(Written Summer 2010) It’s been almost a year to the day that I pulled my chainsaw out of my truck and walked into the Ozark National Forest. I had purchased a salvage permit to log some trees a recent tornado had knocked down. I was going to build the log cabin that I had wanted to build for years, but due to various reasons and excuses had never gotten around to starting.
The hardest force to overcome is inertia.
There must be a dozen roads that led me to that place, some of them softer than others. Most caused bruising of some sort or another, but mainly of ego. The reality was that I stood at a crossroads both under my feet and in my life. In my mid 30’s, I was a recovering idealist, though still jaded and bruised from a career that had revolved around the church and media Last but not least the fact that everything that was wrong with “church” and fallout from the economic meltdown had hit me square in the nose in late 2008, dragging the other categories right along into the fray.
If you pay any attention to the world of marketing you’ll notice that we are bombarded with the world of faux. Whether it’s the fake hardwood floor you’re snapping in place in your house or the fruit drink that’s full of artificial flavoring, we are constantly seduced by the idea that if something looks like the real thing then it’s as good as the real thing.
It’s not. I had spent years writing and dreaming about the life I wanted, but if I honestly examined my life, I hadn’t done much to actually pursue it. I had done a lot to make my life look like the dream, but in many ways it was simply a façade. By that I mean it felt as authentic as the faux leather that’s now terribly cracked on my recliner. The mason jars I use as drinking glasses may or may not be from vegetables that I actually grew and canned. My current house looks like a log cabin, but it’s really not. It’s just log siding. It could just have easily been bricked. All of these things are good and honestly serving their individual purposes, but I simply felt like something was still off balance. Me.
This was really the thing I was tired of, but I was surrounded by it. Shane Claiborne wrote, “Most good things have already been said far too many times and just need to be lived.” It was in this place that I had a choice to not only take up a pen and start a new chapter of my story, but also a hammer and nail. I could continue to fill my days with hours in front of a computer writing about this ideal or I could actually start living on my terms. If I wanted a log cabin, I had better find some trees and sharpen my saw.
The plan was simple in writing: Build from scratch and without debt a small log cabin on the family farm. Simple, efficient, practical, beautiful and strong. Once completed, sell our existing house and get rid of the junk cluttering our lives. Finally, re-learn the art of living well. Grow more of my own food. Laugh more. Write some original songs that told God and everybody what I really think. Give more. Waste less. Learn how to smoke meat. Have more friends over for dinner.
As ridiculous as creating my own personal Walden seemed on the surface, deep down it felt like the only thing that really made any sense at all. In a world that is constantly pushing for bigger, faster, complicated and fake, I sought smaller, slower, simple and real.
I spent last summer logging and milling the trees on my portable sawmill. By the time that massive chore was done, it was time to start prepping for the upcoming school year. Once classes had begun and the weather had cooled, I began putting it all together during weekends as time and money allowed. Slowly and deliberately.
Another school year has passed and I’m out again for summer and I’ve devoted myself to long days back on the cabin. There are mornings I wake up with sore muscles and a sun burnt neck from spending long days working in the heat, but it’s getting closer. It’s taking the shape of the dream. I’ve heard it said that joy doesn’t change us. It’s only through hard times and conflict that we feel compelled to look inside ourselves for something better and stronger. I can tell you that working in the summer heat doesn’t hold the nostalgia of a Cracker Barrel Country Store and nothing happens fast.
It’s hot, it can be frustrating and I’ve lost count of the smashed fingers, cuts, bug bites and blood lost over the year.
But I can tell you that I’ve also spent a lot of hours working alongside old friends who have volunteered to come out and work with me for a day. I appreciate the shade, a good fan and cold water. I see a lot of sunsets and hear choirs of frogs in the fading light. I get to chat with curious onlookers and scratch the head of my horse who likes to stick her head in the window and watch the progress. My hands are rougher and stronger, but my head is clearer.
But that’s not all that has changed.
I don’t work for the church anymore. I teach at the local university and I get to spend a lot of time mentoring a younger generation and hours listening to them tell me about things that matter in their lives. Sometimes we talk about school, sometimes relationships sometimes faith. At the house, there’s always someone coming over for dinner. My wife, Paula, always has something amazing on the stove or in the oven and I can smoke a pork loin or rack of ribs that will leave you singing praises to heaven.
We chase each other around the house with Nerf guns and sometimes on winter nights we turn off the lights sit in the glowing light of the fireplace, quietly talking as oak logs crackle down to embers. I’ve written some original songs and get to play them with a really great band. Though I don’t work for the church anymore, we are helping with an incredible new church start and are having a blast. My faith has turned back toward the God of the sunsets and laughter and less about the organizational health of a denomination and theological disputes.
The day in 2008 that I bottomed out, I pulled my phone out and took a picture of myself. I wanted to remember my expression. I want to remember what it felt like that day. I wanted to remember the pain and frustration. But more than that, I want to remember the roads that led me to that place so that I might remember my footing and my bearings so as not to travel that way again by my own foolishness.
I still have much work to do. And the more time I spend with a hammer ultimately means the less I spend with a pen. (Though I do have a bit of a cult following on the cabin’s progress via Facebook.) After the cabin there is need of a new workshop, gardens to plant and barns to repair. But, ultimately I hope to reclaim a balance of physical labor and writing, though write less about the things I hope will come to be and more about things I have discovered through experience. This journey is far from over.
I closed every entry of my previous blog with the words, “Delibrio Animosus” which means live a deliberate and vibrant life. Thoreau went to the woods to live deliberately and to suck out the marrow of life. I think I’m starting to understand.