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Hands

Recently, my grandfather had carpal tunnel surgery. Which, as an aspiring scientist and amateur writer, got me thinking a lot about hands. So, naturally, I did two things– I looked up how the procedure was done, and I began writing this post. Once I figured out how the surgery was done and reassured myself that it was a relatively minor procedure, I began to figure out how to write this. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn’t completely sure where I wanted this post to go. I could use my fingers to count a million different words I could write. I could use my hand to draw a map of all the different places this post could go, tracing out each path on the veins and creases on my hand. I needed a direct path from my heart to my fingers. (Fun fact, wedding rings are worn on the left ring finger because it was believed to be the only finger with a vein leading directly to the heart.) So, I fiddled with my ring I wear on my left ring finger that’s definitely not a wedding ring, and tried to find a direct path from my heart to the tips of my fingers. But, that proved more difficult than carpal tunnel surgery. My heart was telling me to write about how this surgery was just another example, this time physical, of my grandparents getting older. I wanted to write about how watching Boppa’s body grow weaker hurts, but watching his mind grow weaker has hurt more. For grandma the nurse, her hands are so important, but for Boppa, the college professor and ordained Free Methodist pastor, with two masters’ degrees and a doctorate, his mind is so important. Both of them served with their hands, one literally and one metaphorically, and I wanted to write about how much it hurts to see both of them becoming weaker. But, I decided that story is, mostly, best saved for another post. Instead, I decided, as I reflected on how important hands are, that I would write something else. Somewhere along the path from my heart to my fingertips, I decided to save the pain of that story for another time and instead write a more beautiful story. So, here it is– a different story, written with my own hands, about my own hands.

My hands have been through a lot in my short 19 year life. Throwback to when I was a baby with tiny hands yet undiscovered by me. I flailed my arms, fists clenched, and paid no attention to what, or who, I might hit. After I discovered them, I grabbed things– other people’s fingers mostly. I put them in my mouth, or other people’s mouths, or whatever was nearby. I touched things, simply because I liked how they felt. I used them to pull the baby gate out of my way, then used them for support as I crawled up the mountain-like stairs I was too afraid to crawl back down. They held my blanket and my doll as I ran my fingers across them because I loved the way it made my hand tingle and the sensation I felt in my fingertips. My hands became part of the reason my parents suspected my visual impairment. I used them to hold objects centimeters away from my face because I couldn’t see them any other way. I reached out and touched things just to see how far away they were or what they felt like because I couldn’t use visual cues to interpret the way they might feel. I’d reach down to feel just how big of a jump it was from my grandparent’s garage to their driveway, because my hands were saying it was a centimeter difference, but my eyes were saying it was a canyon. I used them to navigate a world I couldn’t see. And, later, once I had my (adorable) glasses, when I was learning to walk, I held them out in front of me again as I navigated, trying to feel my way around a world I had never seen so clearly before. Once I got used to my new perspective of the world, I used them to point at things I had never noticed before– just to make sure everyone else saw them too.

As I grew, my hands grew with me. With them, I learned to write, carefully copying each stroke and hand position. They traced the words on pages as I learned to read, my finger precisely following each shape as my mouth sounded out the forms. I held the hands of my parents as I crossed roads and parking lots– thinking that staying safe forever was as simple as never letting go. In them was placed my first Bible– a gift whose impact wouldn’t be realized until years later when those same hands held those same Words as I memorized them. They colored outside the lines, cut themselves in an attempt to cut paper, and glued parts of themselves together. They reached up to grab the monkey bars or to hold my baby cousins. I let them be used by my friends to scrawl phone numbers or flowers on. I held them out to shake hands or give high fives. They learned to tickle both the ivories and my dad’s feet. I used them to wipe my nose, put band-aids on my skinned knees, and wash my body. They held my favorite books as I went on adventures with my best friends, and they supported me when I fell down. Sometimes, they were the reason I fell.

