When I was a little girl, Daddy’s workbench seemed to be the “fix all” place for anything. Located on the side wall of our garage, Daddy made the bench himself with what must have been the remnants of Noah’s ark. He made it so that the top was used for fixing and the bottom for storage. Over the years it became textured with oil stains and hammer dents, nail holes, and many a permanent scratch or chip.
As a little girl I remember feeling as if I had the strongest, manliest, most capable daddy in the world whenever I saw him working there. Most important, broken things could be fixed there. If it was Barbie’s broken arm, I’d put it on Daddy’s workbench and Barbie would be magically healed the next day. Daddy would tell me to be careful with her multiple outfit changes and plastic horseback riding, but in my mind, she was “good as new” and ready to play again, thanks to Daddy and his workbench. If it was my new back-to-school belt that didn’t have enough holes to fit my tiny waist, I’d put it on Daddy’s workbench and the fashion fix was magically delivered to my new stack of Crayola markers and jeans ready for use. If I dropped a tea party plate on the floor, no problem. Daddy glued the pieces back together, to me “as good as new!”
Are you broken? Yes.
Am I broken? Yes.
How long will it last?
We don’t know.
I never really knew what all the Craftsman drawers were full of, or what the organized pegboard of hanging tools was for. I didn’t know how he used the many screwdrivers or weird socket wrenches. I didn’t feel the need to. My part was to put broken things on his workbench. In a child’s innocence and trust, I put stuff there and skipped off merrily without a doubt or concern in the world. The workbench was a place of capable fixes, no matter what; and Daddy was the man for the job.
Now a woman, I often wish there was a “Daddy’s workbench” for all the broken parts and pieces of life. Not only do I wish there were a specific location, I wish it felt as innocent and easy to drop stuff off. It’s not so easy now when an arm gets broken, or worse, a heart. Broken things are more complex, as is the gravity of things affected. Projects are bigger and priorities are immediate, or so it seems. It’s not easy to lay problems down and trust they will be fixed perfectly in the hands and timing of someone else. Of particular concern is my inability to keep up the “Mama workbench” my child looks to for her fixes, especially if I can’t figure out how to leave my own broken stuff on my Father’s workbench.
I have a friend who suffers from a myriad of life’s broken parts and pieces. Some of the pieces have broken on her; some she has broken herself. Either way the results have been hard, and hard to fix. She never had a constant father, and definitely not a daddy. For her, “father” is scarcely a term of endearment. Divorce, confusion, infidelity, and death killed those opportunities ideally afforded to little girls and boys.
Foster homes gave way to feelings of abandonment; her mom eventually gained back custody only to continue on the neighborhood move circuit. Friends were scarcer with each wave goodbye, and a handful of memories were left behind without the town and school routines that normally secure a child’s stability.
My friend didn’t grow up leaving broken things for fixing; rather, she grew up being the broken thing, or at least feeling like it. She learned to feel unfixable and learned to feel life around her was unfixable. She still gravitates toward insecurity and seeks the competitive comfort of being the most broken one in the room, whether it’s true or not. She’s tried her own tools to fix them but has come up empty.
It begs the question: Where’s the workbench for putting broken people back together? How do you put yourself back together if you’re in bondage to broken pieces and failed fixes?
I don’t know. I don’t know how for her, or me, or you. But I know who. And He alone has the right tools for the job. He’s a carpenter trained in Nazareth, and His workbench is in the shape of a cross. He’s Jesus Christ. I imagine His hands. I imagine what He can do if unharnessed brokenness is placed on His workbench.
Some time ago I traveled to visit a friend after a long illness finally took her to the intensive care unit. Visiting hour gave way to one very honest conversation. She did most of the talking; I did most of the listening, while praying inwardly. She sat in a corner by the hospital room window, blanket around her lap, blue gown wrapped loosely around her body, head bowed in discernment. Pale, stripped of makeup and facade, she was very weak. Fluid seeped steadily from an IV bag into her body, infusing the minutes and hours as she sat broken.
I found myself thinking that she looked like a little girl lost and alone, washed up in a world gone way out of control. I felt sympathy for her and sorrowed at how someone’s life can go from delivery room to recovery room in just a few short years.
Yet I’d never seen her more alive than at that moment. To be real is to be alive, and when that reality is unveiled the room becomes electric. Brokenness begins to break, and a heart begins to beat with life. That’s what I saw in her. I’m certain that’s what Jesus saw.
