Valerie’s Got It Covered

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The sun enters my classroom after my students leave, and I’m thankful once again for how light can melt the side of my cheek.

Valerie parks her heavy custodial cart just outside my room. Through the window in the door, I see her unroll and tear off two trash bags. She reaches for the doorknob.

We haven’t chatted in a while. Years ago, I spent a lot of time inside my classroom, well into the midnight hours. Those were the days when I also juggled a master’s degree and two children under the age of two. Often, after the kids went to bed, I went back to school.

Those were tough days for our family.

Thankfully, Valerie knows how to speak from the heart, even when it involves small-talk. Because she knows her Savior all day long, Valerie’s words hold something richer for her listeners. Her words have brought me deep encouragement over the years.

When she walks through the door today, I swivel in my chair until the sun hits me on the back of my head. “Hey, how are you?” she asks. She shakes open one of those bags, pulls it apart, and all I know is how good it feels to sense more of Christ in my classroom again.

But I stay closer to the surface. “What are you looking forward to this weekend?”

She needs no time to reply. She informs me that her little buddy will come home from the hospital tomorrow. He attends her Sunday school class, at least whenever he’s not in the hospital.

Preston learned to worship his Savior from a hospital bed. Church, whenever he could make it, was a special treat.

I know Valerie’s heart is drenched with love for this boy. I see it in the movement of her eyes.

Preston actually made it to church this past Christmas, she tells me. “Do you know what the first thing he said to me was when he came into my room? He said, ‘Is today Jesus’ birthday?'”

“I tell him, ‘Yes, Preston. It is.’ And then he puts his hands together.” She stops and shows me how. “He closes his eyes and starts praying. Just right there and then, while all the other kids are off doing –“

Doing their thing.

She plans to make him a special sign for Sunday. “He’ll love it.” Her nose bunches up as she squeaks out those words. She wants to do the whole thing up for him just right. She shares a few of her ideas while fiddling with the trash bag.

Something tells me Valerie is well-trained in having conversations while working with her hands. Some might call it multi-tasking.

However, the sun on her face today tells me her power has everything to do with ceaseless praying.

“Well, thanks for listening to me. And my stories.” She looks back over her shoulder. “I hope I didn’t take up too much of your time. You probably weren’t expecting all that.”

Nervous laughter.

Hours later, after making her rounds, she’ll be back to sweep my room. The sun will be long gone by then, so she’ll need to flip on all three light switches. But her conversations will continue, just as if she were standing in the sun.

Tonight, even if her broom happens to miss some hidden corner, I won’t care. Because I know she’s got everything covered.

And whenever she comes to mind, I’ll try to do a little sweeping for her, too.

 

 

25 thoughts on “Valerie’s Got It Covered

  1. We complicate things so much, make it all more than it’s supposed to be. I love the simple love of an uncomplicated servant, like Valerie. Oh to aspire to be, right where we are.

  2. yeah. this one is phenomenal. and when i say “this one” i mean both valerie and your ability to see that in her and to write it down for us. thanks!

    • We like to think our contributions make a difference. But our work, even our “greatest work”, means very little in the end. But when someone, like Valerie, comes along and sweeps a floor, she touches eternity. Not because of her work. But because she sweeps with Jesus. Valerie inspires me to work with Jesus.

      Otherwise, my work involves nothing more than holding on to a broom.

  3. When I started teaching writing at the college, a good writer-friend named Billy (who works in a campus mailroom in another state) suggested that I spend more time hanging out with the custodians than with the other professors. And this is part of the reason why, I think.

    Loved this, Matthew. I saw this featured on someone’s Facebook page earlier in the day, and have been meaning to get over here and read it. I’m glad I did.

    • People like totum poles. They help us identify other important people. But Jesus taught us to climb down, didn’t He? God uses us best once we have room to walk around. If nothing else, we’re in a position to meet a lot more people.

      I’m glad you stopped by, too. Sometimes I still think about you walking around that ditch after your accident. Keep moving, Jennifer.

  4. I’m all for sweeping – alone and together. Thanks so much for this beautiful reflection about real life. REAL life – the life that cares deeply, that connects deeply, that reflects Jesus in the simple act of shaking out a trash bag. What an encouraging story – thank you for sharing it.

    • Real life comes with a lot of trash bags. We fill them up. We take them out. But maybe our best service will be to help carry someone else’s trash. It’s unpopular and stinky. But it’s real, isn’t it? Thanks for your beautiful comment, Diana.

  5. You shared this with Valerie? You must. What a beautiful tribute. What a blessing to know how your classroom is covered in prayers with every sweep and every trash bag shaken and opened. My prayer is to bring in more than I take. And clearly Valerie brings His Light to every hallway and classroom. Love this.

    • I will share with her. Many of my coworkers agree that she has no idea how she influences and touches us. When she comes in my room at the end of the day, if I’m still there, I always feel a breeze from heaven.

      And that means a lot. Especially at the end of a long day, with teenagers.

  6. This just brought tears to my eyes. Such noticing on her part and your part — such intentionality here. And I think you brought up a point that I needed to hear today, the point about multi-tasking. As I’ve been trying to cultivate more intentionality in my life, I’ve thought this meant the end of multi-tasking. But no, it’s more about which activities one is doing at the same time. Praying without ceasing and living life — yes, those are two things that should never be separated.

    • Praying without ceasing. Most of us understand so little of its power. Too often I feel like praying interrupts living. How absolutley ridiculous of me …

      Either prayer gives me the strength I need. Or it doesn’t.

    • We peg people as simple all the time. It’s easy to do. Just evaluate their contributions. But how dare somebody evaluate ours. Yikes …

      Thanks for leaving your comment, David. The truth you raise is close to my heart …

    • For me, one of the most inspiring things is how her acts of service are more than just the acts themselves. Lots of people can do good things. But her actions come from a deeper, abiding presence than most of us take the time to cultivate. Bless her indeed.

  7. I long to become a person like Valerie – a person who knows her Saviour all day long – and so well – that she can be used to sweep dust out of dark places without even wielding a broom. Thank you for this powerful reflection, Matthew. And thank you for praying together with me.

  8. Oh, I love this story and your wordplay. I smiled all the way through it.

    And I love this: “Because Valerie knows her Savior all day long, her words hold something richer for her listeners.”

    And I’m doing a little sweeping for her right now.

    • Thanks for sharing the broom here. There’s something important in having that quiet time to sweep by ourselves. But then there’s something so beautiful, too, in sharing that time to sweep as a team.

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