Any Regrets?

My regrets?  Not getting married sooner, maybe.  Practicing transparency earlier and more often, possibly.   A couple of relationships I might undo. But even the bad stuff proved to be pretty good life lessons so even those I’m not sure I would undo entirely. What about you? Any regrets?   Anything you would undo if you had the chance? Some good responses here. Take a look.

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Pottery with Yao

My family and I just returned from a week of family camp at Camp Seafarer. What an amazing week! Seven straight days on the beautiful Neuse River in Arrapahoe, North Carolina — water skiing, fishing, motor boating, sailing, zip lining, horseback riding, archery, riflery and … pottery.

Yep.  Pottery.  After awhile, a guy just needs a little downtime.  So I learned a little pottery from a guy named Yao and, in the process, got a great refresher on a biblical metaphor:

 18 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

With all of us seated at our potter’s wheel, Yao began our lesson.  He reached in to a large bag and pulled out big lumps of clay and handed each of us a big chunk — a big, formless, kinda smelly, sorta slimy, hunk of mud.  Each of us looked first at the hunk of mud in our hands and then at Yao’s beautiful finished pottery pieces sitting on a nearby shelf and we all felt a little overwhelmed.  Yao told us to relax.

I suppose if you’ve done this many times before, as Yao has, and God has, it’s easy to relax.  The experienced potter knows that an ugly hunk of mud can eventually become a beautiful, useful vessel.  After all, it’s about the potter, not the mud.

But first, Yao gave us a warning:

The biggest mistake that beginners make, is they immediately put their clay on the wheel and try to make something beautiful and useful out of it.  Don’t do that.

Take your time.  Get to know your clay.  Every hunk of clay is different.  Your hunk of clay isn’t ready yet.  Get the air bubbles out.  Soften up your clay.  Add water if you need to.  Make your clay pliable.  Work it with your hands to see how it responds.  Take your time.

And so we did.  Yao showed us how to work our clay.  He was slow and methodical about it.  We got the feeling that Yao enjoyed the process of working the clay as much or more than he did actually making something out of it — that perhaps the journey really was his joy.  I suspect God feels that way too.  Like Yao, God has a lot of finished pots.  It’s hard to imagine that God really needs another one.  I suspect God works with clay because God likes to, not because God needs to — humbling as that may be to pots, and us humans.

Finally, Yao told us we were ready to put our clay on the wheel.  He called it “centering the clay” and told us we needed to get it right.  He said in order for us to properly work with our clay and form it into something beautiful and useful, we needed to be in control.  We needed to have our clay directly in the center of our wheel and we needed to keep it there.  Nothing would affect the final product more, he told us, than the time the clay spends in the hands of the potter directly in the center of the wheel.  (On a purely personal note, this little point makes me a bit nervous and explains a lot):

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Once we got our clay perfectly centered on the wheel, we were ready to get to work.  Yao showed us how to brace our arms over our workspace so that we could put our hands around our clay to control its movement.  Apply pressure inward and our clay would grow tall and narrow.  Apply pressure downward from the top and our clay would flatten and get wider.  I think this is what Yao meant when he told us to get to know our clay.  This is where we learned how much pressure we needed to apply to get our clay to change its shape.  Too much and our clay might completely collapse.  Not enough and it wouldn’t change its shape at all.  Only the potter knows just how much pressure is enough to get the job done.

“But what if we don’t know exactly what we want to make yet?, we asked.  “Don’t worry about it,” Yao said.  “Just work with your clay.  See how it feels.  Notice how it responds to you.  Does it seem better suited to be a big water bowl or a narrow flower vase?  You’ve got plenty of time to figure out its ultimate purpose.  And you can always change your mind and start over.  Don’t worry about it.”

And so we didn’t.  We just worked with our clay.  At first, I made mine tall and skinny.  I was thinking I might make a tall drink glass.  But each time my clay got tall and skinny, it got wobbly and off kilter.  I decided my clay wouldn’t make a good drink glass and that, frankly, I didn’t really need another drink glass.  What I really needed was a small little bowl to put all my pocket change in.

And so I started over.  But not with a new piece of clay.  I just applied downward pressure to the piece of clay I was working with and — poof.  Down it shrunk into a small and shallow bowl.  Perfect.

Well, not perfectly perfect.  But perfect for my purposes.  Occasionally, my clay would get a bit off center.  When it did, it lost a bit of its symmetry and smoothness. But no matter.  Eventually, I got it back to the center of the wheel.  I never could get  the perfect symmetry and smoothness back, but I was able to get back the basic shape I needed for my change bowl.  So, no worries.  It’s good to know that God can get us back on track and in the center of the wheel so that we can become all that we were meant to be.  But it’s a bit of a cautionary tale to know that the potter can’t always remove all of the imperfections caused by an uncentered piece of clay.

Eventually, I got just the bowl I wanted.  All that remained was to put a little paint on it.  I like Clemson, so I chose orange and purple paint (or as close to orange and purple as I could find).  Lots of people wouldn’t think that combination would make a very pretty change bowl.  But my change bowl wasn’t meant for lots of people.  It was meant for me.  And to me, orange and purple was perfect.