As I sat and listened I felt as if angels had taken part of her to the Father’s workbench, and she’d been freed from the gripping vice of troubled identity. She talked quietly and unhurriedly about how things had gone so wrong for so many years. She spoke of how she didn’t know how she’d gotten so broken, but that she didn’t want to be. She spoke about how she loved her kids and her husband and wanted to be more than just broken, for them. Pouring her heart out, one broken piece at a time from past to present, she admitted confusion and moved to pure desire: she poured out the need for help, for fixing, for life.
I wish a lifetime of brokenness could get fixed with just one remarkable moment.
As I listened, I began to understand how brokenness can steal identity in ways we can’t begin to describe or comprehend until we meet it in the ICU of life.
Praise Jesus, His workbench can meet us anywhere, anytime, and under any circumstance!
As I continued to listen to my returned prodigal friend, I struggled to keep tears from welling up in my eyes. It was hard to keep from saying, “The Father brought His workbench here. Drop your stuff off, and let’s go shopping for a new beginning for you!”
But you can’t just tell someone to take their mess to a father’s workbench when they don’t see “Father” as someone they can trust. You can’t start jumping for joy at the reality of your moment when their mirror moment is raw and revealing. You can’t tell them how much you’ve missed them when they’re just beginning to figure out that they’ve succumbed to brokenness for a very long time. You can’t jump in and fix it. You can only jump in and tell Jesus you yearn to be the right tool whenever He’s ready to use you. This was her “thief on the cross” moment of truth. This was her “lost lamb in a thicket” rescue. This was the Father’s moment of fixing the broken! Nail by nail, child by child, piece by fixable piece.
I firmly believe that He was fixing some of my brokenness as I prayed for Him to fix hers. “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Much time has passed since that hospital room experience. My friend has been in and out of the hospital, sometimes with the same discernment, often not. It’s a struggle for her, one that
has been cultivated by the devil. He’s a devastating enemy to anyone who wants to get unbroken. Whether in a real moment or not, I believe soul searching is happening deep within her and she yearns for the help and change she desired that day in the ICU. She’s on a journey, one day at a time, like most of us.
She surfaced for a phone conversation recently, and I was infused with emotion when I got off the phone. I wish a lifetime of brokenness could really get fixed with just one remarkable moment. Yet I believe she’s on the journey to wholeness. It will take surrendering on the Father’s workbench again and again. It’s that way for all of us. Not because He needs us to do that multiple times, but because we need to do that to commit fully to Him.
I continue to pray for her, sometimes wanting to be the Lord’s tool for her, sometimes tired and needing to focus on my own workbench surrenders. No matter what, I’m thankful that in my weakness, and in her weakness, He is strong and never tires.
Are you broken? Yes. Am I broken? Yes. How long will it last? We don’t know. Will we ever be fixed? Yes. Soon. Very, very soon we’ll be going home, hospital gowns sailing beneath as heavenly gowns enfold us. We’ll be face to face with freedom, exuding love and joy in every aspect of life. Most of all, we’ll be welcomed home to wholeness in the very arms of Jesus Christ.
Until then, we have to put our stuff on the Father’s workbench, where broken things get fixed, where broken people get fixed. Whether we see a heartbeat in ourselves or not, He does. Whether we see ourselves as broken or not, fixable or not, He does. He comes to the ICU in which we find ourselves, carrying hammer and nails, to work until we are “good as new.” He wants to work until we are His.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).
Heather Vandenhoven is a freelance writer who lives in northern California with her husband and daughter.
I often ask myself, what do I want in a teacher. People are asked what they want in a president; what they want in a job, marriage, school, computer device, or hometown. We even ask what we want in ourselves.
What about what we want in God? Or need in God? Is it right or wrong to ask these questions or, perhaps, to think them? Their answers may be just as powerful as the questions themselves.
My teen daughter has already taught me that I have more questions than answers. I got the other stages down—diapers, healthy meals, and sand toys; new shoes, chore teaching, and parent-teacher conferences; laughter, “I love you,” and hugs a-plenty. But this teen stage: I don’t have it down. Worse yet, I don’t have the feelings down that go with it.
I love my daughter. I love “us.” But “us” is changing into questions. I want to rise to meet that. I pray God’s shoulders are broad and strong enough for my insecure parade of motherhood questions. I need help sorting out the important ones from the “let it ride” ones. And while I’m sorting, she may also be asking herself: “What do I need in a mama?”
So right now what I’m asking myself most is What do I need in a God?
