twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Archive for August 2013

carpenter’s gospel

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This is the story of a table. It was nearing the end of another summer week. And we had been building this table for probably, I don’t know, a week and a half.

And I was Done. D.O.N.E. DONE. When my boss pulled out the sander and asked me to go over it a third time, I just about gave up.

For context: The table was probably the  most complicated thing we built all summer. The top was 3′ x 8′, the legs and lid were each only 3″ thick, there were no center supports, and a person (possibly several) needed to be able to stand on it. It had to be a level surface on a raked stage. It needed to look like the entire thing was carved from a block of solid marble. And it had to be lightweight enough that a respectable team of human beings could move it into place. And somehow, this complicated carpentry project taught me about God’s love in a way that was pure, tangible, and real. This is the story of a table.


Our TD had designed a brilliant structure of interlocking supports, which was light and strong and took about three times as much prep and layout work as anything we usually build.  The skin was triple-glued in place, and instead of our usual RockHard wood putty, we filled all the staples with Bondo. Which. Is usually used to repair dents in automobiles. This is legit stuff. 

We are built strong. Our composition is no mere happenstance – we are the result of careful planning, and every part of us is designed to fit together perfectly. We are not haphazardly nailed together with the cheapest materials available. Each piece of us is lovingly prepared to serve as part of a greater whole. And with the greatest attention to detail, we are built to be strong enough to support much more than we would appear to be capable of.

No matter how tight and clean our carpentry is, we use staples to ensure the strength of  even on the most neatly interlocking pieces. In order to attach the pieces together, we used a pneumatic staple gun, which ensures a firm bond, but also leaves a tiny scar on the surface. We had a couple hundred staple indentations on the face of this table, and each one was covered with a small glob of a repair putty that is designed to dry strong as steel. 

Scars are part of our composition. The layout and carpentry can be modeled after a perfect and strong design, but the fasteners we use to hold ourselves together often leave scars we’d rather not acknowledge. Our souls are covered in tiny wounds where we have attempted in vain to attach ourselves back together. We are convinced that these marks are of no great significance, and that we can carry on just fine as we are. God takes a different approach. No matter how small the scar, He applies balm to our wounds. Using the strongest, most permanent reconstructive adhesives, He applies more than we need, providing abundance where we had only known deficiency.


And then comes the sanding. The first, roughest pass is simply to remove all of the lumps of Bondo that stand above the smooth surface. This can take several discs of 60 grit sandpaper, the kind designed for aggressive removal. For us, this part took the better part of an afternoon.

After he has healed the wounds on the surface, great and small, acknowledged and ignored, there is still work to be done. We cannot simply say “Well, the holes are filled, I’ll thank you for your time and leave it at that!” There are leftovers, pieces we no longer need, remnants from our healing that our now extraneous. No one leaves a bandage on a would that has been long healed – and yet, somehow we are tempted to hold on to these bandages as proof of our healing, rather than allow the roughness of the sandpaper to liberate us from the memories of our wounds.

I thought, “Well, that’s smooth enough. Dinner time!” But my boss smiled, pulled out the 100 grain sandpaper, and told me we were going to go over it again, for finishing’s sake. 

It is not enough to take the quickest, roughest approach. The minute we consider ourselves finished, we are choosing to distance ourselves from God’s work in our lives. We are far too often tempted to give up. To say that we have learned enough, that we have recieved enough love and grace, that we are healed enough, that we are close enough to that glorious marble table we’ve been built to become. In doing so we sell ourselves short, and rob God of his power in calling us into his family as new creations, healed and whole.

Even as I had reached the end of my rope and nearly worked through my patience, I patted myself on the back for completing the finishing. Well. I thought it was complete. Turns out, there are imperfections the first round of finish sanding doesn’t pick up. It then becomes necessary to go over the piece with a damp cloth to raise up the grain of the wood, and finish sand it again with an even finer grain of sandpaper. So I went over the table. Again

The metaphor came to me as I was nearing the end of the last round of sanding, and it was so beautiful I nearly burst into tears. I don’t often hear direct phrases from God. But this time, between passes with the disc sander, I heard quite clearly “Aren’t you glad this is how I have chosen to work on you?”

