At one of those dinner visits, Keith talked to him about becoming an elder. True to his humble nature he seemed a bit aghast. "Me?" he asked and was instantly assured that not only was he qualified, he had a talent for watching over people. With just a little more persuasion from others, he finally accepted that heavy responsibility and flourished at it.
Ermon had a way about him. He made it his business to find out about people and their problems. He knew who needed a kind word or a pat on the back, and he gave them freely, searching out needy souls as he wended his way through the crowd on Sunday mornings, or as he made visits during the week. Yet he could answer a fool according to his folly with a few words that left that man speechless and ashamed—but seldom angry. Ermon knew that waiting "for a better time" could be the advice of the devil because you never know what opportunity could be your last to try to save an erring brother or sister. Last week Ermon taught us that lesson himself with his sudden, tragic passing
Maybe it was that broad smiling face or the twinkle in his eye, but Ermon had a special way with children. Many of us found out after his death that he had been a tutor and mentor to elementary school students. We shouldn't have been surprised. In our family alone he showed up at recitals, school musicals, ball games, and graduations. He bought my Lucas some cleats when he was on the high school baseball team. We hadn't even known he needed them, assuming the school provided such things, but not so in the smallest county in Florida. He often sat in my classes to watch me teach the children, an elder watching over the new lambs in the flock to make sure they were being fed properly. That was Ermon. Always on duty, always watching out for others.
Ermon was one of the finest men I have ever known. He was the big brother I never had, even if I did have a couple of years on him. When we lost Ermon, we lost much more than a simple man—we lost a hero.
Ermon's children played with mine, went to Bible class with mine, and they often spent time in one another's company outside of church time, though they lived in different counties a good twenty miles apart. Ermon's son Leron stood up with my Nathan when he married and because of the closeness we had shared for so long, we had Ermon and Brenda seated in the family section that night. It seemed fitting.
One evening, a dozen or more years before that, the Owens had come over for yet another dinner. When it was time for them to leave, our boys were not ready to say good-bye to their young friends. "Can't they spend the night?" Lucas implored.
"But they have school tomorrow," Ermon reminded him. At this point I need to tell you, if you don't already know, that Ermon and Brenda are African-Americans.
"They can come to school with us," Lucas immediately replied. "We'll tell them they are our cousins," and then stood there waiting for his "obvious" solution to be accepted.
Ermon's eyes widened. "I don't think they would believe you," he finally managed.
"But why?" Lucas asked in all innocence.
None of us answered, and finally Lucas, who was about 12 at the time, figured it out. "Oh," he said, shoulders drooping in disappointment.
At that point Keith spoke up. "Well Ermon, we are brothers aren't we? And that makes our kids cousins, I think."
Ermon cocked his head as he considered the thought. "I guess so," he finally allowed with a smile and a chuckle, "but they still can't stay, Lucas. Maybe another night."
And there were many more nights.
Ermon came to lunch about a month before his passing. It was the usual—talk about spiritual things for a good two hours. When he left, he said, "This has been good," and he wasn't talking about the food. Yes it had been good, and one day we will get together again.
One of Ermon's favorite things to say was, "I know where I'm going, and I'm ready to go. Are you?" I promise you, he's saving you a seat in his Father's house, waiting with that beautiful smile and that precious twinkle in his eye.
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27)