I get weepy when I see old woodworking tools at yard sales.
I want to gather them up, like so many priceless treasures and put them into my dovetail-cornered maple toolbox, where they belong.
Covered in the layers of years and the grit of physical labor, those castaway tools represent something to me.
The old planer that produces perfect curls of pine, scented fresh, that leaves behind a surface smooth.
The hand drill that looks like the one I played with as a child, turning it’s bent handle to bore holes into scrapwood.
The angled chisel that required a skilled hand to chip, chip, chip away the uneven spots.
You see, my Dad, Lew, was a carpenter by trade and a preacher by calling.
There wasn’t a single church we called home, a denomination, yes, but Dad’s service moved us across the western states more than a few times. The congregations were small and deep pockets were few. The Worship Department consisted of Dad belting out hymn number 232, Martha banging chords on the piano, and a choir in the auditorium that doubled as the congregants.
Bucolic? Maybe. Difficult and fraught with legalism? Sometimes. But nevertheless, humble and full of truth and scripture. Dad preached the word. Tried to live by it. Never stopped being a student of the Word.
All my growing up, Dad prepared his sermons and studied his King James Bible at a big desk that he built himself. The drawers were made of solid wood and slid in frames he crafted himself. Various commentaries floated like islands over the surface of this desk. I often heard him practicing, preaching to the photographs of his family that stood in formation across from him.
More than anything, Dad loved God, then his wife and his kids. From my vantage point, I felt lower on the priority list. Growing up as a child of the church, who’s father is the the preacher, the Reverend, the pastor of a flock, can make a kid wonder how much she matters. At times, we children wondered where we fit into the scheme of things…the moving from place to place wore down our resilience to narrow bands, mere threads. We’ve been tied by those threads for years now, decades really. They cut deeply as they hold us together, this common experience of growing up Christians together across four states and sixty-odd years and I don’t know how many new schools and church buildings. And the pain sears as those threads of shared stories and fears and insecurities and faith have been pulled at and dislodged from our tender flesh, sinking deeper still as the years pass.
And tears come easily to think of this and to write of it in black words on white, glowing screen.
And there is a cathartic breath when I hit “publish” and share my scars, the grit of my history and the pulsing love I have for my six siblings, their spouses, children and now, the fourth generation of our parents’ line. There is a thump in my stomach for the pain I’ve caused them, for the misunderstandings that have grown between them as I’ve watched, with arms dropped to my sides and the ringing of anger in my ears. We who should be building this kingdom of Christ are building walls instead.
The tools of construction have become weapons of destruction instead. Words said in anger and hurt hurled sideways have become an assemblage of waste, a constructed wall of blame. These barriers–do they serve to protect or to barricade?
And I think of my dad and his hard-working hands whose roughness has been smoothed by age .I think of his pale blue eyes both piercing and kind. I think of the hours we worked in the garden, his jokes and silly songs and his proverbial senseless rhetorical question: Do you think the rain will hurt the rhubarb? and the answer I knew, but knew not it’s meaning: not if it’s in cans! I think of the antique cedar chest he found in San Jose and refinished and gave to me when I turned eighteen, how he took the unfinished project of some other craftsman and finished it for me.
I think of his black leather-bound Bible and box full of tools that so much represent who he is and what his life has been lived for: building the kingdom. I think of the path he took, lined in places with mistakes and tragedy and unanswered questions, but always heading East toward the Son rising. And I think of the prayers he speaks even now as he sits at his big, wooden desk.
And my box with the dovetail corners sits alone, waiting. I know it won’t be empty forever, because Dad’s years are filling out his time here. So I pray for him, 86 years-old today, and thank God for a dad who didn’t do it all perfectly, but who wasn’t afraid to pick up the tools and get to work.