It was an unmitigated eyesore. Bright pink, lavender trim and a lime green “Daisy Mae” painted in script across the headboard. There were a couple of broken spindles and a missing decorative ball. Still, there was something about it that drew Paul in like metal to a magnet. Careful inspection revealed that underneath all the paint, glue and amateur patchwork, the antique crib had been lovingly designed, cut, assembled and finished by the talented hands of a remarkable craftsman.
In its current condition, he knew Melinda would not be happy if he returned home with it. And he feared that the mere suggestion of placing their soon-to-be first-born baby in it to sleep, might cause his normally sweet and gentle wife to erupt in a hormonally charged outburst that could very-well negatively impact his health.
But this project, was right up Paul’s alley. He had a deep affinity to so-called hopeless causes. He took great pride in his roles as a big brother and volunteer coach in the inner-city. If that wasn’t enough, he was a regular on the annual church-sponsored mission trips.
As is often the case, Paul’s passion was largely birthed out of his own deep emotional pain. At only a few weeks old, Paul had been kidnapped from loving parents and sold to a wealthy, but infertile, couple under the guise that he was the product of an unwanted teen pregnancy. Desperate and delighted to have a baby, the pair didn’t ask a lot of questions, and was more than happy to gloss over the legal details. With a little deception, some carefully placed padding, and a lengthy overseas trip in the months leading to their acquisition, the couple was able to claim Paul as their natural child.
Seven years later, medical science unraveled the fraud. A rare genetic disorder requiring DNA testing and treatments revealed that Paul was not the biological son of the ones he had always known as Mom and Dad. A legal investigation concluded that not only Paul, but also his younger siblings – a four year-old girl and a two year old boy - had all been purchased through the black market. The couple was arrested and the kids were taken into custody by Child Protective Services.
When all was said and done, it was found that the younger children were real-life siblings. The human traffickers who had kidnapped them were arrested and, in exchange for leniency, spilled the beans on the identities of their victims. The four-year-old and the two-year-old were returned to their very excited and grateful parents.
Paul wasn’t as fortunate. While the police discovered the identity of the boyfriend/girlfriend team responsible for kidnapping Paul, the perpetrators had been killed in a drug-deal-gone-bad several years earlier. The trail to Paul’s parents was cold.
Life was hard on young Paul. He was passed from the state home, to several foster families, then to juvenile hall – for vandalism and drug use – and finally “graduated” to the streets at eighteen. As far as the authorities were concerned, he would be in big-boy prison before he turned twenty. He was angry, bitter and at least a dozen other negative adjectives. Life was not fair and God obviously didn’t care.
Had it not been for the compassion and unbreakable fortitude of the folk at First Street Christian Mission, God only knows where Paul would have ended up. They were kind when he was hateful, and loved him when he was unlovable. It took over a year, but finally - after trading odd-jobs and mandatory bible-study attendance for hot meals and a place to sleep - Paul gave his heart and life to Christ. He took it upon himself to right all the world’s wrongs.
With the help of his brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul received his GED and enrolled in a local Christian College where he eventually earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and, more importantly, met and negotiated a date with the future Mrs. Paul.
It wasn’t easy to let go of all the emotional toxins that had driven Paul’s life, but over-time, the bitter years faded into fuzzy memories that, at times, seemed to belong to someone else entirely. He zealously committed to paying-it-forward and doing everything within his power to make other people’s lives better.
It was all of this bottled passion that fueled Paul’s palpitating heart as he stared at the old, worn, gaudy, broken and discarded crib. He shouldn’t have even stopped at the yard sale. His only mission today was to run some junk to the dump to make more room for baby. He forgot all about the golf clubs that had diverted him. Now, try as he might, he could not pull himself away from a project that he already knew would require way too much of his time, money and effort.
“How much?” Paul asked the woman.
She twisted her mouth and furrowed her brow.
“Twenty too much?”
Paul couldn’t bring himself to bargain. Instead, he retrieved a twenty from his wallet, handed it to the lady, and said, “Thanks.” Turning around, he man-handled the crib between, and on top of, some junk on his truck and tried to calculate the best way to hide it from Melinda until he could get it restored.
