Since moving onto Orange Street, I have been slowly building a shed in the backyard. When it's finished it will house the lawnmower, some chicken feed, and other outdoor things. But it will also serve as a wood shop for me to tinker and build small crafts or patio furniture. Some people are into sports or trains; I'm into wood. Though I've had this interest to design and build things for quite a while now, it's been over four years since I had a dedicated space to put up my tools and practice my woodworking hobby. And I still don't. Remember, I said I was slowly building the shed. The shell of stud walls and rafters sits waiting for me to make progress little by little over weekends and the occasional free evening.
Last week, I took the opportunity to spend some time out in the front yard mowing and watering the newly planted curly willow trees. While being outside and visible, two of my neighbors came over to chat. One of them is quite the arborist and wanted to ask about the trees I had planted. The other, though, stayed for quite a while to tell me about his past and what recently moved him to Abilene with his family. He's done a little bit of everything apparently. While we stood in the shade of the half-built roof over the shed, he told me about starting to work early in life and what is was like later to be an instructor in a truck-driving school.
Soon, the conversation turned to the shed itself. He has "done it all," including remodeling. Suddenly, the recommendations started flying. He had several suggestions on where I should put the door and window, how I should insulate it and install a window unit air conditioner. By the end, he was assuring me he could do all of that work, finish it quickly, and that we could work out some form of payment.
What my neighbor didn't know was that I have thought about this shed for a long time, and I'm pretty set on where the doors and window will go. Plus, with the studs already in place, it would be problematic to change those plans even if he did convince me. But I heard in his voice something that I have heard before from other neighbors. Offering his thoughts on the design was just a way to show me he knew enough to do the work. I believe that behind the half-thought suggestions and self-endorsement were a hunger for opportunity and a desire to be seen as a contributor. Could he just be telling me what he thinks I want to hear to try and make a buck? Sure. But who wouldn't? He wasn't asking for a handout; just a chance. The more I hear these desires, the more I am convinced that we must do more to provide opportunities for the dignified contribution for our neighbors. I understand that this is difficult--messy even. It takes time to develop the relationships, to find the gifts and assets ready to be called upon. It takes trust to let someone else serve, not knowing the quality of their work.
To be honest, I'm calling myself out on this one. On a bigger scale, I believe that our charities and systems need to be more dignifying and relational. We all need to take strides toward finding creative ways for neighbors to have outlets for their gifts that benefit the community. But this is a relatively small project. Wouldn't it be easier for me to just keep doing the work myself? Or--even better--I have other friends that have offered to help. Ones I know and trust and who probably wouldn't ask for anything in return. Besides, my wife and I both work for nonprofits; we don't have the cash to outsource odd jobs.
But here and now I have this chance to extend the opportunity for someone to use his gifts. It's not the most efficient way to get things done. But it is the most human. I'm sure my neighbor and I can work something out.