Tag: Oak Harbor

Daydream Believer

The music of The Monkees has been my friend for over fifty years.

As a six-year-old kid infatuated with these fun-loving characters on my TV screen; I know how much The Monkees have always meant to me. Whatever man I am, whatever person I try to be, watching The Monkees, and listening tImage result for The MOnkeeso The Monkees, was an essential part of growing up.

In fact, unashamedly I admit, while it would be cooler to say it was The Beatles or some other classic act, The Monkees were the first “album” I ever bought. 

I’m a believer.

Doesn’t it feel good to say that?

Doesn’t it feel good to acknowledge that giddy feeling of joy that wells up within you when you hear a terrific, transcendent pop song on the radio?

How many times did I sing along with, “Daydream Believer”?

I couldn’t even begin to guess. 

Isn’t it great to let the music fill you with that grand, unspoken sensation of freedom, to turn the volume up as loud as you can, and just sing along, even if you don’t really know all the words?

Your troubles don’t vanish; your cares won’t slip away; woImage result for The MOnkeesrk still has to be done, your heart still requires mending, and your body and soul still shudder from the unnamed ache that never quite surrenders its grip. But for approximately two minutes and fifty-nine seconds, you are able to disappear from what’s wrong in the world.

What a gift that Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith were to my childhood.

Vivid memories as a child still remain. I was five years old when The Monkees debuted on the charts and TV screens in 1966, with a # 1 hit single called “Last Train To Clarksville” and a vibrant weekly show.

I didn’t know they weren’t cool. Because, obviously, they were cool: they were like a magic, irresistible combination of Batman and The Beatles—and really, in the ’60s, what could be cooler than that?

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wasn’t created to validate the tastes of clueless five-year-old kids from Oak Harbor, Ohio.

That’s fair.

The Hall of Fame is a celebration of rock ‘n’ roll music, an embrace of its history and the people who made it happen. It’s a tribute to the power of that music, to rock’s ability to express and embody rebellion, to break down barriers, to inspire, https://i1.wp.com/andrew-wittman.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Daydream-believer.jpgto transcend, to elevate, to unite. It’s about more than catchy pop songs, more than a manufactured image, more than photogenic faces on the cover of a teen magazine. It means something. It matters.

But you wanna know something? It turns out The Monkees somehow did all of that. The Monkees rebelled. The Monkees broke down barriers. The Monkees inspired, transcended, elevated, united. The Monkees meant something. The Monkees mattered.

The Monkees were also influential. More than any other act—even more than The Beatles—The Monkees brought the burgeoning ’60s counter-culture into everyday American living rooms, via their weekly TV showcase. They had long hair. They brandished peace symbols.

The Monkees’ popularity is indisputable fact: # 1 singles, # 1 albums, the best-selling musical act of 1967, believe it or not, outselling The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined. Don’t believe?  Look it up.

I’m a believer.

This shouldn’t be true—this was supposed to be soundtrack music for a TV sitcom, for God’s sake—but the evidence is there, and it’s been there from the start.

The evidence will make a believer out of you, too.

The Monkees’ recordings have remained radio staples for five decades and show no sign of ever fading away. Reruns of the TV series have continually renewed the group’s fan base, as new generations of fans have discovered the enduring appeal of four guys walking down the street, getting the funniest looks from everyone they meet.

But popularity alone does not make an act worthy of induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; there are dozens and dozens of mega-selling pop entities that will never be considered Hall of Fame material, and rightly so.

But I’m a believer.

Belief sustains us, even when everyone says we’re wrong. Music comforts us, when much of life may seems uncertain and perilous. Love, hope, and friendship encourage us, when our senses and surroundings insist there’s little of substance left to grasp and hold fast. We are encouraged by our friends, our hope, our love, our music; we are encouraged by our belief.

Micky. Davy. Peter. Michael.

Weren’t they good?  They made me happy.

I’m a believer, even if it is in Daydreams.

 

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I Still Have a Chance to Get It Right

I woke up this morning at 4:00 AM. 

I had a dream that was so real and it was a memory that I had buried and forgotten about.

In my dream, I am watching the events as they happen. It is like watching a movie that you know what is going to happen and you wish you could change the events that were about to take place.  I cannot change it. The reason why the story doesn’t change is because it retells an actual event that happened in December of 1971. 

Why am I waking up in a cold sweat remembering an event that took place over 45 years ago?

Here is the story…

https://i2.wp.com/asp.bcs.k12.oh.us/schools/RCWaters/rcwpic.jpgWhen I was in fifth grade there was a new boy who came into our class. He was new to our school.  He started about three weeks into the school year.

By that time in school everyone had divided themselves into their own social subgroups and friends.  Everyone already found a place to fit in. You usually hung with two or three other buddies and for the most part everyone got along. We had all grown up together and most of us had the same teachers since we were in kindergarten.

Maybe if he had his picture in our class composite he may have been remembered by more people.  He didn’t have his picture taken.  He missed picture day and I probably would have forgotten all about him had I not had a life event that involved him.

Nobody played with Darrell. He was an outcast. He was alone.

He was shunned by the whole class, and you would be shunned too if you sat with him at lunch or joined him in his solitary games at the fringe of the playground during recess.  It was bad enough to have him in the same classroom.https://i2.wp.com/www.nivstaboards.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/A-child-alone-in-a-school-003.jpg

All you needed to know about Darrell was that he was filthy. Smelled and wore the same clothes almost every day of the week.  Looked like he slept in them most of the time.  He was loud and it seemed to my 10-year-old thinking he was trying to keep people away from him.

He was ignored and over-looked. The butt of cruel jokes and commentary that were so much of the conversations of other 5th grade boys.

I had never spoken to Darrell.

His family had moved into a run-down house just a few blocks from my own and I never once saw him riding his bike or even playing outside. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t tell you if he even had a bike.

Frankly, that’s all I knew about him. And I thought that there was nothing else to know about him.

As the Christmas holiday approached, we drew names to exchange gifts. I was happy I did not get Darrell’s name, I just wasn’t sure who drew my name.

I’m sitting in my 5th grade classroom on the last day of school before Christmas break.  Mrs. Day is my teacher and I am waiting for our Christmas party to begin.

I waited anxiously and noticed that Darrell had given his tattered wrapped present to another student so I knew he did not draw my name.  I saw that he received his present from another student and I waited… but no one brought me a present.  

My name had been drawn by another student that was absent that day.  I didn’t get a gift. And everybody else noticed. The teacher said, “Oh, that’s okay. We’ll make sure you’ll get it when we get back from Christmas.”

Bullies and time had already taught me all too well that you don’t cry in public. Stuff like that wasn’t supposed to matter. I strained to make myself look unfazed, but I remember how hot my face was and that my throat was so tight that I could barely speak.

I felt like I had just gotten a big fat rejection notice.

All the other kids started playing some game. I stood off to the side trying not to vomit.

Out of the corner of my left eye I saw some movement. I turned to see Darrell holding something out to me. It was a book-shaped box containing several rolls of Lifesaver candies. A common Christmas gift in that day. The sort of thing you grab Image result for old Lifesaver Christmas giftat checkout stand when you don’t really want to think too much about the gift. That’s what someone had given him.

He put it in my hand and said, “I want you to have this.”

