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Unless the Lord Builds the House

January 2007
By: Anonymous
Five after seven—the sky opens up with a barrage of lightning, thunder, wind, and water. "Crazy weather!" Greg says to me with a shake of his head. "Yeah," I mumble bitterly. He's dry, and I'm not. Get the boxes and keep going. He takes the hint and leaves me to my thoughts. | The shipper's name is Greg. My brother's name was Greg. Three years ago tomorrow, he hung himself from a tree. The tree was in a hedgerow that separated his property from the Smith's cow pasture. The hedgerow ran about fifty feet from his house. Inside that house sat his wife, Rachel, and two of his four kids nervously watching baseball.

He had built the house himself five years before. I remember being back from college and watching the pouring of the floor. It was beautiful—wet and smooth as glass. When it hardened, it would endure like one of the rocks that God had formed at the very beginning to set the mountains on.

I knew, as a cold fact, that houses last longer than men. Tonight, it seems a travesty of justice. Greg labored in vain. His children still shuffle across that floor every morning on their way to the bathroom. His wife is dating a man and wants to sell—to put it all behind her, to put him behind her. Greg had been tearing down his home long before he started building his house.

As newlyweds, Greg and Rachel had made a fresh start of things and moved to the big city. In that sea of strangers, man had cleaved to woman and a child had been conceived. He was a welder by vocation, but had the mind of an accountant; and as everyone knows, babies don't make for good numbers.

They fled the scene of their crime and resettled in a trailer park a couple of towns away from Mom and Dad. He welded and she cut hair. Ten years later, they had two boys and a girl. That's when he started building the house. It was the year I finished college. I volunteered to help with the house in my spare time.

That's when I found out about the child. I was painting what would eventually be the master bedroom. Greg had just given me a twenty-minute lecture on the art of covering a wall and then stormed out to buy some spackling. Rachel came in and we began to talk. It started out with theological small talk. That ended quickly.

"I'm pregnant," she said. "Greg wants me to get an abortion." I told her what she already knew. It was a person in there—different heartbeat, different DNA, different soul. She knew. That's when she dropped the bomb. "When we moved to New York City, I got pregnant. Greg forced me to get an abortion."

I repeated the Gospel to her. The blood of the Savior covers all sin, small or big—even abortion. She knew that too. She had become a Christian back in September.

Rachel had never shown much spiritual interest until the previous summer. We had gathered at my aunt's house on a hot August day. We cooled off in the pool, ate, and began to talk and play games. I was collecting hotels on the green properties when I heard them shouting for my nephew. A shriek came from near the pool where he was face down, floating in the water. I had gone through CPR classes ten different times. God used me to save her son's life. Rachel was thankful and spiritually open for the first time. She began to attend church and soon after received Christ into her life.

Greg was not thrilled about her new faith, and he certainly wasn't happy about her decision to keep the baby. He cornered me the next day. "You don't know what you're talking about. I came home from work Friday and found her in the bathroom biting a washcloth and bawling her eyes out. The kids are driving her crazy. She can't handle one more."

She could and did. Strangely enough, the boy became Greg's shadow. They took weekend trips to the St. Lawrence River when the fly fishing bug bit Greg. His son followed him hunting, too young for a gun, but content to be near the man. It must have irked Greg once in a while, knowing that I had saved two of his children's lives. He wouldn't have acknowledged it, but he knew.

Twenty years into the marriage the welder with an accountant's mind should have seen that the numbers were finally adding up. The kids were growing up to be smart and capable. Number two son was a straight-A student. Number one son, Jack, was a crack shot and a great hunter. His daughter was beautiful and loved her dad very much. The last boy seemed to be his favorite.

But he didn't see it. One day in early summer Greg lost control and instead of disciplining son number two, he abused him. He left for work the next morning and his family stole away to their uncle's place in Philadelphia. Rachel and he talked on the phone. He begged and pleaded and promised and negotiated. The family came back and all was wine and roses—for two days.

Rachel caught him in a lie and that spark set off her temper. Backed into a corner, without hope and without God, he did what he had always done in such situations. He fought back.


He railed against his wife, found some whiskey and gathered up what he called "courage." To tell you the truth, I thought he would have killed her. But he didn't. He just shuffled across the concrete slab that he had poured, slammed the door that he had hung, and walked into the night.

My eyes are filled with tears. I haven't done that in a while. It's been three years. What will I feel in ten? Will I even remember what day it is in twenty years? I wonder if Greg remembered. I wonder if he remembered the anniversary of the day he sent his baby away. I wonder if Greg knew, hanging there, regretting what he had done.

I was talking to the oldest son, Jack, the other night on the phone. He told me about a fight he had with his girlfriend. She wanted him to go to a birthday party. He said he couldn't; it was his brother's first football game. He promised him he'd go.

She wasn't happy about the news and bickered with him. Jack told her this: "We're fighting over a promise I made to my brother. Someday, if things work out between us, the fact that I keep my promises might make you happy."

Where did that come from? Where did a son of Greg learn to be committed? How did the idea of self-sacrifice replace his dad's ethos of "look out for number one"?

I think he learned it from the same place I learned to be a dad, though my earthly father never changed a diaper in his life. He learned it in church, where he was introduced to a God we call, "Father."

The tragedy demolished Jack. Now the LORD is doing a new thing. He's building up that young man. He's laying a foundation of love and joy, peace and patience, the kind of foundation that you can build a house on. The kind of foundation that will last forever—like one of those rocks that God formed at the very beginning to set the mountains on.

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