(Photo courtesy of Jane Landrum's Facebook Page)
I write often about my years working at Eckerd Youth Alternatives. Those years just influenced so much who I am today. The things I learned. The kids I got to work with. And probably more than anything, the countless selfless adults I got to work side by side with and create memories that live in me to this day.
One of those adults was Linda Johnson. I got word from a dear friend yesterday morning that Linda lost a more than two years battle with cancer. In my friend Amanda's message to me she said something that was both comforting and predictable. She said Linda's husband Paul reported Linda passed away with a smile on her face. There are some people who cast smiles on our lives that we remember forever. We remember how their smile took over their face. Their sincerity. Their ability to trigger smiles across a room like falling dominoes. That was Linda's smile.
I'm grateful that I got to know the secret to Linda's smile. Linda was our camp secretary for many years and then later our business manager. In both of those positions there were always opportunities to steal a few minutes of conversation with her. I know I stole more minutes than I was probably entitled to, especially when Linda was the business manager during my early years as a camp director.
During some of the more stressful hours of that job I would sneak off to Linda's office in the camp warehouse. Sometimes simply for refuge from the busyness in her quiet corner of camp. Others to vent about some part of my job that was strangling me that day. There was something very magical that happened when you went to unload your worries on Linda. One, you ended up doing a lot more listening than talking. And more often than not, in listening and not venting, the problems disappeared.
It wasn't just the act of listening that was the magic. It was what you listened to. I don't know that I ever had a conversation with Linda Johnson when I didn't walk away completely aware of two things: how much she loved Jesus and how much she loved her family. To this day, and probably more so today than ever, my conversations with Linda leave me hoping for two things in my life. That in unknown to me, quiet corners of this world, my wife talks with people as glowingly about her husband and children as Linda talked about hers. She didn't talk out of bragging, either. She talked out of complete admiration for the people they were and all that they stood for. She was proud of them.
Those conversations leave me also praying for this. That when people walk away from conversations with me, they leave with a sense that I love Jesus even half as much as Linda did. There are a lot of people in my life who've shaped my understanding of my Christian faith: they stressed critical bible verses, the Ten Commandments, and offered countless other theological interpretations. Those people have been important. But to wholly understand that faith, you have to have people in your life who will show you that it all starts with an unconditional love for Christ. You have to see what that looks like. You have to feel in their presence proof that there is no greater love.
I felt that proof with every encounter I ever had with Linda.
I am reminded of one more thing this morning. I am obviously a fan of spending time together with folks through the media. Oh, how I love Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all the other online conversations. A lot of good can come from them. But please don't ever, ever miss the opportunity to share time in someone's presence. You never know when you might change their life. You never know when they might be living proof of something that will change yours.
I will miss my friend. But I'm not sad for her. She is where she longed to be. She will be waiting on her family and the rest of us with that unforgettable smile. And oh the Jesus stories she'll be able to share. Today, those stories are only beginning to compile.