I just stood there. I didn’t know what to say and couldn’t have said it even if I had known. My throat was so tight I could barely breathe. Finally, I croaked, “But it’s yours.”

Darrell said, “And I’ve already gotten it. Now it’s yours. Everybody should get something at Christmas.”

I just stared at him. Not because I was at a loss for words or was afraid I would cry.

For the first time, I noticed how nice and kind Darrell was.

I tried to give it back to him. He refused and walked away and retreated to the same corner of the room where he would carry on conversations with himself and play his solitary games.

In shame that I carry to this very day, I was too afraid to say anything to anyone. I didn’t even say thank you to him. I hid the gift in my desk and tried to assimilate back into my group of friends. All the while knowing that there was a boy playing by himself in the corner that was a much better person than I was.

Now I wish I could tell you more about Darrell. I wish I could say that we had become fast friends and that maybe I had even helped all the other kids discover what a good person we had in our midst. 

But that isn’t the truth. I have not one single memory of Darrell after that. I learned that his family moved away over the Christmas break. Something I am sure was something he was used to.

In time, the house that he lived in would remain empty and eventually torn down.

I returned from that Christmas break, just as concerned to finding my own place in my little world of Oak Harbor, Ohio and to avoid being the outcast and rejected.

In my own eyes, I was not enough. Sometimes I was blinded by the effort to be accepted. Envy and intimidation blinded me at other times. There were times, I was condescending or competitive or too preoccupied with my own fears and wounds and grievances.

Blindness becomes a habit.

We learn early in life to see only certain kinds of people. The ones who we think matter.

And we learn to look past or look through other kinds of people. 

Those who we think don’t matter.

I suspect we fear the stretching and growth we would experience if we would see people as God sees them.

Darrell may have continued to be the ostracized loner, maybe he moved to Argentina, or been abducted by aliens. Maybe he is the homeless man I pass along the way.  He may even be my neighbor that I don’t know that currently lives a few doors down from me.

He may be a doctor or surgeon that has saved many lives.  He may have been a solider that selflessly fought bravely for the freedoms I enjoy.

He may have become a teacher that changed lives. He may be the guy that works at the local factory.  Maybe he is the mechanic that works on my car.

He may have become a great husband and father that raised good kids.  Kids that accept others who may be different from them.

I have no idea. I’d like to think that many of these options are a possibility.

What I do know is that a young boy that spent a few months in Oak Harbor, Ohio in the early 1970’s was a better human being than I was.  

So why the dream? 

I am coming to the conclusion that even after all these years, I still have a lot to learn about acceptance.  I have more to learn about loving people where they are in life.

I still have time to become a better person.  I still have a chance to get it right.

How about you?

I Never Had A Chance

When I was younger, when asked, I would answer enthusiastically and always with pride.

I would always give a clear picture of where my hometown was.  

As I got older and after I moved away, I began to notice that nearly every time I told people where I was from, I delivered the words, “Oak Harbor, Ohio” as though it were an apology for something I did wrong. 

I would wait for that familiar blank stare.  I would then say … “Oak Harbor is in Northwest,Related image Ohio… close to Cedar Point” and suddenly I would see their eyes light up with recognition. 

When you grow up in the tight confines of small town America, everything outside the boundaries of your hometown is kind of a blur. You can only imagine what everyday life is like in faraway cities.  Those places outside of the town limit signs could be just as much a figment of your imagination as anything else you’ve ever dreamed.  No matter how many pictures you’ve seen.  No matter how many times people would come back with stories of life beyond your reality, it just never really seemed to convince me. 

To me, those places were as much a fantasy and as far away as the land of Oz. 

As a child and even into your teens, you know your hometown intimately, and it knows you. It seemed that no matter where you went, you were always running into something that reminded you of how much you’ve already done there.  Every day it would wrap around you like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night until you felt you knew it as intimately as you did the layout of your own bedroom. You could walk around it with your eyes closed and never be surprised by a single thing.

When I got my driver’s license when I turned 16, it was the first time I felt like I was part of the world and not bound by the unforgiving signs of our town limits.

I felt untethered, independent and unrestricted.

It makes me grin when I think about it now, because I was still bound by the town limit signs.  I just changed my mode of transportation.  I went from a 10-speed bicycle to a Ford Pinto. Which really only meant I could drive the loop around town a little faster. 

Not much faster, mind you, but just enough to make me feel free.  I would drive my car in the same continuous, languorous, tedious, life sucking regular loop around town. 

A typical summer night would be as follows: I would pull out of my driveway on Locust Image result for gulf signStreet and drive south to the stoplight by Denny’s Gulf Station.  Make a left turn onto Water Street and drive real slow to see if any of my friends were at Van Atta’s Dairy Queen. If no one was there, I would continue down the street and turn left onto Finke Road and drive through Veteran’s Park to see if there were any softball or baseball games going on.  An extra bonus was if there were any girls playing tennis on the courts next to the road.

In today’s world, I would be handcuffed, interrogated and probably body-searched over why I was sitting in a car, at the park, watching the games from the front seat of my car.  

But not back then.  

I can’t tell you how many times I sat there parked in my car. Watching the games from the front seat, trying to look and be cool. Wanting to talk to the cute girls playing tennis or to the other girls that were just walking around the park trying to look as cool as I was trying to be.  I sat there trying to get enough nerve to start conversations with girls whose names I knew and went to school with since kindergarten. 

I could never pull the trigger. Image result for WIOT

I would just swallow my confidence and promise myself that tomorrow night would be different.  “I will do it for sure tomorrow” I would say to myself, as the music blared from FM 104.7 on my stereo.  I would sit there alone, hoping that the station would at least play, “Cold as Ice” by Foreigner or “Do You Feel Like We Do” by Peter Frampton when those girls would walk by so I could turn it up even louder and that they would “hear” that I was cool.  

Thinking about it now… it probably was just as creepy as it is today for someone to sit in the car like that I just never considered it when I was doing it.

It never dawned on me at the time, but when I would pull up in my dark blue rusted out Pinto, I was pulling next to the never-ending sea of Camaro’s or Trans Am’s that always Image result for Rusted Out Blue Pintoseemed to be owned by every “cool kid” in Oak Harbor.

Eventually, I would grow tired of just sitting there in my car with the music blaring from my radio. I would start to pull out of my parking spot to make another loop around town.

Maybe something was going on?  Maybe something changed since my last trip around town?

Heading down Main Street towards Locust Street, I’d crank the stereo system a lttle louder, knowing all the while that it cost more than the car I was driving.

I was lying to myself.  I would tell myself that tomorrow night would be different.

But deep down, I knew.

I never had a chance.

Not Fooling Anyone (A Chronicle of Bad Conversations and Storefronts Past)

A few weeks ago, a co-worker popped his head in my office. He said “So, are you ready for next Wednesday?

I sat there going through my mental calendar and couldn’t come up with what the significance Wednesday had. I finally had to ask “What’s Wednesday?”

He then reminded me that Wednesday was the day on the calendar that I age one more year. He asked if I had any words to impart to impart the wisdom I’ve gained in my many years.

Nope.

