Three days after I graduated from high school in West Berlin, West Germany, I packed three gigantic pieces of luggage and moved back to the United States. My sister Jenny had come to Germany for graduation and the two of us returned to Washington State together, where I spent the summer living with old family friends and working at a nearby resort.
It was the perfect place to work, as far as location went. Close enough to walk — I had no car — and with decent pay. It was a beautiful walk down a seldom-used dirt road lined by trees on one side and fields on the other. A thicket of plums brought sustenance, come late July. Then I crossed the main road and entered a different dirt road lined with trees, which wound around yet more trees and occasional driveways and then opened out onto the resort where a small hotel, several cabins, and a dock with a sandy beach waited at the bottom of the field.
Sounds idyllic, yes?
Well, perhaps it was, once. But by the time I was hired as a housekeeper, the resort was far from perfect. The hotel, which boasted perhaps 15 rooms, was faded and run down and had a mediocre restaurant and seedy bar attached. Well, as seedy as it got on Orcas Island. And as for the cabins … let’s just say I dreaded the days that they were booked and I would have to clean them. Because they simply weren’t cleanable. Sand from the beach was embedded in every nook and cranny and impossible to remove, and the dishes were unmatched and chipped. Sure, we washed them and changed the sheets and scrubbed the toilets — it was “cleaned” … but it was never, truly clean.
I did not enjoy that summer of work. The hours spent moving sand around the cabin floors or vacuuming the bar or scouring other peoples’ bathrooms were hours I would cheerfully have exchanged for almost anything else in the world. Not even my co-workers made the job any better. One of them, in fact, was fired for underage drinking on the job. She kept volunteering to clean the bar for the rest of us. It didn’t take too long to figure out why.
Two or three times over the course of the summer, someone would leave their Bible on the nightstand. Seeing that was pretty much the highlight of my job.
The best part of each day was, hands down, the walk to and from work. I loved that time alone, walking in the beauty of Orcas Island, smelling the salty sea and the sun-warmed grass. Sometimes, on my way home, I’d hop over the fence and walk in the fields. I’d go to the middle of one of the fields — the one that no one could see from the road if someone did happen to drive by, because it was surrounded by trees — and I’d just sit there, in the tall grass, and talk to God. Sometimes I sang, at the top of my lungs. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I almost fell asleep.
There are times, in the busyness of life today, that I long for that stretch of lonely road. I can almost smell the sun-baked grass and taste the Italian plums. I hear the horses, one field away, and the geese, white and gray, who were always underfoot of the donkeys and sheep. And even though they were too far to hear in reality, I even imagine the waves lapping at the shore, just on the other side of the trees.
There was joy to be found in those fields and roads, and I found it because of that miserable job. I would never have been there, day in and day out, otherwise. I would never have seen the joy of the green pastures without the contrast of the wretched work.
There is always good, should we choose to look for it. May God grant us the sight to find it.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.” Psalm 23:1-3 NKJV
Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.