Pottery is a creative process.  Basically, it’s all about turning a big hunk of ugly mud into something useful, something beautiful.  And, of course, beauty and usefulness is in the eye of the potter, not the clay.  Who knows?  If my clay could talk, maybe it would tell me that it would prefer to be a garnet and black drink glass.  But I’m the potter.  I wanted an orange and purple change bowl.  That’s what was useful to me and it’s what I thought my clay was best suited to be.  Eventually, I learned what my clay would respond to and I was able to shape it in to a form that suited my purposes and made me happy.  My bowl has its share of defects, but I don’t care.  They just remind me of the times that I was able to get my clay back on the center of my wheel after it had wandered off a time or two.

I like to think of God as an artist.  The creation story is all about God’s creativity and artistry.  But so is our story.  God doesn’t need another pot.  God just enjoys the art of pottery.  God enjoys working with us, forming a relationship with us, learning how we respond to certain pressures and certain circumstances.  It’s not our job to figure out how to make ourselves useful or beautiful.  That’s the potter’s job.  The clay’s job is to remain in the center of the wheel and spend time with the potter.  And even when we screw that up, the potter is able to get us back to the center of the wheel and finish the job.  Only then can an ugly hunk of mud become something useful and something beautiful.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

So, there it is.  I made it myself.  It’s not perfect, but it’s mine and I love it.  I am a potter!  Who knew?

Swing Changes and Life Changes

I’m sitting here watching the Bay Hill Classic and right now Tiger Woods has the 36 hole lead.  It’s been a long few years for Tiger, but he seems to be getting things together just in time for this year’s Masters.  I hope so; I’ve always been a Tiger fan.  I started following Tiger when he was a 15 year old phenom.  By 1997, then just 21 years old, Tiger Woods was on top of the golf world.  He was destroying golf courses like no one had ever seen before.  That year, he played in 21 tournaments, made the cut in 20, won 4 and finished in the top 10 in five others.  He won the Masters by a record 12 strokes over Tom Kite, playing the last 63 holes in an incredible 22 under par!  Who can forget the patented fist pump on the last hole?

After Tiger’s amazing 1997, I couldn’t wait for the 1998 golf season to see what he would do.  So what did he do?  He spent the entire year deconstructing and completely overhauling a golf swing that had just produced one of the most successful seasons in golf history.  I thought he had gone completely crazy and so did much of the golf world.  And, as it turns out, 1998 wasn’t a great year for Tiger.  He won only one tournament and his earnings for that year remain the lowest of his career.  What in the world was he thinking?  Why in the world would he overhaul the purest swing in golf, a swing that was good enough to win the Masters by 12 strokes?  Although Tiger has never really answered the question directly, others have speculated.  But his results since that time have proven his decision to have been a wise one.  In fact, a year after Tiger’s swing overhaul, he put together what are almost certainly the two most dominant seasons in golf history — in 41 tournament starts in 1999 and 2000, Tiger finished in the top 10 in 33 and won 17.  Now that’s strong!  The product of the swing remake was a swing built for even greater success and one that was built to last.  Today, Tiger’s in the midst of yet another swing change.  Apparently, he thinks an overhaul is warranted every 10 years or so.

I think he’s right.  Sometimes what’s gotten us to our happy place, becomes suddenly insufficient to keep us there.  What has worked in the past, suddenly no longer works in the present and is of no help for the future.  Said Laura Winner, in her book, Still:  Notes on a Mid Faith Crisis,:

My friend Ruth’s mother once told her, ‘Every ten years you have to remake everything.’ Reshape yourself. Reorient yourself. Remake everything. What struck Ruth about this was not just the insight but the source: she had imagined that her mother, her steadfast loving mother, was static, was always the same. She didn’t know that her mother had remade everything seven times, eight times. Sometimes the reshaping is not big, not audible; not a move, a marriage, a child, a heroic change of course. Sometimes it is only here inside, how you make sense of things. Sometimes it is only about how you know yourself to be.

Sometimes, swing changes are forced upon us. Death and divorce, for instance, force us not only to come to terms with our loss but to redefine ourselves in relation to the loss. Becoming an empty nester forces us to redefine ourselves in relation to our adult children who not only are not as physically present in our lives but probably don’t need us (or think they need us) as much as they once did. Who are we under those circumstances? How do we define ourselves? Certainly not as we did before the circumstance change.

Sometimes, our spiritual life is in need of a swing change. The nature of our relationship to the devine is dynamic, rarely static. We respond to some of that change with minor tweaks. But there generally comes a time when we realize that the aggregation of change requires a complete remake of our relationship to our higher power. The stories of our youth are no longer compelling, inspiring or even believable and our faith takes a hit and we lose our confidence and begin to sink.

And sometimes, it us that needs a remake.  Sometimes what got us this far, suddenly won’t get us any farther.  Our relationship with ourselves begins to sour and we find ourselves lost and not sure exactly who we are any more.

I think we generally know when it’s time for a remake.  It’s something we can feel. But that doesn’t make it easy.  It’s not easy to remake ourselves.  It’s hard to fix that which isn’t truly broken.  It’s not easy to overhaul a swing that has won us millions of dollars and lots of tournaments or a life that has made us very happy or a faith that has carried us through some really tough times.  But sometimes we have to.  And sometimes we have to do it again and again.

Are you due for a remake?  Am I?  What’s holding us back?  If what got you here won’t get you there, consider overhauling your swing.  It’s hard work.  It’s scary.  But often, it’s necessary.  It’s worked for Tiger.  Several times.  Tee it up.  And let it rip.

Your Turn:  What about you?  Have you made a swing change recently?  Are you in need of one?  What’s holding you back?  Share your thoughts.