Putting Up Walls

This is the house our crew built. Cool, huh?

While the rest of the inhabited universe is talking about Sunday Sales or Super Tuesday victories or the festering verbal manure of Rush Limbaugh, I thought I would share with you fine folks a little snippet from my weekend. Seems we could use a little good news.

This past weekend was Disciple NOW weekend for my church and for a great many churches in Gwinnett. In fact, 18 churches sent their middle and high school students to Cross Pointe Church in Duluth to hear the musical styling of Unhindered and the teaching of Pete Hixson. Over 700 pre-teens and teens slammed together to sing and shout and jump and in general enjoy themselves in the name of Christian discipleship. The theme was “Mirrors, Windows and Doors.”

On Saturday, as the rest of the churches assembled for a morning service, the high school students from my church were on the west side of Atlanta, just off Woodward Avenue, standing in a slightly chilly warehouse and facing a daunting task: frame out an entire four-bedroom house in one day. Which doesn’t sound too bad until you consider that the eight hours available to us were for building all of the walls (interior and exterior) from scratch, hauling said walls to the build site, and then attaching said walls to the floor decking.

And did I mention that someone was going to have to go and install the floor joists and decking before we could put up the walls?

In case you don’t know how any of this might be possible, it was all expertly coordinated by the fine folks of Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, a not-for-profit organization that helps build affordable homes and even better lives. I had signed my group up to help, and so we became part of a Day One build.

Half of my group went, in the rain, to the build site to begin installing the floor over the crawlspace. I remained with six of my girls at the warehouse to construct the walls. After a thorough (and humorous) introduction to the hammer, nail, and nail pouch, as well as a quick lesson in how to frame a wall (hint: let the hammer do the work), we were divided into five teams (there were several other volunteers) and commenced to building some walls.

I got to watch the young ladies in my group, who were dispersed through all five teams, and it was fascinating. As you might expect, none of us had any real experience with construction work, so the hammer was highly advanced technology for the first thirty minutes. The girls seemed afraid of breaking the wood, so they weren’t swinging the hammers with confidence. In fact, it often seemed as if they were afraid of breaking a nail – the metal kind.

And each time one of the girls would declare that she couldn’t do it, couldn’t go on, was just wasting everyone’s time, one of the Habitat volunteers would come alongside of her and gently challenge her to try again. Or would encourage her that she was giving her best, and that was all that mattered. Or would just be honest and tell her, “Hey–you don’t have to be perfect. Just be willing.”

By the end of the first hour, most of the girls were driving nails into those walls with the proficiency and confidence of a veteran builder. It took less than two hours to get all of the walls built, loaded onto a trailer, and hauled to the build site.

It took only four hours to get every wall up, secured, and nailed down, and oh–we got every single truss for the roof on top of the house too.

At the end of an eight hour day, my students could look at what had been a hole in the ground and see the bones of a house.

So could the woman who will one day live there. Her name was Telecia, and she had been building at our side the entire day. When we got ready to leave, she forced the kids to stop and take a picture in all of their mud-covered glory.

“I don’t want to forget any of you,” she said. “Thank you for this.”

We got on the bus sweaty and tired and achy. But the kids didn’t fall asleep on the drive back to Grayson; they talked about the build, what it meant to them, how special it was to have Telecia beside them for the whole thing. And when Saturday night had turned into Sunday morning, they were still talking about the same thing.

So often, when someone mentions building walls, it’s a metaphor for the emotional boundaries that keep us isolated from other people. But on Saturday my students built walls that brought them closer together, and would one day bring a family close to each other too.

I’m hoping we can go back for the dedication, so the kids can see their hard work at its end. But if not, it will always be something special to know that, thanks to a weekend built around mirrors, windows and doors, my students gave a deserving family a new home and a fresh start.