For Revolutionaries and Visionaries Only

One of the gifts I’ve been given from the construction world is that I understand it takes time to create something beautiful. And that ‘time’ includes lots hard work, sweat, many mistakes, sometimes broken bones, blood, busted budgets, mental toughness to keep the vision in mind when all you see is a mess, and the willingness to keep at it, to do it the right when things get difficult, and not cut corners. I have many terrible stories of what cutting corners does in the construction world… just go out to a new housing suburb and ask a homeowner what issues they have with their “new” home. Good work, beautiful work, takes time and commitment to do things right.

With many jobs I work on, there is demolition that has to happen before we can start actually ‘building.’ Whether it’s digging the footer for a stem wall that is going to hold the bearing load of a building, jackhammering out old concrete and rebar to build something more functional or more aesthetically pleasing, or tearing out walls, ceiling or floors for a remodel. The homes or buildings where demo takes place becomes a dusty mess, full of hazards and is in need of strong labors to tear out and haul off all the junk that is no longer necessary.

It takes this…

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To get to this…

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Or this…

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To get this…

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In life, this struggle is the same. We all want the beauty without the work. We want the resurrected life without the death. We want healing but not the pain. We want the finished product, but not the long journey of demolition and clean up to get to the point where you can actually start building again. We want to live in peace, and run from disorder. We want to ignore what’s broken. We want to cut corners. This is a human desire. I don’t know anyone, who in their right mind, loves pain and waiting a long time for things to become whole. But not loving these things does not mean we can dodge them and expect the beauty we long for.

You see, this work is hard because if forces us to deal with that which we are afraid of: exposure of our shame, ignored trauma and loss, an invitation to grieve, asking others to help us haul off the junk that’s been demolished… This work is hard because it invites us into the truth of the way things really are, and to ‘willingly’ move into our shame and grief seems like a death wish at worst, and stupid at best.

But it is precisely the digging into the shame and moving into the grief that is what creates the beauty. It’s the asking for help and recruiting strong laborers to help with the heavy lifting. But remember, it’s the ashes covered over the forest floor that brings about a plush forest in years to come. It’s the work of sitting in your pain long enough to die to the old ways that have kept you numb isolated, and without passion and intimacy for years. Death must be at work within us for beauty to ever surface in the purest sense.

So here’s to the hard work of creating beauty when there is no clear vision of what it will look like once we get there. Here’s to sitting in our pain (not completely on our own though) long enough to die, and in the tomb of grief, in time, it will turn into a womb. And once again, you will be invited into the pain as you will labor to give birth to the hidden beauty waiting to be revealed.

This is an invitation for the revolutionary, the visionary, the one who is not happy with the way things have been, for those who are not willing to cut corners, and move past the comments that are meant to keep you from feeling and dealing with what’s really going on under the slab. May this encourage you today to stay the course, and as Mumford and Sons puts it, to not succumb when the world is wrapping round your neck. Find your broad-shouldered beasts and invite them in to your shame and grief to share to weight and pain of this journey towards beauty.

Down in the Pits?

I’m a contractor. That is to say, over the last 20 years of my life, one of the main ways I have financially provided for my family has been via construction jobs. I started out as a framer/roofer, then started laying tile, became a journeyman bricklayer, got into all other types of floor covering, then got into small scale general contracting work. It has been a nice trade to have when I’m in the middle of life transitions, as I am now. It also serves as a great platform for life lessons.

A couple of weeks ago, my brother-in-law approached me about a plumbing issue he had with his main sewer line. It had been backing up and overflowing into the shower/bath tub… shit doesn’t always flow downhill, especially when underground pipes disintegrate. This was their problem. They had a plumbing locator come out with a digital “snake” that could go down in the main plumbing drain with a camera to see what the problem was.

Years ago, plumbers replaced an old 4″ drain with new ABS pipe. The problem was, they stopped 4′ short of the city main, thinking the old pipe was good enough since it still looked like it was in good shape. Well, years later, the downhill ascent of the messiness of our lives came to an end at this residence. The locator marked the ground where the pipe was, and gave us a depth of 6.5 – 7 feet, and a range of a few feet wide of where it “could” be.

