I have not spent the night at camp with the kids this week. In the mornings I drove 45 minutes from Forney to Canton, and in the afternoon I drove back, trying not to touch the car with my filthy body and clothes after working all day. This means the activity and people of each day have been bookended by time alone.

Being here and doing this work has been helpful to me. Hard physical labor clears the mind and the heart. There is no space for those unpleasant mental circles I tend to run until the groove hurts. It is hot, there are kids all around, and life seems simple.

Doing this work makes me feel close to my daughter Lucy. I think about her during the drive. Her helplessness drew love towards her, as if needing to be helped made the people around her feel loved – positive about themselves. She treated all people as if they were the same, no matter what they said or did to her. I remember being surprised that she did not hate or fear the people who caused her pain in our continual visits to the hospital – all the more because I suspected she did recognize and remember the actual doctors, technicians, and therapists we saw over and over. Because she couldn’t ever speak I couldn’t ask her directly, but I saw her smile or wave or blow kisses to anyone who came in her room.

Did she erase the pain they had caused from her mind? Was she able to just let go of hurts immediately after they occurred? How do you do that?

It makes me feel great to help people who have obvious needs, like Lucy. But there is an element of embarrassment, too: many times when I have asked for help I have felt awkward about asking, and I don’t want to make anyone self-conscious about having needs. I think it makes me shy and formal  – I am trying so hard not to be hearty or smug about being the one giving help that I can make the person receiving help feel awkward!

Which is to say that being here and doing this work makes me feel close to Lucy, but without the ease that came from being her mother. It was easy to ask, and easy to take, while she was alive. I didn’t care what it was: money, time, work, even intimate things like letting other people clean your house and keep your kids for hours at a time. I took it all from anyone who offered like it was my birthright. With her disabilities, I felt like she deserved all the help we could get. The generosity of others, and my comfortableness taking what they wanted to give, made me feel loved and accepted.

And it is a LOT HARDER now to let my interactions with other people flow in and out like that. Am I worthy of receiving help? Do I still need help? Are my  own needs as valid as Lucy’s, who lived in a constant state of need?

So participating in a mission effort feels clear and clean like my life used to be. Here’s what needs to be done, here’s what you can do to help. Gloves over there, roofing shingles next to them, get to it, partner! All the black and white of a good old John Wayne western.

And I find myself unspeakably grateful to these people who just let go and ask for help. The ones who find out about Canton Project Rehab and don’t let pride, or humility, or wisdom, or insanity, or love or money hold them back from saying: “I have a need.”Who let us into their lives and accept our imperfect efforts to improve their situation. Doing this gives ME permission to need help, too.

My help is not perfect and it’s not really all that good. If anybody was able to choose between my home improvement help and true professional work they’d be crazy to take what I’m able to do. (Thank God actual professionals volunteer to lead the jobs!)

So the person allowing Canton Project Rehab into their home (the one like Lucy, like me, who needs help) is practicing a kind of Christ-likeness. They take me as I am, and do not hold against me the uneven roof shingles, spotty paintbrush dabs, wildly spaced screws dotting the length of their outside deck. They are showing me that Jesus takes us where we are with what we have and does not reproach us for what is given in love.

There is no help for my need for the presence of my daughter and the absence in my life without her here. I am not grateful she is gone. I have no recourse for the difference in the life I WANT and the life I HAVE.

But I can help another person and do that as if for her. I can participate in something that bypasses my own awkward introversion and makes my ineptitude at small talk immaterial. And Jesus stands between us transforming what is given and what is taken. Lord, I need you. – Katie

Finished! Canton, Days 4 and 5


A wraparound porch was redecked by this mighty crew. (Check out the the marvelous new wood at their feet! Highlighted by the red extension cord…)


This house was given a new roof and entirely repainted. Broken windows and a significant number of rotted exterior boards were replaced in the back. I think it took 15 gallons of paint, not counting the one that was spilled on the ground. Ahem. (Handling paint is harder than it looks.)IMG_2247   IMG_2272

And the LAST house had the roof removed, including four separate layers of shingles, (one of them wood) , the fascia and soffits replaced all around, rotten attic rafters and joists knocked out, reframed, and covered with new plywood sheets, a brand new roof nailed on one sheet of shingles at a time, and all of that painted in cheerful, shiny white and green! Also, the property was cleared of many years of overgrowth and a pile of brush nearly as high as the house dragged into a neighboring field. (You can just barely see the house behind that pile in a previous post showing the before and after pictures of these jobs.)


Just writing all that was exhausting, so you can imagine how tired these people must be. Tired and happy. This has been a great week. Helping other people is carthartic, rewarding, and addictive.

The kids get a treat the last day: water slides, swimming, free time, and a day at Rock High Ranch to themselves. The Ranch generously hosted Canton Project Rehab as a donation this year, which beat the heck out of sleeping on Sunday School Room floors and showering at the local high school in Canton (last year’s bivouac arrangements). It’s going to be hard to say goodby.