As I grew older, my hands did too. They started writing full sentences and typing full essays, carefully drawing each shape as I saw it in my mind. Instead of tracing the words on pages, I often find them tracing the path my blood takes from the tips of my fingers, through my hand, to my wrist, up through my arm, until they arrive at my heart– feeling each beat and reminding me that I am alive. Somewhere along the road, they let go of my parents’ hands, as I reassured myself I’d be okay on my own. And now, they sometimes long to hold another hand– to be reminded that I’ll be safe as long as I don’t let go. With them, I hold my Bible– reaching out to God– knowing that they’re holding my greatest joy and my entire life. They’re still not one for staying in the lines. And I’ve cut them countless times with knives or paper or pins or scissors. They’ve super-glued themselves together more times than I’d care to admit. They reached out to accept my high school diploma, and they reach out to hold the babies and pet the puppies that cross my path. They’ve been my go to notebook as I used them to jot down that homework assignment or date. They’ve clapped and cheered for my competitors, and greatest friends, as they held in their own hands– hands I had shaken so many times– an award mine had longed for so long to hold. With them, I spread encouragement and congratulations to my friends whose hands held Words as they memorized them. They’ve had an itch to tickle the ivories for far too long, and they’ve been reminded that playing the piano is nothing like riding a bike– it can be forgotten. They’ve wiped tears from my eyes, bandaged my wounds, and washed my face.  They’ve gone to Kenya where they clapped and danced with new friends, held babies, and pet elephants. And, they’ve been longing ever since to reach back out and take the hands of the friends I met there, as they search for the piece of my heart I left behind, all the while knowing they’ll never find it– and not wanting to. They’ve supported me when I fell, and were the things that picked me back up. They pieced my broken heart back together as they fought the urge to fight the thing that broke it. 

And now, I’m sitting here, in a coffee shop, examining my hands. As I flex them and study them, all the while feeling completely crazy, I see all the things they’ve done in my life. I see my senior year AP Bio class, where I dissected eyes, brains, frogs, and worms, and where I used them to taxidermy a rat, all without wearing gloves. Because, I’ve always been fascinated with how things feel, and I can’t get the whole experience if I can’t feel. I see my junior year AP Chem class where I spilled silver nitrate on them, because, again, why wear gloves if you don’t have to. I see the incalculable amount of times I washed them, trying to get it off, but having to finally resign myself to just being patient. I see the way they served in Kenya and how I’m still using them to serve in Kenya and elsewhere. I see that time they held a young rookie as she cried, pouring her heart out, and the time they were linked with others in prayer as we cried for each other. The times they were raised in worship and surrender to the One who made them. I see my fingernails that are dirty and sometimes broken. I see the calluses I have from working. I see all the chemicals I’ve spilled on them and the times my professors forced me to wear gloves, even though I prefer the experience without. I see the way they cramp up when I spend four hours a day deleting phone numbers and emails from records, and how, with 4000 records, I still have more to do the next time. I see how I use them to bake and cook. (Seriously though, my scones and my homemade pizza are truly culinary masterpieces.) They are currently dry and a little red, because, no matter how many times I wash them and put lotion on them, the constant exposure to chemicals, from my job and from my Chemistry training, has left them a little rough around the edges.

So, here’s the thing. Here’s the point of all this talk about my hands. I believe that if eyes are the window to the soul, then hands are the mirror to the heart– reflecting the innermost parts of who you are.

I don’t believe all those people who say you can tell your future by looking at the creases on your palm. But, I do believe you can see your past, and your present, by looking at your hands. Hands say a lot about what has happened to you, and they reflect so much of who you are. They show all the experiences you’ve had and they tell a lot about who you are as a person. When I see my dad’s hands, a little rough and probably permanently stained with grease or newsprint or both, I don’t see just that. I see all the hard work he’s done over the years to support us– his three jobs, his late nights and early mornings, and the things he’d sacrifice, including time with us, to give us all he could. When I looked at the brace on my grandfather’s hands as he was waiting for this surgery, and still waits for his other hand’s, I don’t just see a hand that sometimes goes numb. As a scientist, I see a carpal ligament that needs to be cut to relieve pressure on the underlying nerve. But, as a writer, I see his past and present. I see all the people he’s served– the sermons he’s preached, the hearts he’s touched, the Word he’s spread. I see all the papers he’s graded and the students he’s inspired and encouraged. I see in my grandmother’s hands the patients she’s healed, the families she’s reassured, the friends she’s cooked delicious meals for, and the family she’s held so close. I see my sister’s love of piano playing, word writing, and book holding, and the way she used them to try to give up, but how she uses them now to list all the reasons she shouldn’t. I could go on and on about all the stories I see when I look at my family members hands.