Finally completing his primary mission, Paul returned home where he examined the crib in the workshop. Although he fancied himself a pretty good handyman, and enjoyed working with his hands, he realized that he lacked the requisite skills to fully restore this particular treasure. A few screws and nails had marred the artistry over the years, but the original design contained none. Each piece was perfectly designed and crafted to fit into the others. The current condition may have been a hot mess, but the craftsmanship underneath – way underneath - was truly amazing.
Paul called Mark, a friend who owned a successful cabinetry and mill working shop. He had been very helpful with wood working projects in the past. Since he was on his way to town anyway, Mark swung by to take a look.
“This thing is really ugly, you know that right?”
Paul felt defensive. “I know, but I just couldn’t leave it there. Maybe I’m crazy but…”
Mark chuckled. “Well, we know you are crazy, but in this case, there really is something special underneath all this gaudy makeup and botched repair job. I only know of one man who could do this justice. I met him when he taught a class at a trade show a few years ago. He is an absolute miracle worker. We have stayed in touch over the years and have become good friends.”
Paul was definitely interested. “Where is he?”
Mark hesitated. “Well now that’s the thing. He has a shop up in Toronto.”
Paul frowned and exhaled the breath he had been holding. “Toronto, huh, long haul from Northern Virginia.”
Mark agreed. “That’s not all, I have a hard time imagining he would want to mess with a project this small, and if he did, you could probably get ten cribs for what it would cost you. If you decide you want to try it though, let me know and I will give him a call.”
A few weeks went by, but Paul could not push the old crib out of his mind. Melinda had researched and found at least a half-dozen cribs for the new family member, but Paul always found a reason not to like them. Melinda didn’t know what was going on and was perplexed at Paul’s unusual behavior.
Paul was also confused. He didn’t understand his obsession with the crib and asked God to help him. If there was something he needed to learn through all this, he prayed that God would hurry and get it over with so his life could get back to normal.
One morning during his devotion and prayer time, Paul read about Abraham. He admired Abraham for giving up his life to follow God despite having no understanding of the destination. Paul re-committed to answer God’s call no matter what. A few hours later the call came. No, it wasn’t directly from God, but it most definitely appeared to be an answer to prayer.
Paul’s boss needed him to visit an important client who was experiencing some technical issues. The trip would require two-weeks away from home beginning the following Monday. The client’s location: Toronto, Canada
The journey would require a slight detour to a corporate field office on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. There, Paul would pick up a few more supplies and consult with team members. On Tuesday, he would complete the jaunt up to Toronto where he would meet with the client Tuesday afternoon. Since specialized equipment and an additional stop were required, it made sense to drive the company van. Interestingly, there would be plenty of spare space for his pet project.
Paul called Melinda to let her know about the trip. The baby was still several months away, and Melinda wanted to spend a little extra bonding time with her Mom during this special season, so everything was set. She did think it was odd that Paul made her promise to wait before buying a crib, but she lovingly agreed.
Sunday evening, Paul carefully packed the Crib and other essentials in the van and turned-in early. By 4:15 AM Monday morning he was cruising north on the I-495 Capital Beltway circumnavigating Washington DC. With the aid of a full load of Christian Podcasts, Audio Books and Praise & Worship music, the 400 mile trip felt relatively brief. Despite a few stops, and some intermittent heavy traffic, Paul arrived at the U. S. / Canadian border a little after noon, cleared customs, and made it to the field office at 2:00 PM. By 7:00 PM, he had gathered the extra supplies, finished his meetings and was dialing Melinda from his hotel room.
Although his client meeting in Toronto didn’t start until 1:30 PM, Paul got up early, showered, had breakfast, read his Bible, prayed, and was on the road again by eight. He set the GPS and pointed the van toward Joshua, the Master Craftsman.
Having Mark pave the way was a miracle in and of itself. Paul browsed through the showroom at the magnificent furniture that had been hand-crafted by Joshua. Much of it was priced higher than Paul’s mortgage and he began to feel silly about bringing a broken down old crib to someone so gifted.
