The river bed was lined with rocks. The river didn’t run through a national park. The banks were open to the public. So the rocks were free anyone willing to pick them up and carry them away.

To get to the footbridge, you had to walk between and over piles of rocks that someone had picked from the river. The piles were about knee high. Some rocks were the size of a loaf of Wonderbread, most were the size of two 1-pound bags of M&Ms.

There was a woman squatting by a pile of rocks. She had a large flat rock in front of her. She had a 2 pound sledge hammer in one hand. She had a metal ring with a wooden handle in the other, the kind of ring youd use to cut out the really big sugar cookies that make a great base for frosting.

She was putting chunks of rock in the ring. She was holding the handle of the ring. She was pounding the rock.

She was making hand-crafted gravel.

That’s what we’d call it in the artisanal West. We’d pay a premium for gravel shaped by hand rather than by machine. We’d look at path covered wtih gravel and say, “And an artist shaped this gravel.”

She called it survival. With few other options, with no cost for raw materials, she gathered rocks and pounded them into gravel. She loaded them into a bag and carried them up the hill.

As I eat the Wonderbread and M&Ms and sugar cookies, I wonder whether there is any connection between that woman and the rest of my life. Metaphors I can use cheaply cost her the feeling in her hands.

Is James, the brother of Jesus, writing to me: “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor.” When James and Peter said to Paul, “continue to remember the poor,” were they thinking beyond Paul to me?

When you return from a trip, your body recovers quickly. But then your heart starts to fall apart.

6 thoughts on “Hand-crafted.

  1. josephruizjr

    A powerful and convicting image Jon. So easy for me to get caught up in stuff that is really just baggage that I can chose to put down. Then there is this reminder that others don’t have that luxury. This is one way missions help to transform us. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Bill Hanifin

    John, your posts lately have been captivating…making me think differently about a few things and helping to make the days more meaningful.

    In today’s, I followed you until the last line, which seemed to be disconnected from the body of the post. “When you return from a trip, your body recovers quickly. But then your heart starts to fall apart.”

    Maybe because I’m traveling today, this one made me pause. Can you elaborate on your meaning here?



    1. Jon Swanson

      Ah Bill, good question. It’s an audience awareness thing on my part.

      This post goes back to my trip to Nepal. In talking with a friend about the trip, I realized that it took me a week to turn the corner in my physical alertness. Then I got back close to my normal sleep patterns. However, now I’m starting to dig deeper into the other kinds of responses. In this case, for example, as I was looking at the letter of James for a men’s Bible study I lead, I started reading the text in light of my experience while traveling.

      What’s really important to me is that I don’t simply fall back into my normal thinking patterns.

      Does that make more sense?

      On Thu, Apr 9, 2015 at 9:56 AM, 300 words a day wrote:



  3. Rich Dixon

    The heart falls apart stuff…haven’t found an answer for that yet. Or maybe I have. He crawled out of a cave last Sunday.

    I hear you trying to share the story, hoping folks will understand, but here, with Wonderbread, we don’t get it. Maybe that’s the heartbreak?


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