August 10, 2014
Sunday, 1:30 p.m.
Letter #343: Building on the Rock
I have just finished framing my very own house! At just 200 square feet, it dwarfs my rather spacious 78-square-foot cell, but it’s still not the ideal place to live. Construction class gave me helpful bits of information from the foundation to the rafters that put the knowledge within my brain about how to frame a house. Turning that knowledge into an actual structure was a bit more challenging. And because I am trying to pry as many life lessons as possible from this class, I’ve learned a lot about carpentry, about myself, and about my faith in the process.
Construction, for all of its super-sized projects and large-scale materials, is a surprisingly exact science. Strict safety guidelines must be adhered to, plans must be followed precisely, and measurements? Let me tell you about measurements.
This week, I climbed a wall and perched atop the wall’s double top plate, just 3½ inches wide (Very dangerous! Very daring! Very awesome!) to nail the ceiling joists to the top plate at 16-inches-on-center intervals, with blocking nailed in between. I’d precisely measured and cut each 2×4 blocking piece (Not as dangerous! Not as daring! Just as awesome!) And I “toe-nailed” (nailing at an angle) each joist to the top plate and the blocking to the joists and the top plate.
Measuring the resulting span of roofing support, I discovered I was nearly an inch too wide. (Not at all awesome!) I was mortified. I was quite confident in my measuring and cutting abilities, and driving four-inch nails has become much more natural too. How could I be so far off, I wondered.
It turns out, an eighth of an inch here and there adds up: the nail heads, positioned, at an angle, stuck out slightly from each ceiling joist, preventing the blocking piece from fitting flush next to it. The blockings’ nails were doing the same, preventing the joist from fitting flush, and so on. Once realized, some serious pounding with a hammer tightened everything up and brought the structure in line. (Awesome again!) (I live a very dull life. It doesn’t take much to raise the awesome meter. Don’t judge me.)
For all of my meticulous measuring and careful adherence to the architectural drawings, a simple incorrect technique caused my entire roofing support to be off, which would have failed inspection.
At each stage in the building process, we have to check and re-check the overall measurements to ensure the foundation is square, and the floor joists are even, the walls are plumb, the rook is level. Just because a wall is up and is sturdy, securely fastened to the sill plate and joined to the other walls, doesn’t mean it is built correctly to the specifications outlined in the architectural drawings and is built according to the local building codes and ordinances. Lots of careful adjustments must be made in order to make certain the completed structure is perfectly in line and level. When it’s slightly off, you can’t tell by eyeballing the thing. Instead, tools designed specifically for that purpose must be consulted and utilized. The reading they give, when used properly, tells an experienced craftsman what to adjust to bring the entire project in line.
So, I’ve not only learned that construction is an exacting science, and that I am not always as right as I think I am (no shock to those of you who know me well), but I’ve learned that construction is a lot like my faith. If I do not consistently check my beliefs, actions, attitudes, and application of my spiritual gift against the absolute truths of God’s Word, I could very well assume, incorrectly, that my life is in line with what God wants, what He expects from me.
I was challenged this week by reading in I Timothy 4:14-16, which says in part, “Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.” In other words: Live dangerous. Live daring. Live awesome.