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Cover Story


Blahsville



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My school roommate, Kate, had already landed a cushy summer job. She’d do secretarial work at the hospital at which her mom happened to be secretary to the administrator.

“Maybe Mom’ll find you a job like mine,” Kate suggested. “You type almost as fast as I do.”

Full of hope, I stepped into her mom’s office. “Hi, Mrs. Jenkins. Kate recommended I talk to you about a summer job.”

“Hi, Cheryl. It’s great to have you girls home from school. I hate to tell you this, but most of the good jobs have already been snatched up. Still, there is one you might consider.”

Having friends in high places is going to pay off, I thought. I’ll like working in an air-conditioned office behind a computer.

“We need someone to go through old invoices and throw out the outdated ones,” she explained.

Filing doesn’t sound bad. At least I’ll be out of the 100-degree heat. “When can I start?” I asked.

“Come in tomorrow morning at 8:00, and I’ll take you up to the barn.”

The barn? I wonder what she means by “the barn.”

My “office”

The next morning I showed up in a dress. Mrs. Jenkins led me to the barn and said, “You’ll be sorting through these boxes. It gets pretty hot, so you may want to wear shorts and a T-shirt from now on.”

After she left, I took in my surroundings. The windowless brown warehouse held rows of brown metal shelves crammed with dusty brown boxes.

So this is my summer office. Blahsville. Not even air-conditioning. What did I do to deserve this?

Sitting on the only chair in the building, I pulled down the first box and began sorting. The box made a brown rectangle of dust on my dress.

After 15 minutes I decided a chimpanzee could do this job. No brains needed here. Only seven hours and 45 minutes to go.

As I began to sweat, my glasses kept sliding down my nose. The sweat slide soon became a mudslide as I kept pushing them back with dusty fingers.

I had never felt so alone. Sure, coming from a large family, I enjoyed being alone for short amounts of time, but eight hours a day in a dungeon?

Maybe I should quit, I thought. “Mrs. Jenkins, thank you for offering me the job, but it isn’t what I expected. Maybe the pet store could provide a replacement for me . . .”

But I really needed the job. I’m not a quitter. There’s got to be a way to beat this boredom!

So I tried singing. I sang loud, to my heart’s content, and no one could hear me. I noticed that the acoustics in the barn were almost as good as in my shower. But my repertoire of songs ran out long before lunchtime. Then jingles such as “You deserve a break today, at McDonald’s” began to play over and over in my head.

God, these walls feel like they’re closing in on me. Just think how exciting my “What did you do last summer?” essay is going to be!

The noon whistle interrupted my thoughts—my prayer.

Was I praying? I wondered as I got up and walked outside. I guess I was talking to God. Will He really listen to my complaining? Is it disrespectful just to talk to Him freely about whatever I’m thinking?

Holy barn

When my half-hour lunch break ended, I was surprised to realize that I actually wanted to get back to the “invoice catacombs.” I wanted to try talking to God out loud, knowing that no one but God could hear.

“God, are You listening? Are You there?” Just as with the singing I’d done earlier, I felt a freedom in talking out loud. And I found that when I talked to God that way, my thoughts weren’t so scrambled and my mind didn’t wander so much.

“God, school was such a rush of schedules and deadlines. I know my prayers were often pretty thoughtless and quick. ‘Thank You for this food. Amen.’ Or ‘If You help me with this paper, I promise not to procrastinate on the next one.’ Please turn this dusty warehouse into a place where I can be with You.”

As I continued to talk to God each day that summer, I entered the presence of the Eternal One. He must have known that I needed a desert experience after my hectic dorm life. That mindless summer job allowed my thoughts, my prayers, to become like real conversations with Him. And God Himself became real.

Toward the end of the summer I completed the last box. I felt some pride for not giving up and for doing a good job. But mostly I was grateful for a growth spurt in my friendship with God.

That brown barn turned out to be holy ground, where God and I spent the summer together. 

 

 

This story originally appeared in the July 9, 1994, issue of Insight. At that time Cheryl Calderaro, a graduate of Monterey Bay Academy and Pacific Union College, wrote from Susanville, California.

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