Fred Rettig was worn out. The owner of Rettig's Auto Body in Mobile, AL, had heavily invested his energies and finances into developing a business creating and selling car accessories, and success seemed just around the corner when QVC featured them on the home shopping channel in 2008.
But the start-up failed, and his marriage was struggling.
"I got to a place that was really touch," Rettif recalled. "I think the Lord said I needed to do some internal soul-searching."
That's when he purchased design plans for the Penobscot 14, a 14-foot-long wooden boat featured in WoodenBoat Magazine. Somewhere along the nine-month process of revising plans, selecting woods, painting, carving, thinking and praying, Rettif realized he was creating something special.
"When I was a child, I remember my dad said, 'If you are going to do something, do it with excellence,'" Rettig said.
There were times when he didn't know what to do, and he asked the Holy Spirit to guide him. Sometimes it seemed as if boat builders of yesteryear were whispering in his ear, a connection to long-ago craftsmen of a nearly lost art.
The result is "Tenderness," a handmade boat that has won first place in every wooden boat show in America that Fred and his wofe, Barbara, entered.
The Penobscot 14 was custom built using fine woods from around the world. The hull is lapsided with French plywood made of West African okoume wood. The stringers and transom are made of cedar from the United States. The centerboard box is Philippine mahogany, the seats are Honduran mahogany and the gunnel is out of Brazilian leopardwood. All of the fasteners are hidden beneath the trim mouldings. The scallop-shaped oar boxes were crafted out of Honduran mahogany found in Rettig's father-in-law's workshop and were made in his memory. The brass fittings were custom-designed and handmade by Rettig.
Painting the boat took over 200 hours using epoxy and polyurethane paints. Approximately 1,200 hours were dedicated in building this boat. It was completed on June 20, 2009.
"The name 'Tenderness' was inspired from a time when I needed a word that would help me to become more sensitive to the needs of my wife, Barbara. The word was 'Tenderness,'" Rettig said.
"While building this boat, I realized it was a tender and I thought about the little boats that tend to the needs of larger craft. This word reminded me how important it is to pay attention to details; the details of building a boat and the details of building a strong marriage. I feel the name is a perfect dedication," he said.
Today, the boat is on display at the University of Mobile's Harrigan Center. Rettig said the boat is special, and he wanted to donate it to a place that is special, as well. Proceeds from the sale of "Tenderness" will be used toward funding a scholarship in the Rettigs' names, according to UMobile President Mark Foley.
Foley first saw the boat in 2009 at a faith-based arts and entertainment event in Mobile.
"I remember being stunned by the beauty of the craftsmanship," Foley said. He and Rettig became friends through participating in a men's Bible study.
Giving his creation to the University of Mobile is fitting, Rettig said, because the boat has been a ministry as well as a reminder of the creativity of God.
"I tell people who come to the boat that you are looking at the hand of God. God inspired me to do this boat," he said. "I decided I wanted to build a boat one day, and the Lord helped me build this boat. And there you have it."
When he won a trophy at the prestigious WoodenBoat show in Mystic, CT, Rettig said, "God showed me how to do this."
At shows across the nation, people were drawn to the boat by its beauty. Rettif said God has blessed him with the ability to know when a person needs a word of encouragement or prayer, and many people were prayed for at the boat.
"It became a ministry," he said.
Rettig said he hopes the boat inspires people to dig deeper, work harder and not to be satisfied with "okay."
"We serve a God of excellence," he said. "I hope it inspires people to excellence, to call on the Creator and say, 'show me how to be creative, or how to do my life's calling with excellence, to give me the strength and knowledge to do what don't know how to do."
Now, Rettig has turned his artistic talents to making wooden bowls. His "broken bowls" (www.brokenbowls.com) are unique pieces with knots and holes in them that lend them beauty.
"These bowls are like peoples' lives. the holes represent the voids in their lives, the pain and loss. Only God can fill these holes," he said. The very thing that is beautiful about broken people are the holes, he added, because when the scars, hurts and disappointments of life are put in God's hands, He can make something beautiful out of them.
The scripture that he puts on his pieces is Isaiah 61:3: "and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor."
Rettig said he wants to encourage UMobile students and others to aim for excellence.
"Do not be satisfied with anything short of excellence, whether it be your fun or your work. Give it all you've got," he said.
Rettig said the lessons he learned at the feet of God while he was building the boat remain - patience, excellence, tenderness, openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
"The boat was a life-changer for me at the time when I needed it. It was a gift to me from God, and I wanted to give this gift to the university," Rettig said.
For information about "Tenderness" or to learn how your unique gift may benefit the University of Mobile, contact the Development Office at 251.442.2497.