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Here’s a picture of our new patio. I invested most daylight hours for the past two weeks on it, hoping to complete it before Jan returned from a trip to London and Ireland, so I’m happy to see it done (though not as happy as I was on her safe return).

Not that it was easy. I had to begin by digging out a big truckload of dirt in order to get a level base in our sloping back yard — a base that had to be at least three inches lower than the lowest part of the surrounding lawn, because I’d be adding at least an inch of leveling sand and a two-inch paver back to it.

I should have figured that monsoon season would arrive just as I finished digging. Samuel and I returned from a three-day visit with my parents to discover a three-inch pond in our backyard. I managed to get it drained by the time a big truck arrived with four pallets of blocks, pavers, sand, and assorted necessities. I managed to get the retaining wall built before the forecast called for more rain, so I covered it with an elaborate system of tarps and sandbags. The next morning, the tarps were still in place (one has been removed in the picture), and so was another three inches of water.

That slowed progress, but didn’t stop it. It took several more days, but eventually I had everything in place and the surrounding yard (with its big pile of dirt) sorted out. It was back-breaking, hand-numbing work, and a good reminder of why I went to college — something I will recall when I’m tempted to complain about having to wear a suit when on campus at Campbell.

I used many tools in the course of the work, but none more than my two-foot carpenter’s level. Every block in the foundation needed to be level if the wall was to be square, and every paver needed to be level with the surrounding tiles (I built in a slight slope for drainage) so the surface would be flat. At least 2,000 times, I figure, I used the level to check my work.

It didn’t turn out perfectly — I’m just not that good a mason — but it’s a whole lot more true than it would have been if I had not relied on the constant guidance of my level.

During a break from work to deliver a baccalaureate sermon for the seniors of Holly Springs High School, I recalled that we need to rely on a good level for life, as well — a guide that keeps us true. Micah 6:8 and Jesus’ love commandments work for me, though others might prefer other scriptures or something else entirely.

Whatever guide we adopt, it’s unlikely that any of us will follow it perfectly, but we’ll certainly turn out a lot better than if we tried going through life completely freehand.

And that’s what I learned from our patio.

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