Tag: Ottawa County Fair

If Only I Had Enough Talent

When I was a kid, the thing I wished for most was to be talented. No. Not just talented. I wanted to be special. I wanted to stand out from the crowd. I wanted to change the world with something I could do. I wanted to be remembered in my hometown.  I wanted to be someone who “made it” in whatever I would choose to do and make my mark on the world that would be remembered for years after I was gone.

And I believed I could…

If only I had enough talent.

That longing lead me down paths that almost all of us have journeyed. Drawn to sports, art, and a short-lived stint in the choir in search of my place to belong.

FootballLike most boys growing up, I dreamt of being a professional athlete.  Playing a sport I loved and getting paid for it was just the ticket for the dreams of a young skinny kid from Oak Harbor, Ohio.

If I only had enough talent.

When you are 5’4″ as a sophomore and weighed a solid 95 lbs dressed in your footbbaseballall uniform with full pads and helmet… it was painfully obvious that football was not going to be in my future.  The fact that I grew 9 inches during the summer between my 10th and 11th grade years did not make the prospect of being a professional athlete any clearer.  Yes, I was 6′ 2″, but I also only weighed 130 lbs.  A strong wind could and would knock me over.

While I was not the worst player on any of the sports teams I played on.  The evidence was clear that I was not going to take Hank Aaron’s place in the Major Leagues, nor was I going to play for the Cleveland Brown’s at any time in my life.

I had always thought of myself to be artistic.  Why I thought that I have not a clue.  I have always loved to draw and be creative.  I tried to be artistic and there was a time I thought I was pretty good at it. Maybe I thought that because when I was in the fifth grade I won a first place    riLigerbbon at the Ottawa County Fair for a pencil drawing. I guess it gave me enough confidence that I convinced myself that I was talented.  That was until I compared my ability to those around me when I took art classes at Oak Harbor High SchoolI was suddenly made aware that my artistic ability was somewhere along the lines of Napoleon Dynamite’s when he drew a picture of a Liger.  Not so good.

If only I had enough talent.

Then there was the period in my life when I dreamed of what it would be like to be the lead singer of a band.  I mean I could sing all the notes of my favorite songmicrophone1s and bands when the music was blasting through the cheap speakers of my 1976 Ford Pinto.  It’s funny how we convince ourselves that we are as talented as our favorite singer we hear on our radio.  I mean who of us have never sang their heart out using a hair brush as a microphone?  The sad truth is that I found out how lacking of talent I truly was when I tried out to sing a solo for our choir concert. It was not pretty.

If I only had enough talent.

I have written numerous times about my search to find what my talent was in life and I have to admit, when I reflect back at my life, I am hard pressed to state exactly what my talent ever was.  I have had to come to terms that I will not be remembered.  Not even in the small town I was raised in.  I have not changed the world and for the most part the only true mark that I will ever make will be the slab of stone that my family puts up to mark my burial plot.

That being said… I think I have figured out why my mark on this earth is not what I thought it would be when I was Talent-Overrated-titledreaming of it as a child.  I think that talent is over-rated.  Yes…I said it.  Talent is over-rated.  Talent doesn’t matter that much in the real world. It’s a prerequisite to being average. It may open some doors, but it won’t keep them open for long. I’ve discovered in the real world, there’s something that’s far more important. Want to know what trumps talent every time?

Hard Work and Discipline.

I know, I know. They are ugly words! Even typing them makes me feel a pit in my stomach much like I feel when I have to pay my taxes each April. 

If we’re honest, we’ll all admit we should “be more disciplined”.  And it turns out that hard work is, well…hard.

Easier things are easier and usually more fun. So we put off the hard stuff for another day. And we busy ourselves with things we can argue are important, in an effort to avoid what we should actually be doing.

Relying soleHArd Workly on talent to get you through life can often lead to failure.  Why?  Because those that rely on their talent alone often fail to work hard enough to accomplish what they feel should have come easily.  They tend to avoid the discipline needed to overcome those areas in their life that are lacking.

It’s not our talent that sets us apart and opens the door to our future.  It’s our willingness and resolve to face the hard work, again and again – to get busy, not just with doing stuff, but with doing the stuff that moves us forward in our most important dreams and goals.

Like you, I lead a busy life; I can find an excuse when I need one. I can justify my bad choices and procrastination if I want to. But the deeper I get into life, the more I see and feel the price I paid avoiding the important things before me.  I am convinced that ata secret this point the reason no one will remember a skinny kid from Oak Harbor, Ohio is the fact that I never worked hard enough and disciplined myself to achieve all that I should have achieved.

Far too many times in my life, I have used excuses that would keep me from doing what I probably should have done.  I would say that I didn’t know what to do.  The truth is that I would choose to avoid the hard work and discipline it would take for me to overcome the obstacles that were placed in my way.

Yes, there are times in our life when we legitimately don’t know what to do. But too often, too many of us set up camp there when we were meant to just pass through. In time, we accept our excuses as truth and trade our energy for apathy. Eventually, we give up and settle in – far short of our potential, far less happy and fulfilled than we could be. And when we do, we tell ourselves we just didn’t have the talent, or the skill, or the knowledge to move forward. When the truth is… we simply did not want to work hard and discipline our lives enough to reach the goals we should have had in life.

So as I reflect on the fifty plus years of this life, I am drawn to challenge myself fopossibilityr what can be accomplished in this phase of my life. There is still time and there is still opportunity. More and more, I’m coming to realize that hard work and discipline isn’t an enemy out to shame me. It’s a friend with a key.

If you want to be special, If you want to stand out from the crowd and change the world by something that you do.

You can. All you need is enough… discipline and hard work in your life.

No, more than likely, I won’t ever be remembered in my hometown and the world will make little note of my passing.  But I believe that there is still more for me to do.  There are things I still want to accomplish in life.  Things I believe I can make the difference in.  These goals can be attained by instilling an attitude of hard work and discipline in my life.

The same can be said for you and the things left for you to accomplish.

And yet, there is a small part of me that still thinks that maybe this will be the year that I will get drafted by the Cleveland Brown’s…

If only I had enough talent.


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…


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.