Recently my family and I went back-to-school shopping. The stores buzzed with people and merchandise, their shelves stacked with new lines ready for anxious fingers and credit cards. We were enjoying the ride: three sizes of jeans and several shirts hanging from our wrists, multiple jackets draped over what was left of arm-length room. Along the way we noted families with hungry, tired toddlers, or older retired couples out with nary a worry for anything.
We felt excited and accomplished as we headed to the checkout stand. Having been a teen myself, I know looking the way you want brings its share of confidence. Perhaps it shouldn’t be that way, but for young girls it simply is at their age. So because it’s relevant to some of her confidence, my teen daughter’s fashion happiness is relevant to me. We work on the real sources of confidence plenty. Today was fun confidence. We headed to the checkout line, and I hugged my daughter, wishing these times together, no matter how complicated or fun, would last forever.
I’m not safe without Jesus Christ. I need the protection of His armor.
My husband was paying at the register when I saw them: two noticeably rugged-looking men walking straight into the store with driven purpose. They didn’t seem to be there to shop. Their focus went way beyond afternoon meandering or meeting up with family. I watched as they exchange looks, then split off in different directions—no store bags, kids, or company, just stressed jeans, plain T-shirts, and highly intense faces. My eyes became glued to them and their movements.
They paused in the middle of the store, and started loosely flipping through display shirts, though their eyes paid no attention to the clothes. They walked around some turnstile racks, and logged a few connected looks together. My husband joined me in monitoring them. We were in a big-city store in the middle of a big-city mall full of masses of people where what you hate to even think of still happens.
Were they bad men? Were we about to become pawns of terrorists? Was this another perfect setting for mass killing and mass attention to it? I could panic, and thus frighten my child, and everyone else too. Or I could take her hand, tell her to walk with me, and lead quietly away. Without a word between us, my husband and I chose the latter, collected our suddenly unimportant bags, and began to walk out. Our daughter wanted to linger and look some more, her loose fingers wriggling and moving in my hand. I needed to put on my mama bear hat. I said, “Walk and walk now. Don’t let go of my hand. Follow Daddy!”
If gods were on order, I would have wanted a God who takes over. Life was at stake, as far as I could tell. My daughter’s life was at stake. A big takeover God was in order, and a big takeover surrender was necessary. I took over as I prayed and walked. Our daughter surrendered and followed, confused and questioning. Outside the store we continued down the sidewalk, still sandwiching our daughter between us. When we were far enough away, I let go of her hand, but not my focus. When asked what was going on, I answered, “When I see something I don’t think is safe, your job is to trust me to take care of you and obey.”
The evening news said nothing about my imagined incident, or even about arrests that prevented it. But my imagination that day hardly reflected the true danger that constantly threatens our destinies. There are city malls where danger lurks, and there are private places where some soul is breaking apart, or even wrestling with the forever questions. It is easier to feel safe when we’re not the ones affected by tsunami, ruin, or war. The God we most identify with is in church on Sabbath and in prayer in hospitals.
But the God we all most need may well be the God of my shopping mall incident. The biggest rescue humanity needs is from the battleground within our souls. Terrorism has hit there in so many ways. It hits when we succumb to the distractions and dangers of this worldly life. It hits whenever we allow the devil to insert his savage behavior into our thoughts, homes, and lives.
I open my Bible to Ephesians 6:10-18. I read it, read it again, and read it again. I write it down. Then I read it again. The Holy Spirit moves around me, igniting my heart and empowering me with protection. Some of my questions are answered in my reading on the armor of God: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (verses 10-12).
I need truth buckled around my waist; I need the breastplate of righteousness; I need my feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace; I need the shield of faith to extinguish all the evil one’s flaming arrows, the helmet of salvation, and the weapon of God’s Word. Finally, I need to pray in the Spirit, constantly and in all kinds of places. I need to pray for myself, and I need to pray for you.
My struggles with terrorism in my heart, my struggles with the devil’s schemes, and my struggles with the dangers of this world are all far too advanced for me. I’m not safe without Jesus Christ. I need the protection of His armor. I need to ask Him lots of questions when I’m confused. But what does God need from me? He needs me to be His daughter, to obey and walk when He knows, though I cannot always understand, that it is time for Him to take over. I need to let Him hold my hand, and He needs me to let Him hold me.
“Follow Daddy,” He may say. And while I’m following, He answers the confusion of my mind by saying to me: “When I see something I don’t think is safe, your job is to trust Me to take care of you.”
I’m all in, Lord. Please hold my hand. I surrender all. Please take over. Please.
Heather Vandenhoven is a freelance writer who lives in northern California with her husband and daughter.