Monday, September 16, 2013

Early Fall

I remember when we painted these walls.  Going on four plus years now.  The room was littered with dry wall mud that had been carelessly splattered upon the old wooden floor boards.  The old trim around the windows was dark and archaic.  It seemed a relic from a distant era:  the time of horse-drawn carriages and grand oil paintings brought over from the old world.  

I really didn't want to spend my evenings painting this old house.  I was just getting settled in at the church, and after spending the days in town I wanted to be able to be home with my family.  The trouble was my family was living in the basement of my in-laws, a situation that was not sustainable for any of us.  And through some strange means of transference, it was made known to me that I would go in the evening to finish whatever needed to be done in order for my wife and two kids to move in with me come the spring time of 2009.  

I wore old Columbia hiking paints and thermal long-sleeve shirts as I worked, the bright lights of spotlights shining upon the walls.  To those passing by my nocturnal work, I surely must have seemed a deranged loner, or perhaps an eccentric artistic type.  I could care less what I looked like, though.  I worked in the audio isolation of my iPod, kept company by the great American voices rock and blues.  I fell in love with BB King during those nights, learning something of persistence and effort as I painstakingly first scrubbed the woodwork down with TSP, applied a primer coat of Killz and eventually went back with two coats of Graceful Willow.  Semi-gloss, of course, for the trim, and flat for the walls.

I'm ashamed to admit it now, but it was the first time in my life where I was truly having to work for something.  This house, whatever it was, would have to be made better by my work, my effort.  Some men seem born for such work, and embrace it wholly.  Not me.  From the first it seemed a burden, even a type of cursedness, as though God had relegated me to this new situation on account of my earlier failures and laziness.  But, I came to enjoy it and discovered in it some lessons about myself as well.

I learned, for one thing, the sense of honor a man can have in working for his family, I mean actually doing something practical and tangible that can house and benefit his spouse and children.  I remember many nights when the hours stretched on and on and my annoyance started to grow that I would focus on the quality of my work as a discipline of love.  I would paint the beautiful trim work with their hand-hewn accents and grooves with delicate care, and as I did so, I imagined doing my work with a chivalrous mind and devoted heart.  This hour I spent on the trim, I told myself, would be done for my wife, so that she could have and appreciate a bedroom that was carefully cut when it was painted.  Thankfully, I can look at the trim even now and see the care that was taken.  I am fairly surprised that I found calm enough within myself to do the job that well.

But, maybe more importantly, I learned that a man must work hard enough some times that he reaches a point of exhaustion and failure because that same exhaustion and failure can lead him beyond himself.  It was an unending task to paint this house, and even after I finished a room, it was clear that decades of use and deterioration were not going to be overcome by a few weeks of washing and painting.  No amount of effort would bring completion.  As I wrestled with the enormity of the task, I was driven to plead with God.  And I was humbled enough to ask for help from members of the church.  Sometimes help appeared even without my request, which always seemed like such obvious grace that I fought to hold back tears.

A friend of mine that I know speaks often of the value of work, how it gives a person self-confidence and worth.  Looking at the trim still shining from the lamp's light, I know he is right.  There is something of me in that work.  But, I'm aware enough to know that whatever improvements have been made to this home have come by more than just my American can-do attitude.  In the end, I was blessed with the awareness of family and community there to support me.  I can see it very tangibly in the bookshelves John Anderson masterfully built and installed in the corner of the room where I type.  And I can think of the folks who showed up when I had the sense to finally ask.