Deep in the lumber yard, past rows of freshly cut and neatly stacked pine, spruce, and cypress lies a forgotten corner of misfits I call, “The Land of Random Oak.” These shelves hold oddballs and castaways. Dust is thick here. Rats and raccoons have repurposed the space as an outhouse. Handle these boards and you are going to want to wash your hands.
I discovered The Land of Random Oak when I converted a dining room hutch into additional bookshelves for my study in Arkansas.
I was able to re-purpose much of the wood from the hutch, but I lacked shelving, which necessitated a trip to the local hardware store/lumberyard.
I asked the guy behind the counter if they carried oak plywood or boards. That was a negative. While he didn’t stock oak, he did mention “random oak” he bought and sold by the board (not the foot). That sounded promising, and so began the first of many trips to the hidden corner, the Land of Random Oak.
With the hutch-to-bookcase conversion behind me and the Hot Rod Power Tour also in my rear view mirror (see “The Sweet Satisfaction Of Hard Work”) I was back in my study. This is a happy place — and a productive place. I have a lake view in front of me, a wall of books to my right, newly added book space to my left, but I also have four boxes of volumes sitting in a corner. That will not do.
I had a sliver of wall left. Why not add one more bookcase and eliminate the unsightly (and useless) stack of boxes? Mind you, this space is only twenty-five inches wide, but twenty-five inches times eight feet of height provides a most comfortable place for Dickens, Twain, Lewis, Wolfe, and a host of their friends.
I commenced the project Monday.
I was building on the cheap. That meant creative re-purposing. I had left-over oak from my previous project and old shelving stored in my shop. This should be easy. I had measured two, three, four times! Yes, I would have to get creative with material. I would need one more trip to the lumberyard for some plywood backing and to pull one eight-foot board from The Land of Random Oak, but this was going to work.
Yesterday I was nearing the end of my project and realized, “Houston, we have a problem.” I needed a twenty-five inch 1 x 4 to trim the top of my new bookcase, but I was an inch-and-a-half short. I had 22 inch pieces, even a 23 1/2 inch piece, but that my friends would simply not work.
So I went back to the lumberyard, back to the deep recesses of the forgotten forest, back to The Land of Random Oak. I told the kid at the entrance, “I’m going to search the random oak.” He gave me a thumbs up and an “Ok, buddy whatever you say” look.
Remember, they only sell by the board and I only needed a twenty-five inch piece, four inches wide. Prospects were not promising. I saw a ten foot 1 x 10, and and twelve foot 1 x 16, and and another lengthy beauty, but they were all TOO LONG!
Then I spotted it. The board was neglected, dust-crusted, rotted, and worm-eaten but it was about about the right width and it just might be long enough.
Excitement mounting I pulled it out. I am not sure where this board had traveled before it landed on the rack. I suspect it had been decades since it had last seen light. Some vermin had been feasting on it; other critters had probably deposited digested food over it. I didn’t care. There was a twenty-five inch slice of red oak hidden there and I was going to find it.
I proudly held out my new prize to the folks behind the counter. Chris, the guy in charge, took one look and said, “You can have it!” Another employee said, “You might want to take that to the car wash.” I walked out a happy man.
I got back to my shop and got to work. First, I amputated the rot. Then I ripped off the worm-infested edge. That left me a workable piece of wood. I sanded, sanded, and sanded some more. Stains disappeared, grain became more pronounced, and slowly the beauty hidden under all that mess became apparent.
Working my palm sander up and down that board gave me plenty of time to think. I thought about myself, the Carpenter, and people.
For my part, I am the forgotten board Jesus has redeemed and is restoring.
Any beauty, any functional good, any renewed purpose and hope I have is mine complements of the Carpenter. He knows me — all the rot and dust and crap. But the Carpenter is in the business of “making all things new.” Like the thrice-denying Peter on the shores of Galilee, he sees what I can be under the careful work of his hands. And so he works . . . patiently, painstakingly . . . forming beauty and purpose where there was none.
This is the Carpenter’s craft though not all recognize it.
“Is this not the carpenter’s son?” the home crowd asked in disdain when Jesus showed up in Nazareth. Yes! And while they tripped over their familiarity with the man in the wood shop, wasn’t it his familiarity with wood that prepared him — in part — for his patient efforts with them and with all of us, outcasts and misfits in The Land of Random Oak?
And what about people?
Working that board reminded me how God admonishes us to treat others with the same care, the same patience, the same expectation of “what can be” with which he has touched our lives. Those who have been pulled from the dusty rack have no reason to look down on others and every reason to believe in others, or better, to believe what God can do in and through others.
Today, my newly formed bookcase occupies twenty-five inches of prime real estate in my study. It holds four boxes of volumes — and a ragged, dusty, seemingly worthless piece of random oak.
That oak is my reminder of the Carpenter, the who is making all things new; of his craftsmanship so obvious in my life, his ability to change any life, and the efforts he calls me to put forth in service to others — especially those I may think are too far gone.