By his and His hands

“If there’s something stirring in you now, and you know what it is, do that. There’s no need to overthink it. A mistake here and there isn’t going to kill you, so don’t waste time worrying about that. It’s infinitely better to fail with courage than to sit idle with fear, because only one of these gives you the slightest chance to live abundantly. And if you do fail, then the worst-case scenario is that you’ll learn something from it. You’re for sure not going to learn jack squat from sitting still and playing it safe.

On his 40th birthday trip with friends, my husband sent me a picture of a paragraph from a book I gave him for Father’s Day the previous summer.  He’s not a big reader, but sitting on a Dominican beach waiting for me to join him, he had finally started reading the Chip Gaines book I had given him several months earlier. 

“This is so me,” he texted along with the paragraph where Chip described the joy and satisfaction he gets from working with his hands. 

Today, as I pulled out the book to try to find the exact quote for this blog post, I found the note I wrote to him for Father’s Day stuck within its pages.  Among other things, the note said, “I’m committed to whatever direction you feel God is leading you and us in, but I don’t ever want you to shy away from something because of lack of confidence or fear. Like he says in one of these books, ‘fear dressed up as wisdom provides very poor counsel.’ Let’s move forward with faith instead of fear, trusting God to lead us. I love you.” 

You see, we’d been fighting a lot over the last year or so because he was working in a job and career that was making him miserable.  I’m prone to catch on to misery quicker than he does, but he was finally starting to begin to admit it himself. 

Although he loved- and still does- so many of the people he had the privilege of working with as well as aspects of the work, a variety of factors were leading to misery.  One of which, I would realize later, was that although some of the people he led as a healthcare administrator got to work with their hands regularly, he didn’t.  And he was at work so much, and devoted to spending time with our kids if he wasn’t, that he never got to heed the good advice of sabbathing with his hands because he worked with his mind.  There wasn’t time to. 

He’s one to grit his teeth and bare it, being brought up to believe that hard work- whether you like that work or not- is what makes you have worth and value.  I had wanted him to quit for over a year, confident we could make it work financially if he did.  But he was no “quitter.” 

He was and is a smart, good looking guy (I know I’m biased, but he is).  He is by all standards a privileged white male.  He could do whatever he wanted. 

No one ever told him growing up, “You know, you should find work that involves working with your hands because you seem to like to do that.” He didn’t take shop or any Career Tech classes for that matter in high school because he was taking all Advanced Placement ones.  His GPA, ACT, and GMAT scores pointed him towards careers where he would sit behind a desk and or in meetings almost all day everyday and lead people. The whole world was telling him this was his path to success. 

It was pretty easy for him to get there.  He hardly studied for the GMAT and scored in the top 25%. Getting into graduate school to earn a Masters in Health Administration and an MBA wasn’t difficult for him.  Did he enjoy doing it? Was he able to use his God given gifts and passions?  Who knows?  No one had ever said to him nor had he said to himself that that was the point or even a consideration. 

But what had been so “easy” to get to had become unbearably hard because he hated it.  A week after Father’s Day when I wrote that note, the decision was made.  He would no longer have to grit his teeth and bare it. He’d been given the chance to figure out a route that hopefully would be more fulfilling and desirable, more prone to how he is designed.   

By the 40th birthday trip, he’d taken some time to process and plan his next steps and self reflect, helping him realize what he needed.  What he could offer.  The path, whether the world told him he was crazy or not, involved working with his hands a whole lot more. 

Of the two points I think I want to make in this post, one is this: in a world with multiple career paths, we often point others and ourselves down the wrong ones because we don’t allow them and ourselves to figure out what makes us tick.  I think the general assumption has been we do this the most to those who are less privileged.  To those that have to get a job to make ends meet, whatever job that may be. However miserable the job may be. 

While this is certainly true, I think we do it just as much at the very opposite end of the spectrum.  To the ones that seemingly have all the options in the world because of their privilege.  Such is the misery of the smart, attractive white male.  We decide for them and they decide based on what the world says successful careers are.  All of which involve professional degrees and dress pants.  And if we are honest, the privileged still live in a world where the stereotype is that successful men need to be in careers where their wife can stay home and raise kids and keep domestic life for a family running.  Where she can work if she wants to, but heaven forbid would have to.  It’s a different pressure than having to choose a job to be able to put food on the table, but it is actually of the same vein. Pressure to earn regardless of the cost. 

But for my husband, the work all this led to was difficult in the form of it being a little bit like slow torture.  It hadn’t always been like that, but the last time I had remembered talking to him at work and it sounded like he was enjoying it was when he called me back after being up the ceiling of an operating room trying to figure out why there was a leak.  “You were up in the ceiling? In your dress pants?” I asked, “Isn’t there someone else that is supposed to do that?” 

“I wanted to see it for myself,” he said. “I wanted to fix it.” 

He wanted to fix it with his own two hands.  Not just his mind.  He’d been solving so many problems over the past 15 years with his mind and his hands were desperate to be put to use. 

He still solves a lot of problems with his mind now, but he gets to use his hands to implement those solutions.  And he is happier.  And our family is happier.  And by His hands, we are still fed.  We have never been anywhere close to having to go without our daily bread. 

Now, a year and half after this transition, he’s away this week fixing flooring at an investment property we have. (Not paying someone to fix the floors was another source of fighting for us until I realized doing it on his own was much like being in that operating room ceiling.  He needed to do it with his own two hands. He needed to fix it himself.) 

Earlier this year, he turned a house into a home for a family that had been living in a hotel for over two years. In a world where those who have made mistakes in the past can’t get financing or a chance to rent a decent home, he decided to change that.  One property and one family at a time.  

He built a swing set out back for their young kids to play on. “They need to be able to play outside,” he said.  And then he went about building.  Not buying a swing set kit to set up, but building a swing set with no plans, just his two hands working with his mind. 

And for my second key point of this post and of what this whole post was originally designed to be about, he’s redone our home office.  He designed it with his mind, and every single thing in the office he built himself from scratch with his own two hands.  And it is beautiful.  And functional. 

Here are a couple of sneak peek pictures of it, but it will be featured on a new website he is “building” to showcase, in part, the work of his hands.  The site is a little bit real estate, a little bit travel, and a whole lot of our family’s journey to capture what makes spaces and places home.  We will post the full feature of the website next week as it goes live with advice on how to design a home office, or any office for that matter, without taking the home out of it. 

By “his” hands

As you move into your work week, I hope you’ll take some time to think about what makes you tick and if that is provided at all in the work you do day in and day out.  Do you get to build your equivalent of swings sets and office spaces?  Because if you aren’t, you most likely aren’t building beautiful things that end up helping others live and work well either.  It is a courageous and loving act instead of the fearful one. We all need to figure out what makes us tick, not because it is self-serving, but precisely because it is the exact opposite. 

By his hands, my husband is serving, and by His hands, a gracious God has moved our transition that was plagued with fear and expectations of what we are supposed to do to one where we are doing what we are meant to do. 

Mary Ila Ward