To be honest, I was just happy that he reminded me what Wednesday was because I needed to renew my license tags.  That summed up the depth of the wisdom that was flowing through my brain. I mumbled that I would write a post about “all the wisdom I’ve gained over all my years”.  He laughed and said sarcastically that he “couldn’t wait” to read it and something about that it should be a short read.

That Saturday, as I sat at the DMV, I was reminded of this conversation I had the previous day. I thought about what wisdom or perspective I could have actually shared.  What gold nuggets of wisdom have I gained? What words can I put in a post?

I had nothing.

But I valiantly tried to post something. I spent the next few days writing a post that I published a week or so ago. I called it “Thinking Back, Looking Forward”  Click here to read

I’ve spent the days since that posting going round and round about this subject.  While I liked the article I posted, something just told me that I needed to share something more. 

What could I write that would show what I truly have learned over the years? What I have learned in these years on this big rock that I can pass on to my kids and grandkids, not to mention, anyone else that might read this? 

Then it hit me… while staring at a picture that sits on my desk.  I had actually wrote about him in my post that is linked above.  My closest childhood friend, Bryan Blakley died the day after my birthday in 2009.  I have written about him a number of times and I have always felt a part of me is missing since his passing.  We lost him all too soon. I could never deny the influence that Bryan had in my life.  I can’t say that all of the “influence” was good either.  I got in trouble with Bryan on many occasions and there are secrets of things that we did that I will take to my grave. 

But the one thing that I could always say about Bryan is that he was true to himself.  He lived what he believed.  Even if he was wrong.  He never tried to hide who he really was.  I always tried to hide and fool people into thinking I was some kind of innocent kid. 

I wasn’t innocent.

Bryan was a person that really did not care what people thought of him.  He was who he was 24 hours a day. The good, the bad and the ugly.

I always looked up to that because he was true to his convictions and to what he believed.  He never tried to fool anyone.  I thought back to the words I spoke at his funeral. A simple sentence that I still believe summed up Bryan’s life and in it a truth that sticks with me to this very day…

You can say what you think but you’ll live what you believe.

That’s it. 

That basically is the foundation of all wisdom.  In other words,  to quote Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true”.  Under all that we think, lives a life that really shows what we truly believe.

I’ve said multiple times that it is really easy to sit behind the keyboard and act like you’ve got the world on a string. For 9 years, I have posted personal thoughts and hopefully, https://itsyet2bt0ld.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/img_3064.png?w=246&h=202shared the struggles too. Life has knocked me down a few times. Those events have shown me things about myself I never wanted to see.  I believe that in those events, I caught the glimpse of who I truly was. 

It’s like really seeing yourself in a mirror.  What if we honestly just saw our character instead of our image in a mirror? In reality, that is how God sees us all the time.  Because He sees through the fake image we try to show the world. What God sees in those moments is the character that sums up who we are.  It scares me to consider what God thinks when He sees and hears the lies we tell Him and others.

I have often thought about what a book about my life would look like.  How would it read? How would it be perceived?  I have even gone as far as coming up with the title.

 “Not Fooling Anybody (A Chronicle of Bad Conversations and Storefronts Past)

What I have learned about life is that I haven’t really fooled anybody.  More importantly, I know I haven’t fooled God.  I don’t think many people understand that.  I think there are many people who think they are fooling others, they in turn fool themselves into thhttps://i2.wp.com/notfoolinganybody.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/logo.pnginking that they have fooled God.  It is not possible to fool God.  I have learned the hard way this great truth.

Sometimes, late at night, when I am trying to go to sleep. I am reminded of the conversations that I had with people over the years.  Those conversations when I tried to defend my sin. Those conversations when I tried to fool people that I had my act together and I was living the kind of life that God would be proud of.  Those conversations when I tried to fool myself that I was something that I knew in my heart I wasn’t. I have memory of more of these conversations than I care to remember.

My life has always been either honored or betrayed by the “storefronts” that I have built over the years.  The people who have known me over the years can stroll down the main street of my life and see the evidence of my life that is seen in the storefront windows that line the street.  Like in times of old, before the malls, when people would shop local and go window shopping.  The product that each store sold was placed in that window for all to see.  I have many “storefronts.” Most of them are good.  However, there are a few that I wish I could make go away.  Now before you think I dwell on these “bad storefronts,” I don’t.  I know that God has dealt with me about the content of those storefronts and He has forgiven me and has allowed me to live a great life. But I would be lying if I said that in the quiet times that I am alone, that these storefronts don’t flash in front of my eyes and I am reminded of them. They do.  Some bring me happiness and others embarrassment. 

Such is life.

At the end of the day, I hope that whenever my number is called, those that knew me personally or from afar will all be able to say the same thing. I hope they will say that I said what I thought and it matched the way that I lived and what I believed.  I know that this was not true in my younger years.  I have had to be shaped, molded, poked and prodded by God to fix many areas of my life. 

Even at 55, I am a work in progress. 

We all are.

I hope, before I die,  I can point others to Jesus Christ and the salvation that is found in Him.

I hope that I can encourage others to create a life that feels good on the inside and not just one that looks good on the outside.

I hope you’ll see that I didn’t just speak highly of my wife, I honestly treasure and honor her above all others.

I hope you’ll see that I love my kids. Even if I disagree with some of the choices they have made. I made it my goal to treasure each moment and never leave a doubt in their mind as to how I felt about them.

I hope you’ll see that I didn’t throw around the word “friend” like it’s something you accept on a social media site. I believed that relationships are important and that people – no matter who they are – matter.

I hope you’ll see that I didn’t just talk about faith to be high and mighty. I live a life filled with questions, doubts, struggles, fears and wrestled through the journey to be not high and mighty, but second and humble.

I hope that you see that I didn’t intend fool anybody.  I was what I claimed to be… a sinner, saved by grace.

That sums up the wisdom in this small brain of mine. 

Maybe this was too long to convey a simple point of wisdom but that’s the best I’ve got.

The calendar turned on another year older.

It’s another chance to say what I think and more importantly….

Live what I believe.

The Evidence

There is nothing like ripe, fresh fruit.

To be able to pick a piece of fruit from the tree and eat it is one of the great experiences of life.  

I remember, years ago, when I lived in Oak Harbor, Ohio and experiencing the thrill of picking cherries from our trees in our back yard.  I still remember climbing those trees and sitting high up on one of the branches and picking and eating fresh cherries by the hand full.  I still reflect in amazement that was part of my childhood.  I surely did not appreciate the experience at the time.

I am not sure that I can ever remember eating cherries in my adult life that were as fresh and sweet as those I picked back in those days.

Fresh fruit is the ultimate sign of life from a fruit tree. It tells you, without any doubt, this tree is alive!  And because of that life we enjoy the fruit.

There is one more thing I think about when my thoughts wander to this topic of fruit-  fresh fruit has a sweetness to it.  It’s as if one of the great evidences of fresh fruit is a sweet subtle taste that makes you want more.

So what is the evidence of life for the Christian?

What tells the world, as they walk by, that you are alive in Christ?

It’s the fruit!

Here’s how Paul describes the fruit that comes from us when we are alive in Christ,

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

The thing about this kind of fruit is that others should be drawn to it, there’s a https://syntheticgospel.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/good-tree.jpg?w=1108sweetness about our lives that should make them want to be around us.  The fruit of the Spirit coming out of our lives should draw others to us and ultimately to Christ.

