By any standard, my father has large hands.
Growing up, I watched him use those hands in construction. Whenever I shook them, which was rare, my own would be engulfed entirely by callous and scar. His mason hands never saw the inside of a glove. They are a memory to me, those large hands, because now as I look back, I see how God prepared me to appreciate how He uses His hands, in the ways He moves me toward a deeper faith in Him.
Early on, my father’s hands needed to find my backside for correction, many, many times. JoJo, my brother, and I were incorrigible, finding lots of mischief as Irish twins. If it weren’t for those hands, I’m sure he and I would not be citizens with voting rights today. I remember after my father found out we had stolen a coin collection from a neighbor’s house (at ages 6 and 7), he stormed our attic bedroom with the menace of Moby Dick, spanking JoJo first, with my screams rising above his. When those giant paws turned to me, I passed out, missing at least that time, the hardest spanking I had ever witnessed.
In that light, I wonder why I’m so surprised when God uses those hands as a way of correcting my heart, sending me into a season of reflection, or contemplation, in order to repent. He wants only to save me from a harder lesson. My father loved me enough to use those hands when he had to. So does God.
I remember the fingers on those mitts found it difficult to turn pages. I had special needs as a child. A speech impediment came on with a vengeance at about five years old, so my father would work with me in the living room after dinner. The book he held seemed dwarfed by those hands, and after fumbling with the delicate edges of the page, they would come to rest on the arm of the chair. For some reason, that brought me comfort. Those hands built foundations, chimneys, poured concrete floors, and smoothed them to perfection. Violence preyed on them, which needed to grasp rough textured blocks and brick and deftly place them into a wall. I loved those hands, resting like a mountain, unmoving and stronger than my own.
Likewise, I often imagine sitting in my heavenly Father’s lap. I watch Him peel back pages of Scripture, leading me into what I need to hear. I know that violence preyed on His hands too. His scared hands remind me that rest has come at the price of His finished work on the cross.
When I was seven, my dad gave me a job carrying 92 bricks up to the second floor of a new construction. It took me 92 trips, and by lunch, he found me sitting under a shade tree, looking at my feet. When he sat down, he used those hands to open his metal lunch box. He used those hands to bring out a plastic bag with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich inside, and ripped it in half. It was all he had, and he shared it with me. This generous-hearted man sacrificed for me, not in some esoteric far away sense, but broke bread with workers hands; callous and blood dried near finger nails, mortar still clinging to knuckles, kind of hands. Those hands incarnated love in that moment, tangible, gooey love. When he handed me that half a sandwich, something suddenly made sense. He became someone to which I could identify. It was in a strange way, a kind of Eucharist.
Which brings me to the final memory of my father’s hands. During winter months, he found inside work. One Saturday in January, he took me to a new job where the contractor wanted a stone fireplace. “Go out into the woods and collect stones.” Any stone? “Any one will do.” Those hands were about to create something out of nothing. After the pile formed, he sorted them, discarded a few, and kept smiling as he worked. What I know now is that he was creating in his mind what eventually would be a unique and perfect work. The artist labored slowly that day, and for many after, forming an intricate pattern of design, which brought gasps from the owner, and a hug from my mother. “Oh, George,” I remember her saying, “it’s beautiful.” The artist stood a little embarrassed, silent, those hands dangling at his side. He had created useful beauty from of a pile of rubble.
Isn’t that what God does, too? We come to him, in however raw a state of rubble we may be in, and He forms us, molds us over a lifetime. Sometimes He uses chisels to break edges, other times He relentlessly pursues the perfect piece to fit into place, that will create wonder and perfection, using it as it was created to be. The patience of the Stone Mason is a testament to how important He sees the finished product. His relentless search, his exact chisel, and He fondling each stone before He places into our temple, wins over our impatience, or confusion. He’s been generous, gifting us with what we need to bring His Son into fuller view through our lives, as we face a world that’s lost it’s way.
The hands of my father bring a smile to me. They are hands that are still larger than life, less calloused at 83, but still creating beauty out of nothing. God will never relent of doing the same thing for us, in us, through us, by us, and despite us.
Jesus said, “My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and nothing can snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
King George said it another way, “stretch out your hand, and place it in the hand of God. It will be better for you than the light, and safer than the known.”