Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Some People Have to Work, Ya Know.

This blog post was inspired by a friend who was in a mood, and an off-handed remark he made to my husband.

"Some people have to work, ya know."

A young man who did not know my husband before his back surgery. The back surgery that left him disabled. A young man who has only ever known my husband as a slow-moving, disabled adult college student.

Our young friend was in a mood, to be sure, and my husband was trying to draw him out, to get him to discuss what was putting a hitch in his giddy-up. He claimed he was tired from working, which was surely true. Matt has known the exhaustion that comes with a demanding new schedule, a physical new job. But our friend didn't know Matt before The Surgery, and so he has no reference, no personal experience of who Matt was Before.

So he finished off his complaint with seemingly harmless words that seared deep into my husband's still-open wound of disability: "Some people have to work, ya know."

We knew that he didn't mean anything by it. We knew that he couldn't possibly understand how Matt feels about work.

Later that evening we talked it through: un-gnarling the feelings that the statement had unearthed. Matthew explained that he hates what he assumes most people see when they look at him now--an overweight, incompetent man with disabilities. He seemed to feel that because he can no longer work physically, he can no longer be known by his work ethic.

We have processed many different losses since The Surgery, and each one takes awhile to digest and a long time to accept. I'm pretty sure that there are several we are still in denial over. God was indeed gracious in gifting Matt with a tenacious personality that refuses to be beaten. Without it, I fear he would've given up in the face of so much personal loss.

God has also blessed him with many years of satisfying work to look back on for encouragement.

That night, we used the opportunity to reminisce back through the hard work that Matt has put in, starting with roofing at the tender age of fifteen. We recalled his time working for the Parks' Department as an older teen, when he was told that if he didn't slow down and do less, he would be fired for making everyone else look bad. Some of the craziest years were when Chandler was a baby and Matt was working three jobs for us. We only had one vehicle, so when the coffee shop needed him across town, he would have to ride his bicycle through the wintry streets to get to work. He worked with elementary-aged boys at the YMCA Daycare Center, and of course his kind voice, firm rules, and superior athleticism were a big hit.

We talked about the years he spend at Hochstedler Floor Covering. How we prayed over that decision! God was so faithful to point us in the right direction. Matt started out organizing all of the supplies and materials, and within a week, everything was so spic and span that they offered to take him out on flooring jobs to train him. And they gave him a hefty raise, which meant I could start staying home with our two babies; a good thing too, since I had already planned to quit my job, assuming that this was God's will for me and that He would provide. We were young, we were building a family, and we trusted God entirely.

Around the fire pit he built
Five years later, the fire pit is still going strong.
Through his years there, Matt worked tirelessly, skillfully, with mental and physical dedication that blew me away. Tired after work, he would come home and take a short nap, then jump up and play with the babies, work in the yard, and often help make dinner. He played as hard as he worked. As our children grew, he taught them every sport he knew. He taught them how to fish, how to play kickball and everything in between. His drive and enthusiasm were infectious, and our children learned early how to pitch in when Daddy started cleaning the house. As his skill level increased at work, he started taking on side jobs to help supplement our expenses. He often worked more than he slept, but he rarely complained. At no point during the past ten years have I ever had to leave my children and go to work. It has been because of God's goodness and Matt's willingness to do whatever it took to pay the bills.
One of the first hunts

It was during this time that he became a deacon at our church: tasked with the endless job of up-keeping our 1900's mansion-turned-church building. After a time, his energy, leadership, and dedication earned him the position of Chairman of the board--a position he maintained until after he was disabled. The labor was never-ending and only his heart was bigger than the workload.

This year's hunt--look how big Chandler has grown!
He connected with nearly everyone he worked for, especially the older generation. In fact, his best friend was a crotchety old man who lived across the street, with whom he spent many hours shooting the breeze, listening to the evils of crabgrass, alcohol, and the punks on our street. He freed baby raccoons his old friend's attic and when Halloween rolled around, he helped carve Booster's pumpkins with John 3:16. He gained the respect of many, and his side-work customers were loyal. Now that he's been disabled for almost three years, he still occasionally gets phone calls asking him to take on a job. Even though he can't do the bending and crawling anymore, his skills have been remembered and are missed.

We talked through all these things, and more. The other losses are painful too: not being able to play with the children, not being able to carry them on his shoulders. Not being able to help around the house as much. Never being comfortable, nearly always in pain. Wanting to hike, and bike, Wanting to provide for his family. He feels that not being able to work is the loss that reflects most strongly on his reputation as a man. So while it is not as tender a loss as some, it is still an ache that just won't go away.

Our conversation took a more positive turn as we reflected on how God has allowed Matthew to grow emotionally and spiritually through this trial. We remembered how our friends and family took care of us when he could no longer do so. I reminded him that his hard-working attributes are practically legendary among his professors and classmates, as he sets the curve in many of his classes. This unexpected trial has paved the way for opportunities that we had barely dreamed of before: a college degree, a job with insurance, possibly a bigger house that will better accommodate our family.We don't know what else God has in store for us, but it is clear that He is taking us down a new path, towards a fresh destination.

As our evening wound down, I decided that there was something concrete that I could do. I could honor his years of work by writing about them. Father's Day is coming up and I knew that a memorial paper could possibly give us some small measure of closure. I trusted God to give me the words.

In closing, I want to do a quick before and after regarding The Surgery.

Played with his kids                                      
Worked with his hands, his body                  
Tried to please everyone                                
Always working                                            
Avoided anger by working                            
Taught his kids by example                            
Provided for his family                                  
Loved his babies                                          
Loved his wife                                                

Plays differently with his kids
Works with his hands, his mind
Knows when to say no
Knows how to rest
Knows how to have a productive argument
Camp Counselor
Teacher his kids through explanation
Relies on God to provide for his family while he goes to school
Loves his babies
Loves his wife
Counselor at Camp Emmanuel
Life will never be the same for us. The losses are many. But our God loves restoration and He has blessed us beyond measure as we continue trusting Him. He continues to heal our hearts through this fire. A new kind of hard work is at hand.

"Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did."

"The year you were born marks only your entry into the world. Other years where you prove your worth, they are the ones worth celebrating."

"To be a champion, I think you have to see the big picture. It's not about winning and losing; it's about every day hard work and about thriving on a challenge. It's about embracing the pain that you'll experience at the end of a race and not being afraid."

"Though the barriers of life seem formidable, we find when we challenge them that they have no will."

"No one understands that you have given everything. You must give more."

Colossians 3:23
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.

Game Night Intensity 
Tiny Dawson
Loves those babies!