It’s the same thing that happened when Jesus was here… people loved being with Him.

The fruit of his life was sweet and refreshing.

So this is what I am pondering today. In clear self-evaluation, I am wondering if the fruit that I produce is pointing others to see Christ in me?  I want to be recognized by the fruit of the Spirit.  However, I am reminded of the times that no one could see Christ in me because I was too full of myself. 

There was no room for fruit to grow.

Too often, I was caught up in the throes of the dogma of religion and not in living in the freedom that being alive in Christ brings. 

As I reflect, my challenge to you, is for you to evaluate what is the evidence of the life of Christ in you?

Does the fruit of your life have the sweet taste of God’s presence or the bitter taste of self and religion?

Is there evidence that you are alive in Christ?  How does it taste to those around you?

Through the Eyes of a Child

On a hot July night in 2012, I witnessed the passing of a torch. 

There wasn’t a ceremony and no one from the local newspaper was there to take a picture to document the event, but make no mistake, what happened that night was something magical.

As I made my way through the crowd along the dimly lit back stretch of Fremont Speedway, trying to get to Brian Smith’s pit stall.  I could not help but notice that the people who passed by the “Grace Car” that night were not aware of the magic that was taking place right in front of their eyes.  

But I did.

As the adults and race fans were getting the opportunity to see the “Grace Car” up close, Brian Smith, then a 26 year veteran sprint car racer from Fremont was kneeling down talking to a young boy.  I could see the eyes of this young boy as Brian bent down and talked to him.                                                                     

The look in this young boy ‘s eyes initially was a look of awe.  I am sure the boy was amazed that he was actually talking to a real life race car driver and I immediately noticed the look of awe begin to sparkle in the eyes of this young boy as the transformation had begun.  The torch was passed on to another generation. 

No one noticed that Brian had just performed magic. He just transformed a young child into a lifelong race fan.  He just made a young fan believe in heroes. One that is not found in the comic book store or on the movie screen. 

Through the eyes of a child was a real life hero… living right here in Fremont, Ohio.

While some drivers lined up their race cars to get them on the trailer and get out of there.  Brian was still there… no hurry… sleep could wait… there was more important business to do.

Brian isn’t the only driver doing this. There are others. 

They all realize that the most important aspect of building a fan base sometimes takes place before and after the race itself.

Heroes emerge sometimes from the most unlikely of sources.  

It is no secret that I am a racing fan.  I have a special place in my heart for sprint car racing and it was instilled in me at a young age.  

I know this to be true… because my hero found me more than 40 years earlier at the same little dirt race track in Fremont, Ohio.

His name was Harold “Mac” MHaroldMcGiltoncGilton.

For those that don’t remember him, Harold may be just another name in the record books, just another plaque on the wall.  To those of us that remember him, he’s a legend, a hometown hero, a sprint car racer and a cherished memory.

I first met Harold McGilton in the early 1970’s. I think I was about 11 or 12 years old at the time. It was a chance meeting and though it was a long time ago…I remember it like yesterday.  I watched him drive his sprint car full speed into the corners of that wonderful dirt track in Fremont, Ohio and slide through the turn and then fly down the straight-a-way passing cars  and winning races.  In my mind, Harold never lost a race… there were just times he didn’t win.  However, when  Harold would win his race.. he  just didn’t win, he beat the other drivers. 

Har carAs a young boy, when I rode my bicycle, I imagined that I was Harold making the heroic and dangerous pass on that final turn to win the race.  And when I played with my “Matchbox” cars…I had a special car that was “Harold’s” car.  It NEVER lost a race. I am sure there were times when in my mind, I was more Harold McGilton than the real deal.  I am also sure that his family had a different perspective of Harold and his life as a hero.  After all he was human… just not in my eyes.

Harold McGilton
Harold McGilton

Harold McGilton had no way of knowing that when he stopped what he was doing after a race all those years ago and took the time shake my hand  on that July evening, at the Fremont Speedway, he would have had such an influence on a young boy from Oak Harbor, Ohio.

Harold never knew my name, nor did we ever talk to each other since that first night I met him.  However, Harold “Mac Attack” McGilton had a tremendous influence on me during those early years. He just never knew it.   He was larger than life to me and I idolized him and when he passed away a few years ago, I cried.

Tonight as I sit at my desk, I imagine I hear the roar of the engines of the sprint cars as they fly around the track just a few blocks from my home.  As I imagine each lap as the cars go around, I wonder if there is another young fan in the stands watching their favorite driver take their car into a 100 MPH slide through the corners of the Fremont Speedway.  Much like I was in the early ’70’s,  I came to the track one night a young fan of the races and little did I know that I would leave a few hours later with a hero in my life that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

Brian Smith understands this… he too has heroes. He was influenced by many drivers over the years and shows honor and respect for those he looked up to all those years ago. In addition, his grandfather and father were racers that planted a seed in him that he passes on each week to each child he talks to.

I have said this many times, in my life, I have traveled around the world. I have met a number a professional athletes, politicians and famous people over the years. I have even had the honor of meeting two U.S. Presidents and shaking their hands.  All of these people would be considered heroes for many people, but not for me.  I did not have to travel all around the world to find a hero.   He found me at a little dirt track in Fremont, Ohio.

For those of you that say that there are no real heroes in life. 

I say you just don’t know where to look.

Come out and bring your children to Fremont Speedway on a Saturday night and I know where you just might find one.

Scars Earned Along the Path of Forgiveness

I have a scar on my leg.  I earned that scar.  I was awarded the permanent reminder when I was about ten years old.  I was riding my bike with reckless abandon on the rough and rocky alleyway behind my house in Oak Harbor, Ohio.   In my mind, I was my favorite driver, Harold McGilton.   Driving a race car at Fremont Speedway and I was on the last turn, of the last lap getting ready to pass Jim Linder to win the race.  I had been there before.  I had made that pass a hundred times a day in my mind on that rocky road. Then the unthinkable happened, I lost control and suddenly I was thrown from the bike, flying through the air.  I landed on the sharp, jagged pieces of stone and rocks that paved that gravel road.

Besides a few scrapes and bruises, I had one nasty cut on my leg.  Nothing that needed anything more than some tender loving care from my mother and a good band-aid.  However,  I carry a scar on my leg to this very day.  Every so often, I look at it and it reminds me of a different time, a time of innocence and wonder.  I also look at it to remind me that this was a result of thinking I was invincible and over-confident in my abilities.  It was the start of a lesson that I have learned over the years.  I have learned that almost all the scars I carry on my body were the result of my own doing.  So when I use the term “earned”, I do not use that word as a way of indicating that I am proud of them.  I use that word, in short, to say, I am to blame for the damage done to my body.   I deserved them.

The same can be said of the scars I carry in my heart and in my spiritual life.  Those scars are mostly self-inflicted.  I “earned” them as well.   The result of losing focus and being over-confident in my own abilities.  Yes, my scars, physical or spiritual are almost all the result of my own doing.   Permanent reminders of my failures.

The physical body is very resilient.   With some tender loving care from your mother, a good dose of Neosporin and good band-aid most cuts, bruises and scrapes will disappear.  Nothing permanent except for a bad memory.  Unfortunately, in some situations, physical scars will remain.  The cut was just too deep or too wide for the tender care of your mother and the extra dose of medicine to take care of it.  Those scars will remain.   For the most part, over time, those same scars will fade and at times they are hard to see.

