My father put me to work at an early age. At six years old he gave me my first job; to carry 92 fire brick up to the second story of a home in progress. He gave me until lunch to do it. A mixture of fear and awe settled over me. Fear that if I failed, I would have to reckon with him, whose nickname was Barney, short for the Wild Man of Borneo. He was a fair, but ruthless boss. If laborers didn’t keep up with his pace, they would know it by warning, and then if still not up to par, would disappear. This towering man entrusted a job for me to accomplish, so another feeling enveloped me, that of awe. Did he really think I could do this? Looking at the impossible pile, I picked up the first heavy brick, and trudged it up the stairs. Up and down, all morning—ninety-two times.
During our lunch break I took a swig of his water jug and stared at the ground. I felt numb, but also elated. When I looked up, he was smiling at me. Then he did something that never happened before, nor since. He took his sandwich in both hands and broke it in half, then handed me what looked like the larger piece. I took the cheese, tomato, and onion sandwich in my sore fingers and took a bite. In that moment I knew I had his approval, been entrusted with mission, and faced him with a confident eye, to which he reflected. No words passed, but volumes could be written about how I felt his pleasure.
There would be more tests as I grew into manhood; each one harder, more complicated, needing more brain than brawn at times, and others just a test of endurance. This simple, honest mason, builder of foundations and eventually custom contractor, knew a secret inherent in God’s economy. Unless we face the test, we will never believe what’s true about us. Just because I was a son in his family, didn’t mean that I automatically inherited what his tests were meant to show me.
Today when I wake from a night’s sleep, and orient myself to the day ahead, a phrase goes through my mind as deeply trenched into my psychology as my brain telling me to take my first breath. “I’m going to work with Dad.” It reminds of two truths that have shaped my approach to the world, and to my intimacy with God. First, He’s given us a mission, and I wait on him to hear what it will be, what will be the cost, what will happen inside of me, and especially how his face will look when I complete it. But second, and more fundamental, it tells me that I’m not like other hired men. You see, as a child if I couldn’t keep up supplying him with cement, bricks, and blocks, he would get off the scaffold and join me. He would join my labor, be a laborer. Something God did when he stepped off the scaffold of heaven and entered earth a human, a fellow laborer. In my father’s look I heard him say, “You are the son whom I love, not a hired hand.”
Saturdays and summers were the best. I remember the door to my basement bedroom would open, and I would hear his voice. “Kevin?” My response was always “Yup,” then with a lunge I’d be up, pants and shirt on, socks and boots in hand, bounding up the stairs. Not long after, and I was in the middle of a tight cab between he and my uncle Dave, rubbing shoulders with his enormous frame, watching his veined hands hold the steering wheel of his Ford pick-up truck, and thrilling inside, thinking to myself, I’m going to work with Dad!
Dear reader, every morning you awake, so are you!