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.

To My Husband on His Retirement

Dean, beaming, on his last day at work after his co-workers presented him with this cake

When the time of his service was over, he returned home. – Luke 1:23 NIRV

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. – Psalm 118:24 ESV

Finally, the day has come. Your retirement. We’ve dreamed, planned, worked, and prayed. For years.

I have to admit: I’m a little scared. Because, after over forty years, there won’t be a regular paycheck every two weeks. Time to test the faith we profess: that God will supply everything we need (Philippians 4:19), so we don’t need to worry about tomorrow or the tomorrow after that or all the tomorrows God has in our future here on earth (Matthew 6:25–33).

My heart and spirit know this, but I’m having a little trouble convincing my head, which has always been the practical part of me. The part that wants to see before I believe.

But how much more do I have to witness?

God has always been there for us. Remember how He provided the heating oil we needed the first year in the “house”? Or a repairman for the recycled furnace?

I used quotation marks around house because it wasn’t really a house yet. It was a concrete block cubicle, an unfinished basement into which we moved when our first child was four and our middle child was 11 months old. The third one, a surprise, came along four years later when we’d just moved the bedrooms upstairs.

Dean takes a break from building the deck.

Our house-in-progress took over 30 years to complete. But complete it you did – while working 11-, 12-, sometimes 14-hour days. And finding the time to take us camping and being the husband and father we needed. Not only did you teach our children by example the value of hard work, you showed us all patience and steadfast love in action.

I’m so looking forward to the time together. At last!

It took me several weeks to get out of a funk after spending every day with you during the 10-day vacation we took exploring Michigan this past summer. I missed you terribly when we came home and you went back to work.

The high point of my day has always been the moment you walk in the door after work.

And now I get to be with you all day, every day. Except the days you go hunting or fishing. Or when I push you out the door so I can get some writing done.

My brother cautioned me to “be gentle, understanding, and patient” as you transition to retired life. To which I answered: “All of which I am not.”

And now, after four decades of faithful, loyal service to your employers, you deserve a long, healthy, happy retirement doing the things you didn’t have time to do all these years – hunting, fishing, going for long walks in the woods with your camera, and heading out with the camper (and me) to explore this beautiful country of ours.

I love you. Always and forever.

Bless this wonderful man, Lord, exceedingly abundantly above all he can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). He deserves it. Amen.

Read and meditate on Psalm 92:12–14

© 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.