The spiritual body is not so resilient.  The self-inflicted scars that we incur on our spiritual body cannot be fixed by a band-aid and a heavy dose of Neosporin.   All of the bumps, scrapes, bruises, and cuts we experience in our spiritual life can indeed be fixed by the tender loving care of our God and the heavy dose of forgiveness that He provides.   When we ask God to forgive us for our sin and our transgressions, He does just that.  He forgives and He heals.  He no longer sees the scars of our spiritual life.  They are covered with forgiveness and love.

However,  the scars that God no longer sees are still in clear view for those around us on this earth.  Most times the only time I am reminded of the scars of my spiritual life is when other Christian’s point them out to me.  Which has happened more times than I care to remember.  God is faithful to always truly forgive, man is not.  It has been my experience that most Christian’s never really forgive other believers for the failures in their life.  It has been said that Christian’s are the only one to shoot and kill their own when someone fails in their spiritual walk.

This week I was reading from Matthew 18:21-35.     I  have read this passage many times over the years.  I never really ever got past the “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me? How many times shall I forgive him? Seven times? and the Lord said, “I do not say to you seven times…but seventy times seven.”

But this week was different…I continued to read and really for the first time, I saw something I have never really paid attention to.   As I continued to read the parable that Jesus told about a servant who had an extraordinary debt to pay his master.  There was no way this servant was going to be able to repay that debt.   The master was forced to consider selling the servant, his wife, his kids, and all his stuff to help pay off what debt the servant owed.

This servant was pretty much in deep trouble, and he knew it.  He broke down, pleading with his master to have mercy and to have patience with him, and the master “took pity on the servant, canceled the debt, and let him go.”

But almost immediately, that servant went out, found his own servant who owed him money, and demanded that it be repaid. That servant, too, pleaded for mercy and asked for patience, except that the servant who had been forgiven DID NOT grant him forgiveness; instead, the servant threw his servant into prison until he could pay the debt.

Word got back to the master that the servant he “forgave” did not pass on the same forgiveness that was granted, and the master wasn’t happy.   He was so angry in fact, that he took back the forgiveness that he had given to that servant… “In anger, his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” Then Jesus offers these heavy words: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

The message made me feel guilty.  That’s right…GUILTY.  That’s exactly what it should have done.

A long time ago, I was in the ministry.  I was an ordained minister, but I was not a pastor.  I believe that a man is “called” to be a pastor.  I never felt that “call” from the Lord to be a pastor.  But I was in the ministry as a Christian School Administrator and I loved the opportunity to teach from God’s Word when given the chance. I was in full-time service for over 12 years.  

I made a choice to resign from my ministry and change my path.  I simply walked away. To this day, I knew it was what I needed to do. People were not so accepting of it. Surely there had to be a scandal in there somewhere. For me, I just could not shake the feeling of failure when it came to my ministry. 

For those of you read this post that may remember that time in my life, I am sorry to disappoint you.  Regardless of what you may believe or may have heard, the stories and rumors are not true.  I admit I wasn’t perfect, but I did not leave the ministry because of affairs or inappropriate behavior, drug addiction or drinking were not my problems. God knows the truth and I will be accountable for my actions.  I guess because I did not give a speech about why I was resigning, led to the rumors. At the time, I chose not to defend myself, I became a bigger target. I regret that today.

I shut down and kept everyone and everything at a very safe distance.  There was a period of time, that besides going to work, I would not go out so that I would not (by chance) run into anyone I knew.  I simply withdrew and disappeared from the life I had known.  No one noticed.

Years passed.

They say time changes everything.   I guess in a way it does.  Slowly things got better.   I  started a new career in business management and have been working for a very successful company for over 20 years.

In 2009, two of my closest friends died and I  experienced some serious health issues.  It was time to settle some things in my head and in my heart.  I  knew I could not change the past.  I knew that there would always be permanent scars that would be a constant reminder of me resigning my ministry.  But it was time to get on with life and finally put the burden that I had been carrying for a long, long time down.   After a lot of prayers, I finally forgave myself and I have asked God to forgive me as well.  I now have comfort in knowing that He has forgiven me. But I can’t help but feel that there is something more to be said about the idea – the reality – of forgiveness.

I am learning that forgiveness doesn’t necessarily make things all better.When we are forgiven by God, it cancels our sin debt.  True.  But does it restore us to a full right relationship?   I don’t think so.   I understand that because I was a leader in the church, my failure was more profound.  My failure was public and when a leader falls there is more public scrutiny than if I had been an occasional or non-church goer.  The standard upon which you are held is higher because of the position in the church.  I get it…” to much is given, much is required”. I think that’s reflective of the way my Christian life is now: I am forgiven by God and forgiven fully.  I have that guarantee.  But I recognize that all is not well.

My life wasn’t made ‘all better’ when I  forgave myself or when I was forgiven by God.  People around me, brothers and sister’s in Christ are still dealing with me as a failed man.  Many of them to this very day have not forgiven me. I have men who are serving as pastors, deacons, and leaders in their respective churches that still will not talk to me to this very day.  I have tried to re-establish relationships with those who were my friends all those years ago and for the most part, it has been to no avail. There is tension. There is pain.  There are scars.   Forgiveness is not a band-aid you slap on an open wound.  And though forgiveness is something profound, it is not everything. Healing is a broader process in which forgiveness is a stage.

I mentioned earlier that the message from the parable made me feel guilty. Here is why.  I have to be honest and say that I struggle with my pride.  I still struggle with bitterness towards those that turned their back on me.  I want to convince myself that they are not worth it.  If they don’t offer forgiveness then maybe I should just let God deal with them when they have to face Him in eternity.  But in my heart, I know that I will not truly be free from this burden until I forgive them for the things I feel that they have done unfairly towards me.

My hope is that one day I can be restored and accepted so that I can begin to be used by God again.  If healing is the broader process in which forgiveness is a stage, then I am asking for forgiveness and giving forgiveness so that the healing may begin soon. I have something left to give. I long to teach a Sunday School class again.  But that is up to God’s timing.

Spiritual scars… I will always have them.  Some have faded with time, most still are as deep and evident as the day I earned them. But after a long journey on the path of forgiveness,  finally, I am at peace knowing that when God looks at me, He doesn’t see those scars anymore.

There are a Few Things I am Thankful for But Make 2009 Go Away

Maybe it’s just me,  but 2009 was a difficult year.  I am not sad to see it go away and be logged into the history books.   As I have reviewed this past year, I have noticed that so many of my posts have been directly related to the things that I was experiencing or thinking about at the time.  I have never written a post to get or gain attention.  I write to clear my head and it relaxes me. With that in mind, I have attached links to previous posts to the various experiences I have encountered this past year.  Please feel free to click on them and re-read some of my favorite posts of 2009.

It has been a year where I have had to deal with some serious health issues.   A few surgeries later, I am in still in recovery mode, trying to deal with the results of the operations.  Sometimes the cure is worse than the problem.  More importantly, this year was a time when I had to endure the loss of the two of the closest friends I have ever had on this earth.

