Today my family helped build a house in a town ten minutes from where we live, through Habitat for Humanity. My husband, Mark, wants us to build more houses. Maybe next summer, in Guatemala. I have no desire to build houses in Guatemala.
Mark says it will "stretch" us. I say it's stretch enough for me to hammer and nail right here in California. He says it won't be so challenging after we do it a few more times. I don't say anything. I just gingerly wiggle my bloody thumb.
My foot is sore, too, from a dropped hammer and from impaling it this morning on a sprinkler head. I am not cut out for this.
Today the foreman shouted at me, "You're gonna break the hammer trying to get the nail out that way." He was standing on the roof of the new house, watching as I struggled at a sawhorse trying to remove a bent nail from a two-by-four. It didn't help my confidence that he yelled loudly enough that all the other volunteers looked around to see what was up.
"Put a block of wood by the nail, then put your hammer on that and pull," he shouted.
"No, no, over more."
"No, to the right."
I blindly moved hammer and wood in all sorts of improbable positions, not having the slightest idea what the foreman wanted but hoping to accidentally hit on it anyway. I felt like I was 16 again and learning to drive a stick-shift car, sitting on a hill stopped at a red light with my sister imparting the mysteries of clutch and gas pedal while all I could think of was the million-dollar Mercedes-Benz behind me.
My incompetence made me sweat. Then my seven-year-old stepped to my side, took the hammer from me and deftly removed the nail.
Housebuilding isn't my gift. So how come I keep finding myself in the midst of these projects? It's my husband. Mark has a hard time understanding that building houses is not fun for me. He is a weekend handyman for whom nothing says relaxation quite like a crowbar. We are the only people I know whose kids have a tree fort with a skylight. (I'm not making this up.)
But it's not just his love of tools and projects. Mark is a man with a heart sized extra-large. Show him a need, and he'll leap up to fill it.
Last spring we went with the youth group to Mexico and built a house there, too. It pained us both to see a family of six living in a cab-over camper—one intended to be short-term vacation lodging, not permanent housing. But of the two of us, Mark is the one who feels compelled to do something about it. He has a global vision, seeing the needs of a hurting world and wanting to help.
I, on the other hand, see through a microscope focused almost exclusively on my family. My heart's desire is to gather my children like a mother hen and love them into adulthood. My mission field, as I see it, is our van: I drive the boys to soccer practice and birthday parties and the park. My mission field is our kitchen table, where I help the boys with their homework, and our couch, where I make sure they learn to love reading.
I'm not looking for a wider arena in which to serve. But Mark's conscience demands one.
Not only does our view of the world differ, but our hopes for our children do, too. Mark wants them to learn to serve others by building houses. I hope only that they don't turn their hammers into weapons and use them on each other. I have nightmares of being trapped in Guatemala with hammer-wielding super-hero ninjas who look remarkably like my 7- and 8-year-old sons.
Sometimes marriage is hard. I want to share Mark's vision—at least most of me does, all but my left thumb and my right foot—but it doesn't come naturally. I'm beginning to see that housebuilding, for me, is like a dentist's appointment—uncomfortable, something I'd rather not do. But deep down I know it's necessary, and not just for the people who need a home.
Stretching, my husband calls it. I hate it when he's right.
Lynn Bowen Walker is a freelance writer from California.
1998 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. For reprint information call 630-260-6200 or email@example.com.