House-party sites and all that


Spike Milligan always finished up his skits with that memorable phrase, "what are we going to do now?" I'm sure that sums up the human dilemma. Certainly the male dilemma. We blokes spend half our life working out what we are going to do next. Of course, for churchies, and especially for us blokes with our collars back to front, it is always within the "mysterious will of God." The mystery is determined by "open and closed doors" and warm fuzzy feelings within. We certainly never admit that it has anything to do with male territorial games, power games, hormones.... or all the other paraphernalia that drives we mere humans.

I had a vision, I am sure it was from the Lord. A youth camp on the Hawkesbury River, North of Sydney, Australia. That's what Sydney needs. My father had this block of land at Gunderman way out in the bush with not a house in sight. It was on the side of a mountain, but once you got through the mangroves, it was also waterfront. Step 1 was clear the land and build a road up to a kind-of level spot. Easier said than done. A year later, step 2, pick a kit-home and try to get it passed by Gosford Shire Council. I remember a country bloke saying, all they had to do in the bush to get a house passed, was go to the Council and mark X on the Shire plan. Of course that was before all the Uni. trained town planners got jobs in the country councils. I'm sure such sanity no longer exists. Anyway, a year and a slight nervous breakdown later, the house was approved.

The kit-home arrived on the back of a semi-trailer and was dumped on the side of the main road. All I had to do was drag it up the mountainside. On Saturday morning the Cronulla Anglican Church youth fellowship arrived ready to manhandle the kit up the hill. What a task. Windows, flooring, roofing, PC items, timber....... not forgetting sand, cement and bricks. Twelve hours later it was up the mountain, a massive pile of stuff.

That evening I settled into my tent - camp-stretcher, gas-cooker, gas fridge..... all the mod-cons. I couldn't believe how dark it was. A darkness that reminded me how vulnerable and alone I really was. Oh yes, I was in the centre of God's plan, or so I thought, but the powers of darkness were there as well. Maybe I was in for some infernal opposition.

I woke with a start. From outside the tent came this guttural growl that froze my blood. X Files look out! The shaking torch finally spotted the culprit. An enormous old bull wombat. Welcome to ten weeks of house- building. Was nature against me as well?

Breakfast over, I stood before this pile of bits and pieces that was my kit-home. In my hands was an incomplete and impossible-to-read set of plans. Now I know the advertising blurb said "full instructions". As it turned out the "full instructions" were just builders' plans, and I was no builder. Had the Lord led me into a corner? "What am I going to do now" in the sense of "where the hell am I going to start?" I was told the kit would be pre-cut and I would just need to nail it altogether. I spent days measuring all the lumps of wood, but they just didn't fit the plan. "Yes it is all pre-cut", assured the office. No it wasn't. That's not quite true. The stud framing was cut out, well some of it. Mind you, it was cut out in metric, but all the wall lining sheets were imperial. You wouldn't believe it, would you? It took me at least a week to work that one out. I thought I was going mad. Two frames were wrongly cut out and the rafters were all wrong. I was going mad. How is it that God can't keep his plans on track?

Thank heavens I had a mate who was a bricklayer. He helped me build the piers. Left to me it would have taken ten weeks just to do the foundations. 200 bricks a day was my maximum effort. I started out with this thing called a "Trowel Mate", laid about two bricks and then smashed it to pieces with a hammer. It was a menace to society. Then up went the building. Bearers, joists, stud-framing, rafters, windows, roof, wall- cladding, timber flooring..... Sounds easy doesn't it?

Things kind of went wrong regularly. I had to organise four neighbours one evening to put in the main picture window. It weighed a ton, and as for trying to balance it on planks and drums.... Of course, I put it in back to front and so we had to do it all over again. It's just not fair. And that particular January and March, the year of the fall of Saigon, it rained day in and day out. Infernal interference, I thought to myself. Although I have to say I have no evidence that the powers of darkness control the weather. Nor, by the way, do I have any evidence that God plays Mr. weather-man. Ten weeks to lock-up, I packed my tent and went home. A local builder said it was a simple little cottage. He was mad! One of my mates now a Uniting Church minister, had stuck his head over the gutter just as I dropped a metal spike. It missed him, to this day I don't know how. The Divine hand? Who knows! I do know that although most of my projects have been the wild dreamings of youth, their end was dependent on perseverance. A hundred times I wanted to throw in the towel , but I picked up my hammer and staggered up the hill.

I still ask the question "what am I going to do now?" The dreams are just as big, but my capacity is a bit smaller. I no longer blame God for my amazing ideas, but I do understand there is some eternal purpose in persevering through the struggles of it all. Had not Jesus persevered and through the cross laid hold of glory? If we want to walk with Jesus then we will need to persevere along a rough and rock-strewn way.

[Pumpkin Cottage]