Sunday, July 19, 2009

Servant hood

I just posted on my "other" blog about this trip I took with my church called UM Army. I've been thinking about the six days I spent in Freeport, my intentions when I left Houston and my realizations about how short I fell from maintaining a servant's attitude.

DAY ONE. It was Sunday. We arrived late in the afternoon. We found out our work team assignments. I had 3 kids on my team (most every other adult had 4); two guys and a girl. The girl seemed unhappy; maybe grumpy is a better word. As we talked about our previous experience with UM Army, she relayed stories of all the weird injuries, accidents and illnesses she had on previous trips. Great.

DAY TWO. We have an "easy" work site. My boys are disappointed. They want to be able to brag to their buddies at the end of the day about doing complicated construction and using power tools. Instead, they must confess that "all" we did is cover a small ramp with roof paper so it would not be so slick and trim some bushes. Two hours into the morning, my girl is not feeling well. She spends most of the day in the van with the AC running.

We head to work site #2 after lunch to figure out what will be required of us. The client does not speak English. I use my best Spanglish to communicate with her. We're going to be reconstructing a wheel chair ramp that was not built to code. It is 14 feet long without a single turn. This is not good for wheel chair ramps, but would make an excellent stunt bike ramp. I try to explain to the client how the new ramp will be built so that it will be safe, which means for every inch high the ramp is at the beginning, it must extend a foot in length. This is going to make it too long for her husband to use, she says. She tells me repeatedly that the "muchacho" who visited her (the sites guy) told her we would build it the way she wants it. Finally, we give in and hope for the best in terms of safety. We demolish the old ramp and stack the wood to the side before calling it a day. (I have to field a call from my Dad's wife while this is going on. She needs the address of the care home where he used to live. I remind her I am out of town. I call my younger daughter at home and have her dig around in my files to get the address. ) I have a terrible headache before it's all said and done. Dehydration and family stress has caught up with me. I wish I was the one enjoying the AC in the van while everyone else works.

DAY THREE. My sickly girl has been sent home. Now it's just me and my two guys. I learn some distressing news from our eldest son about a dumb thing he did the previous week (he is also on the trip; he texts me to confess about it) and I am highly distracted and upset for most of the day. We finish the demolition, which includes using a sawz all and sledge hammer. My guys are operating on total adrenaline and testosterone rush. But the "thrill" wears off quickly and I'm back to begging and cajoling them to work. We make slow but steady progress. That evening, after showering at the middle school, we go out to dinner and then to the city pool. I keep a distance from the rest of the group, still fuming over the news my eldest told me earlier. He sends a few "spies" my way to try to gauge my mood. Like the spies sent in by Joshua to check out the land of Canaan, they return to him with reports that as far as my mood goes, there are giants in the land.

DAY FOUR. Another adult who previously has been working in the kitchen says she wants to get her hands dirty and is assigned to us. Thank you Lord Jesus! She never stops working, which helps me cope with my guys, who take turns sitting on the sidelines pretending they have forgotten that we are supposed to be building a wheelchair ramp. We have made enough progress now that we can show the client. She seems pleased. We cut a great deal of wood this day and my sinuses are in SOS mode. Another headache ensues. It's so hot, they need a new word for it. In fact, this becomes my new, annoying phrase to describe every unpleasant situation ... that it is so _______ that they need another word for it. We are going to the beach after work; as in straight to the beach after a quick clothes change and not showering first. I think this is a totally disgusting idea but try to keep my trap shut.