And when I look at my own, I see it all too. I see me as a baby, discovering my hands for the first time. I see me as a child of no more than two, using my hands as a navigator for this new clear world. I see them learning to hold a pen and play the piano. I see how they no longer move the baby gate out of my way, but how they now work to move any obstacle out of my way as I face conquerable mountains I am no longer afraid to fall down. I see the bumps and bruises I’ve gotten along the way and the sores and marks they have now. And, admittedly, right now, my hands are exhausted. They’ve worked hard. This year, this life, and this summer, and they’ll work even harder as I grow up. But, I also see the way they reflect my heart. My heart of service and hard work. The way they reflect my personality based on what they do. I see the way they exemplify Colossians 3:23 without the words being scrawled on them in day old faded ink. So, look at your hands. Because they can’t predict your future, but they can reflect your past and explain your present. And they are the true reflection of who you are.

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It Is Well

Boppa Guy, as you were known, in order keep our two grandfathers straight, it’s been 11 years to the day. 11 years since you last smiled, and, although I wasn’t there, I know you were smiling, even as you were dying, because that’s who you were. It’s been 11 years since you went home- a place that you never felt was here on earth. And while I can’t believe it’s been 11 years, it’s even harder for me to believe why today it hurts more than it has in years. Why it hurts not nearly as much as 11 years ago, but at least as much as it has since.

I still remember the day it happened. Or, at least I remember the moment I found out. It was a Wednesday night. I remember my dad calling my sisters and me into his room. He had gone to visit you earlier that evening and had returned about the same time we had returned from church. We sat on his bed, knowing what he was going to say, yet hoping he wouldn’t say it. Because, although we were young, the oldest of us just 11, we understood what his silence meant. We knew you were sick. We saw you just a few days earlier when they brought you home from the hospital because you no longer wanted to be there. You just wanted to be at home, surrounded by those you love, comfortable and at peace. And, although you had come home, we knew that it didn’t mean you were better, but that it meant you wanted to be home when you went home. We knew. So, when my dad said the words I still remember to this day, the words I sometimes still play back in my mind over and over again, none of us were shocked.

What I don’t really remember is how it felt. I don’t remember if I cried right away. I don’t remember if I ever got mad at God for taking you. Or at you for leaving us. I don’t remember if I told any of my friends the next day at school. I don’t remember if I ever tried to deny it. I don’t remember if I actually completely understood what was happening. I remember I cried at your funeral. But, I wasn’t entirely sure if I was crying because I was sad or because everyone else was. I remember asking my mom why she was crying. You weren’t her father, and I thought that meant she shouldn’t be sad. I remember people sharing stories about your life. I remember seeing you in the casket. I even remember thinking you would sit up any minute and yell “Got you!” or something. I remember tears, and someone handing my grandmother a flag. But, I also remember there was laughter. And family. And food. And I remember thinking that is exactly what you would have wanted.

Mostly, I remember the music. I remember my dad quoting “Big House”- one of my all time favorite songs that I have grown to love even more since that day. I know that now, every time I listen to that song, I want to get up and dance- which is what you would want. But I also want to sit in a corner and think about you- which is something you would want as long as I wasn’t sad. I remember my oldest sister and cousins singing “It Is Well.” And I know that now, every time I hear that, I want to cry- which you would not want me to do. But, I also want to sing it with a beautiful passion as I bask in God’s amazing beauty- which is definitely what you would want me to do.

You would want me to jump up and shout “Come and go with me, to my Father’s house. It’s a big big house, with lots and lots of room.” You’d want me to pretend to eat food and throw a football as I exclaim “A big big table with lots and lots of food. A big big yard where we can play football.” And, I do it. Because I know you’d want me to. And, I know you’re doing it with me.

