Barbara has been a friend of my mom's since I was in junior high. I think they met through a Bible study. I'm not sure when I was officially introduced to her, but the one thing that I couldn't get over was how anyone could keep smiling--genuinely smiling and laughing contagiously--for so long at a time. This wasn't just once; it was every time we were together. If a room didn't have joy in it, Barbara would walk in and immediately the atmosphere would change.
I don't know much about her past except that she had her share of grief in marriage. Her children, however, brought tremendous pleasure and pride to her. She was never subtle or particularly discreet in expressing herself, but it wasn't offensive; it was just plain funny. I remember she said -- with her kids and my sisters and I standing in the very same room together--that she wanted her kids to hang out more with us to get even smarter and godlier than they already were. If anyone else had said that, it would've sounded like a left-handed compliment to her kids, but when Barbara said it, I felt like she was just hooking mentors up with mentorees! The way she would giggle and "tell it like it is" in her thick Baltimore accent cracked me up.
I remember one of her sons developed a crush on my older sister and gave her the most beautiful wrist corsage to wear to a special ring ceremony at school. I was so jealous of my sister and her flowers that I think I gave Barbara reason to take me down from the pedestal she'd put me on.
One thing Barbara has consistently modeled is prayer. She talks to the Lord and about the Lord as if He is standing right there in your midst--which He is--but the rest of us tend to forget that. Too often, for me, God is "way up in heaven," but to Barbara, he is as close as her ring finger.
Whenever other people would tell her about a worry, or a decision they were weighing, or a relationship that needed restoring, Barbara would ask, "Have you prayed about that? The Lord really has this all figured out, you know, right?" And she would add that little giggle with a hug around your shoulder and say something like, "It's nothing the Lord can't handle. You b'lieve that, hon?" ("Hon," by the way, is a very Baltimore suffix to a sentence. Men, women, and children get "honned" by native Baltimorean women, and it's rather endearing in my opinion.)
Barbara's prayer life and joy have been constant companions in times of great difficulty and suffering. When her son Michael was a teenager, he went in for surgery to repair a heart defect.
Quite tragically, instead of coming out of the operation, he died on the table. I wasn't around Barbara at the time, but I can only imagine she did not succumb to bitterness even in her darkest sadness. She had a confidence in God's sovereignty that ran so deep it solidified and fortified her faith instead of shattering it. Michael's death did not steal Barbara's joy because her joy is in the Lord, not in people.
Her other son (the one who had the crush on my sister) is a helicopter pilot with the US Special Forces. He flies some of the most dangerous missions known to man, and for that reason, his family never knows where he is. He can't tell them. But one thing he can be sure of is that his mom is praying for him. Barbara told me about two years ago that she was just going about her daily business when "all of a sudden, I had this picture in my mind that Kevin was under attack. I saw him hiding under something, crouching down, covering his head. He was terrified. I stopped what I was doing and immediately began praying to the Lord to protect Kevin wherever he was. I just prayed and prayed for several minutes until I felt this release in my spirit that he was okay."
As soon as he was able, Kevin called her because he didn't want her to hear the news and be afraid, but he had just been under attack. Bombs were exploding everywhere in the city. His building was shaking, and he'd taken cover under a metal desk. He wasn't sure he'd live or die, but he wanted his mother to know he felt the peace of God protecting him.
Barbara took care of a young boy named Mikey who was severly disabled from cerebral palsy. Unable to do anything for himself, unable to speak, or walk, he was confined to a wheelchair. Barbara fed him, bathed him, sang to him, prayed over him, read to him, and adjusted his position when he moaned. She knew what he needed from the moans or the look in his eyes. It was a mystery to me, but a beautiful picture of how Jesus intercedes for us when all we can muster up are groans. The boy was not her own, but she loved him like her own. She was a faithful nurse, and often took him places because his own family wouldn't or couldn't. Mikey passed away peacefully one afternoon that was as ordinary as any other. Barbara had the privilege of seeing a smile on his face that told her he had just seen Jesus. I can only imagine the thanks Mikey will give Barbara when she joins him someday at the banquet table in heaven where he will be feeding himself and singing and praising God for this dear saint who ministered to him when he was in his twisted, aching, broken body on earth.
I could say much more about Barbara, but if there's one legacy she is leaving to those of us who know her, it is the legacy of joy.