Thursday morning of last week, I woke up as I always do. I fed and walked the dog, got a cup of tea, had some quiet time, then sat down at my computer to read my mail. And there it was: an email from my old home church in Iowa, stating that their Executive Pastor, and our wonderful friend, Shawn Engeldinger, had passed away during the night. He was only 44.

I cried all morning. I read, on Facebook, the comments that were as shocked and bewildered as I felt; all of us trying to come to terms with the fact that this incredible man was gone. It was later that day, however, that the tone of the comments began to change.

You see, Shawn (or “Tiny” as he was known to many; a nickname born out of facetiousness for his 6’6″, larger-than-life frame) wouldn’t have put up with the sadness for long. He was a jester, an impressionist, a fan of the boisterous guffaw and the hug that literally left a person without breath for a few seconds. So, the Facebook comments began to recount “Shawn moments”; funny stories and memories that reflected the zeal for life he embodied.

Some people are just naturally happy. We’ve all encountered them. I do think this is how Shawn was naturally wired. However, Shawn knew Christ. He really knew Him, so it wasn’t just temporal happiness that he displayed. No, he lived exuberantly, despite the state of his circumstances, to the point that when you said the name “Shawn”, the word “joy” rang in your heart and mind afterward. It was contagious and it drew people to him like moths to flame.

As the day wore on, those people continued to come out of the Facebook woodwork. Some talked about what a great guy he was, or told a story, but most? Most said things like, “Shawn changed my life” or “I’m a completely different person now, because of his influence.” They posted their own “eulogies” in the “notes” sections of their Facebook page, or updated their statuses to honor him. A local radio DJ even gave about five minutes of air time to recount his own memories and give his own tribute, which led to yesterday’s memorial service, where there were an estimated 750 people in attendance.

As I’ve grieved, and read, and mulled over all of this, I’ve found myself thinking about what constitutes a life lived that causes people to stop and say, “I’m different because this person walked the earth.” What makes a life of 44 years cause 750 people (and many more around the country) to stop what they’re doing to pay tribute? I think it involves these things:

  • Taking on a servant’s heart
  • Caring not just for the “lovely”, but finding the “lovely” in the “downtrodden,” be they a recovering addict, a struggling single mom, an ex-con seeking a different life, a recently laid-off employee, or a homeless family.
  • Embracing and building up children for a stronger next generation
  • Making others see that they are worth an investment of time
  • Loving your neighbor as yourself
  • Spending time with and really getting to know God

These were the things that set Shawn’s 44 years of life apart and made him remarkable on this earth, because they were the very things that marked Christ’s earthly walk. Was Shawn perfect? Of course not; he’d be the first to tell you. But he allowed God to fill up his broken, imperfect “vessel” and use it for His glory. He adopted the things that Christ found important, making them his own tenets for living; not to exalt himself before others, but to lift others up to an exalted Christ – their only hope.

And really? That’s all God asks of any of us, until He welcomes us home with a big hug that leaves us breathless, and a deep and heart-felt “Well done.”

July 16, 1965 – October 22, 2009

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
Matthew 25:21 ESV