Within a short span of three months, I lost Bob Emrich and Bryan Blakely.   Bryan was my closest childhood friend growing up in Oak Harbor, Ohio.  There wasn’t much that happened to either of  us from the time we were 6 to 18 that we were not involved in together.  As life happens to all of us, after high school we went our separate ways.  We always stayed in touch but we both lived in different parts of the country and we were on different paths.  However, Bryan was part of a foundation in my life and when we were able to get together over the years, it was just like old times.  Thirty years may have passed but it would only be a few moments and we were just like we were when we were 18.  Good times.  He was taken way too soon.

Bob was my mentor and he was the one person that could always point me in the right direction.  He was an example to me of what it means to live a life that would bring honor to his family and to his God.  He showed me how to truly live as Christian in this world.  He taught me more about God’s grace than any preacher that I have ever heard.  No, he was not perfect but he was a perfect example of what God can do in a person’s life if they allow Him to work in their life.  Bob wasn’t a preacher but a truck driver.  I cannot tell you how many times I would call him and he would be winding his way through the mountains of Tennessee or making his way through the corn fields of Iowa.  He always made time for me and always had a good word to say.  I still cannot bring myself to delete his phone number off my phone.

Performing the eulogy at their funerals was the most difficult thing that I have ever done.   I cannot express to you how much I miss them.

This year was also a time where I had to deal with some major health issues.  Without boring you with the details, I had to have two operations.  The second surgery was much more serious than I  was really prepared for and I am still dealing with the results of the operation.  Those results have hindered my ability to write and to do many of the things I did and enjoyed so easily in 2008.

For example, I have completely lost hearing in my left ear and have a 60% loss in my right.   I am on the fast track in becoming deaf.   Anyone who knows me, knows that I love music.  It is something that I have enjoyed my whole life and it is slowly being taken from me.  I have also lost most of my ability to taste food.  Most of my tongue is numb and I have limited ability to even taste what I am eating or drinking.   Finally, my right hand is still asleep.  This hinders my ability to write and typing is much harder than ever before.  The doctor says that while there is no chance that my hearing will come back, I may experience some improvement with some of the other issues.  So, while I am waiting to recover from this surgery,  I am trying to do what my friend Bob would have done.  He would  have called me to talk about the things we were thankful for in spite of the circumstances that we are in.

In honoring his life, I am trying to put into practice what he would have done.  In that process, I realize that I am extremely thankful for many things in my life, in spite of the difficulty of this past year.    One thing in particular that I am thankful for in 2009 is this blog.  Over the year, I have had over 150,000 visitors.  Now I know not all of them read my blog and some visit my blog just to read what new ridiculous and stupid thing  comes out of my mouth and spills out onto these pages.  Like I always say,  I love to write…I never said I write well.

One post that went viral this year was a post about things I am thankful for  called  “A Few of My Favorite Things… .  This post has by far has been my most popular post with over 20,000 hits and still growing.   I wrote that after my first surgery and just posted a few of my favorite things and things I was I was thankful for.   I would like to update it and add to those things and really be thankful for what God has allowed for me to be a part of in 2009.

So here are a few of my favorite things to be thankful for 2009…

And finally, in no particular order, here are a few of the maybe or maybe not so important things  to be thankful for…

So there you have it… a list of a few of my favorite things I am thankful for in my life.  No, the list is not complete and I am sure that there are more things I am thankful for if I would sit and think for a few minutes.    However,  that is for another time.

In closing, I will not be sad to see 2009 go away.  I am looking forward to what God has in store for me in 2010.   The slate is clean and anything is possible.

I will not be surprised by anything that may happen…but then again, maybe it’s just me.

Stupid, Ridiculous and Glorious

Maybe it’s just me… but I love a blank sheet of paper.

There are not many things I love more than having a free evening, a cup of coffee in hand and a blank sheet of paper in front of me.  I love it even more when I fill that sheet up with words.

What is exciting to me is that I never know where it is going to take me.  It is always an adventure as to where I will end up.  Each and every time I plan on writing about something specific I never do.  I am never able to plan it out like that.  I just let the story or subject just flow out of my memory.   I like the thrill of looking at a picture or listening to some music that bring back some memories and I just love to let it flow from there and see where it takes me.  It is probably why my writings are so disjointed sometimes.  Like I have always said… I love to write, I never said I was good.

They say that hindsight is 20-20, and I guess it’s true.  When I look back into my past I see the paths that I have walked…some well worn paths and others where I only see my lone footprints.  Each path has a memory, some good and some not so good.  Regardless, they are paths that I have chosen to walk and the end result of  my wanderings have given me a valuable cache of  lessons learned.

This evening  was no different from any other night.  I sat down with a wonderful cup of coffee and I started staring at the blank page in front of me.   I was wondering where it will take me tonight.  Just then a picture that is in a small frame sitting on my office desk caught my attention.   In that frame is a small faded picture of me and Bryan Blakley.  That picture was taken  just before we picked up our dates for the Homecoming Dance in 1976.  We were desperately trying to look cool in our leisure suits and long hair.  We failed.

For some reason I started to think about Bryan.  I had known him for over 40 years.  I do not really remember a time when he wasn’t part of my life.  From about the age of 6 to 17, I cannot think of one thing that I was a part of that he wasn’t involved in some way.  He and I played together and fought together.  We did just about everything together…whether that was skipping school…going on a double date or just hanging out.

One of my favorite remembrances of him was a time that we walked home from the fair about the time we were 16.  We had just spent the last night of the fair walking around checking out the girls and just having a good time.  Nothing of real significance happened that evening at the fair.  As a matter of fact, I don’t really remember anything specific even happening.  Just the two of us acting stupid, (and again) trying to be cool.  We failed again.

The fair had closed for the night about 11:30 and Bryan and I decided to walk home that night.  The Ottawa County Fairgrounds is located about six miles outside of Oak Harbor, Ohio.  At 16, the premise of walking six miles to home on a hot summer night seemed to be perfectly logical.  I remember that it was pitch black that night.  It seemed you couldn’t see past your next step.  We took our time.  There was no need to hurry.  Didn’t seem like there was that much to go back to.

Maybe it was just the mood we were in or maybe it was because it was so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.  I remember it like yesterday.   What I remember is that Bryan and I talked about everything on that long walk home.    We talked about our childhood, our families.  We talked about music,  what we liked and disliked.  We talked about girls.  We talked about our future.   He told me what his plans were for his life. Bryan wanted to leave the tiny confines of Oak Harbor, Ohio.  He wanted to see the world and the sooner the better.  For me,  I wasn’t exactly panicked about my plans.  I don’t think up to that point in my life I had ever given a second thought about what I was going to do with my life.  Hey – I was sixteen years old.  To me, the future was for someone else to worry about.

Then the subject matter changed.  We started to talk about what we believed in.   Bryan was asking all kind of questions.   That was really odd for Bryan, because there were topics he just would not discuss.  But not this night…we talked about everything.    Bryan knew me as well as anyone can know another person at 16.  We were as close as brothers.  He knew I went to church but I never once considered sharing my faith and what I really believed in to anyone before, especially him.  I mean. he knew my weaknesses and he knew my failures as well as anyone could.

