My father retires this month.
What I knew of his job when I was a child was that he came home at the end of long days in grease-smudged company uniforms and baseball caps bearing the names of mine companies and machinery brands.
I recognized the sound of his diesel truck that carried parts and machines back and forth to mines. When I was kid, he always came home with a “goody” in his pocket for me: a Debbie cake, a candy bar, a little carton of chocolate milk.
I can’t count the miles he’s driven over mountains and interstates over forty-nine years, from mine to mine, from home and then back again. He’s lived through a thousand vehicle breakdowns and inspections, survived multiple company acquisitions, and welcomed and said farewell to more bosses than I have ever had. He had a heart attack one day on the job, and drove himself to the hospital.
He is retiring, and Human Resources has sent him nice emails. The people who love him, and there are a lot, are celebrating with cards and gifts and well wishes. He is currently enjoying a two-week journey of being appreciated by all his coworkers and supervisors. He doesn’t want a big party, and that was true even before the pandemic.
It is all very nice. And on some level I also know it isn’t enough.
The wages for truck drivers—the people whose business it is to get needed goods from Point A to Point B—aren’t always what they should be. And although he and my mom will have a joyful and financially stable retirement, he surely deserves more from the company he gave all those miles and years to, on a difficult job that has caused backaches, arthritis, and long-term wear on his body.
I could say the same for my mom, who has racked up years of labor raising me, caregiving for my mother-in-law, cleaning a house and basically running the world for our entire family, her church, and much of her small local community.
I could say the same for so many people: the woman who faithfully came to clean my grandmother’s house and keep her company, my husband’s grandmother who spent long arduous years working in a textile factory, family midwives and small-town store owners, miners, farmers, mechanics with small garages and obscure knowledge of a rural area’s ancient cars.
And most of these people I know would be embarrassed by a piece of writing like this, because what they believe is that you just ought to get on with it—get up and go to work, day after day, because that’s what’s needed.
But we know better. I know my doctoral degree, my home, my career, and so much of what I have been blessed to accomplish has been built on the back of my mother and my father’s work. They worked for themselves, yes, but also for me, and most especially for God. They worked because they wanted to provide for their families, but also because they believe that they are working for the Lord, and not for men, and God expects the best from people who are driving trucks and sweeping floors and taking kids to school and cutting hair and fixing cars.
Churches are the same. You know the people. I know them. I can see them. The men far too old for set-up and tear-down and who somehow become the ones setting up a thousand folding chairs. The women whose punchbowls and tablecloths and cooking make every church meal, whose hands and feet and voices have populated every church kitchen since time immemorial to feed the hungry and the hurting and the sorrowful. The ushers who walk with a limp to get the offering plate.
Our worlds, our Christian ministries, however grand, we can credit to the people who do the everyday work to make them possible. That these people often earn the least and receive the least notice bothers me and is something I try to work to remedy in whatever small ways I can—but I take great comfort in the notion that not a single act has gone unnoticed in the eyes of God.
Truly, the world is not worthy of them.
I’m proud of my dad. I’m proud of my mom.
I’m glad God used their work and their love to make changes in the world.