Building a Tree House
What a family project really accomplished
By Marcia Azevedo
Ellen White wrote, “The lessons learned, the habits formed, during the years of infancy and childhood have more to do with the formation of the character and the direction of the life than have all the instruction and training of after years” (Child Guidance, p. 184).
Raising children while working for the church has given my family numerous opportunities for unforgettable experiences. We have been blessed to live in different countries with great exposure to new adventures and challenges. And through it all, we have cherished all the sweet moments of a busy home, lively meals, and opportunities to learn together.
With our first two boys, vivid memories from living on a farm—riding horses, leisure time with the calves, milking goats and chasing chickens, playing with the dog, and all the rubber boots worn—have always brought laughter to our tableside conversations. We believe in living a natural, simple life. And so we choose to raise our kids in a peaceful environment, free from TV, video games, and other distractions. This has given us time and opportunities to create lasting family memories.
When we moved to our new home in a new country, we were delightfully surprised to find a comfortable house and a beautiful front yard, surrounded by majestic, dry, rocky mountains. Our three younger kids—Racquel, 5; David, 7; and Rebekah, 9—immediately and eagerly explored our new surroundings and found interesting places to play. With the limitations of a small backyard we soon realized the three little ones favored the shady area of the front yard under an imposing pecan tree, with small trees they could easily climb. Watching them enjoy themselves climbing among the branches looking for bird nests, and proudly announcing how high they could reach, gave me the idea to build a tree house on the side of our front yard. The kids eagerly jumped at the idea. We discussed the new project, and got busy with our plans. We made drawings of how it could look using images of tree houses we found on the Internet. We even considered building a suspension bridge that would unite the tree house to the pecan tree in the center of the front yard.
We spent two months collecting scraps of wood from the university’s carpentry shop recycling yard. A wooden box from a newly acquired industrial washing machine for the campus laundry gave us enough wood for the floor and some of the walls. The four corner beams, measuring more than 11 feet each, were the only wood we bought. Everything else we used was recycled. Collecting these materials was an adventure in itself, as the children looked forward to going behind the carpentry shop with great anticipation, treating it like a treasure hunt. At the local hardware store we bought a drill and bits, screws and nails, a measuring tape and level, a hammer, and a toolbox specifically for this project.
We started by clearing the area we were going to build on. We measured a square plot and dug four corner holes for the main posts. The ground was very hard and rocky, since it rarely rains where we live. We dug with an iron pole to remove the rocks, and scooped the dirt with plastic cups or one of our kitchen ladles. The kids would take turns removing the dirt out of the holes. Because we tried to avoid cutting any tree branches in the process, we had to start the digging process over twice. We also expanded the size of our tree house when we realized that it would have been too small to fit three children and visiting friends.
After the digging and foundation preparation, we drilled the main beams and screwed them together, placing them on the holes. We then prepared concrete mix from scratch, carrying sand and little rocks to mix with the cement, and filled the holes and the floor with a solid mix. To leave enough space for our construction area, we had to cut a portion of the mountain we live and built on. That task required strenuous digging, removing dirt, and leveling the ground. But during the whole process my three “little chicks”—as we call them—were by my side, and the looks on their faces were constant motivation for me.
Our older boys—Andre, 17, and Daniel, 15—helped in moments when I needed “muscle.” They were great at holding the main wood beams, tightening long screws, and hammering long nails. My husband would join us whenever possible—sometimes still in his suit and tie—to help with whatever was needed at that moment, always offering a word of appreciation, encouragement, and recognition.
A project such as this yielded many blessings. For our little ones, it gave them a sense of purpose and distinction, and positive pride from their accomplishment. The family made sacrifices, too: such as putting up with a home that was not as clean and orderly as usual, since we spent a significant amount of time on construction. But their excitement was palpable. At Sabbath school and Adventurer Club the children proudly announced to friends that they were building a tree house, and invited them to come and see it.
For me, building a tree house for my children brought a unique sense of fulfillment from time well spent and character building (theirs and mine). With each nail hammered, each screw drilled, and each board placed, the children noted our progress in amazement. They truly learned what teamwork can accomplish, and saw how God’s providence can be found in the little things of life. Every time we found a piece of wood that could be used in the building, I would say, “Thank You, Jesus,” for providing. I wanted to help my children see that God provides—even for the littlest things. And during family worship the little ones expressed their thankfulness for the advancement of our project every time we asked them to say something for which they were thankful. I also noticed that all of my children developed a special “we can accomplish anything together” attitude. Even my husband discovered a side of me that he had not known existed in our 23 years together. And I couldn’t help rejoicing in their happiness.
After two months of fun work the tree house was finally finished. The children play in it every day now, and many friends come over to join them. We have many pictures of the little wooden house, as the children want to share what we have done with their own kids someday.
In building a tree house with my kids, I have also laid another brick in the foundations of their characters. Ellen White compares the shaping of the character with a building process, starting with the foundation, and following the sequence of steps necessary to accomplish the final goal. “A right foundation must be laid, a framework, strong and firm, erected; and then day by day the work of building, polishing, perfecting, must go forward” (Child Guidance, p. 17).
How can I as a parent build a better foundation than to spend time with my kids, than by directing them to value the little things in life, learning that a loving God provides for, and rewards our efforts when we live unselfishly for Him?
It is my prayer that as the winds of life blow on their doorsteps, they will stand firm, strengthened by the principles they have learned.
Time spent with our children is time invested in eternity.
Marcia Azevedo, R.N., M.S.N., is a pastor’s wife and stay-at-home mother of five. She lives on the campus of Peruvian Adventist University, near Lima, Peru.