By Nancy Hoag
ëI donít care,í I said. ëIíve had it.í
With the gift of mercy and a servant’s heart, my husband believed a cup of cold water given in Jesus’ name would have its own reward. He also believed that by serving others, we served the Lord, and I agreed. I even listened when he suggested that we share Christ whenever we could as we built new Habitat for Humanity houses. But the day our onsite supervisor announced, “You’ll be rehabbing this time,” I stared at him in disbelief.
“We had to repossess one of our homes,” he said, “but now we’ll get it ready for another family.” Our supervisor shrugged. “The first owners did a number on it.”
“I know this is hard,” our supervisor said, “but we must be charitable and willing.”
“I can’t.” I shook my head. Not only was I sick of working for T-shirts, but to scour human waste off doors and bedrooms? Never had I envisioned slashed walls, mouse droppings in kitchen cupboards, and decomposing meat in an unplugged refrigerator—not to mention purple paint deliberately pitched at ceilings or shards of glass spilling from bug-streaked, broken windows. Not only had the former owners made poor life choices, they’d destroyed the gift of a new beginning.
Standing by Our Commitments
Nevertheless, I’d made a commitment. So I donned my gloves and mask along with the others who would scrub while our husbands tore out walls they would later replace. I enjoyed working with the other wives; I just wasn’t happy picking up after strangers who’d gone off to wherever strangers without consciences go. Worse, we weren’t being paid for our labor!
Meanwhile, our supervisor decided we would also trim and repair a neglected and overgrown lawn nearby. One man would drive the tractor. Another would drag a donated mower around and around. We women were to rake and haul grass to a burn pile across the road. For three days we gathered beer cans, snack wrappers, and rusted nails. It took a week with more than a dozen of us doing hard labor before we could see a real home coming together—and I began to feel pleased. Then our supervisor announced we would be mowing another lawn as well. In addition, we women would paint the neighboring tool shed while the men used a power washer to clean the second house.
“He’s got to be kidding!” I complained. “It’s bad enough we’re working for nothing on this disgusting hovel, but now we’re to work like dogs for someone we don’t know from Adam?” And why had the neighbor let her place deteriorate like this?
“She doesn’t own a mower,” my husband said. “It’s difficult for her.”
“I don’t care,” I said. “I’ve had it.”
As our supplies were being dispersed, the others actually looked eager. So I zipped my lip, selected a brush, and began. “I’m sick of this heat, though,” I murmured. I was in pain after painting six ceilings. Did no one understand I’d been in physical therapy for frozen shoulder? Furthermore, had they not heard how I’d sliced my knee on a job in Colorado and fallen downstairs in Georgia? I would also be seeing a dermatologist about my sun-damaged ear! “You’ll eventually need surgery,” an urgent care physician had decided. But here I was—in the Southern sun and slaving for someone who would never be grateful.
“Watch for snakes!” our supervisor shouted.
“Watch for what?” What frame of mind had I been in when I’d agreed to do anything this foolish? I’d recently celebrated my 69th birthday on my knees laying tile in Louisiana—and now snakes? “No thanks,” I said to a woman from a nearby church who offered lunch. “Talk about bad timing,” I grumbled to another volunteer.
I glanced at my nails. I needed a manicure and when had I gone for a professional haircut? “I also need a latte and compensation,” I groaned. Instead, I’d been “invited” to paint this ugly shed, and then I would be expected to rake, and my denims were wringing wet from the power-washer and perspiration. Not only would I not be eating lunch, it no longer mattered that Oswald Chambers had declared, “Never allow yourself to think that some tasks are beneath your dignity.” Oswald Chambers wasn’t a woman.
“I have a notion to go back to our trailer,” I’d only just announced, when a belching sedan rounded the corner. “What a hunk of junk,” I breathed.
“It’s the lady who owns the shed,” one of the women volunteered.
“Lady?” A lady might have cut her own lawn and kept her siding clean. “And for Heaven’s sake, why has she stopped?” And why the staring? “I hope she understands we’re working ourselves silly,” I’d only just mumbled, when I saw the woman brake, throw herself back into her seat, and cover her face with her hands. Shaking her head, she then folded into her steering wheel, her shoulders rising and falling in sobs I could see but couldn’t hear.
“No one told her we would be helping her, too,” our supervisor explained. Only after she’d made the turn did she realize.
Sharing God’s Love
We’d dragged plastic chairs to the meager shade when the woman’s daughter came across the lawn. “My mother wants me to thank you,” she said, her voice timid but clearly filled with gratitude. “She lost her job. . . . She can’t believe
. . . .”
“You didn’t know?” a coworker asked as she offered me a cookie full of nuts and chocolate. “She hasn’t been well, and now she’s out of work.”
“I didn’t know,” I said. It wasn’t entirely true, because I recalled overhearing something about her situation. But I’d been focused on myself and the perks I wasn’t getting.
Putting Myself in Her Place
From my side of the newly trimmed lawn, I stared at the poorly kept house. The teen had scooped up a baby who’d wandered from the garage, while the thin-with-worry mother had parted fraying curtains to watch not only her children, but us.
“She lost her job and her husband,” I said, as my husband came to sit beside me. “She has children and she isn’t well. All the while we’ve been blessed with the means, time, and energy to do what we’ve been doing. We have been blessed to bless others.”
Scotty tucked my hand into his. “Yes, Babe,” he said. “We have.”
“I can sure be self-centered sometimes, though,” I whispered.
“Yup.” My husband grinned. “You can.”
“But I can also change.”
“I’m sorry those former owners departed in anger,” I said, “but we can be the difference for this mother and her children, right?”
Squeezing my hand, Scotty nodded.
“I’d better get back to my painting. Then maybe we can help rake.” I reached out to touch Scotty’s hand, grateful for a spouse who was showing me how to become a willing servant. “Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed,” I recited as I stretched my legs and retrieved my gloves. “We have a great work! We’re sharing God’s love and extending hope,” I sang, dragging my stepladder to where I could reach the top of the neighboring shed. “And then we will turn this place into something lovely. “
Glancing again at the woman’s threadbare laundry, I blinked back tears. “You have to live your own life,” a friend had recently written.
I thought to myself, So maybe that’s what I’m doing. “Payday!” I sang across the lawn just before Scotty stepped back inside.
“Payday,” I breathed, reaching for my brush and pan and returning the woman’s tentative smile and wave, grateful that I had also been rehabbed.
Nancy Hoag is a freelance writer in Three Forks, Montana.
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