Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Ethan On Deck

Returning home from a recent trip my wife and I, for some reason, started reminiscing about jobs that we have held in the past. Yeah, I guess we were both tired at this point.
Anyway, I was able to remember 25 different companies that I had employment with since I was 14 years old.

Most of these jobs were related to working my way through bible college and seminary; and also while I was involved in ministries that didn’t pay enough to support me. Most of my life I have been bivocational; a full time tent-making minister. The list has no other rhyme or reason to it: freight companies, ladies shoes, dairy farm, custodian, drug store, waiter, courier, bank teller, construction, painter… 

The point here, I think, is that my dad taught me that work, hard work, is a good thing.
When I left home at 17 to prepare for the ministry, I left knowing how to work. And with that knowledge, I have managed to take care of myself and later, my family.   

Now a ’days, I am fully supported by the church (since January 2000). It feels good. I have a study, a desk, a computer, and shelves for half of my books. But because of my family’s heritage, our family lives on a farm. We wanted to live on a farm because it involves work that the youngest to the oldest member of the family can perform. And there is great reward derived from the doing of the work (discipline, strength, knowledge, confidence…) and the results of the labor (milk, cheese, fresh vegetables, eggs…).   

Our children are taught to love work. That doesn’t mean that they have learned that lesson but I think that it is starting to sink in.

The other day I got a call from someone that I have done some painting and renovation for it the past. He had kept my number and called me about another small project that he wanted done.

Well, I took the job—for my son, Ethan. I figured that it would be a good experience for him.
The job was sealing 500 square feet of an outside deck.
We were using a high-dollar sealer that came off our brushes like water. Not the easiest task as drips and runs falling on the patio below us would be very unprofessional.

He did well. For the most part we worked next to each other. I taught him how to use his brush like a broom, a knife, a mop, and a wand. He paid attention. His technique improved. His speed and efficiency increased.

The layout of the deck was such that there were two easy possibilities of painting yourself in a corner. We avoided this by thinking ahead and our conversation easily segued into other applications of that idiom. “As you walk by the way, as you lie down, as you rise up…”.

As we were working I told him that the estimate for this job would pay one person $25 an hour. Then we talked about minimum wage and how many hours a person would have to flip burgers to make what we were making in one hour? Answer: 3 ½.
I reversed the equation. How many hours would he have to work to make as much as unskilled people make in one day? Answer: 2 ½.
Then our conversation moved in the direction of being financially secure enough to afford a vehicle, a house or apartment, get married, and support a family.
I warned him that if we spilled a gallon of the sealer we would have to pay to replace it out of our own pocket and be liable for damages. One mistake could cost us more than the job paid. 

For lunch, we went to a local diner where we ate big. Driving back to the job I shared with Ethan what the cost of our lunch had been and the wisdom of packing a lunch most of the time to save money. Eating lunch out, for the working man, is a bonus, a reward earned by getting the job done on time or sooner than expected.  

Then we talked about how independent contract work meant that you had to work harder but that there is a real freedom that comes with being self-employed. You can go on vacation, take classes, travel, etc. because you are not tied to a schedule that someone else is in control of.

This dialogue was in no way meant to disdain working for a company or industry but was intended to be formative in developing his perspective. Because my father taught me some of these things, I have always worked harder “for the man” when I was regularly employed. And “the man” always saw this and I advanced quickly in salary and position.

If all my sons can learn this early, they will be the first choice for those who need something done or need a quality employee.   

Later that night, as my butt and knees and back were aching, I shared with my wife what her husband and oldest son had accomplished that day. I slept well. The work I had done was physical, relational, paternal, spiritual, profitable, and instructive.

I gave my son all that I possessed. The doors of the treasury were opened wide. It was all his.

Our next project is renovating our own kitchen, dining room and living room. There is old wallpaper to cover, trim to replace, ceilings and walls, and cabinets to be painted, and sheet rock to be hung and finished. There may also be (shudder) tile work.

But there is a difference associated with this project for we will have entered…the Honey Do Dimension. And while the same general skills apply; the risks and rewards are far different. I’ll share as much as is appropriate with him…. 


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