At the beach, college kids with an air horn think it's hilarious to keep blowing it. I drink more water than humanly possible and swallow tylenol and sudaphed like candy, but the headache continues. I do at least have a "come to Jesus" discussion with my son, telling him how angry he has made me, and more or less making up. We leave the beach around 9:30 p.m. and head to the showers. (I forgot to mention that the shower heads are so deplorable at the school, the water shoots horizontally instead of vertically. I have come up with an ingenious invention of placing a wash cloth over the shower head to direct the stream of water.) When we get to the middle school, the doors are locked. Someone didn't get the memo that we'd be showering late. We go back to the church then quickly head to a nearby stadium field house. It's a race to the showers every evening, as standing in line behind 15 16 year old girls for a shower is neither pleasant nor productive. After tapping our feet outside the field house facilities for another 15 minutes, we are directed to yet a third facility -- the high school. I walk back to my vehicle and learn one of my guys is MIA. After searching around, I call his mom back at base camp to tell her I can't find him. She calls back a few minutes later to say that he apparently went on to the showers with another group. I am incensed (a state induced by the fact that I am dirty, stinky, tired, sun stroked, dehydrated and still throbbing with a head ache). We can't seem to find the right entrance to the high school where the showers are located to actually make it to the showers, requiring me to phone the camp director several times for clarification. This goes on for what seems like an eternity. Finally, we are there and half the group has already showered, including my MIA guy. I go postal on him. He is all "Yes mam, I'm sorry, no mam, yes mam, I understand..." Poor kid. I realize later how infamous I have now become, as numerous adults seem to continuously ask me how I am doing...

DAY FIVE. We finish our ramp and are ready to paint. My guys hate to paint. A small mutiny ensues while I go to the hardware store in search of sand paper. When I return, I am informed that the ramp will look much "nicer," in their opinion, if we keep it bare wood. After trying several arguments and lines of reason with them, I finally announce, "We are painting it, discussion over." We also have to paint the trim on various parts of the house. Thank goodness adult #2 is still with me or I would never have made it. We are interrupted by rain, but eventually get the job done. There are 2 hours left in the work day, so we get another site assignment and head out again.

Our directions to the site are not good. We eventually get there, but discover later by the route the client suggests for the return trip home that we went a good 5 miles out of our way. This site has rotten facia and soffit boards along the back side of the house that need ripping out, replacing and painting. We try to assess the job in terms of the tools, lumber and hardware we will need then call it a day.

DAY SIX. We return in the morning to discover our client is very anxious. We are the 3rd group to work on her house. She tells us about the rotten job the roofer did, a fact confirmed to us as we tear down the soffit boards and see the short cuts he has taken. The 2nd group didn't even want to attempt the work we are doing, opting instead to replace one rotten board on either end of the house. The client feels like she is being messed around and then expected to fall on her knees in gratitude for the crappy job everyone is doing. (And I can't say I blame her). She follows us around like a lost puppy, questioning everything we are doing. She even insists that we exchange the pine lumber we have brought for cedar, which the rest of the house is trimmed in. Point well taken, but come on lady, I'm thinking, we gotta get done! The adult in charge of supplies happily gives in to her request, all the while I'm thinking, we will NEVER finish this job. We get rained on again. The client comes out when it begins raining, even more anxious that she is going to get water in her house because of all the lumber we have removed at this point. We nail up drop clothes to appease her and while I act "sweet" on the outside, on the inside I am still thinking, beam me up Scottie!!

When the rain stops, another problem appears. The phone line runs through the vent of one of the soffit boards that needs replacing. She wants to call the phone company to see if they will come out and unhook the line so we can pull the board. She goes back inside while I stare at the board and try to think. I offer up a Plan B ... We will use a sawz all to take out as much board as we can before we reach the venting. She seems unsure of this solution. I tell her as nicely as possible, it's either this or not remove the rotten board at all. She opts for the former. It takes another hour to locate someone who can bring us a sawz all from base camp. Suddenly, it's 2 p.m. and all we've accomplished is tearing out the rotten wood (including the tricky piece where the phone line is) and ripping two of the 3 pieces of plywood we need to cut. FINALLY the cavalry arrives ... another work team of one adult and 4 kids plus a color group leader. Both of these adults have massive construction experience. Wood is being measured and cut so fast, they are practically sprinting back and forth to nail it up. After slapping on a coat of paint, we are done ... two hours later than the designated "last day quitting time," but finished all the same. Thank God!

It is very hard (for me) to keep a good attitude when I am so far out of my comfort zone (construction work), in the heat, begging kids to paint, operating on too little sleep,and dealing with family issues. I wish I could do better. But in the end, I think my guys and I had a good time overall. We had plenty of laughter and joking and silliness. (I even convinced them at one point that they should address me as "Work Team Goddess.") They seemed to accept me for who I am, just as I know God does -- an odd mixture of energy, crankiness, silliness and seriousness. So I suppose that was the real lesson for the week for me ... that I am accepted, even when I fall short of MY ideal of servant hood.

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