For as long as I can remember, I have been making things with my hands. One of the best gifts my dad gave to me was letting me me use his tools. He also let me use any scrap wood I could find in our garage. It didn't matter if I was making a ship out of an old two by four, or building a fort or a tree house, I loved working with wood. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, a suburb of Los Angeles, and much of the land I saw around me was covered with tract houses, asphalt and concrete. The backyard of our house was located literally up against an onramp to Interstate 5. The constant drone of trucks and cars traveling behind our house was always with us.
Sometime around the time when I was in the fourth grade, my parents decided to buy two acres of land in the high desert which was about an hours drive north of where we lived. Many Friday afternoons, after dad got off work, we loaded up our pickup and drove out to the desert where we worked on developing our property. I spent countless hours exploring the wonders of the high desert so it’s no surprise that early on in my childhood, I fell in love with nature. Each morning I awoke to a sun shining on a wild land, a land full of rabbits, coyotes, rattlesnakes and hawks. And after the sun went down, a different world opened up to me as I’d sit outside in one of our aluminum lawn chairs and watch the desert sky come alive with countless stars; stars that I had never seen from our home in the valley.
I loved being out in nature and even though religion was not a big part of our home, when I was out in the wild, I felt close to Creator. Another interesting thing about my childhood was that for as long as I can remember I have felt drawn to know and understand more about the Native American people, who in our not so distant past, had lived freely upon this very land. When I was in the 10th grade, I read a book entitled Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and it changed the way I viewed the version of American history that I had been taught in school. Sometime during my High School years I remember going to see a John Wayne movie called “The Shootist.” This was John Wayne’s last movie and he played the part of an aged, ex gunfighter who was terminally ill with cancer. If you are old enough to remember this movie, you might recall a scene in the movie where a woman asks John Wayne if he would like to go to church with her. “No thank you maam” he replied as he pointed to the horizon. “My church is out there in nature among the trees, grass and sky.” As I sat there in that darkened theater, I nodded my head in agreement thinking that this is what I believed too!
By the time I graduated high school, the Jesus movement had begun touch our family and I became a born again Christian. I did not grow up going to church, so the Bible, Jesus and Christianity was all very new to me. The church I attended had a lot to say about how I should view nature and creation. I was taught to view all of mankind as totally depraved and that nature was fallen and completely corrupt. I was advised not to give much attention or value to nature because in the end -it was all going to burn. I was especially warned not to love creation, lest I fall into the sin of idolatry by worshiping the creation. Even though this new religion seemed contrary to the wonder and awe I experienced out in nature as a child, I adopted these dualistic views and proceeded to defend them vigorously for many years. It's probably no surprise that I became a carpenter and eventually started and ran my own construction company for eighteen years.
Over the years my spirituality resembled a formula that sounded something like this: If I lived the right way and did the right things, well, then God would take care of my family and me. For many years it seemed like this formula worked, that is, until God interrupted my life in some unexpected, intense ways.
On New Years day, 1998, while living in Southern California we experienced violence in a way that changed us forever. Just after midnight, a man was shot to death on our front yard. A few months later, this event was followed by the news that my sister had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She fought her cancer for almost five years and finally succumbed to the onslaught of this relentless disease. Three weeks after my sister died, I was devastated by the news that my older brother had been killed in the line of duty. He was a Sergeant in the Clark County Sherriff’s department. So much for my formula and having God figured out. In many ways, Brad’s death felt like having the rug pulled out from under me, and it sent me on a journey of healing self-discovery where I would began to see and experience God in some profound new ways.
After relocating to the Pacific Northwest we, Cathy and I, enrolled in a Master’s program at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, which was a life giving experience. Today I am I am happy to say that I have found healing as well as part of my heart that I thought I had lost . I have met many new friends here in the Pacific Northwest who have helped bring healing to my wounded soul. I’m especially thankful for my Native American brothers and sisters who continue to teach me how to walk in relationship with Creation in a good way. My native friends have taught me how to see and pay attention to the unique and wonderful ways that God, our Creator, speaks to our hearts through creation. Understanding this has helped me see Jesus, along with many familiar bible passages, in a new light. He, Jesus, wasn’t kidding when he encouraged His anxious followers to go outside and watch the sparrows to observe the father’s relationship with them (Matt 6:26). God cares about the creation and God cares about us.
I will close my story with two of my experiences that I had that will help explain what I mean. Three years after my brother's death, I was asked to speak at dedication ceremony for a park that built in honor of him. During the ceremony, while I was speaking at the podium, I noticed that the audience seated before me were all gazing at something above me. I had lost the crowd…. When I finished speaking, I sat down and looked up to see what everyone was looking at. And there they were, two bald eagles, lazily circling together above us. Then, unexpectedly one of them dove like a bullet, disappearing behind some trees. The other eagle, continued to circle but now began to move away from us until it disappeared. While some may say that this occurrence was a random act, I disagree because I believe it was divinely inspired moment. For me, as those two eagles circled above, I saw that they were acting out the relationship I had enjoyed with my brother for many years. When one eagle dove and disappeared, it signified my brother’s death. I saw myself as the other eagle now left to fly alone-and somehow, I knew I was going to be okay.
The second experience has to do with how Red Tail Woodworks got started. In the summer of 2011, I decided to found a woodworking/mentoring school and I wanted to name it Red Tail Woodworks. I have had a few experiences
with Red Tail Hawks so I thought what better way to honor these beautiful birds. I asked my son Zach to draw our logo, and he did, so he came up with this picture of a feather. I then asked my son in law Ryan to put the lettering and feather together and they came up with our official logo. The day Ryan showed me the logo design on his lap-top, he then walked across the room and showed me a feather he had found earlier that day out on the back corner of our property. Here’s a picture of the feather so you can be the judge if the Creator’s hand is in this.
Thanks for taking the time to read my story.