I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life staring into a pit of red, Georgia clay.

I was a freshman in high school and I’d stayed after school to make up a test. My Dad rarely came to pick me up, but that day he needed to check on a job site in the area. We’d stop by on our way home. Two birds with one stone.

In time, he would become one of the top commercial builders in Atlanta. He built tall buildings, shopping malls and everything in between. But this was one of his first big jobs, a multi-level strip mall – one that we’d probably shop at, so it felt like a big deal to me. I remember feeling proud of him when he told me about it. Three weeks had passed since he began, so I was excited to see the progress.

We pulled in and parked. Dad grabbed his clipboard and a yellow legal pad and opened his door. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I could tell something was wrong. There was nothing to see. No frame, no walls. No bricks, or shops. Nothing at all.

Heads are gonna roll, I thought, but he didn’t seem rattled at all. And to tell you the truth, it bothered me. He should’ve been angry. What had they been doing for three weeks?

“Unimpressed?”  I must not have been hiding my feelings very well.

“Aren’t you?”

“Looks good to me…What did you expect to see?”

“I don’t know…At least some framing. It seems like a long time to not have anything done.”

Dad looked back at me over his shoulder and smiled, but kept walking.

He led me over to a big hole in the ground in the center of the site. It didn’t look like anything to me, but Dad saw something different. He stopped and bent down, waving me over with his clipboard.

I was about to learn something that had led him for years.

I knelt beside him and looked into the hole. It must have been at least fifteen feet deep. And as I looked closer, I began to see it was part of an elaborate series of trenches forming a perimeter around where the building would soon sit.

Dad took a few minutes to explain how it all worked together and why this hole was different from the next. He told me they’d fill them with concrete and metal stakes that would secure the building in place.

When he was finished, he looked me in the eyes and said, “You always have to build down before you can build up. You’ve gotta dig deep if you want to build high. Your most important work is the work you do before anyone notices or cares…It’s what makes everything else stand in the end.”

Even in that moment, I realized he wasn’t just talking about the building. He was talking about what we build with our lives. But as a fourteen year old kid, I didn’t get it as much as I thought I did.

“I hear you, but isn’t this a bit overboard? Seems like you could have done less and you’d be halfway done by now.”

“Maybe…but a storm’s coming. They always do. And you gotta decide up front how big a storm you’re gonna be ready for. The time to prepare is way before it shows up.” 

I may not have fully understood at the time, but the years since have certainly made his point clear.

The grander your dream, the deeper you have to dig to make it happen. And it doesn’t matter how impressive things might seem above the surface. If the foundation isn’t solid, your beautiful building, or career, or life will end up crooked and sinking in time. It’s about the foundation, what’s underneath it all. It’s about how you’ll hold up in the storm.

Maybe you’re like me. Once I dream a dream, I want it now. I need to see results to feel like life is moving forward. And if I’m honest, sometimes I’m tempted to feel disappointed by what I’ve built with my life so far.

I’m doing all I know to do – but every now and then, I look up and wonder what I have to show for it. There’s still so much work ahead. Will I ever get there? Will I ever get this thing built?

Wrong question. Instead, let’s ask ourselves this.

How deep does my foundation reach?

What can my dream withstand? 

What will happen when the rains come?

Because a storm is coming. They always do, you know. And the ground beneath you must be able to support the weight of the dream and the hope inside you. The bigger your dream, the deeper you’ll have to dig – the longer you’ll spend in quiet preparation before anyone seems to notice or care about what you’re building. 

If your foundation is sure, pay no attention to what things look like today. Keep going – keep building. Brick by brick. Stone by stone. And in time, you’ll find that what you once dreamed of is now reality…and it will stand.

This Post Has 29 Comments

  1. Sabrina Walpole

    Great read! I just posted today about a sermon I heard on you start with a dream then have the faith to believe that God will help you see it thru. We all want it yesterday but some dreams are worth the wait, this just reminds me that God works behind the scenes digging the trenches to make your dream a reality at the right time. Thank you!

  2. Fay

    Memories stir … your Dad sounds just like my precious Dad. On the human scene I seem to have lost everyone and every thing … living on the other side of the Planet from my dear home in Africa … but difference is I now “know” what true Home is … built on very deep foundations that were there in Mind before ever the human ones were challenged so. Thank you for caring enough to “share”. Blessings.

  3. Becky

    Every once in a while i hear a song or read something and wonder again how someone else could put to words my thoughts and questions with such precision!!!happened again when i read this especially when you speak of feeling like you’ve got nothing to show for all that’s been your life and yes I’ve found this very encouraging!thank you!

    1. Chance

      If we were all honest, I think we’d find that our biggest struggles are shared by our neighbor. I’m honored you found yourself in these words. That’s why I write. Thanks for letting me know.

  4. Tammy

    These are powerful words! I’m sending this to all my college kids! Thank you!

