From his determined, shuffling feet to his wavy, white tufts, Paul Haney charmed and impressed me when he visited our home last June with his daughter, Sarah. Energetic and bright at age 96, he was ready to surprise me.
In my recent posts, I’ve been writing about being surprised. Surprised by people. Surprised by the turns in their stories. Surprised by God’s intervention in unexpected ways. Today, I write about Paul Haney.
He has not had a major role in my life. However, this past year he left his mark. He impressed me, nudged me, challenged me, and with no intention, reproved me. Will I heed his encouragement? I pray so.
He is the father of my long-time friend, Sarah Haney (married name, Bell). Sarah and I met our first week in college. We were in the same dormitory at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana.
Grace is a Christian college, as its name may imply. Someone once asked me if it was a women’s college. Grace. Sounds feminine, I guess. Christians are used to understanding this word as a description of God’s efficacious compassion toward those He created in His own image — divinely designed, broken by sin, and saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.
Sarah was an MK (missionary’s kid); I was a PK (preacher’s kid). Sarah grew up largely in Nigeria. I grew up in Ohio. Sarah was reserved and unassuming (observing everything with a quiet chuckle). I was outgoing and expressive (okay, excitable and talkative, especially in the dorm). Sarah went on to become a missionary herself, marrying a missionary pilot, living in Tanzania, Ethiopia, and then Papua, New Guinea. She became a French teacher and ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher in private and public schools. She still teaches, now in South Carolina, but plans to retire at the end of this school year. I retired back in 2012. I ran out of energy long before Sarah!
Sarah has visited us in most of the locations where we’ve lived. Since we moved to Fort Wayne and her father was living in a retirement village one hour west of our home, it worked for Sarah to bring her father with her for a special visit.
I remembered Mr. Haney from decades previously when he and his wife were in the states on furlough. Mr. and Mrs. Haney impressed me with their confident yet humble “can-do” spirit.
Paul Haney was a chemistry and Bible teacher as well as a musician. Mrs. Haney (who died in 2010) was a physics, mathematics, and Bible teacher. The couple reared three daughters and one son. Their ministry and example created a backdrop or context for this particular visit at our home last summer.
I wish I could relive that visit. So many specifics I don’t remember, but I remember that while Mr. Haney shuffled like an old man, a bit bent over, he was vibrantly alert, ready to talk on many topics and full of observations and questions. He enjoyed lunch and the afternoon, obviously so much that he was happy to stay as long as Sarah was willing to visit with us.
Sarah had told her father about my doctoral research project and the Bible study that I wrote based upon it. Mr. Haney (as I’ve always called him, but was now addressing him as Paul) showed serious interest in my work, asking lots of questions, looking over my material, and intently considering how we can get the Bible study published.
I saw the man of purpose, study, science, and determination that he was. Oh, my! He saw no time to waste! He brainstormed publishers that he knew of and people who might have a connection. In the coming weeks he called me and wrote to me with follow-up information and ideas. He gave my name and contact information to a man in Winona Lake who was working on publishing a project. Paul and I talked a number of times during the summer.
In July we drove to Winona Lake on a Sunday morning to attend his church. Paul was so delighted to see us!! We sat together in church and then drove him home to Grace Village afterward and had lunch with him in the cafeteria. He was excited to walk us through all the wings of the facility to see everything there, the chapel, laundry room, library, carpenter’s work room, and each wing of rooms. Back in his own little efficiency apartment, we saw his wall of books and files, his desk overflowing with papers, his computer, his bed, and his little kitchen area. He was a busy man with a busy mind.
I was so touched by his eagerness to see my work “put out there.” He was fascinated with my framework for a biblical theology of suffering and joy. Sarah says that her dad has always been intense, goal-oriented, and focused. He was wanting to assist me, to support me, and to push me. At the age of 96, he knew he had already passed on most of his batons (his legacy), so he wanted to help me pass on some of mine. He wanted to motivate me to stay focused and not let the work be shelved, that God would provide the publishing support that I needed. Paul Haney showed that he believed that God was in my work, so Paul believed in me. This took my attention. I needed this.
Yet, for the rest of the year, selling one house, buying another house, sorting, giving away, packing, cleaning, fixing, moving, and troubleshooting glitches had to take priority. With my limited energy, my part in the move took everything out of me and more (grace upon grace). In September I had to tell Paul that I had to put the book publishing and podcast producing ideas on hold until we were settled again and could then concentrate on these goals. Paul, gracious and sweet, understood.
In the fall I talked with Mr. Haney maybe two times, but then we heard from Sarah that her father was in the hospital. He was losing weight (which he couldn’t afford to lose) and was getting weaker. A cancer had been discovered and took over quickly. We visited him in the hospital on November 4. He was so gentle and kind, lying in his bed, trying to speak a bit with a raspy voice. Sarah and her husband, Vern, were there.
A leader from an area church whom Mr. Haney had often encouraged arrived while we were there. He bragged on Paul saying that just three weeks prior Paul had preached at his church in an evening meeting, teaching for over an hour! He told of the influence Paul had on this community of believers. Paul was involved in many community activities, not just activities from his own church.
In his nineties, he was still singing in three community choirs, teaching Bible in the prisons, and teaching an adult Sunday School class at his home church in Winona Lake (his church from childhood). Like my father, he was extremely friendly, never knowing a stranger. Because Paul was so versatile and curious, he could always find topics of common interest with anyone. Sarah spoke of his humility (and energy), explaining that “Dad would mop a floor as easily as preach a sermon.” He loved to help people. Former students often called him, staying in connection. So, I was one of his last “students” to be touched by him.
On Monday, November 8, Paul Haney passed peacefully into the arms of His Savior. We attended his Memorial Life Celebration on Saturday, November 20. It was rich, swelling our hearts with gratitude to the Lord for Paul and inspiring us to live our callings more faithfully.
Still, I was surprised. I should not have been. I took Paul Haney’s life, even a man at 96, too much for granted. Because he seemed so alive and able, even though he was thin and he shuffle-walked, I expected him to still be here in 2022. I expected to be able to go see him more. I expected to be able to call him again. His name and number are still in my phone, and I will leave them there for who knows how long. His name in my phone reminds me of his witness for Christ and of his life lived intently.
The Memorial Life Celebration bulletin contained this Scripture:
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
I Thessalonians 4:13-18
Someone asked Paul, “What’s the first thing you will do when you get to Heaven?”
Paul replied, “Have a Bible study with the Author and get all His answers.”
“The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, If it is found in the way of righteousness.”
Proverb 16:31 (NKJV)
White tufts of wisdom crowned this man found traveling, shuffle by shuffle, God’s way.
Thank you Lord for always giving us inspiring examples of Your grace & glory written on human hearts.