I’m really not sure how long I’ve known him because it feels like forever. I met him sometime in my early childhood when I attended Beckham Combs Elementary. He was my 4-H agent and I was obsessed with the bicycle rodeo. I thought there was nothing cooler than being able to ride your bicycle inside a school building, and to this day, I still have my championship 4-H ribbons.
When my pastor called to ask me to speak at his celebration service I was overwhelmed with emotion because I couldn’t imagine what I could possible say about a man who had meant so much to me.
I was fortunate enough to have worked with Jim Phelps for over fifteen years at the Knott County Extension Office, where he served as the Agent for 4-H Youth Development for 40 years. Although in the past he had just been my 4-H agent, over the years he became a trusted friend, one I had a little bit of everything in common with: music, photography, the love of nature, outer space, and the habit of using illustrious, monumental, and noteworthy words.
I could spend forever talking about all the many ways he touched my life and heart. I could tell you about the hours he spent patiently teaching me about photography, or how he would send me emails or Facebook comments congratulating or praising me every time something good occurred in my life, or I could describe to you all the many gifts he would leave sitting on my desk every time he came back from one of his state or national Extension meetings.
Instead I want to share with you something I loved most about Jim. I’ve always valued sincerity in a friendship, and when I looked up the definition of sincere in the dictionary I found “marked by genuineness.” That’s exactly what Jim was…genuine. When he talked to you, you had his full attention. He wasn’t looking down at his phone, he made constant eye contact, and he was truly interested in all that you had to say.
When it comes to our relationships, we have a tendency to take them for granted. We think they are going to be with us forever, but in so many ways, big and small, Jim will be with us forever, in our memories, our hearts, but most of all in how we choose to spend the rest of our lives treating other people.
My husband asked me recently, “Can you imagine what the world would be if everyone could be like Jim Phelps?” I don’t know about the world, but here in our small community we have the opportunity to be more like him, to think about all the values he bestowed and the many ways we can incorporate them into our lives, our jobs, and here at our church.
A few weeks ago Jim left a final gift on my desk. It was a sympathy card for my grandma who had just passed away. Among the many beautiful words he poured over me, he wrote: “Christians should help bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Christ… He also said, “I trust that the memories you have will sustain you in the days ahead.” So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to allow the memories, words, and his kind gestures to sustain me in the days ahead and attempt to emanate some of the selflessness, kindness, and heartfelt love that definitely proved he was a Christian man who helped bear the burdens of so many of his brothers and sisters in Christ.
All Photos © Salina T Gibson Photography
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