(Next year YOU come with us, OK?) – Katie

Like Johnny Cash


Johnny Cash has a song called “One Piece at a Time” about a man who stole a car from the Cadillac factory, er, one piece at a time. Do you see all that piled brush above? The pile had morphed sideways into a spread after being nearly higher than the house itself. And it had to be moved out of the front yard and into the field next door. IMG_2250

So after all the skilled labor we did this week, we moved that wretched pile of branches, plants, demolished building materiels, and trash one piece at a time. IMG_2252 IMG_2257 IMG_2258 IMG_2268 Kids are better at this kind of job than adults are. They compare their guns, try to outdo the size of the other guy’s load, and take large sticks like baseball bats, using them to hit home runs on smaller sections of rotted branch that explode satisfyingly in midair. Ha! Just hearing about it makes you want to move some brush, right? IMG_2271 IMG_2251

All the girls piled their hair up or tied it back this week without knowing how lovely they looked in the heat and the wind. Hard work takes you outside of yourself, and what is beautiful on the inside glows at the surface, unknown to you. IMG_2254

After the building demolition pieces were loaded into a trailer, there was the very manly task of hitching the trailer to the truck. Done in a manful fashion. And we cleared that dratted pile of brush down to the sticks on the ground. – Katie



At various points this week I watched people paint. Painting is a distinctive action: it seems simple but everyone does it uniquely. IMG_2243

They hold their brushes like artists or like laborers, they stroke on the color like a covering or like a picture, they hold paint in a can or cup or roller or little popcorn bucket. (yes).IMG_2255 IMG_2256

They do it automatically or feel the paint between sticky fingers, contemplating their action.IMG_2264

They are strong or weak, determined or indecisively dab-ish. They hold their tongues between their teeth with the effort.IMG_2263

They flirt a little bit with the pretty girl beside them while they do it. (I have a weak spot for the young man above, mostly because he’s a great guy. Also because he was the very first person I met on my first Canton mission in 2013. Also because he really likes Abbey and I do, too. His name is Damien.)IMG_2267

I find these painters inspirational. – Katie

A Little Extra


In the midst of three quite large home repair projects, a team of us was sent to help an elderly man and wife who needed a small bit of caulking and painting. IMG_2235

Helpers were sent over who were charming, handy with a brush, and good conversationalists.


And not nervous about ladders.IMG_2241

See the morning sunlight cracking open the piece of sky strung between the trees? (In the picture below?) It is not unlike the rapport that shined between these two people. I do not think the young man on the left was aware of it, but the his respectful listening and responses gave the gentleman in the buggy 30 minutes of pure pleasure. IMG_2244

That is the thing of it: sometimes you believe you are helping with one task but the grace given and shared comes through things out of your control. This older couple’s need gave us a quiet place in the middle of our week. – Katie

Having fun

IMG_2181Sorting through the photos I found several that were purely fun. These people look like they’re having such a good time!  IMG_2210

Notice the sunscreen sharing going on in the background. It is a truth universally acknowledged (in the world of mothers) that a child with the good fortune of being outside must be in want of sunscreen. (Oddly, sunscreen is universally loathed by children. I wonder if they do not believe they will have skin cancer at 70 because they do not believe they will ever BE 70. What do you think?)

IMG_2235  IMG_2259

Look at those faces! Maybe they are right: maybe they will be this beautiful and young forever.IMG_2269 IMG_2270 IMG_2274– Katie



At the mission this week we take a short time after lunch for devotions. Our tough, talented team bosses take off their hats, sit on the grass, and talk about what it means to make choices like Jesus. Each day one of the kids volunteers/is tapped to read the devotion and the prayer, which takes a lot of courage for 13-year-olds.

The combination of tender, long-shinned boys rattling off the discussion questions in a monotone and then glancing up from the ground where they normally stare, and leather-skinned, callous-handed men telling stories about their teenage selves is astounding to me. You know how your children seem to grow 3 inches overnight and you wonder when they actually did it? Why you didn’t notice them changing?

It happens in these tiny spaces between the paintbrush and the turkey sub and the roofing nails held the right way between your ring and middle fingers while you hammer them. If you blink you might miss it, the mental inching toward the gospel. The boy looking at the man who’s shown him how to hold the nail gun and use it for 2 HOURS realizing that that guy doesn’t think it’s uncool to love a helpless person.

The mission is to repair homes for people who need some help. And the miracle of helping is that it flows back toward you. – Katie


Canton, Day 3

Today we started out with painting. Painting. Because we finished the deck project yesterday, a bunch of kids were tasked with another house requiring a new roof and a complete outside repainting.


Painting has to start with prep and scraping (more vocabulary!), which the kids did… IMG_2221

..and then proceeds to the brushes and dipping and splattering and rolling liquid color that goes EVERYWHERE. Most of the kids have never painted before and you have to learn, don’t you?  IMG_2222

Many of the kids are surprised to discover it gets sticky and dry and pulls the hair on your arms painfully when you try to rub it off. But you have to know that too, don’t you? This is important information for growing up.


Additionally, this house was getting a new roof. A steep roof which required scaffolding to lay the first few layers of shingles. (Ooooo, scaffolding!)IMG_2215

The bigger (power-tool safe) kids were on the move from the get-go. You can’t keep a good roofer down. IMG_2220 See the two-by-fours nailed at intervals into the roof? That’s so they have a place to brace their feet! Like mountain goats!  IMG_2224IMG_2228 IMG_2229 IMG_2230

It is hot, dirty work and they did it beautifully.


Here’s the “After” photo – the beautiful new paint job just grabs you, doesn’t it? – Katie