Life from the rear-view mirror

Turning with the “Master”….Vol 60

September 18, 2013 | Comment

565879_10201139892153873_1087414757_nA few months back I began a new hobby of wood-turning. Specifically turning pens out of exotic wood and acrylic on a small wood lathe. I can’t fully explain the motivation behind it other than in some small way to honor my dad and his efforts to teach me some useful skill and maybe to prove to myself than I can do something with my hands other than take them out to dinner and a movie.

I started doing research on what I would need to get started in this new hobby. Most of the information I needed was available on YouTube. I watched hours of video on pen turning, talked to the guys at the local craft store and eventually picked up enough gear to begin turning my first pen.

Translating actual technique from watching a video to a spinning piece of wood on the lathe in front of you is both interesting and a bit daunting.

For starters…you can’t get hurt too bad watching a video. There are some safety issues that, if not followed,  could ruin your chances of making a pen…and might ruin your whole day too. Thankfully, I learned enough to keep the lathe from tearing the tools out of my hands and launching them into orbit or impaling myself…and in the end…my first pen actually came out pretty good… considering. I called my dad to celebrate and talk shop. I was no longer the lowly “holder of the flashlight” I was a real-life crafts-person complete with all my original fingers. It was a proud moment.

I brought my first pen home to show Kathy who gushed with just the right amount of enthusiasm and encouragement. The kids just stared in wonder that dad could actually make something instead of “commissioning” it. I is something I could do for my own enjoyment and maybe, if I got good enough, make a few bucks on the side… (to pay for my other hobbies like eating and college tuition and gas for the cars…)

A few days later I was back in the shop but with a whole different outcome. The glue set before I could work with the pen and then I blew up a couple of pen blanks on the lathe…among other things. I came home with nothing to show for the time but frustration and broken parts. I had failed. What happened? Was that first pen just a fluke? Beginner’s luck?

I revisited YouTube and my new pals at Woodcraft for help. I didn’t pick up any more hints from the videos and it turns out the dudes at Woodcraft  really didn’t know a whole lot more about pen turning than me. But every time I visited the store I came home with more pen kits and stuff to help me make better pens. I had do-dads and gadgets and fancy pen blanks…I had a shop full of potential…but at the moment all that it translated into was…broken parts.

There are always a few people in any hobby or profession who stand out.

featured_pen_large barryturning (2)

Barry Gross and 2010 Pen of the year…



They have some unique talent or ability that is immediately recognizable in their work. I had seen Barry’s work on YouTube, on the internet and had read about him in some of the forums I subscribed to. He took pen turning to an art form. He had over 30 years experience,  published three books on turning, and had a couple of instructional DVD’s out. He had won “pen of the year” and had even been commissioned to make some pens for Dick Cheney, while he was Vice President. He was and is, very accomplished.

I bought one of his books and DVD’s and began to watch him closely. He looked like a regular guy but with an incredible talent. He looked approachable. Man…I thought…if I could get a chance to work with him one on one…that might just make the difference to help me turn the corner and move to the next level myself.

Turns out that Barry routinely does instruction at his home in Philadelphia for a reasonable fee. So this past Friday I headed to PA for my three hour session with Barry Gross, Master Craftsman. I was going to stop into his warehouse on Friday to pick up a few supplies then work with him in his personal shop Saturday morning.

Barry and I are about the same age and we had an easy rapport. The plan was that I would watch him make a pen and apply finish…and then, he would watch me do the same and help with flaws in my technique.  Along the way the conversation would move from materials, to tools, to finishes to marketing. All in an informal, yet instructional way. He didn’t come at it from a standpoint of being so much better than me…which he was. But rather as a teacher who had been where I was and made all the mistakes I was making but through learning, patience and perseverance , had honed his craft to excellence. He was quick to tell me (and show me) that while he is at the top of his game…he still makes mistakes. He can take his eye off of what he’s working on for just a second and blow something up.

The time with Barry was well spent. He is, and will be and valuable resource. I learned a ton and made a friend.

Anyone who knows me, knows I can be, and often am impulsive. That can be good or bad. OK…let’s not go there right now. The point is that I didn’t just jump in the car and go to Philly hoping to find Barry at home with time on his hands.  I purposely planned for the trip. I talked it over with Kathy. I looked at our situation, my ability, my desire and my resources…then made a decision to take the trip. Making the best pen I could possibly make was important to me. Not simply to please me…but for who i thought might be customers one day. They would have a choice about where to purchase fine writing instruments. If I didn’t provide a pen that was equal to or better than others out there…chances are I would end up with a whole lot of pretty pens on the shelf instead of in the pockets of customers.

This whole story has made me think about parallels to my walk with God. Why is it that my time with Jesus, the Master of the Universe, and proclaimed Master of my life seems to be much more haphazard than the time I spent with Barry Gross. Yet what Jesus has to offer for my life is critical to my life…and ultimately more rewarding than any talent or ability I might possess or choose to use for my own purposes. No offense Barry…

The sad truth is that I have often assigned more value to time I spend on other things and with other people.

What a trajedy…what sin! How can I love God the way He requires with a second-hand love? How can I expect to mature, to grow, to be the husband and father I need to be?  I can’t. You can’t. No one can.

For God to have and maintain the place of Lordship in our lives takes a purposeful,  intentional commitment. We often have to sacrifice something else to ensure that our relationship with our Savior takes priority over…well…pens…and anything else you and I are distracted by.

There is no shortage of competition in the world for our time and for our best. I pray that we can see through the things that can only provide temporary satisfaction and wisely commit to invest ourselves be better followers of Christ. When that priority is firmly fixed in place we can live out our purpose. Rick Warren says it this way…

  • We were planned for God’s pleasure
    • so your first purpose is to offer real worship.
  • We were formed for God’s family
    • so your second purpose is to enjoy real fellowship.
  • We were created to become like Christ,
    • so your third purpose is to learn real discipleship.
  • We were shaped for serving God
    • so your fourth purpose is to practice real ministry.
  • We were made for a mission
    • so your fifth purpose is to live out real evangelism.

Blessings friend!

Luke 10:27  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.


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