Tonight I feel like a large bird is sitting on my chest. My lungs feel ten pounds heavier. I think my heart is just weary, sick and tired of always feeling and feeling and unceasingly processing emotions.
I hesitate to type these things to the universe via the amazing technology of the Internet for fear someone will read my unadulterated thoughts and write me off as a depressed romantic in need of counseling. I feel things deeply. If something happens, it’s always in the back of my mind and as I’m learning, the pain of two months ago never really shrinks like you thought it would. Rather, my pain festers into bitterness, leaving me even more hallow and regretful than I was prior to meeting him. I digress, I won’t continue on this subject – this pertains to a different story for a different night. let me share the story of tonight.
Tonight I called my friend Barb Engle, a 75-year old woman who was the janitor at my high school all four years I was there. We are extremely close; I wouldn’t hesitate to call her my adopted grandmother because don’t have any living grandparents anymore and she fits all the criteria plus some.
Barb had to retire from her position at the high school a couple of weeks ago because of the cancer growing in her lungs. Retiring killed her, I know, because she loved working at the school so much. Come on, she was 75 and still working like a boss.
So tonight I talked to her on the phone, and she tells me that recently hospice came into work with her. As soon as she said that, I felt like someone had punched a giant hole through my chest. I was metaphorically gasping for air, holding my chest like a heart attack victim and wishing I could take back what I’d heard. There was just no plausible way that the strong, independent woman I knew and loved was DYING.
She said she was at peace. She has been overwhelmed with love from all directions: countless teachers, counselors, students, and assorted staff members have showered cards, gifts, and tokens of their thanks on her these last couple of weeks and she knows how appreciated she truly is. She’s beginning to grasp the depth of her influence at Springboro High School, and its completely incredible to see it from my side, to see this amazing woman of God finally get to look back upon her ministry and see that what she had done during her time at the school awards her the Lord’s affirmation, the yearned-for stamp of approval: “Well done”.
I guess I’m selfish because I want her to stay with me forever. The ways her selflessness, displayed in a variety of situations, have impacted me are far too numerous to count; I often find myself saying that my intentions upon meeting her were to bring her blessing, but I ended up being the one getting blessed. She has touched my life in innumerable ways. I will forever remember the way she always gave me little gifts, trinkets of her affections, little items she bought on sale that had no practical value at all yet were worth the world because the only reason she gave them was to bring delight to me, someone she loved.
The world needs more people like Barb Engle. People who are fearless lovers. People that step outside of the confines of their work to actually look at the people surrounding them. People who commit to pray and love those they work around and live around. Barb never saw a single teacher as just a teacher. She saw them for who they were: moms and dads, lovers, sisters and brothers, friends.
The most exciting thing I ever did “for Jesus” was the radical step of faith I took in deciding one day during my sophomore year to volunteer to help the janitors, believing helping the janitors to be the “quintessential completely anonymous service project”. It ended up being the step of faith that paid off the most. The Lord has used the last three years of relationship building with an elderly janitor to teach me lessons about what matters the most in life. It sure as heck isn’t status. When you die, God doesn’t care what profession you had while you toiled here on Earth. It sure as heck isn’t money, because people with a lot of dough are oftentimes the most empty. It also sure as heck isn’t stuff you amass, because as Barb attested to tonight, if I’m lying on my deathbed and I have a bunch of million-dollar cars in the driveway, I don’t give a hoot about those cars because they can’t love me. They can’t tell me that the years I just spent living were worth anything. All they can do is shout about how wealthy I was. What is going to matter, as I am reassured time and time again, is the way you love others. People notice when you go out of your way to love them.
You might be doing something as trivial in the world’s eyes as sweeping hallway floors or taking out the trash, some of the most humble forms of service. I firmly believe that if you work with a humble heart and your eyes are constantly looking to who you can bless, you are on the fast track to a life that God commends.
I think about bible verses like these.
1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, (NIV)
1 Thessalonians 4:11
…and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, (NIV)
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. (NIV)
So despite my immense and suffocating sadness I keep telling the Lord, “Thank You. You are good. Thank You”. He has planned Barb’s homecoming since the beginning of time and done so in a beautiful way – He has worked all things for her good. My heart hurts now, but soon I will rejoice! Barb is going to see Jesus!!!!!!
The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away, may the name of the Lord be praised. I will praise You, Jesus.
this post is dedicated to Barb Engle, a woman of tireless service and complete faithfulness to her Father. I am blessed to have known you and can’t wait for the day we walk together in paradise.