There are a handful of men that have entered my life over the years and pointed me in the right direction. My dad was one. My hometown preacher was another. There were coaches who urged me on and teachers who inspired. There have been peers and ministry mentors who have assisted me in some way. Indeed, the list of college professors who contributed to my walk in some way is vast.
None ranks higher on the list than Prof Lay.
His name is Doug, though I’ve never adjusted to first-name familiarity. He was always Prof Lay to me, and to most of the other English students that passed through his class. The thought of writing anything about the man who taught you how to write is terrifying, but his contributions reached well beyond the classroom.
Prof Lay was a minister first and an English professor second. He grabbed a few guys when I was a sophomore and asked if we wanted to meet every week in a small group. I’d never had a small group. He asked what we wanted to talk about. I responded that as long as we didn’t talk about the Bible, I’d be cool with whatever. We were feasting on the Scripture in every single class we took. We just wanted to talk about real life. We’d come to the right place. Prof Lay could be real with no problem at all.
Prof Lay grew up in Iowa, went to Ozark Christian College back when the curfew was like 7:00 or something, had the good sense to marry the woman he did while he was there, and ended up in Puerto Rico teaching English at a university. He returned to the states later and preached at a church for a while, then took the job at St. Louis Christian College the year before I arrived.
I first met him when I was visiting campus and went to his class for a sneak peek. He taught funny. He told a lot of stories, spoke in parables like Jesus, and laughed when things weren’t all that humorous. But he was a nice enough guy. Then I had him for a teacher myself. We read stuff, and wrote stuff, and talked about stuff. I didn’t feel like I was learning anything, but I’m not sure I have ever learned more than I did in his classes. Sometimes it was about English or literature or poems. Sometimes it was about myself or the world or how I was going to fit into the world.
When me and my three best buddies landed in his small group things really kicked up a notch. His office was always dark, because he’s sort of melancholy like that. And it was warm, because he missed Puerto Rico and wore long johns well into May. We’d sit in his rocking chair or on his couch and he’d be perched in his office chair, and we’d talk about Jesus and girls and church and sports and then he’d go off on some parable that I didn’t think had anything to do with anything until he was done, and then I’d realize he was way smarter than me and I should’ve been listening better when he was telling his little stories.
I broke the arm off his rocking chair about 87 times, but he never yelled at me. I acted like an idiot a good deal of the time, but he never kicked me out. We prayed and went to White Barn for burgers and then would go sit at a park and eat the burgers and talk some more. He taught me the difference between Ministry and ministry. He coached me through more than one huge life decision. He stayed my friend after graduation and was always an eager ear when I had something to talk about. When I moved to central Illinois I still sought him out when I was back in town. After moving to Texas I still try to do the same.
Prof Lay doesn’t crave attention. He’s a servant. He’s tough, but he’s fair. He’s good, but he’s not always nice. He’s wise, but without a trace of arrogance. What kind of man thinks it’s fun to hang out with college kids and help them sort stuff out? What kind of guy spends hours every week pouring into guys who have no clue how good they’ve got it, sitting in his midst? What kind of man tirelessly labors year in and year out, losing the people he’s invested in to graduation every four years?
Prof Lay, that’s who.
When I wrote my first book a few years back I made the stupid mistake of making Prof Lay buy one. He joked that if anyone should get a complimentary copy it was the author’s college english professor. Last year I released A Conversational Commentary and sent him one out of guilt and appreciation. I could send the man a book a month and buy his dinner every time we’re together, and still I would not come close to repaying the debt I owe him.
He was my professor.
He is my mentor, my small group leader, my counselor, and my friend. And there’s a bunch of other students who have entered the same classroom, sat on the same couch in the same dark/warm office, eaten the same burgers at the same park, and appreciate the same man with the same affection as I do. There are a hundred people who could write this blog. And there are hundred more to come.
There’s only one Prof Lay, and I just thought you needed to know about him.