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June 26, 2006 / TildeWill

Back from ASP

Most years since high school I’ve been involved in a summer housing project called Appalachia Service Project ( with my old church from Michigan. We drive down to the mountains on a Sunday, stay in a school or community center all week, and repair homes while enjoying fun and fellowship. This year, because some of the adults had to back out, I went as a full fledged group leader. In the past I had gone as a “youth leader” meaning I got to be a guy who was in the know about what the adults were doing AND I didn’t have to worry about discipline, just make sure that everyone was having fun.

Also part of this shuffle was I was put with Pat, a man who I admire very much and would consider to be my dad away from home. Pat is a former marine and a stay at home dad. On his weekends he is a roofer. So when we found out that we were being assigned a roof re-pitch (read: lots of framing) I was surprised to see doubt come from him. Apparently, roofers only lay shingles, not that frame trusses and other carpentry work.

Monday comes around, and we went to the job site with four boys (plus Pat and me for a total of 6). One guy is out because of heat exhaustion through Wednesday. Another guy avoids work like the plague and when he does do work it’s counter productive (like denting molding or putting a ladder through a window). A third guy decides by Wednesday that he’s going to pack up and go home. And so, by Wednesday we had done very little other than open up the roof of the family we were working for.

At this point I was ready to cry; I hadn’t gotten a shower because one of our youth refused to get out for the adult shower time. I was covered in sweat, dirt, and I still had on my work clothes; I was frustrated by the situation and I could feel my eyes welling up. And as that first tear was about to roll down my cheek I remembered WHY I was dirty: I was at ASP where i went to remind myself how fortunate I was. I remembered that I had a great group leader, Pat, that I had an awesome staff, that I had a nice home to go back to and a job that I enjoyed, that I had a family that loves me and friends who would take care of me if I ever needed to call on them.

ASP is a crazy place in that it is so easy to forget everything you left back home; bills, conflicts, fears, and the good stuff too. It wasn’t until this near break down point that I thought about Kris. I wanted to call her so bad, but there just wasn’t a way to do it without any cell phone reception.

Thursday was another mediocre day. But it was better than the first half of the week in that the guys seemed to be recovering. The guy with heat exhaustion was back on his feet. The guy who didn’t want to work stopped hiding as much. The guy who wanted to go home was up on the roof working again. But progress was still slow and by the time we went home I was suffering from the heat (and I didn’t eat enough at lunch) and Pat was pretty cooked. And as is the case any time you have a roof wide open, it rained, and in the Appalachian mountains, it only rains one way: HARD.

Sure enough, our family had water coming into their house from every direction. The staff had gotten a call at 3AM and told Pat an I what happened in the morning. Pat was defeated. He didn’t want to face our family, and I didn’t want to either. But I also knew that our guys would be looking to us for leadership, that we had to snap out of it. I bounced back because I understood what needed to happen if we were to get anything done. Pat at this point just wanted to throw in a temporary structure and put a metric ton of plastic over it and be done for the week.

I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and let a shitty week end on a shitty note. I had John from another church in Georgia talk to Pat. I had seen John’s high spirit all week long and I called on him in hopes that Pat would listen to him and that it would pave the way for us to bounce back together. When we got in the van I told the guys our roof had leaked; I told them we had a choice: to just close up the roof, or to do what we were assigned to do, to do something good for our family, to redeem ourselves in a way. They all seemed to want to do the hard thing. I told them it would be hard, that all of them would have to contribute, and I got an individual “I’m in” from each of the four guys. We had a lot of work ahead of us: We had to construct and place three knee walls, measure and cut 48 rafters, and install plywood. Pat was still hesitant but he said “ok” and we told the guys that they couldn’t stand around, that they needed to be working at all times, that they needed to take care of themselves, and eat properly and drink water constantly. Losing one guy would mean failure. All of them understood.

The only thing that could stop us now was the rain. It was something I knew from the start. But for the first time I can remember, I KNEW we had something on our side that wanted us to succeed. You can call it God, or you can call it luck, but I knew it was there, all day long, fighting the clouds just long enough for us to do what we needed to do.

Around three o’clock I was standing on the ground while Pat was on the roof installing the third knee wall. Most of our rafters were in and the sun shone through a patch of rain clouds. “We did it” I thought to myself. Pat looked down at me and said “Thank you”, “For what?” I asked. I knew what he was thanking me for, but I didn’t really feel like I had that big of a part. Yeah, I challenged him, and yeah I cheered him on, but he was up there doing work and helping the guys do work. He was just as responsible for what had been accomplished as I was, and to me, that extra thing that wanted us to succeed was really what needed to be thanked. We tossed on some plywood AND the metric ton of plastic. Just as the last plastic cap nail was put in place to hold said plastic down, the rain came, and I knew we had done exactly what we had been sent to do.


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