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My Woodcarving Story
by Donald Mehl
5/10/2008 / Short Stories
We all have many God-given gifts. In my case due to unusual circumstances, a special gift of woodcarving was discovered later in life. However, often times in our lives those gifts remain hidden - never emerging to be used and enjoyed.
In January 2000, I was diagnosed with cancer that required surgery and weeks of daily radiation treatments. Then in January 2004, a different cancer with similar treatments interrupted my life again. During those times and in the months following, I was having a hard time with recovery. Physically I felt terrible and I was having trouble mentally coping as well.
Seeing my struggle during the first illness, a friend and his wife bought a very basic wood carving set for me along with a couple pieces of wood. After urging me to see what I could do with it, I just stared at it for about a month. Then, I carved my first piece - an old man figure wearing ragged clothes, and holding onto a walking stick for his support.
Now after carving for the past six years, many pieces have been completed - most of them done during the winter months. A carving will normally take 80 to 150 hours to complete, so I only finish 3 or 4 a year. Each piece continues to be a learning experience, a challenge, and a unique type of ministry. I do not sell them - most are given away. Since many of the carvings illustrate a Biblical theme, I could not profit from the message that God has so freely given to us. I have done a few requests, but I don't like to do them for various reasons. Many pieces have been on display in churches, libraries, schools, and our local City Hall.
My favorite carving style is called "deep relief" carving using basswood - a medium hardness wood common for that type of work. A tinted wax is applied to the surface giving it depth and color. No sandpaper or power tools are used - only carving knives. Usually 15-20 different knives are needed, each with their own unique configuration and size. The carvings are typically 13" to 15" square x 1" thick with a carved foldout stand mounted on the back.
The original scenes and themes are developed and drawn by me as the Lord leads, first on paper, then redrawn many times onto the board as wood is carved away. I believe that pictures illustrating God's message of salvation, His love, and the glory of His creation can be brought to light from deep within a plain piece of wood. The concealed message will be revealed to all after removing the splinters, chips and other unwanted chunks of wood...then that which remains can be detail carved into the desired finished piece.
It's the same way in the life of believers. All were just lumps of lifeless clay until the Master Potter's hands began their work in us. He removed the unwanted clay from our lives at the moment of salvation...then, God continually shapes and forms us into the vessel He would have us to be for His honor and glory. The prophet Isaiah recorded that
message in Isaiah 64:8 NKJV, "But now, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our Potter; And all we are the work of Your hand."
I thank the Lord for sending that thoughtful couple to me with their care package of carving tools - needed during that unique time in my life. Their love and friendship shown toward me is something that I will always remember and cherish.
Oh...there is another very important detail related to my first carving that must be shared. After the work on that piece was completed, my son looked at it and said, "This one is mine dad, you'll just have to carve something else."
Well, I did...and I've been carving ever since.
During retirement, my prayer is that I might serve the Lord by sharing the Gospel through my writing. As the Lord leads, my work will inform, challenge and encourage. I also enjoy Biblical theme woodcarving, Bible studies and Christian music. Watch, pray and keep looking up!
Read more articles by Donald Mehl
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