A matter of perspective.
It started with last weekend’s home improvement project. We’re building a deck. Not being particularly good at that sort of thing we hired a guy who was willing to do the skilled labor but charge less if we did the grunt work.
So we’ve dug holes and screwed down flooring while he frames. The 25 square foot concrete slab fell to our part of the bargain, and it was finally warm enough to do it. Having no clue as to what we were doing, we went to the experts on YouTube. After perusing a few videos we dug in.
Jerry built a frame. I carried bag after bag of 60 pound concrete. (Thankfully our teenager made a brief appearance home long enough to carry about a third of those bags.) Hubby and I took turns stirring, working until our muscles had to have a break, then giving the other person a turn. Neither of us particularly like this sort of work but what makes these projects worse is that we have no confidence in our ability to do them well.
Still, there was a sort of satisfaction at sweating together and seeing something useful take shape before our eyes. I was even a little bit proud of myself.
We ran out of daylight before the project was finished, and my poor husband had some pain that meant he was done. The finishing of our concrete slab fell to me.
In the dark.
I did my best to use the edger like the guy on the video had done. Then I took an old broom and went across the top so it wouldn’t be slick when it dried. I had very little understanding of how it was supposed to be done and couldn’t see very well in the weak light of the porch light, but I did what I could.
Then I drew a heart in the concrete. It’s silly, maybe, but I wanted to put Jerry and my initials in it. We’d done it together, a labor of love. It wasn’t going to be perfect, but it was ours. I couldn’t get the lettering to look decent, so I decided a heart would suffice.
The deck guy inspected our work a few days later. “I’m not going to sugarcoat this. If you’d paid for it I’d tell you to get your money back. It’s not entirely level, and the broom lines are too deep. Still, it’ll hold your stairs, and it’s okay for two people who don’t know what they are doing.”
As I shared his statement with a friend my voice caught. The joy of doing something for ourselves was overshadowed by its imperfections. An attitude of poverty washed over me. Even when we tried to do something new and nice it was substandard.
My friend prayed. As she prayed a new perspective emerged. “Oh, Paula,” she said. “God is proud of you! He loves your concrete slab. He’s not judging it on some predetermined standard. He’s delighting in it because you made it! Just as you would celebrate your child’s artwork and hang it on your refrigerator without comparing it to learned artists, He celebrates what you have created.”
And the joy rushed back.
Gone was the twisted, tangled emotions of disappointment. I again felt the pride of using my own two hands, feeling my aching back and muscles. I embraced the camaraderie of working alongside my husband, partners in improving the little plot of land that is our own.
My thoughts flashed back to my grandparents’ home. Established during the depression they did as many country folk did in their day. They built small, with their own two hands. Added rooms as they could. Poured the concrete for their sidewalk. The broom marks there had their own unique homemade pattern, and I thought they were wonderful. I adored their home because it was love and family and ours.
The 25 square foot block by my garage door may not be as pretty as if we’d paid a professional, but if a professional had done it I wouldn’t remember spending the day shoulder to shoulder with my husband. There’s something about the struggle and the sweat that makes that space a little more ours.
That heart I scratched into the concrete says it all.