Tuesday, January 29, 2008
I don’t know if it would surprise anyone to know that I get paid to do this. But it would surprise others to find out how little it is. For being on call 24/7, managing up to 75 people working on about 10 houses at a time, I get $38 a day. I’ve been out of the workforce long enough to lose any sense of how valuable $38 a day is. But I’ve enjoyed joking with Beaven about being the only one working.
However, by getting a paycheck I’m better off than the real volunteers who come out of the goodness of their hearts. I’ve talked to more than one guy like Terry from Iowa. He told me he had to work 14 hour days for two weeks in order to get his work ahead enough to take a week off from work. He’s a welder by trade but most of these guys are amateur handymen around the house and they do some awesome work.
Once in a while God will bless us with a real carpenter who can zip through the most difficult job simply because he’s done it countless times. But, for the most part, we’ve got a bunch of amateurs here. The work they do is extraordinary because what they lack in skills they make up for in earnestness. They can usually produce quality work by just slowing down and figuring it out as they go.
These volunteers don’t even get the $38 a day. In fact, they have to pay to come. The village charges $20 a day to stay here and then there are expenses for the travel and meals on the road. Once in a while their church will help with the expenses but most people pay their own way.
But the paydays!! Oh, the paydays are fantastic around here. Because you’ve figured out by now that what we’re doing is not about the money. The paychecks we get around here come in a different sort of currency.
Neighbor Night is always a great payday for me. That’s the Thursdays when we invite all the homeowners we’re working with to eat dinner with us. There’s great food, lots of hugs and stories to share. We’ll have a couple of speeches and a few songs. My little friend Chloe danced for us again last week and, this time, she sang, also.
But my biggest payday so far came last Friday morning when we had our first House Blessing. This wasn’t the first house we finished and the idea to hold blessings as a rite of closure was in the works before I got here. But it was new to me.
When I first thought about it I didn’t know where to start; this blessing thing was unfamiliar territory. We just made it up as we went along. With about three flicks of the wrist I burned a CD off iTunes of Perry Como singing “Bless This House.” We gathered about 10 of the best singers of the 65-member group from Iowa that were staying in the camp with us. They studied the song until they could sing it a Capella. Leaving the CD player back at camp, we packed up a prayer and went out to Miss Linda’s house Friday morning.
We didn’t really do that much to the house. I mean, it had been rebuilt before we got there. We started out just planning to finish out the underside of the house so rats and other critters couldn’t get inside. We ended moving the well pump and building a pump house then painting the pump house and garage, putting up the skirting around the foundation and, finally, slapping a second coat of paint on the house. When people show their love through work and are in a town like Pearlington where there’s lots of love around, our work tends to expand the longer we hang around the homeowner.
It was a cold morning so we didn’t dawdle there in the front yard. Folks were hugging and taking pictures. But when the choir sang “Bless This House” it was the most beautiful sound I’ve heard in a long time, maybe ever. It was the sound of Heaven.
I tried for a photo of Linda as the song lifted up. Linda is the lady whose son is a professional photographer who took a dramatic photo of her that he posted to his blog. (operationeden.blogspot.com) She says the photo was taken at “the moment I realized I couldn’t do this by myself.” I wanted to send her son a picture of her at the blessing--the moment she realized she didn’t have to do it alone.
The picture disappointed me. I wasn’t close enough. I couldn’t get the right angle. I would make a lousy professional because I’m not willing to intrude into the moment to get the right shot.
The curious thing was that the expression on her face was actually very close to the expression in the first picture. I’ve puzzled over this. I expected it to be very different.
The first photo was taken when there was only Linda and her son working to muck out the house. They were shoveling four feet of toxic, oily mud covered with dead fish. It was hot and humid. Linda wore an expression of utter helplessness. The second photo, when 65 people and an outpouring of love and joy surrounded her on a crisp winter morning. It was the look of gratitude. Why would the expressions be the same?
Maybe each was taken at a moment she was closest to God. I’ve heard that there are really only two kinds of prayer: “Please” and “Thank You.” I’ve seen them both in the same person now. And it turns out they look a lot alike.