Last week I received the call that I knew would come someday: “Virginia’s gone.”

Virginia had battled cancer for the last several years.  Like everything else in life, she faced it with courage and an unshakeable faith in Jesus.

I first met “Miss V” in 1993, shortly after Merriem and I were married and just a few days into my first stint as a Student Pastor.  We were in the church parking lot preparing to leave for our first weekend retreat, when Miss V walked up to me and said, “Don’t you let these kids have a good time.”

Since I had a good mixture of immaturity and tactlessness, I responded with an obnoxious (yet genuine) belly laugh…until two of my trip volunteers pulled me to the side and said, “She’s not kidding around.”  It was then that I found out that Miss V wasn’t particularly known for her fun-loving side.  She was a bit more serious, a little more straight-laced than your average 19 year old youth worker.  I decided the best thing for me to do would be to avoid her at all costs and never ever EVER under any circumstances let her find out about my summer plans for the world’s largest food fight in the front yard of the church.

Much to my surprise (dare I say chagrin?), she started volunteering to go along on student trips.  (I was convinced it was just to keep an eye on me.)  As apprehensive as I was, I agreed to let her chaperone a week long mission trip to suburban St. Louis.  Because God has a great sense of humor, Virginia rode shotgun the entire six hours.  And although I first considered driving straight off into the Mississippi River, it was that trip that changed everything.  I found out about her childhood, about her intense love for Jesus, and that she actually enjoyed laughing.  We traded stories – and even jokes – for hundreds of miles.  We entered the van as borderline adversaries, but we exited as friends.

It was also that trip that Virginia taught me about compassion.  During one of our lunch breaks, she happened to sit all by herself.  That afternoon we had a tearful conversation where she told me she’d never felt so alone, and wanted to make sure that no teenager ever felt the same way.

And her sense of humor?  I discovered I couldn’t have been more wrong.  She had a dry wit and even took to calling some of the kids “Biscuitheads” during the week (I don’t know where she came up with that term).  To the kids, it was a coveted honor to receive that label from Miss V.

Over the next two years, I grew to love Virginia and viewed her as one of the greatest student ministry volunteers ever.  She had a real heart for students.  For our girls, she was a true picture of Titus 2.  She taught our guys – and me – how to love the book of Proverbs (something I’ve passed along to my own teenage sons).  Whenever I needed prayer, Virginia was one of the first people I went to.  She prayed for me as much as anyone ever has.  This woman I once viewed as a killjoy became my go-to person when I needed a sounding board, an advisor, or a friend.  She was one of my biggest cheerleaders not only at that church, but throughout my ministry.  I would have done anything for her, and I knew she’d do anything for me.

Virginia’s husband Richard, her daughter & son-in-law Libby & Joe, and her granddaughter Lennie became like family to Merriem and I.  I grieve with them, but know that she’s very much alive in heaven.  And reminiscent of my first encounter with her, I know that she’s having a very good time, indeed.