Paul was rehearsing apologies in his mind and planning his escape when Joshua emerged from the back office and extended his hand.
“Welcome to Canada and our fine city! It is so nice to meet a friend of Mark. I love him like a son.”
Paul soaked in the friendly energy. “He is a good man and great friend.” Paul acknowledge. “He speaks very highly of you.”
Joshua smiled gently. “He is very kind. He mentioned you had a crib for me to look at.”
“Yes, “Paul said, “I unpacked it over here in the corner, but honestly I feel very embarrassed bringing this to you now that I have seen your incredible work.”
Joshua raised his hand. “Nonsense! Let me take a ….”
Joshua fell silent as he carefully studied every aspect of the old crib. His eyes moved beyond the veneer of old paint and lackluster repairs. If the crib had a soul, Joshua was experiencing it up close. The look on his face betrayed more than a simple passing interest.
“May I work on this a few days?”
Paul suddenly felt the weight of his wallet. “Before I agree, and I hate to even mention it, I need an idea of what it will cost.”
The master was intense. “For now, it will cost your complete and total surrender.”
Paul was confused. “I don’t understand,”
Joshua raised his eyebrows. “Do you like it the way it is?”
Paul looked back at the crib. “No, not at all”
“Then let me do with it what I will. That is all I ask. When we meet again, we can discuss whether or not there is a cost for further work. Is that fair?” Joshua waited.
“More than fair,” Paul agreed. “With your reputation, I would be a fool not to trust you.”
Joshua softened. “Very good. Then I will see you Saturday morning. I understand you have the weekend off from your business. “
The technical work kept Paul very busy for the rest of the week, but he often found his mind drifting to Joshua and the old crib. Why was Joshua doing the work for free? What was his interest in the crib? And, Paul kept asking himself, “Why am I so obsessed with this yard-sale disaster?”
Paul hardly slept Friday night. The bed was comfortable enough, the hotel was nice enough, but the anticipation of his meeting with Joshua in the morning was almost more than he could stand. He was ready three hours early and found himself pacing and trying to read to fill in the time. Normally he would have confided his anxieties to Melinda, but she was completely out of the loop on this one. It was something he had to do on his own. He didn’t understand it himself; how could he possibly explain it to her?
Finally, Paul showed up at Joshua’s shop only twenty minutes early and was relieved to find Joshua already waiting and completely fine with the early arrival. Joshua ushered Paul into the Craftsman’s private workshop where a beautifully crafted crib rested upon the workshop table.
Paul admired the amazing detail and for a moment even imagined his new baby resting peacefully inside. “What is this?”
Joshua chuckled. “Does it not look familiar?”
Pau was dumbfounded. “You’re not saying this is the same crib that I brought to you less than a week ago?”
Joshua swelled with pride, “It is indeed.”
As Paul examined it more closely, he was filled with awe. Every trace of old paint, glue, screws, nails and scars had been removed. Broken pieces were replaced with new expertly fashioned ones, and fresh stain brought out the natural beauty of the cherry.
“This is absolutely amazing! I don’t know what to say. I could never afford such masterful work.”
The Master Craftsman gave a knowing smile, “No you couldn’t. I would have never done this for mere money. It was a labor of love.”
Paul pondered, “How so?”
Joshua carefully turned the crib over and placed it upside down on the protective cloths laying on the bench. On the bottom was a clear inscription, “Made with Uncommon Love by Joshua.”
Paul was puzzled. “You added your mark?”
Joshua shook his head, “No, I uncovered it.”
Like a lightbulb suddenly illuminated, Paul understood. “You were the original craftsman?”
Joshua nodded, “I am. That is why this restoration was so special to me. It could only have been Father God that brought this back to me after all these years. To know that it will now be cared for by a special friend, makes it perfect.”
Paul was overwhelmed by his new revelation of God’s miraculous power. “May I ask how many cribs you have made over the years?”
Tears formed in the corners of Joshua’s eyes, “I only made this one. I made it for my son whom I loved more than I could ever express. One night he was taken from this very crib and never heard from again.”
Paul struggled to remain standing. His voice cracked as he attempted to speak,