I was reading a Forum comment by “Don” this morning and it got my writing juices going again after 3 weeks of Christmas project hard work and long hours. To make matters worse/better (depending on whether you are reading or writing), I finally got the required 7 hours of sleep last night, the first time during the past 3 weeks, so I feel better today. So, I opted to make another entry in this Blog.
Oh, by the way Martin, this “I need more room button” could be the best improvement to the site yet! At least for us long-winded writers. Thanks for providing this feature.
When I decided to scuttle my life’s work as an engineer and technical services salesman shortly after my conversion from an Atheist to Christian 12.5 years ago, I embarked on a journey that has been filled with as much self-sacrifice as enjoyment. More importantly, those decisions made a decade ago are bringing contentment that I haven’t previously known.
What I discovered in this adult journey to understand who I am, how I was made, and more critically, what I am Called to be, my upbringing in woodworking came to the surface after many years of pushing it aside for more profitable decisions.
I had been offered a job right out of High School by the owner of the most reputable and well known custom cabinet shop in the area, The Bartel Cabinet Shop in Buhler, KS. The shop owner’s son and I had competed against each other all of my years in 4-H woodworking, and I was never successful at beating his son, Chris, at any of the local fairs. Chris was just too talented for me kids to beat despite that I was older.
For Chris’ dad to offer me a job was of great significance to me at that time, although I was sure that I could be a “more important” person in this world with a lot more money if I would walk away from woodworking and pursue a technical degree at the State College.
I was never a great student at Kansas State, having to work hard and study long hours to memorize the right forumlas for each test, but I graduated with something like a 3.3 GPA, and was given Dean’s list letters a handful of semesters. Those early years of college with too much carrousing around with the resulting very average grades, cost me dearly later when the GPA really mattered to me. Another lesson that I learned the hardway.
After College, I took a good job offer with one of the world’s largest corporations, Exxon, and moved to Baton Rouge to start a career there. Later, I followed a Recruiter’s enticement and changed to another powerful force, Koch Industries where I completed my first decade of work after college.
The decade of hard work for these two large corporations who received my full commitment and self-sacrifice in exchange for great benefits and good paychecks came without any Contentment. While I searched for more money and self-importance, this decade of hard work produced for me only a handful of possessions I really liked (none of which I owned, but only made payments on), no friends, lots of debt, and a job where I traveled so much I couldn’t communicate with my wife, leading to other problems, and ultimately, to the near death of our marriage.
I was too “busy” to even want kids in those days, as I felt they would only slow down my successful climb up the corporate ladder and cost money and effort that I didn’t want to expend. And, I felt that if my wife was distracted by having kids, she would be less likely to make money I needed for my own pursuits. Life has a way of exposing dark things in my heart, and it was dark then.
At the time, I was sure that all of my problems were caused by others, and so I became a hardened, bitter individual, not the creative, expressive, friendly person that I had dreamed of becoming with all of my desired success and hoped for money.
What I learned is that nobody else cared whether I was successful or not, or what my address was, or what I drove around town. All of those people competiting around me were just as focused as I was on their own path to self-importance, and we didn’t have time to care about each other. I had chosen the wrong path to what really mattered in this life. During this process, there was a small, humble group of co-workers that met secretly together and prayed for me, and who cared enough to reach out to me.
Only God could save me from the situation I had gotten myself into, and since He is full of Grace and Mercy, that is what He did for me. I had not thought about God for many, many years. I was raised in a church, but my early adult life had “proven” to me that He was really just a figment of everyone else’s imagination, and so I lived only for myself, becoming a strong Athiest. Even after using His name in vain and as a cuss word for so many years, He waited patiently, and opened the door when I finally knocked on it, full of anger, depressed, and dealing with the consequences of a lifestyle of sin and selfishness.
What I discovered in His Son was total forgiveness and love. I was not only surprised to find this forgiveness and love, but also that my own life was composed only of all the wrong motivations and choices, each leading to more sin and selfishness, not the importance and contentment that I had yearned for.
I learned in these early days of my new faith that life is not so much a chasing after Dreams, but it is composed a bit every day by the little choices we make, which lead to middle sized choices, which lead to big choices, which ultimately decide the paths we take. Life is not full of Dreams, but rather Decisions. I don’t know if anyone else has ever coined that concept, but it got my attention when it became true to me.
Then, I had to figure out who I was, where I was to go, and how I was to get there. What developed was an admission that I had been created in mother’s womb to do something I had walked away from for all of the wrong reasons. But, because He is merciful and full of grace, if I would make the changes, God would show me the better path. I was first saved from the Fire, and then saved from myself.
I have learned in this process that Woodworking is a lifestyle, that brings with it an Image, Identity, and a personal uniqueness that few other professions, or hobbies, can provide. I thought I was a successful salesman in my old career, but after I quit my job, or got promoted, or got demoted, nobody else cared. In woodworking as a career, I discovered something very attractive to me that I had failed to see, or consider when I was 18 years old.
That gem was that I was unique and had certain God given skills that would develop if I would make that decision. People were drawn to this, and they encouraged me to continue. Following a passion is so much different than choosing a career.
These were all powerful revelations in my life. Learning the skills required for woodworking is a lot of fun, and still continues, the end products (made from wood) are cool to create, but the People that I connect with and help me on my own journey are the real gems of this Path. It is so strange at times to see this Truth when considering how I used to feel that people were only the method to get where I wanted to go, despite the personal cost to them. Oh, how wrong I was then.
The Father chose for His Son, the life of a Woodworker to prepare Him for His ministry. After meditating on that for the past couple of years, I became a changed woodworker, and then, more importantly, a changed person. I put the essay and findings in an article about Jesus as “The Ultimate Master Woodworker” on my website in the “Article” section, item number 10, if any readers of this Blog would enjoy meditating on the information also this coming year.
I am learning to enjoy the journey, as it is “The Trip,” not the end product that brings fullfillment in my woodworking. Money for the Products I create helps pay bills while enjoying the journey. God created everything for a purpose. Money was created to trade my effort for things we need to survive. Money was never to take His role as Provider and Sustainer in my life, nor bring me contentment, a fact that too many of us have lost track of, myself included.
Jesus once said that it is the “Love” of Money that is the root of all evil, and I truly have learned that myself. At the end of 10 years of sacrificing to get ahead, all that resulted was a long path of hurt people, and I fell badly short of my goals, despite how hard I worked to obtain them.
I have some business friends that counsel me that I need to separate the “love of woodworking” from the “business of woodworking,” implying that it clouds my business judgment. They may be right, time will tell.
Or, they may just be involved in profitable business themselves where making money is the Passion, not the actual work itself. Time will tell. I’m working now on my plans and short term business goals for 2007, recognizing that my planning is only applicable if the Lord wills it.
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ James 4:13-15 (NIV).
This past year, I have learned in the “Process” that the end product (wood product) is only a means to connecting with the People that I am to meet, for the purpose of enjoying them, being ministered to by them, and ministring to them, all in God’s timing. In this process some of the people gave me money in exchange for wood products to support my life expenses, others gave me money, others gave me lessons and wisdom, and some gave me both. I have lived a blessed year in 2006.
Once I saw this truth in my woodworking life, it has changed the focus away from the “Art” to the “People” that the art connects me with. This cleared focus has been an awesome journey, and I look forward to understanding it more deeply this coming year.
Thanks for listening. After all, I can’t make a tree, only something from it’s wood, and the ability to learn those skill are from Someone else as well.
-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com