But on this night, this dark ridiculous night, I shared my faith and told him what I believed.  Maybe my boldness came from the fact that it was pitch black and I could not see his reaction to my words, or maybe Bryan couldn’t see my hands shaking in fear, but for whatever reason I said it out loud.  Bryan never said a word in argument.  He just kept asking questions and I tried to answer them as best I could.  Soon our conversation drifted to another subject and nothing more was discussed about our faith and what we believed in.

We had walked almost all the way to town when suddenly Bryan and I stopped talking.  It seemed as if there was nothing left to say. I suddenly had the over whelming feeling that somehow that night I walked out of my childhood and into the next phase of my life. I wanted to stay there, in that night… more than anything I wanted before.   But I knew I couldn’t.   I was sixteen.   I slept under a roof my father owned, in a bed my father bought.    Nothing was mine, except my fears.   And my growing knowledge that not every road was going to lead home anymore. Things were about to change.  Walking through that neighborhood I grew up in, I realized that there was a time I knew every family on the block.  Their kids, names of their dogs, but most of those families were gone now.  Scattered.  The ones who stayed were not the same.  The world was moving on.  My world… their world.  And only the lights remained the same.

We didn’t really accomplish anything that night.  At least that is what I thought at the time.  Our remaining high school years that lay ahead would find us moving in different directions.  There would be other nights where we would hang out and try to be cool.  We always failed.  But the sad truth is there wasn’t ever another night just like that one.   That night and the long walk home will always be set apart in my memory and in my heart.

Over the next 30 years when our paths crossed and we would always talk and we knew that there would always be a special friendship between us, but it would never be the same as it was growing up on that alley between Walnut and Washington Streets.

Last year, Bryan’s mom passed away.   I had the extreme privilege to express my love and thankfulness for a woman who I could call Mom as easily as my own mother.  I knew Bryan had taken her death very hard.  I wanted to talk to Bryan that day, but I could see he was, as all of us were, extremely saddened by her death.  A few days later, I received an email from him.  And if you would allow me, I would like to share a portion from his letter…

Dave,

It made my day seeing you as always and I cannot express how much I appreciate your speaking at Mom’s funeral.  I do not even know how to say it, but let’s say that losing my Mom has been really hard on me.  But I know that she is in a better place and her suffering is gone.  I know I will see her again.

As you may or may not know this has been a heck of a year. 2 years in fact.  The worst time in my life physically.

I really don’t like email that much.  It seems so impersonal, especially when talking with you.  Business is different these days…I still prefer face to face or at least on the phone.

It was really great seeing you, and I wanted to let you know, even though I don’t talk about it, I wanted you to know that I am a Born Again Christian. We talked about that a long time ago when we walked home from the fair. Remember?   It has taken me a long time to come to this decision, but I have accepted Him, into my life.

I struggle with sharing it with anyone because of some of the things I have done.  I wanted you to know and I would love to speak with you about that.

Tell your Mom and Dad I said Hello…

Anyway, I am getting long winded here.

Warm Regards,  Bryan

I called Bryan a few times over the past year.  Not as many as I now wish I would have.  We talked, and talked.  About everything.  Telling stories and having a time of laughter and glorious memories.   We talked about his decision to follow Christ and how he wished he had lived his life differently.  I just reminded him that God’s grace is sufficient to cover even his worst sin.  He was forgiven and accepted…regardless what he did in his life.

Then few months ago, I received a phone call.  I just couldn’t believe the news on the other end.  Bryan had passed away.  I was already reeling from the loss of my closest friend (Bob Emrich) in May and now my childhood friend was gone as well.   I was shocked and in some ways I am still not over the loss of my two closest friends.  For whatever reason, God sometimes allows people to be taken very quickly from us.  Many times, so fast that we never get the chance to say the things we needed to say.

I will cherish that time.  The last conversation with him was no different from the conversation I would have had with him over 30 years ago when we walked home from the fairgrounds.

Our lives indeed took different paths but we will always share the common bond we found in what we call family.

Simply put, Bryan was a very good man…that loved his wife, his daughter, his step-children, his mother and father, his brothers, his relatives and his friends.  I loved him as a brother.

In closing, the lyrics to one of my favorite songs goes like this…

In Christ, there are no goodbyes
In Christ, there is no end
So I’ll hold onto Jesus with all that I have
So I can see you again.

Bryan…I miss you my friend and brother… I cannot wait until I get to see you again.

Our reunion will be…stupid, ridiculous and glorious.


 




Marred Clay and the Perfect Vessel

It was early 1977.  I was a student at Oak Harbor High School in Northwest Ohio and I remember this event without straining any of my 1970’s  damaged brain cells.  It was a Thursday afternoon and I was stuck right in the middle of art class.  That’s right….I said art class.   I finally admit publicly that I took art in high school.

Why I remember this so clearly is because I remember the music playing in class.  Mrs. Cherry was the art teacher.  She was young and made art fun.  More importantly, she played music in her class.  This day we were listening to “Wings Over America” by Paul McCartney and Wings.

Now… I would love to tell you that I was a good artist.   Also, I would love to tell you that I took the class to become a better artist.  But neither one of those reasons would be true.  I took art class for the same reasons that motivates almost every other 16 year old male to do anything in High School… it was an easy “A” and for the girls.

It really came down to simple logic.  In 1977, I was 5’4″ and 105 lbs.  Football was not an option.  So, I ran cross country.   Obviously that was not going to help my reputation with the ladies.  I took Choir, in the hope that I could somehow sing my way into the heart of a pretty girl (and the easy “A”).   Those of you that have ever sat next to me in church know the unfortunate ending to my choir endeavor.  Then I remembered that way back in the fifth grade I had won first place at the Ottawa County Fair for a pencil drawing.  “That’s it!!!”, I told myself as I scheduled my classes that year.  I would take art.  I mean how hard could it be?  It was an easy “A”, you get to draw, listen to music and of course there would be girls in the class.  Girls like art don’t they?

The start of that first semester went alright.  Every afternoon I got to draw, paint,  do calligraphy and most of all, listen to music and try to impress the ladies.  However, something changed drastically one day.  Instead of walking into class looking at a blank sheet of paper, there was a lump of clay on my desk.  Apart from playing with Play-Doh when I was a kid, about the only thing I had ever remotely done with clay was when my buddies and me made mud balls and threw them at each other.  But this was something new.  I thought to myself, “I could really get into this.  This might be something I may really be good at.”

The ideas were just flowing and my creative juices were at an all time high.  The possibilities were endless.  The concept is very simple.  Take a lump of clay and shape it and mold it into something beautiful.  Maybe a perfectly shaped vase or cup, maybe even something abstract that would be cool to have on my book shelf at home.   Mrs. Cherry was up in front of the class giving instructions, but I did not have time for that. This was what I was waiting for. This would be my opportunity to  do something great, something that just came naturally to me.

So I indeed did what came natural to me…I took that clay and rolled it out on my desk.  Visions of my finished project was so clear to me and I made a great master piece with that clay that day.  Surely, Mrs. Cherry would be impressed by my perfect clay sculpture sitting on my desk.  I was real proud.  It had taken a mere 45 seconds to create the perfect ash tray.

Now the interesting thing is that I have never smoked, more importantly, no one in my family smoked.  Why an ash tray…I don’t have a clue.  But when you think about it, this class is an easy “A” and taking anymore time than that to make something else would interrupt my time listening to music and trying to impress the girls in the class.

