I began sweeping at around 9 a.m. I was back at the Habitat build site, volunteering for my 4thday of the summer. Unlike the Blitz Build of July which saw over 100 volunteers each day, our group in the “Post-Build” was around 10. My vinyl siding skills were rusty, so when they said the four houses needed sweeping out, I said yes.
Quickly I realized that I was the only one. For me, talking to other volunteers as we work is one of the highlights of the Habitat day, so I was a bit disappointed. “No worries,” I thought. “I’ll think about topics for the blog.”
I don’t know about you, but being alone with your thoughts can be tricky. I was still waking up and feeling slightly grouchy. My thoughts felt anything but blog-worthy. For the moment, I was concerned about my neck and hands – how were they going to survive this repetitive movement for 8 hours?! It was a lot of sawdust.
The process of choosing a topic for the week is sometimes an odd challenge. My thoughts were a loose assortment of thoughts and experiences from the week. I still had thoughts of my father-in-law. His passing had prompted a softening of heart in our neighbor. He and his family had signed a condolence card. Handing this to me along with a pie from his mom, he also offered an apology for the recent misunderstanding over the new fence we’d built. We had prayed for this reconciliation, and here it was. It was a sign of God’s kingdom for sure.
Then there was Lion’s Manor. Eldon, Marilyn and I went on Thursday night to sing with the seniors. Lately it has been dawning on me that an ancient dream of mine is coming true. Growing up, I’d always wished I had the talent to be in a band; to sing my heart out onstage. There are no microphones and glamor here, and our little group is certainly humble in its output, but perhaps my dream has come true, though in a different way than I imagined. Who would have thought our audience would be seniors whose memories are slipping fast, yet it is a joy to sing with and for them. To see faces light up as we all sing, despite all they’ve lost, is a reason to “get up in the morning”, as they say. We sing oldie goldies from the war years, like “Red, Red Robin” or “Roll Out the Barrel”, and suddenly it feels like heaven is touching earth in some intangible but real way.
As I mulled over these thoughts, I kept on sweeping. By 10 am, my right thumb muscles began aching and my neck wasn’t getting any less sore, but the physical aches were a little less distracting. Soon it was time for coffee break.
We sat by the picnic tables, grateful for the shade already at this early hour. I grabbed a coffee and granola bar and found a place among the volunteers. There we were, a house leader, 3 teachers, 1 insurance worker on her holidays, an engineer with long dreadlocks who had dreams of building houses for the poor in Africa, the Habitat supervisor, and 4 or 5 homeowners who were putting in their sweat equity hours.
It’s always great to meet the homeowners and hear their stories. They are always humble people who wouldn’t ordinarily be in the position to purchase a house – new immigrants, families with low paying jobs – and their gratitude is always infectious. They have been given a break in life, a chance for a new beginning that they never thought they’d get. This day I realized one of the homeowners was the parent of a former student of mine. It’s hard not to be happy for them, and it stirs up hopes for new beginnings for everyone.
I always enjoy hearing people’s stories, but soon it was back to work in the stuffy and increasingly hot house, sweeping away with my thoughts to keep me company. As my garbage bag slowly filled up, my thoughts turned to our friends who were away for the week, on holidays. Our community’s pastor wrote in an email that the favorite part of the trip for him had been meeting an elderly couple at a bed and breakfast. “To see such a vigorous, well read, and humble couple was delightful. Lord help us keep life interesting and our hearts open to others,” wrote Paul.
I mulled over this thought and soon it turned into a prayer. “Lord, help us keep our lives interesting.” I thought of all the blessings that came my way which kept my life “large” – singing, my quirky and ever growing interest in monarch butterflies and all things nature, writing, our community discussions and studies, our present study on C.S. Lewis which is so interesting, coffee, interactions with friends which help me interpret events through a grid of faith. At a certain time in my life, my mind had been much more trained in thinking of all the things that were wrong. I feel so grateful for this subtle but sure healing of my heart. Some days it seems hidden and small, but it is there to be sure. What a sign of God’s grace.
As the day wore on, it felt like my thoughts were being gathered up like I was gathering up all the loose sawdust. Crankiness was replaced by increasing enjoyment, and the group seemed to become more cohesive. Mr. Dreadlocks told me all about his hair and how growing them out 11 years ago had marked the beginning of a change in his life towards “clean living”. If any of his waist-long locks ever fall off, he told me, “it’s all ok. It’s up to God.” I chuckled inside, happy that even such a small detail could be given up to God’s providence.
By now, my industrial strength garbage bag was almost too heavy to carry. I thought of asking one of the guys to lug it over to the garbage for me, but I was able to manage after all. I was very hot and sticky, and today my thumb muscle is achy, but hugs and good-byes were shared among our motley crew and I went home feeling energized and happy.
God always manages to gather me up like this. Seen through my human eyes, the bits and pieces of life can feel like so much sawdust, lackluster and without meaning. Small things such as achy muscles or morning grouchiness can seem like the end of the story. But faith in a bigger story is a gift given so regularly that I’m beginning to realize I can trust God’s provision even when it seems missing. Like Lyle often tells me, “Everything will be all right.” Day after day, God’s grace gathers us all up.