One of the most significant moves that Doris and I made was the move from Augusta, Georgia to Mt. Vernon, Ohio. We had been married just a few years and I was called from being a youth pastor at a small church in the south to become the associate pastor at a very large, university centered church in the Midwest. (Translate that NORTH. Yankees.) It was one of those churches that didn’t even have a full name. You just said “First Church” and everyone knew what you meant.
I was out of my league from the first day. I was replacing a high quality, experienced staff member that was incredibly well organized and had it all together. Not only did I not have it all together, I couldn’t even remember where I put it. I was intimidated and anxious. The staff was gifted. The congregation was massive. And the job was overwhelming. I was thrust from the relative obscurity of a small, southern church to the limelight of the entire denomination. Scary!
The second day on the job I was in my office, the largest office I had ever had or have had since. I was doing all that I knew to do. I was hanging pictures. And even that wasn’t going too well. I was using the back of a Hebrew Dictionary to try to drive nails in places that didn’t want to be nailed. The pictures were pretty crooked, not very secure, and kind of wobbly. Other staff members were hurrying by outside my office doing far more important things. Parishioners were scurrying in and out on missions that I knew nothing of. No one was stopping in. No one made conversation. And I just kept thudding away with the Hebrew book.
In the middle of the morning, a nice, old guy named Delmar poked his head in. He said, “Reverend Courtney,” (I was a kid still wet behind the ears and he was at least 120 but he always called me Reverend Courtney. Still does.) “Reverend Courtney, I saw you in here this morning. I went home and got you a present. I thought you could use this.” There in Delmar’s gnarled old hand was a green hammer. If he was 120 the hammer was ancient. It had a fiber glass handle with flaking paint, straight claws that were chipped from pulling years of nails, and it looked to me like the best tool in the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. Delmar grinned a kind of sloppy grin and asked, “You mind if I help?”
He pulled out a tape measure and a level and for the next two hours we hung pictures and diplomas while he told me stories about the church, his family, and how good God was. He was meticulous in his work, every picture was exactly the same height and perfectly straight, and profuse in his conversation. He told me all about Stella, his wife. About Jan and Denny, and Trish and Ton-ton. He laughed at my nervous jokes and admired the pictures of Doris. And when the picture hanging was done he smiled, handed me back the green hammer, and said, “You’ll do fine here.”
A few months later Josh was born. Delmar and Stella became Papaw and Mamaw to Josh. They “adopted” him from the first and were our go-to babysitters and our surrogate grandparents. Every holiday, when the “Yankees” huddled up alone in their northern houses, we were invited out to Mamaw and Papaw’s to boil corn or play Rook. Whenever there was a hard decision to make or a question about being a father, a husband, or a minister, I would find myself talking to Delmar, usually not about the problem but about family, wood burning stoves, and how to plant a great garden. But every conversation would end with, “Reverend Courtney, you’ll do fine.”
My “career path” changed dramatically with that move to Mt. Vernon. God used that position to open doors of ministry for Doris and me that I never dreamed possible; national boards, great churches, international travel, college trustees. And when the job seemed overwhelming and I started to really doubt, I’d pull out my green hammer and remember my talks with Delmar.
It seems to me that life is full of situations for which we feel ill-prepared and under qualified. Nobody told me that parenting would be so hard, or that married life took so much work. I’m not trained in growing old or saying goodbye to dreams. The economy has me baffled and my ministry is not going where I thought it would. My family is a mess. I’m looking at divorce. My health is getting bad. I am battling depression. My addiction has the best of me. I feel all alone and scared to death.
Listen to me, in those moments, if we will just get still, God almost always pulls out some kind of tool, lays it in our hands and says, “You’ll do fine here.” Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” He has the tools. He has the stories. And he has the time to sit with you and put your heart at ease. You may not figure it all out at once. You might not know what happens way down the road. But I promise you He will show you the next step and give you the grace you need for today. For all of your struggles, He has a hammer.
There have been a lot of moves since then. I’ve made more than a few decisions, some of them not so good, as you know. The green hammer goes with me every time, and the grace and kindness of an old guy that believed in me. In fact the hammer is in my desk drawer at the counseling center that I direct. When a new counselor or staff member comes looking a little wide-eyed and overwhelmed I take it out and we go in their office and hang pictures. We talk about Doris, my sons, and my grandson. I laugh at their nervous jokes and I assure them that God is still in control.
Delmar is still in Mt. Vernon. He’s pretty sick right now and I imagine facing some things that seem overwhelming. He is looking at a battle that even my green hammer can’t fix. For those of us that love him, and maybe even for him, it’s scary. You know what I believe. I believe that in the middle of this terrible time God is even now pulling out His own version of the green hammer, the tool that Papaw, (and us) needs to get through this. I believe He is laying it in Papaw’s hand and the God of the universe is taking the time to bring grace and kindness to all of us. And He is saying, “Delmar, Trust me. Whatever you face in the days ahead, you’ll do fine here.”