Frequently, when I look in a mirror, I see my father’s hands. There is something about my hands that remind me of his hands. I don’t know if it’s shape, texture, or color, but the similarity is accurate. In fact, they are so reminiscent of his hands that I am usually hit with a wave of loneliness when I see them because I will never see his hands again.
In many ways, my hands are nothing like my father’s hands. He was a physically strong man. He towered far beyond me in size and strength. Some of my earliest memories are of my sister and me trying to at least move his arm when we arm-wrestled, but both of us together had no success. Although my hands might look like his they are not strong at all. A lifetime of living in the aftermath of polio has left me with hands that can barely accomplish the most mundane of daily tasks.
Another significant difference between his hands and mine is the result of a shrapnel wound he suffered during the war in the Pacific. The knuckle between his right index finger and hand was deformed and scarred, causing his finger to be in a permanent bent position. My hands bruise easily now, and there are more than a few scars caused by a variety of incidents, but nothing that is nearly so obvious.
My father’s hands were a frequent companion to me. He carried me long after other kids my age were walking and moving toward physical independence. I think his hands became a symbol of his strength and steadfast character. Whenever I did begin walking on crutches, my mother frequently walked beside me with a finger through one of my belt loops, in case I lost my balance. When I got older and was nearly her size, I told her if I ever did fall she would either go down with me or rip my pants off.
My father did not put his hands on me when I walked. Instead, he told me if I ever fell down he would pick me up—and he did on more than one occasion. He instilled within me a certain fearlessness to try things that appeared to be beyond my capability because I knew if I fell, he would pick me up.
In fact, he never quit picking me up. I think I miss him so much because he is not there to pick me up when I fall. It sounds sacrilegious, but I always believed if God ever failed me, my father would still be there to pick me up. You can see why I really do miss him. Several years ago, the results of polio finally got a leg up on me, and I had to quit walking. I use a wheelchair exclusively now, so I no longer fall down on a wet tile floor or slip on a precarious throw rug, but I still fall in many ways, and I need my father’s hands.
Not only did he loose a knuckle from the shrapnel wound during the war, he also lost his right leg. This made walking a challenge from him, especially when he carried a growing boy. It was most obvious when it came to climbing stairs. In spite of my best efforts when I walked on crutches, I never was able to climb stairs. Stairs were not a problem for my father as long as he had a handrail. This meant he carried me with one hand, and held the rail with the other.
As I grew and became too much of a handful, he would put me under his arm like you might carry a large sack of dog food. I’m sure it was an unusual sight, a one legged man carrying a crippled boy under one arm down a flight of stairs. I don’t know if people stared or not. I do know I was never afraid when I was in his arms.
Occasionally we would come across a situation with stairs that required a different approach. In Colorado where I was raised, most houses have a basement, which means there are steps to ascend to get on the front porch. Often, there was not a railing. My father, the man who taught me never to be deterred by a challenge, came up with a solution. Going up he would simply lift me up and set me on the porch. Going down was not so easy.
He would stand on the ground and instruct me to just fall into his arms and he would catch me. Take my word, that is not easy. Obviously, the first few times I hesitated, so he would reach up, grab my arm, and drag me into his arms. After a few times I learned, and I was able to simply lean over the edge of the porch until I fell into his arms.
I know you have seen toddlers jump into their Daddy’s arms, but it’s not so easy when you’re a teenager. Although I was never very big, it was still about a hundred pounds falling in hopes of being caught before hitting the ground.
My father’s hands taught me a lot about God, and about life. When I look at my hands now, pecking away on the keyboard, I can still see my father’s hands. I am sorry I never had his strength to carry my sons.
The amazing thing about my experience with my father’s hands is that even though he has been gone for more than three years, I still experience the strength of his hands. It now comes to me through the hands of my sons. Sharon and I knew from the beginning that God had a definite reason for giving us three sons—I need their help. Each of them has been there many times to pick me up, carry something for me, or take on a task or responsibility that I couldn’t handle.
Back when I was walking, as soon as they were big enough, I taught each of them how to carry me up stairs. Jeremy, the oldest, travelled with me for several years as I visited churches and preached. We went to hundreds of churches, and I used to tell Jeremy he knew more preachers than any teenager in the country. Before I preached, Jeremy carried me up the platform stairs so I could walk to the pulpit. When I finished, he would pick me and carry me back down. He was a crucial part of my life and ministry.
One Sunday as we were driving home, we reminisced about the Sunday morning service. As he was walking up the stairs that morning with me in his arms, he lost his balance and quickly backed down the stairs. Once he was sure-footed, we went back up the steps. I asked Jeremy if he ever worried that he might drop me.
Jeremy replied, “Dad, I’ll never drop you. We might fall down together, but I will never drop you!”
I trust the hands of each of my boys as much as I trusted the hands of my father. Although I sometimes feel lonely when I see them in the mirror, I still rejoice when I recognize my father’s hands.