    1. Chance

      What an honor…Thank you, my friend.

  5. Karla

    I “accidentally” stumbled onto your webpage, but soon found it really was no accident. I’m so touched by your messages…this one especially hit home with me as I recently experienced a “storm” that pretty much demolished my life as I knew it. I’ve been sifting and sorting and working really hard to build a solid foundation. No one else can really see the difficult work I’ve done, but I now understand the concept of building down before you can build up. And when I’m “done” with my “renovation” the end result is going to be amazing! Thank you so much for sharing. This gave me a wonderful boost of encouragement.

  6. Amy Torres

    Well said. Your father was very wise, and you learned well from him. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Chance

      Thanks for taking the time to read it, Amy. Glad it spoke to you. :)

  7. Craig

    Your father is a wealth of wisdom. Good post! Catz would’ve pushed it over the top. ;)

    1. Chance

      Thanks, Craig. :)

  8. Lori

    Reading this makes me miss your dad AND inspires me to take advantage of (and even create) meaningful teaching moments with my girls. Thank you, thank you for reminding me to let go of my performance-based mentality and recognize the value and beauty of a strong foundation.

    1. Chance

      Seeing your name made my heart leap! I actually thought of you today. I knew you’d ‘get’ this one because you get him so well…I have a feeling you are creating thousands of meaningful teaching moments with your girls. You’re wired for and shine in those situations. Miss and love you guys. Far too long.

  9. kevin

    Great post, as always, my friend! Your stories always resonate with me as truth. I love the wisdom that Dads seem to have, and I sure hope I find some to pass on myself! :) Great reminder to focus on the things that matter, and the rest will come with time. Too often I can get distracted trying to LOOK good rather than building to BE good. Great post, and thanks for sharing it with us all!

    1. Chance

      Thank you, my friend. You’re the best there is.

  10. Diana

    That is so well said. Great story and metaphor. Loved it. Needed to hear it. Great insight. We forget to also take a look at our own foundation and focus more on what is not yet above it. What we haven’t yet created.

    1. Chance

      Thanks for taking the time to read it, Diana – and for your kind words. And yes, I totally agree with your last two sentences.

  11. Gwen Smith

    Chance. Chance. Chance!

    So great. Love this. God’s wisdom wrapped in a beautiful father-son moment. Thank you, friend. Once again, I’m inspired to dig deeper.


    1. Chance

      GWEN!! Thank you for your consistent support and encouragement! So glad this spoke to you. I truly appreciate you taking time to read it.

      Dig deeper – and keep building. Lots of great things ahead of you. It’s evident!

  12. Jovaun

    Ooooo that was good stuff! Priceless wisdom!

    1. Chance

      JOOOOOOOOO!!!!! I can’t begin to count the number of times you’ve come to mind. Even just today. This comment brought a huge smile to my face. :) You are WELL missed, my friend. Would love to catch up. I hope TX is being good to you all…I mean, y’all.

  13. Charlie

    Chance…great insight. Just like Snapple, “Made from the best stuff on earth!” Your dad’s thoughts about, “You always have to build down before you build up” reminds me of an old saying, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care!” Yup, building down before building up. It takes time. You’re the best Chance!

    1. Chance

      Thanks, Charlie. :) And great saying…been a while since I’ve pondered that one. So incredibly true.

  14. Chance. Thank you. Could not be more timely. Will be encouraging our developing team to absorb you wise words. I welcome the next post.

    Chance. Thank you. Your wise words this morning are extremely timely. Will be passing them on to our developing team. I trust that is OK. I’ll also be posting this on my personal website later today. Your words, insights and wisdom? Needed. Keep it coming. And………..blessings abundant in your own expanding life and influence.

    1. Chance

      Yes, please always feel free to pass the words along. It’s my hope as I write that people will feel get enough value that they want to share with their friends and family. Thanks. And thanks for sharing on your site too. Much appreciated.

      I receive your blessing – and offer it back to you too.

  15. skipprichard1

    What wise counsel. I especially love this: “You always have to build down before you can build up.” Today it’s too common to want the immediate results, the quick fix, the instant change when the key is to build down first.

    1. Chance

      You have such an incredible record of building down…or rebuilding down. It’s one of your strongest traits, one that inspires me greatly.

  16. Anna-Emily

    Great post, Chance, and another amazing lesson from your Dad! I love it when you write about what he taught you! When you look at it from this perspective a lot of things seem right. The post speaks to me because I’ve just started taking singing lessons again and of course people who know about it are eager to see (or hear) some big improvements. I know from my past experience it won’t happen for quite a while because as I learned from this post what I’m doing now is working on the ‘foundation’.

    1. Chance

      Thanks, Anna. I love writing about my family. Almost always the posts that resonate the deepest in me. I LOVE that you’re taking voice lessons. Great perspective and I agree!

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