You’d want me to remember God’s faithfulness as I sing “When peace like a river attendeth my way. When sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.” You’d want me to raise my voice and sing with a passion as I echo “Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord oh my soul. It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul) it is well, it is well with my soul.” And I do. Because it is well with my soul.

And Boppa Guy, maybe that’s why today was so difficult. You see, I woke up with a painful twinge in my stomach and ache in my head. I thought maybe it was because I needed more sleep, or maybe it was a result of my current emotional state due to my recent heartbreak. But, then I remembered what day it was. January 18. And, then I knew. I knew the twinge was a reminder of the sadness of life but also that there’s “a big big table, with lots and lots of food.” I knew the ache was a reminder that pain exists, but that “whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.” And suddenly, I felt a sense of peace. You were reminding me that God’s present and that He, and you, love me. Because whatever my lot, you, Boppa, have taught me to say, “it is well with my soul.”

They played “It Is Well” at the end of a beautiful chapel service this afternoon. A service devoted to prayer. A service that I needed. A service that spoke to me so much at this point in my life. And, as I was walking out, I was already thinking of you, because you would have loved the service. And when they started playing “It Is Well,” I thought of you more. I thought about the fact that you have been gone for 11 years. Which means I have lived longer on this earth without you than I have with you. Which means I have few memories to remember you by, and each day my memory fades more and more. I thought about how I didn’t see you as I often as I would have liked, and I didn’t really spend time with you even when I was with you. I thought of all the memories we didn’t make. I thought about how I lost, or destroyed, or both, the rose I had gotten at your funeral. I thought about how there are few pictures of you and I together, but how I have a photo of you holding my doll- which at the time, was my most loved possession. The only thing I have of yours is a Bible that was given to me because you, like me, were hard of seeing. I thought about how you weren’t there to see me get baptized, or perform at my first Synchronized Swimming show, or compete at my first Bible Quizzing tournament, or graduate from high school. Or how you won’t be there to see me go on my first date, graduate from college,  or get married. You won’t be able to meet your great grandchildren or watch your children and grandchildren grow up.

But, I guess in a way, you were there, and you will always be there. Because I see you everywhere. I see you in grandma, who misses you so much, and in the artwork she does that would make you so happy and so proud. How each stroke of her brush or line of her pen somehow reflects you and your love for her. I see you in your children. In my uncle who shares your name. My aunt who was always daddy’s little girl and who never stops talking about you. My dad, who acts more like you everyday, with each made up song lyric and ridiculous story. How he insists that every time something is wrong it’s “because we don’t drink enough water.” I see you in my cousin, who never got to meet you, but who looks so much like you. I see you in your great granddaughter, who may have been born into unfortunate circumstances, but who shares your joy for life. Who is so sweet and innocent- you’d love her so much. I see you in my older sister, who acts so much like you. Whose photo we have, sitting next to you on the couch, both of you crossing your arms, copying each other’s face. I see you in my oldest sister who looks exactly like your daughter and who makes jokes exactly like you would. I even see you in the flowers, trees, wind, and rain. Because you’re always here.

And so, Boppa Guy, I am still not sure exactly why today hurts more than it has in any of the past 11 years. Maybe it’s because we talked about the death of loved ones in one of my classes yesterday. Maybe it’s because I heard that song in chapel. Maybe it’s because I was so young when it happened that I’m just now realizing how painful it is. Maybe my sadness doesn’t just come from missing you. But, whatever the reason is, I know that today, I missed you. Bur, I also know that you loved- love- me, and would be proud of me. Although, to be fair, you were always proud of all your grandchildren. But, you’d be proud of who I am, and who I am becoming. You’d be proud that I have 19 books of the Bible memorized- some of which I memorized using your Bible- because you always loved to share your love of the Bible. You’d be proud to know that I have that same hunger and love for God’s Word you had. You’d be proud to know that I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, where I’m going, how I’ll get there, or what will happen along the way, but I know the One who does. And so, I know I missed you. I know that I am struggling through life right now, my heart is broken, and I don’t know if it’ll ever be whole again. But I also know that you have taught me to say “it is well.”

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