Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Day 21-25: Miracles on St. Paul

I just returned from a five-day trip to Indianapolis where I was a participant in the Fuller Legacy Build (a Habitat for Humanity-like organization).  In fact, Habitat for Humanity was originally founded by Millard Fuller but he was summarily fired under questionable circumstances years ago.  All of that information is neither here nor there and I'm sure there are at least three sides to that story!  Personally, I think all of the in-fighting and division takes away from the true mission of giving a hand-up and not a hand-out.

What I wanted to share was the instances where my life was touched and where I may have touched others during that week.  If you've ever done any work with Habitat for Humanity (and I highly recommend it if you haven't) then you will know that you cannot leave a build feeling the same way you did when you arrived.

In all of my philanthropic adventures and service-oriented jobs, none has ever had as profound an effect as witnessing the look on the face of the homeowner as their new house appears right before their very eyes.  And to think that I helped this dream come true with my own two hands (including my smashed, purple thumb which I consistently banged with my hammer)!

For the second time in my life, I ended up on a 'blitz build' home--where a team of 25 or so people start with a concrete foundation and build an entire home by the end of the week--inside and out.  Literally, the keys are handed over to the homeowner on the last day!  It is a miracle to witness, and an even greater miracle to be a participant.

On a trip like this, the range of emotions from hour to hour is exhausting.  On any given day, I can go from excitement at the prospects of the day ahead to being overwhelmed at the immensity of the job.  I can be laughing and joking with my fellow workers one moment and then sobbing as I hug the new homeowners and share in their overwhelming joy.

In case you haven't figured it out by now, I am a people watcher.  I get consumed by their emotions, their actions, their mannerisms. Sometimes I am ashamed when I catch myself doing it, but I can't help but be drawn to the human story.  On this particular trip, I was surrounded by people from all over -- from one coast to the other and Canada as well.  As I work on these jobs, I find myself up on scaffolding or a roof, side by side with another and I can't help but make small talk.  Before I know it, an amazing life story begins to unfold.  This happens to me over and over and over.  These people really touch my life with their journeys and inevitably, I always get around to the question of, "what brought you here to this place?"  I must say that I am usually blown away when I hear how each of them came to be sitting beside me on a scaffold nailing in vinyl siding!

I wanted to share the stories of some of the people I encountered and the miracles I witnessed . . . the first Miracle was the name of the street where we worked...St. Paul.

Alberto and Ted:  I was put in charge of leading this three-person team to install the soffit and sheathing under the eaves of the roof.  I found myself in the great company of Alberto and Ted.  Ted was a very humble and meek man who knew way more about installing soffit than I did, but who wouldn't admit it and continued to let me lead.  As we chatted while we worked, Ted told me tearfully that he was the recipient himself of a Habitat for Humanity Home and he was so grateful that he worked on every build he could to repay his debt and give glory and praise to God.  Miracle number two.  Alberto, who completed our team was from just outside Mexico City and spoke limited English.  Alberto was so eager to learn everything we were doing and always asked the why's and how's when we were measuring, cutting, and bending.  As the day progressed, Alberto and I engaged in gentle teasing and banter and I soon discovered that he was new to the country and had left his home in Mexico to marry an American woman.  In his country, he was a civil engineer, however he could not get any skilled labor in the U.S. because of the language barrier.  No one would accept his credentials from Mexico so he worked in a fast food restaurant.  He worked on Habitat for Humanity Builds so that he could learn the trade and he went to night school to earn a degree in this country so he could provide a better life for his new family.  Miracle number three.

Larry and Cecilia:  This couple arrived on the job site every day with their own trailer stocked full of nail guns, saws, scaffolding, and tools of every shape and size.  Larry ribbed me constantly as he skillfully taught me many things about the building trade.  They were farmers in Indiana and several times each year they drove their handy trailer to build sites and donated a week of their time plus the tools and equipment they shared with everyone.  They also have travelled to every continent doing the same thing with Global Village, an international Habitat organization.  They are headed to Nepal in January and graciously invited me to be a part of their team (I must have done something right!)  What amazed me most about Larry and Cecilia was that they were clearly comfortable financially, but instead of spending money on themselves, they chose to donate their time, talent and treasure to those less fortunate.  They did it as a couple and shared their lives and love with everyone around them.  Miracle number four.

Tiffany:  A lovely young woman (about the age of 25) with two small sons was the deserving recipient of the home we were building.  As I said before, I have been on many, many jobs over the years and have truly enjoyed meeting each homeowner, but never have I witnessed one so humble and gracious.  Tiffany spent the entire week making sure each of us had cold water to drink and sunblock on our faces.  She learned every team members name and where they came from.  She took hundreds of pictures and got everyone's email addresses and promised to send them (which she most definitely did).  Tiffany was a smart and confident woman who happened to be down on her luck, but instead of digging a hole in the sand and hiding her head, she chose to keep fighting and working through the struggles and never gave up on her dream of owning a home.  She was proud and happy and was continually hugging each of us and showing her gratitude.  This is the type of person who can make you feel guilty for ever feeling sorry for yourself!  When you met her, you just knew she was going to do great things with her life!  Miracle number five.

I could go on and on about this trip and the people I met.  Each one of them touched me in a special way and I will carry around the memory of them in my heart forever.  The week was full of ARKs--too numerous to mention and I felt I never wanted to leave that place.  But one thing I truly learned, I don't have to go to a job site to build a home.  I can begin right here in my own soul and seek out the good in others, recognize a miracle when I see it, and spread love and light wherever I go.  If I do that, my own home {soul} will always be a place of great joy!

"... Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard." ~ Mother Teresa

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