It’s true. It’s so, so true.  The prophet and savior who spent his formative years as a carpenter knew how to finish tables to the highest standard. And he is committed to going over us again and again, no matter how many times it takes, carefully raising the grain we didn’t even know was there, and gently sanding off the rougher bits, until we are left with a surface that  bears no blemish. Our deepest wounds, the places which required the most Bondo to fill, are now the strongest parts. 
The beauty of the sanding process is that whether you start off with a hunk of driftwood or a 2×4 from the lumberyard, both will require sanding to become smooth as marble. And whether we are a storm-tossed log or a nearly-finished piece of lumber, God will go over our hearts again, and again, and again until His work in us is complete. I asked a co-worker if it was really necessary to raise the grain and do a last pass with the sander. He said “Right now, you’ve got it pretty smooth. If you raise the grain and go over again, it’ll be like glass.” Here’s to never settling for pretty smooth, and to believing in the one that will make us shine like stars.

In the paint shop, several layers of patient faux marble treatment combined with a few good coats of glossy sealer finished off a table that, under stage lights, is indistinguishable from a smooth marble countertop. 

The final step of the transformation is one we were not able to affect without a bit of theatre magic. But I believe that in this story, though our highest ambition on Earth may indeed be to become a beautiful facsimile of a marble countertop, we will one day be pure and clean, finished and whole. We will know why we were built strong. We will see our imperfections fully healed. We will know why it was worth so much effort to continue the work of finishing us. And we will be perfect images of the One in whose image we are made. This may be the story of a table. But it is also the story of us.

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Hallelujah. And Amen.

Written by Taylor Webster

August 28, 2013 at 8:44 pm

refrigerator art

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I make plans. I make lots and lots of plans. This summer I have come up with a five year (what?) plan for my life. That feels absolutely ridiculous. Especially because, if you had asked me five years ago where I’d be right now, the answer would be summed up in three letters. MFA. Goodness, how the times change. I was talking with some good friends about what a crazy concept it is to think I know where I’ll be in five years, and this is the analogy that came from it.

We work very hard on our plans. We draw them out as best as we are able, anticipating as many of the inconsistencies and irregularities as we can. We draw them out meticulously  and carefully and thoughtfully, genuinely trying to create a complete picture of something it is actually impossible for us to see or understand. And once we are finished drawing out our futures, we hand them off to God and ask for His blessing.

And I think God does something quite interesting with these flimsy pieces of paper we want to place so much confidence in. Some would assume he takes it as a check list and proceeds to honor each of our specific prayer requests. Others would say he laughs at our ignorance, takes the plan straight to the shredder, and proceeds to continue as though our input didn’t matter at all. I think he takes our plans and does something different with them all together. He puts them on the family refrigerator.

You see, I think he is glad to see that we’re genuinely seeking to engage in the planning process of our lives. We work so hard on these drawings, and we are so excited to show them to him, and he says “That’s wonderful! I’m so proud you worked so hard on that. Let’s take that and put it right up here where we can see it.” And then we’ve got some time to stand back and look at it. We see it every morning when we grab milk for our cereal, and we’re reminded that that’s the direction we want to be moving.

And in the time of seeing this plan on the fridge every day, God works with us through it. Sometimes we have drawn a house that is a triangle and four rectangles (roof, windows, door, house) and he shows us a deeper, more complete way to see things. So that when we revisit the drawing we still end up with a house, but all of a sudden it’s a log cabin with a firm foundation and a back porch and the drawing has a much more sophisticated sense of perspective.
Other times, he looks at the drawing and sees how we’ve been paying attention, delights at our growing understanding of perspective and contour and shading, sees how our gifts are developing, and challenges us to continue in a similar vein.
And sometimes, he allows us to see that for all the effort we’ve put into drawing houses, we’d really be much better at drawing people, and he asks us to create an entirely new plan.
But I’ll maintain, the process is important. It’s much more valuable to work through our plans in any of these ways than it is to focus so much on creating perfect art.

Another tricky thing about this drawing ending up on the family refrigerator – it’s not the only thing up there. Now, all of a sudden our carefully bordered drawing is sharing space with grocery lists, report cards, wedding invitations, emergency phone numbers, and, of course, many more drawings.  Sometimes it is frustrating to find that what we have worked so hard on is partially covered up or overshadowed by someone else’s celebration, joy, or clarity of plan.  The beauty comes when we see our art on the cluttered, messy refrigerator not as one of many things vying for attention and supremacy, but as part of a beautiful collage, a family album that reflects the heart and spirit of how much our Father loves us and how blessed we are to be making plans together.

So as hard as I may be working on formulating this plan, I’m ready to hand it off to God, ask him to put it on the refrigerator with the rest of the family mess, and spend the next five years seeing which parts are erased, which are refined, which are overshadowed, and which are brought to glorious fullness.

Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.
Psalm 73

Written by Taylor Webster

August 3, 2013 at 2:03 pm