A Big Bag of Lemons

By Marcy Barthelette

A little improvement each day makes a big difference over time. Ask God to enlarge your

territory but prepare yourself along the way to handle it well. Tony Gungy, Uncommon Life Daily Challenge

Back in 2003 when Ken’s career was rocking along nicely, life as we knew it came to a sudden halt! A devastating fire on the property where he worked turned the owner in a new direction and Ken found himself without a job at sixty years of age. For years he had been toying with the notion of relocating in Florida, after retirement, to be near his siblings and take advantage of the warmer climate. The time seemed right. Thus, an exhaustive job search took us from one end of Florida to the other and the answer came in the form of ten thousand acres in the middle of the state. He loved the slice of pristine wilderness that was placed under his care. Most of the time he had the whole place to himself other than a few campers and lots of wildlife. Clear running streams and rugged terrain created the perfect backdrop for outdoor recreation. Ken worked to create a safe place for guests to enjoy all that beautiful place had to offer while protecting the large numbers of birds, deer, bear, gators, and rattlesnakes…sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? To Ken, it was!

For several months before and after the move, he had been feeling a little under the weather and experienced a lot of joint pain, so he went in for a check-up and was administered just about every test known to medical science. Among other things, the doctor found a cancerous spot on his neck that had to be removed and the really bad diagnosis of severe osteoporosis. He was placed on a daily injection of medication that was still in the FDA approval stages and told that he could lift no more than ten pounds and do nothing that would jar his spine. That included most of his job. Fortunately, he was only halfway through a one-year probation and his employers were happy with his performance so they gave him lots of leeway and he continued to the end of that first year in the hope there would be an improvement in his condition. Bones do not repair quickly and the writing on the wall was clear. He was going to lose his job again and was still two years away from Medicare. Needless to say, the worry was great and on the last day of his probation, his supervisor told him that, regretfully, they would need his resignation.

New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings. Lao Tzu

As he walked through the building on his way to his car, he happened to stick his head into the office of the person in charge of the prison inmate crews from the local medium-security facility who worked in the recreation areas. Ken jokingly asked if he had any jobs and the guy said yes, they were about to hire an inmate supervisor. He didn’t think Ken would be interested but he needed a job and he had prior experience in prison work. It was an ideal fit because the inmates did all the lifting and heavy work. They just needed supervision. Talk about a last-minute reprieve!

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.

They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

For the next year, Ken worked ten-hour days and had three-day weekends. I was in heaven with that schedule. His work in recreation had always meant that he was on the job every Saturday and Sunday during the busy season. For Ken, it started as just a job, a salary to keep the rent paid and food on the table as well as insurance and retirement benefits. But over time, he began to see it more as a ministry. When he showed respect for the men he supervised, they, in turn, respected him. He taught them boundaries while allowing them as much freedom as possible in their circumstances to make decisions. He talked with them about goals and what they would do when release finally came, but when he told them he prayed for them every day, they were blown away, yet humbled. From that day on there was an unspoken bond between them that they would have each other’s backs. It wasn’t until he had moved on to a great new position that someone shared with Ken that the group that he had supervised included some of the toughest inmates in that prison. With kindness and caring, he had been able to bring the best out in them and he still remembers the lessons they all learned that year. We don’t always get what we want, but we do always get what God knows we need.

If you’ve ever doubted that God has a purpose in everything He does, I’m here to tell you that you might want to reconsider. If Ken hadn’t lost his job in Missouri and moved to Florida, he wouldn’t have seen that doctor, who by the way was a little over the top when it came to testing, but his excessive caution found a failure in Ken’s body that may have been overlooked by someone else. And if Ken hadn’t been made to slow down to take care of his body, he wouldn’t have been in that place at that time to supervise a crew of society’s misfits who really needed some new direction. We don’t know what became of them, but we hope Ken’s witness may have had some impact on their lives. If just one of them left that prison feeling confidence in himself and the will to make life changes because of having been exposed to a man who genuinely cared about him, that was worth all of the setbacks that we faced.

Never doubt that you were put right where you are for a purpose. The destination may be unclear to you and there may be lots of detours along the road, but there is a master plan and one day it will be very clear. So, keep putting one foot in front of the other and remember that old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make some lemonade”.

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace,   not disaster,

to give you a future filled with hope. Jeremiah 29:11 (CEB)

One Response to “A Big Bag of Lemons”

  1. Cheryl Grove says:

    Great article! After losing Gary I struggle with what my purpose is.I was his caregiver for a long time. His death in Oct shook my world. After 54 years of marriage my life has really changed.i am glad to be reminded that God has a new plan for my life. Thanks for your article God Bless

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