A Better Life

The second SS Kaiser Wilhelm II, named for the German Emperor, was a 19,361 gross ton passenger ship built at Stettin, Germany. The ship was completed in the spring of 1903. The ship was seized by the U.S. Government during World War I, and subsequently served as a transport ship under the name USS Agamemnon. 

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. –Colossians 3:23 NIV

On April 26, 1910, my grandmother, Anna Bortnik, boarded the Kaiser Wilhelm II in Bremen, Germany, after traveling across Europe from her native village of Lenarts, Hungary. Nine days later she arrived in New York. She was seventeen years old. The only language she knew was Slovak.

In the early 1900s America was the place to be. Like my grandmother, they came from all over Europe, bringing their work ethic to steel mills, coal mines, factories and farms. No job was too menial—to them it was an opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families.

My grandmother found employment in a sewing factory in New Jersey until she married a steel mill worker. Mike Demchak, a widower, took her home to a ready-made family in the Monongahela Valley near Pittsburgh. There she raised nine children alone after Mike died of pneumonia in 1934, while the country was in the throes of the Great Depression. One by one, her children dropped out of school to support the family, while she took in washing and ironing.

I once asked my mother how they survived the Depression.

“We were so poor we didn’t even know there was a Depression,” she said.

By today’s standards, my grandmother had a hard life. Yet I never heard her complain. From her perspective, what was there to complain about? She had a roof over her head, food in the pantry, and clothes enough for every season.

For the most part, my grandparents’ generation, through their hard work, succeeded in making better lives for themselves and their children. In the process, they created a better world.

Work gives our lives purpose and meaning. Even in perfect Eden, Adam and Eve had a job to do: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).

Too often, though, we see work as drudgery, something that must be endured for us to survive. We feel like the ditch digger, caught in a deadening, joy-stealing cycle: “I digga the ditch to make the money to buy the food to give me the strength to digga the ditch.”

But work was meant to be enjoyable and rewarding: “Then I realized it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and find satisfaction in his toilsome labor . . . to accept his lot and be happy in his work,” Solomon wrote (Ecclesiastes 5:18–19).

The fruit of our labor is ours to enjoy: “You will eat the fruit of your labor” (Psalm 128:2).

Let not Labor Day be only a day that marks the end of the summer season and the start of the new school year. Let it be what it was created to be: a tribute to the workers of America and a celebration of their achievements. For hard work is what made this country great, and hard work is what will keep it great.

Father, bless the workers of this nation. May they find in their jobs fulfillment of the purpose You have for each one. Amen.

NOTE: I obtained important information about my grandmother from the ship’s manifest, which I was able to view online on the Ellis Island Website: www.ellisisland.org/

While researching my grandmother’s journey, I discovered that the country of Czechoslovakia wasn’t established until 1918 – eight years after she immigrated to the US. Although my grandmother had lived in Hungary, her ethnic background was Slovak.

Read and meditate on Ecclesiastes 5:18–20 and Ephesians 6:5–9.

From God, Me, and a Cup of Tea for the Seasons, © 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Work: Blessing or Curse?

 

Image courtesy of Creative Commons. No attribution required.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. –Colossians 3:23

It was over 20 years ago. The door had firmly shut on the job of my dreams –teaching – and, after I got over my major, extended funk, I realized this was an opportunity to pursue another one of my life’s interests – writing.

So I got a job at a local newspaper writing feature articles.

I loved it! I wrote human interest stories with a positive slant. Interviewing folks fascinated me, their stories intrigued me. I had the best of both worlds: a job I loved and freedom to set my schedule and choose my topics. But I was too stupid to see it. I wanted a position on staff, not be merely a stringer.

So when the society page editor resigned, I stepped into her position. I didn’t like it as much as writing people stories, but I was caught in a “climb-the-ladder-to-success” scenario. Excuse me, trap is a better word.

Fast forward a year or so, and I found myself in the editor’s office. Editor of the entire newspaper. I hated it. I hated the hours. I hated the politics. I hated everything about it.

In his book If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, John Ortberg tells the story of a man who was offered the presidency of a university. A Quaker, he called together a half-dozen Quaker friends to help him discern whether this was truly a calling from God.

When asked what he would like about being president, he told them all he wouldn’t like. Finally, when asked a third time, he came face to face with the real reason he even was considering it: “Well, I guess what I’d like most is getting my picture in the paper with the word president under it.”

“Parker,” one man asked, “can you think of an easier way to get your picture in the paper?”

We can laugh, but that’s where I was. I liked the words “editor of the newspaper” behind my name, but there was no joy. I was absolutely, totally miserable. The mother of miserable.

Fortunately, I didn’t last long. I went to another newspaper, where I continued to write my devotional column, plus another column about my former town and also covered board meetings.

My sister’s death in 2003 made me realize I still wasn’t fulfilling my God-given calling. I was letting money and prestige dictate my job choices.

When you’re fulfilling God’s purpose for you (see Psalm 138:8), joy will fill you. Your work will be a blessing. But when you’re out of sync with that calling, uneasiness, restlessness, joylessness, and even downright misery will rule the day. Work will be a curse.

It takes courage to step out of the rut we’ve carved for ourselves, take off the masks, and leave the comfort of the known.

But remember, God has a plan for your life (Jeremiah 29:11), and He will guide you, direct you, prepare the way for you, walk with you, go before you, and provide for all you need.

Commit your way to the Lord, and your plans will be established. He will make your steps firm (Proverbs 16:3 and Psalm 37:23–24). In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will direct your path (Proverbs 3:5–6).

Why not ask God what He wants you to be doing? His answer may surprise you – and will definitely delight you.

Thank You, God, for giving me satisfying work that uses the talents You gave me, fills me with joy, and fulfills Your purpose for me. Amen.

Read and meditate on Matthew 25:14–30.

© 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.