I have been thinking so much about work ethic and honesty over the past year. Life has a way of bringing to light what we’ve learned and how we learned it over the course of time making us grateful for the good as well as reminding us what truly matters most. It is not only what we do but also the reasons why we do it that determines the significance and rightness of our actions.
My parents are 76 and 68. They live in the same house I grew up in with the original cabinets, original counter tops, original fixtures, original everything substantial, and it is still in great shape. The house is 42 years old. It has not been remodeled or added to. It’s just been maintained, cared for, and appreciated. Its home to them, a sheltering place where 42 years of their lives’ memories were made.
Daddy grew up when times were hard, as did Mama, but in those days the lot of a man’s life and a woman’s was quite different from one another. The responsibility for providing financially for the family rested on the man with the woman coming alongside to stretch every penny he earned as far as it would stretch while maintaining the home and caring for the children.
So many circumstances affected their lives. So many demands, needs, and responsibilities resulting from societal and economic conditions pressed them in particular directions that had long-lasting effects for how their lives would be lived out. Daddy and his closest brother who was 18 months older than him were both driving the logging truck to assist in their father’s business by the time they were 11 years old. Unthinkable now, but common back then.
When I followed up with Daddy before beginning to write this morning to be sure to be accurate, he confirmed that yes they drove the logging truck and everything else that was around when they were that young. He then added, “we drove the dern mules more than anything else, plowing up the fields for the gardens. Ma always put up everything we ate or we would have gone hungry like all the other people who didn’t make a garden.” He always fondly speaks of both of his parents. I know they must have had flaws as all parents do, but he is clearly so aware of the struggles they endured and the effort they put into providing and sustaining the home and lives of their family that all else seems trivial in comparison so anything that could materialize into criticism is brushed away without a word ever being uttered.
From just this small amount I’ve shared, it is already clear that working was built into the character of a child early on in Mama and Daddy’s day, and it was accepted as good and right to work. Needless to say, my folks have a very low opinion of those who don’t work hard and care for what they have and rightly so. Those of us who have homes are blessed beyond measure and our thankfulness or lack thereof is evidenced by the care or lack of care for the home that we demonstrate.
I often recall the years Daddy worked in construction while I was growing up. Whether or not he worked was sometimes dependent on the weather. During rainy seasons, he worked less so there was less money. I would see his struggle to acknowledge and appreciate that the earth needed rain while at the same time I could see on his face he couldn’t help but consider the cost.
When I went to work at the hospital so many years past those times lived with my parents when full paychecks depended on dry weather, I would drive to work in the rain thanking God that I was blessed to work and get paid all the same rain or shine. I often overheard others complaining about having to come out in the rain…I was thankful that I had sense enough to recognize the blessing of getting to work rain or shine, something some folks failed to appreciate.
Mama and Daddy have both had heart attacks. They both had them at work. Daddy was running a chain saw when his first one struck. Mama “got the cakes on” before she left her job in the deli to go to the hospital to get checked out. This may sound like they weren’t using good sense, but indeed they were simply living out the work ethic that is at the core of who they are as a result of what life and family taught them. You work hard, you give your best even when there is a personal cost. Jobs and provisions are blessings from the Lord, blessings to be cherished and honored.
As they, my parents, were shaped by the family and larger world that surrounded them, so too am I. The lessons they learned and lived out before me were surely passed on to me just as the blood and all it contains links parents to children and remains essential to who we are.
I think of how my sister and I have been blessed to go to College and learn well and reap the benefit of education. Mama and Daddy were, without a doubt, capable of academic success. Circumstances, however, did not afford them the opportunity. That has not kept them from working, from paying their bills, and from saving for a rainy day. I’m so thankful and proud that my parents were hard workers and good stewards. A life time of work has brought them later years free from debt. They have lived within their means, responsibly, and have far more to show for it than many who achieved academic success and worldly acclaim. I’m thankful for that.
Sometimes the greatest difficulties in life prepare us for life’s most precious gifts. To have without recognizing the blessing of having is to miss the richness of the blessing. Looking back to my own difficulties, I recognize the truth of that statement in my own experience. Those years that spanned between the day I dropped out of high school until the day I graduated with my master’s degree were no doubt laying a foundation for appreciation and gratitude in my heart that would enrich every single day I would be blessed to teach. What monumental effort it took, but the effort continues to pay off in measureless joy. When looking back, I recognize I could never have persevered without determination and a commitment to hard work. I learned to work hard by watching 2 people do it before me from my earliest memories even until now.
Though it takes effort and persistence to get academic degrees, it does not begin to compare with the cost in hard work and perseverance demonstrated by many who came before us. May we humbly consider our blessings and live with grateful hearts, integrity in work, word, and deeds.