The answer: hand dig over 6 feet down, find the pipe where the new meets up with the old, and then chase the disintegrated pipe to the city main and replace it with new ABS pipe. It’s a crap shoot (pun intended). I agreed to help out my brother-in-law since he was having a hard time getting a plumber to commit to remedying the problem, even though I was totally nervous about accomplishing this feat in a days work. I headed out there with a helper named Red. He’s a little younger than I am, and was eager to get after it for the day, but I didn’t tell him that this was going to nearly take our lives today… I wanted to keep his spirits up!

So we got to the job and stuck our shovels in the dirt and went for it. Hour after hour, we would dig, then widen the hole and create steps so we could actually dig, shovel the dirt out, and climb in and out of the hole. The deeper we got the narrower the pit got, and the more the oxygen around us seemed to absorb into the walls of dirt around us, instead of our lungs receiving the refreshment. It got to the point where we would switch digging every 10 minutes. I never told Red, but I was discouraged when we got to the 6.5′ mark and couldn’t find the pipe.

Eventually after digging around we found the new pipe fitting at the very corner of our hole. If we didn’t widen the original hole by 6″ at the beginning, we would’ve missed it altogether, because the old pipe had disintegrated and we could not see where it was. At this point, we new roughly where the city main was, so now we had to tunnel our hole toward the alley, and pray that we would hit the main. Now I am thinking this one day job is going to turn into two days or more, and we will possibly have to get a permit to dig in the alley and rent a back hoe, etc… this was not going to save my brother-in-law money like I wanted to.

There Red and I were, tunneling a dirt hole that had turned mildly muddy from the “watered-down toilet papery poopy” water coming out of the main sewer line. We were in the “shit pit!” Literally! This was one of the hardest days of work I’ve had, and I’ve had some hard days. The physical pain of digging, the psychological battle of trying to decide if we dig 6″ more to the left or go 6″ more to the right was wearing me down, and Red wasn’t as excited about getting after it anymore at this point. Finally, I was in the pit and started yelling out, “Mercy, mercy, mercy!” Red looked into the pit and was wondering what in the world was going on. I finally broke. I told him, “I’m done… I don’t think we’re going to find this stupid pipe.”

So I got out of the pit and he started digging, crying out for mercy too, in his own way. It seems that this is all we can do sometimes when we get into the pit, and we come to the end of what we have brought to the table. Two grown men, begging for mercy, weary and feeling a sense of powerlessness to change our situation. Pathetic, I know! This is typical to how life gets sometimes though, when we are worn down with nothing left to give. Crying out for help never seems to be a good answer until you’re at the bottom of the “shit pit,” then, that’s all you got.

So we kept taking turns digging. Finally after a few hours of tunneling, I was in the muddy pit, crying like a poor school boy, complaining about everything under the sun, and then I heard a high pitched “DING!” That was it. I hit the main! I busted out in an old hymn, “All creatures of our God and king, Lift up your voice and with us sing…” Red was laughing at me, and my sister-in-law was in her house and heard me singing and then came out on the patio and joined in with me and started singing… “Alleluia! Alleluia!…O praise Him! O praise Him! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

We hit the main! We can fix it. We can make the smell stop and flow get back to the way it’s supposed to be. Mercy showed up and offered relief, and Red and I knew, we couldn’t have done this alone. We needed each other, the breaks, the mental and verbal encouragement, the knowledge that someone else is there and they care about this problem too. Oh how we need this type of lesson to speak to us in the midst of the craziness and relentlessness of life.

If you’re down in the pits, cry out for mercy! It’s okay to cry out, even as adults. Sometimes we find ourselves in the pit, and need others to be in it with us, to cry our for mercy with us, to share the load with us, to sing with us when relief comes. This is a picture of why we need one another in life. Don’t go at it alone. Invite others into your journey. Be vulnerable. Be available. Don’t be afraid to get messy. Cry out when you’re in the pit of despair. And if you’re sitting with others in the pit, cry out on their behalf. We need each other.