I sat at my desk just admiring my handiwork.  “You know, this pottery stuff is easy and I am good at it”, I thought to myself.  I finally found something that I was good at. With my perfect ash tray sitting on the corner of my desk, I looked around the room and took pride in the fact that I was the first one done.  What could possibly be taking the other students so long?  They were working and kneading the clay with their hands.  Picking it up and slamming it down on the desk.  I mean they were really working the clay, pressing down and working their hands into the clay.  It really took them a long time to make their creations.  I was just about to tell them they were doing it wrong when Mrs. Cherry told us to take our work and place it in the closet.  We were going to let them dry and harden over night and then glaze and fire them the next day.

I hurried into class on Friday.  I could not wait until I would get to my perfect ash tray and start the process of glazing it and then firing it to get the finished product.  I had picked out the perfect glaze for my ash tray.  Black Metallic.  It would be so cool when it was done.  I put an extra heavy coat of the glaze on my wonderful piece of art.  Something this perfect needed a little something extra and that did the trick.  As I walked with my creation towards the kiln for it to  be fired, Mrs. Cherry reminded us that our final grade depended on the outcome of the firing process.  I stopped in my tracks.  “What did she just say?” flashed through my mind.  She continued,  “Remember from class yesterday when I said that any imperfection in the clay like air bubbles, small pieces of dirt or too much glaze would cause the clay to crack and be destroyed in the firing process.”  What?  I hadn’t heard that!!!  I looked down at my project and thought that something that looked this good could not possibly be “marred” by invisible imperfections.  I placed my handiwork in the kiln confident that all would be fine.

On Monday, I walked into class with the full expectation that my little creation would be done.  I walked over to the kiln and watched as other students pulled their projects from the oven.  I was just about ready to reach down into the kiln when Mrs. Cherry said, “Don’t bother.”  I looked up and she was holding scraps of what was once my perfect ashtray.  It had indeed exploded in the firing process.  My project was a complete failure.  She started to explain to me that I had not properly worked the clay.  My lump of clay was filled with tiny air bubbles that needed to be worked out the clay.  That is done by slamming the clay down on the desk and forcing the air out of the clay.  Also, I needed to spend time working the clay with my hands to ensure that all small pieces of dirt or stones would be worked out of the clay.  If any of these imperfections were hidden in the clay it would not survive the firing process.  My project was now “Exhibit A” for the rest of the class.  Instead of gaining attention as a result of my beautiful masterpiece, I was now the center of attention for what not to do.

Over thirty years later when I run into people who were in that class with me, they bring up this event.  But not all of it is a bad experience, for as a result, I learned some valuable lessons from this failure.

The origins of the potter’s wheel and the art of pottery are lost in history, but it is known that both the potter and his craft were around in Biblical times.  The Bible contains several verses in several different books and passages that relate to the potter and his clay.  Used as metaphorical illustrations the “pottery passages” in the Bible are used to show the reader something about man’s relationship with God. Isaiah 64:8 (NIV) states, “O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, You are the Potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

The prophet Jeremiah was told by God: “Arise, and go ye to the potter’s house and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold; he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hands of the potter; so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.” Note that when Jeremiah stated that when the potter thought the clay was marred, the potter started over and made a new vessel.  The potter knew that the marred clay would never make a good pot, so he reworked it, re-wedged it and tried again.

We are like the potter’s clay.  God created man in His own image and the first work of human “pottery”, Adam, sinned.  God’s work was marred.  Unfortunately, all of the offspring of this first lump of clay inherited the same marred nature.  ”Wherefore, as by one man (Adam) sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned.”(Romans5: 12)

We are like marred lumps of clay because we have all inherited that sin “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  The sin in our lives are like the air bubbles, sticks and stones and other impurities in the potter’s clay that prevents the potter from making a perfect vessel.   If a potter were to allow the impurities and the sticks and stones to remain in the clay, he might be able to make a vessel, but that vessel would surely be marred and would surely explode in the flames of the potter’s furnace.  The resulting shards would be good for nothing except the trash pile.  Like the sticks and stones and other impurities in the clay, man’s sin needs to be removed so God can mold and shape us into  a vessel that can be used for Him.

Jeremiah told how the “…clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again another vessel…” Being born with sin the first time we need to be forgiven and re-made, so Jesus said “Ye must be born again” (John 3:3). It is through this re-birth that we are like re-made clay vessels,  which are pleasing to God.  Once we are these “new creatures” we can have fellowship with God and know the true purpose and meaning of life.

The similarities between the act of creating a pot on the potter’s wheel and the relationship between the Believer and God are endless.   As clay needs to be washed and purified, sinful man also needs to be washed and purified before we can join God in Heaven.  God uses two elements to “clean up”, “purify” the sinner.  The Word of God, the Bible is like the water that cleanses the potter’s clay. God uses His word to cleanse people”…with the washing of water by the word,” (Ephesians 5:26).  Jesus said: “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken onto you.” (John 15:3) God also washes our sin away with the Blood of Jesus. “…Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, (Rev.1: 5)

In order for the potter to create a perfect vessel, he will first wash the clay and remove all impurities.  Slamming the clay on the wedging board and kneading it in a specific way the potter causes the clay to go through a multitude of “trials and tribulations” thereby preparing the clay for things to come.  The act of centering the purified, washed, cleaned and wedged clay on the wheel can be compared to God’s way of allowing us to be exposed to all kinds of trials and tribulations, thereby nudging us ever closer to Him.  So it is with centering: a little nudge here, a little nudge there and before one is even aware of it the clay is centered and ready to be shaped into a vessel that can be used. The hard part, for both the potter and the Christian is to remain centered and focused so that God can do His thing in our life.

In closing,  the process in becoming a vessel that can be used by God is a lifelong process. At no time in our life do we become “sinless and perfect”.  Just forgiven. The debt owed by our sin is paid through His death and the shedding of His blood on the cross.  God continues to work the clay that is our lives.  He continues to work out the imperfections and failures that we deal with everyday.   In order to create the perfect vessel, the clay has to be just right, it has to be centered and has to respond properly to the potter’s sensitive hands.   We should compare the act of “centering” to the act of surrendering one ‘s self to God.

The lessons learned from my failure in art class in 1977 are still with me today.  Probably one of the greatest lessons is this… that when my clay was destroyed in the kiln all those years ago, it was over.  I could not fix it.  I could not salvage anything from it.  I would not get a second chance in fixing it.  Man is a lot like this.  When we as Christians fail in our lives,  most times other Christians do not give another person a second chance to allow God to re-work and re-mold the failed Believer.  They are quick to dispose of the broken shards of clay that are on the floor.   What I have learned is that God is all about second chances in this life.  He can take the “marred clay” and the broken shards of clay  that is our lives and shape and mold it and if we fail, He will continue to work it, re-mold it and shape it until we are called home to heaven.

As a Christian who has failed in his life, I am comforted to know that one day I will be made “perfect” when I go home to be with Him in heaven.  My prayer is that one day before I get called home to be with Him, I will be able to be a vessel that is worthy to be used again.  While I am waiting, I will place my life in the hands of the Potter…willing to be molded, re-worked and shaped into a vessel that is pleasing to Him.