I have made the acquaintance of a professor in Korea who teaches at the Korean Nazarene college. His blog is honest, revealing and insightful. He gave me permission to share this post with you. I hope you enjoy it.

See you later…Farewell to a friend who became family

This morning I heard the sad news that Elmer Hays, a long-time family friend who was more like family, passed away. He had been sick for quite a well and from what I hear he had been praying to be sent home away from a body that was inflicting so much pain.

I realized tonight when I started crying after seeing his obituary, apparently the realization that his passing wasn’t simply a nasty rumor, that he was a significant piece to me being who I am today, one of the many people that is easy to take for granted for all the good things that have taken place in my life in spite of the many difficulties. In fact, I think talking about him is right in line with my ongoing discussion with my reflections on shame.

When I was a little boy (I’m sure that is a classic storyline, right?) my mom babysat four boys who demanded a lot of attention. I’m sure my brother blended right in with them but apparently Elmer realized this wasn’t the case more than anybody else. At some point, he noticed that I hardly even talked amongst the rest of the clan and he had a talk with my dad about this which I’m sure was pretty forceful. I don’t know what was said but I don’t think it was too long after that Mom didn’t babysit those four brothers anymore. And from what my dad tells me, I started coming out of my shell. Thanks, Elmer, for telling me then and so many years later, “You’re important.”

I remember one time when Elmer took Mom, my older brother Bruce and I to Mom’s hometown in the company van. On the way there or back, Elmer spotted a turtle on the highway and pulled over so he could rescue that turtle and give it to Bruce and I to take care of. Of course the rest of the story is that in one of my moments of selfishness the turtle got away because Bruce went inside to use the bathroom and I was ordered to watch the turtle. That didn’t seem too exciting to me, especially being ordered around by my brother. Anyway, thanks Elmer, for telling the turtle, “You’re important.”

It’s funny how much pressure I put on myself to be an outgoing person and say all the right things. When I think of Elmer I remember four things: his eyes, his beard, his smile and his hand that I always shook when we met. The most impressionable part of him to me was his eyes for it was with his eyes that he told me, “You’re important.” I still remember that look so many years after seeing him face to face.

One of the later memories I have of him, perhaps the last of him when he was in really good health, was when I was attending a Bible school about 45 minutes from Elmer and Francee’s house. I somehow wound up visiting them one night and we talked about my confusion about eternal security. Elmer seemed to agree wholeheartedly with my dad on that issue but he gave a slightly different interpretation that was beneficial to me. Once again I heard him say, “You’re important.”

Elmer was also very respectful to Dad. There was a time in my life when I didn’t respect my dad as much as I do now and Elmer told me what a good friend Dad was. That made me really proud. I heard him say, “You’re dad is important and so are you.”

It may sound like I’m exaggerating that point but I think in most if not all of my interactions with Elmer that was the message I got the most from him. What you may not know about Elmer is that he was a big man and he gave me the impression that he could get mad at somebody and even hurt them if he really wanted to. And yet in his dealings with me, and this was probably his real personality, he was as tender of a person as anyone could ever meet.

I’m sorry to Elmer Hays for all the times that I doubted myself and felt like the whole world was turning against me, including myself, that I forgot what you always said to me: “You’re important.” I also know that you’re important and I will never forget all the good things you did for me. And thanks for saying a word to Dad to give me the love and attention that I needed. I suppose I was worthy of that but your actions were most definitely an act of grace.