Friday, March 30, 2012

Tribute to My Father, M. Lee Schenck

My family and I have used many adjectives this week to describe my Dad: “generous,” “selfless,” “caring,” “compassionate,” “funny,” “faithful,” “loyal,” “hard working”—these are just a few. We’ve had countless calls, emails, visits, and comments about my Dad this week and they were all very similar—what an incredible man he was, what a delight, what a neighbor. He was a godly God, an example to follow. I would say he was a man with the heart of Jesus, a man after God’s own heart. My mother would like to say thanks for the wonderful out-pouring of love since my Dad was promoted to heaven.

Some of his neighbors are here. They’ve shared with us what a delight he was and what a positive impact he had on their lives. You’ve heard tributes from his friends in the army, Southern Wesleyan University, and the Florida District. The story is always the same, from the woman who cut his hair to the cashier at Cracker Barrel, who was so sad to see him go. He made an impact anywhere he went. I’ve thought time and time again since his death that if anyone would ever see any good in me, that was what my Dad was like every day.

My Dad was indeed generous and selfless to a fault. You could hardly pay for your own dinner if you were eating with him. My sister Juanita’s husband Eddie was boasting in triumph after his visit two weeks ago that he had managed to pay for all his meals. (Of course, my wife wonders if a check will show up in Eddie’s mail in a few days)

The day he died we found a letter in his car ready to mail to my sister Sharon with a check in it to help her with her income taxes. He used to give us all blank checks when we left home for wherever in case we had an emergency. As a young man I can remember my mother saying more than once that we would never have a lot of money because my Dad gave it all away. Last year when my mother was so sick, my Dad was so concerned for her health and taking care of her that he almost forgot to eat himself.

My Dad was funny. He used to embarrass me when he would make corny jokes to waitresses and cashiers in check-out lines. After a meal, a waitress might ask if everything was okay. Then he might say something like, “Well, there is a problem,” and a troubled look might come over her face. “The food is all gone,” he might finally finish.

My Dad had a host of endearing characteristics and rituals. He had coffee every morning—and pretty much any other time of day as well, a practice I’ve personally tried to emulate. He went to McDonalds even on his final morning. There was something fitting about his heart waiting to go out of rhythm until he had finished his last cup of coffee.

He loved pens. Before I got my act together, he always used to tell me he didn’t understand how someone as educated as me didn’t carry around a pen. My Dad, on the other hand, carried a “pocket secretary” everywhere he went, with full calendar, addresses, phone numbers, notepad, and of course a pocket for Staples coupons. In other words, he carried a smart phone around with him fifty years before it was invented.

He loved watches. He loved stop watches. He took from the army his sense that if you’re on time, you’re late. He was organized. He was good with numbers. We used to race to see who could add up the individual bills at Morrison’s Cafeteria the fastest and then see if we got it right at the cashier. It made him a great District Treasurer for thirty years, a good board member for the Wesleyan Investment Foundation, and he was on the finance committee of the Southern Wesleyan University board.

He was disciplined and hard working. Even this past Sunday he wore himself out trying to help Patricia with the lunch during and after the concert. I would say my Dad was principled but not legalistic. He had a strong sense of duty and incredibly high standards for himself. He was much less demanding of others. He never stopped kneeling to pray even when his body was most exhausted at his last. I felt bad Wednesday night that I didn’t come over to the prayer meeting service because I knew my Dad would—and in times past he might have struggled with whether to go home to put on a tie.

He was at church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and any other time the door was open—and he was usually one of the first ones there. While most families take their vacations to go to the beach or the mountains, my Dad’s time off was always given to camp meetings, district conferences, and General Conference every four years. A sign of his devotion to God was the fact that he didn’t watch TV on Sunday because he felt he would inevitably spend all day watching football instead of thinking about God.

When he disagreed with others, he disagreed well, I thought. He wouldn’t have been his father’s son if he didn’t have strong opinions at times, especially in his younger years. But he didn’t make enemies, and he didn’t keep enemies. He always chose unity over division, the love of Christ over the cold shoulder. He was a model for me in conflict. He was not afraid to say what he thought even in a charged room, but he didn’t attack others when he said it, and he didn’t stop talking to them after the conversation was over.

My father was forgiving. I have been very thankful to God for this last month. My sister Debbie and her family were here about a month ago and saw my Dad. About three weeks ago my sister Juanita was here with most of her family and Sharon was here with most of her family and saw my Dad. And of course my sister Patricia and her family enjoyed my Dad every week, as did those of you from this church.

About three weeks ago on a Sunday night I got a phone call from my sister Debbie to pray. My Dad suddenly got violently sick and later told my Mom he had felt like he was going to die. It was a long night for me wondering if I would get a call in the night that he had passed.

But he didn’t. He made fairly quick improvement. I made one of those gambles we make in life. Do I fly down? He seemed to be okay and we planned to come see him this weekend—my wife Angela, Tom and Sophie. My step-daughter Stefanie was able to visit him on her Spring Break.

I’m so glad that I got to talk to him and Mom these last three weeks almost every day. It is an amazing thing to be able to say that you have never once questioned your father’s love for you. Compared to other parents, his scoldings barely counted as raising his voice. If he were to pop down this morning after a cup of heavenly coffee, he would say, “Don’t worry about it Kenneth. I know you love me.”

That’s the way our father was. A verse several in the family have remembered him telling them in times of challenge is Philippians 1:6: “he who began a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Although death took my father before Christ returned, God certainly did both begin a good work in my Dad and God was faithful to perform that good work in him up until the day he died.

If you ever see any good in us, remember, that’s what our Dad and our husband was like every day. If you ever see one of us do something selfless or generous, think of my Dad. If you see any one of us work hard or be faithful when others took the easy route, think of my Dad. If you see any of us do an act of kindness or compassion, if you see us forgive or work for reconciliation, think of my Dad. That’s what he was like every day.

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