It was 1995, and I was out on my second mission trip with my church’s youth group. We had gone up into Kentucky to help repair homes for low-income families. A group of about 30 of us would spend a week doing construction projects, sleeping on the floor of a local mission, and getting to know how fortunate most of us were. This part of Kentucky was home to some of the poorest families in America. The mean income was around $400 per month, and most support came from state-funded subsistence programs. There were no companies to work at, no farms left to sustain families, and very little hope for the people we were trying to help.
My particular project that day was to take a group of teens and apply vinyl siding to a small addition that had been added to a trailer by a prior church group. But before I get into the story, you need a mental picture of the family we were helping. The head of the household was a woman in her mid-thirties. Living in a small trailer with her were two children: a daughter, age thirteen; a son, age five; and her grandson, age two. Yes, her thirteen-year-old daughter had a two-year-old son. In addition to the responsibilities of three children, this woman was also taking care of her mother, who was not in the best of health. Missing from this picture were any male figures for the family. No men, no grandfather, no husband, no father for the young boy. It was a tragic reality in this part of Appalachia that most family structures crumbled along with their economic opportunities.
For our church’s teens, this was a real eye-opener. That day, we would put siding on a small addition that had been added to the trailer and fix a front window so rain would no longer come into the living room. Most of our ministry in this area was focused on keeping people warm and dry, something that most of us never even gave a second thought to. Watching our young people, fifteen through eighteen, talking with a thirteen-year-old mother, playing with the five-year-old, and holding the two-year-old, opened eyes and hearts.
And now for the lesson learned that day. It was easy to get focused on the work that had to be done. The trailer was on a hillside, and safety was a constant concern. The addition was open over the hillside, so we added heavy insulation to keep the cold Kentucky winter off the family’s feet as they walked on the floor. The siding was placed on and caulked thoroughly to keep the water from penetrating the walls, and the front window had to be nailed shut and caulked to seal out the water. Everyone was busy all day. As the day progressed, I remember standing in the backyard, looking out over the hill to the valley below. You could see for miles that day, right out to the next ridge of hills. I remember thinking that the view would have been beautiful, but a large power line ran through the tree line, right through it. What a shame I thought, man interrupting nature’s grace.
A tap on my shoulder by the woman who was working so hard to keep her family together interrupted me. She said, “Isn’t that a million-dollar view? That is why I love it here so much. I am so fortunate to have this place.” Her words were like a knife, driven right into my soul. Could I have become so arrogant in my own life that my eyes could only see the power lines? How could I have missed the beauty of the view? As I thought about what I was asking myself, I realized that in my drive to be successful, my very nature had changed. I could listen to ten minutes of the loveliest concerto only to have the experience ruined by one static pop in a record. I lost interest in my new car when it got its first scratch. Yes, I had become a person who focused on the most minor of items at the expense of all of God’s beauty and His good grace. I was focused on my perfection, not His.
God was kind to me that day. He gave me a lesson that has changed every view of Mother Nature into one of beauty. This lesson has made every song I now hear music to my soul. It has made me grateful to kneel before His Son and thank Him for being in my life.