away the dross.  His hands blistered, but he continued in his pursuit.

Once the layers were gone, he smiled and whispered, “That’s much better.  Now you can breathe again.”

“Talking to your wood, again?” asked a voice.

“Ha ha, yes, Father, you caught me talking to the wood, again,” said The Man.

“This piece has kept you busy, but I think it is going to be worth the effort, don’t you agree?” asked The Father.

“Yes, I do believe it will be worth it, in the end,” smiled The Man.

The father gazed at his son and looked deeply into his eyes.  “You’re sure you want to finish it?”

“I have never been more sure, Father,” stated The Man.

“Good.  Let’s get on with it then.  Let the sanding begin!”

The two of them began, The Man using everything The Father had taught him. The Father was happy to be working together on this project. The rough paper created dust as it scratched and ground the wood into powder. The two worked together side by side, for hours on this piece. The Man ignored the splinters which found their way into his hands. He continued to work into the night, refusing sleep.  The Father smiled gently as he left The Man to finish his work.

Each board was handled separately three or more times, from rough to fine, until it was smooth as silk.   Another bath to wash off the dust, and it was ready for the next step.  The first coat of stain was wiped on with great care. Lovingly even.  Each piece was checked and rechecked for complete coverage. Even though The Man was exhausted from his work, he still paid very close attention to details, while humming a slow haunting tune to himself.

As he reassembled the piece carefully, his hands were bleeding.  Each plank was like the piece of a puzzle and had to be put in a particular place.  Each nail was pounded in a specific way. Drops of sweat covered his face while he worked.  It was a grueling process, and a stranger might have wondered if the pounding was ruining the work.  However, there was no stranger watching; The Man was all alone. He knew, without the nails the whole thing would fall apart.  No, the pounding of the nails was essential to the finished work. Finally, when it was ready for the final coat of stain he stood back, smiled, and cut off the light.

In the morning, The Father came into the workshop.  Alone.  He carried a bucket of stain with him.  He opened the workshop door with a solemn look upon his face.  He gently rubbed his hand over the work of his son and a soft smile curled his lips slightly.

“That boy.  He sure knew what he was doing.  This is going to be spectacular.  His best work yet.” he said to no one in particular.

The Father dipped a cloth into the stain, and allowed it to become saturated.  He placed it on the piece, and the crimson tint soaked into the wood like a sponge.  Each dip into the bucket brought a deeper red color which he rubbed into each board.  As he worked, The Father grew more and more sorrowful.  Before long, his tears were mixing with the stain as he cried.  The circular rubbing motion spread the tear-filled red tinge to every grain in the wood, it covered every pound mark and every nick.  Everyplace he put his hand was filled with crimson, and he continued to work until the entire piece was completely covered and the bucket was empty.  Poured out.  The Father stood back and wept.  The beauty was unsurpassed.  The Man was a master craftsman who had created a masterpiece.  The Father was in awe.  At dusk, he opened the doors and windows wide so The Wind could come in and seal the stain.

When darkness fell, it was finished.