A new PoP catchphrase, at least among the missionaries, is to be at "the end of your rope." They say that the end of your rope is when and where God will work - because you have nothing left but him. And they say that many times life puts us at the end of our rope, but we can also choose (through fasting, etc.) to put ourselves there.
For me, it wasn't so much the end of a rope as the top of a ladder.
This summer was the first time I was able to go to Allendale for the whole trip instead of half, and it turns out that two weeks of manual labor in Louisiana in July is harder than one. By the time the second week rolled around, I was already out of energy, physically and mentally and emotionally. But I had to keep going. Each day I got up and vowed that the heat, the mosquitoes, the smell, the difficulty of our job, and the burden of leadership were not going to get to me. We would get a lot of work done, have tons of fun while doing so, and at the end of the day, we'd be tired but happy. I would be proud of myself for being such a good crew chief. I developed a routine of praying early so that during personal prayer time (twenty minutes before beginning the work day) I could sit with a cup of coffee and a list of all the people on my crew and I would plan out the work day. That part always went really well.
It kind of went downhill from there.
Trying to get eight people to the work site on time. Sending two people back to get that one piece of equipment we always seemed to forget. Slapping at the first mosquito of the day after he'd already bit me. Finding yet another place that we missed with the primer. The never-ending battle of getting the grooved siding completely painted. Trying to paint trim with a huge, much-used brush because we just didn't have enough good brushes. Little things, but over and over, on top of exhaustion ...
It was our last day on the job. I really wanted us to finish the trim before we all left town and I kept going back and forth with myself over whether we could do it. I would start to get optimistic, then see another part of the house we'd forgotten ... it was maddening. Like unpainted pieces of trim were getting together and multiplying. Midmorning saw me up on a ladder with my paint bucket hoping no one from the ground would see I was crying with pure frustration. I got over it quickly enough and kept painting until I saw a guy from my crew walking by. "How's it going?" I called.
"Terrible," he said, bristling with anger. "I dropped my paint bucket. There's paint all over the ladder, and my hands, and ..."
The poor guy looked like he'd had it and my heart went out to him. I told him to go ahead and take a break, take a buddy and walk down the road a bit to cool off. I turned back to my painting and realized we really were not going to finish this house. There wasn't enough time and we didn't have enough energy.
With that decided, I went to take a water break. My beleaguered crew member returned from his walk. "Oh no," I said without thinking, "there's paint in your hair too ..." He looked even more dejected than before, which I hadn't thought possible. "Hey," I said spontaneously, "I'll be in solidarity with you. Go get some paint, put paint in my hair." And man, could this kid follow directions. I still have paint in my hair.
Soon about half the crew had paint in their hair, and while normally I would have gotten on the teenagers' cases for the amount of time they spent running after one another with paint, I had let go of my need to see the house finished and I was more interested in seeing the kids smile.
That was the bright spot of the work day, but my woes were not over. Just before lunch I discovered we hadn't taped correctly and a ton of our trim work was ruined. After lunch I had my own paint accident, except my white paint splashed not onto my ladder but onto the freshly painted blue house and the floor of the porch.
And that's all I have to say about that.
(tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of Sheila's Adventures in Allendale)