Friday, February 21, 2014

Eulogy for Richard "Dick" Shaffer

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

Thursday afternoon we received the news of Dick’s passing. Beverly called to tell us the sad news. As these things go, Jim Berry – another of the elders at FCC – and I had coffee earlier that morning, and as we walked back to our cars, we spoke of Dick. As we wondered how he was doing, I said what I think we were both thinking, “I don’t think we are going to have Dick with us much longer.” Jim agreed, and then we reflected for a few minutes together on the life of a man who had impacted each of us in different ways.
Like a lot of folks in the church, Jim knew Dick most of his life. Dick worked alongside many who became his friend. I came to know Dick when I moved to Houston with our family in 2001. I can’t remember the first time I met him, but our family remembers that early on he became a significant person to us, a person genuinely interested in our lives.
If I were only allowed a few words to describe Dick, at the top of the list would be integrity. My experience of him was of a man who when he gave his word, kept his word. It makes sense when you think about the fact that he was born during the Depression. Charlotte, Beverly, Roger and I talked together on Friday and it came out that Dick had a motto. Did you know Dick had a motto? I didn’t know that Dick had a motto, but when I heard what it was it was so true to Dick’s nature. His motto was, “Don’t buy. Get by.” He was of a generation of citizens who used, and then re-used; he never threw anything away – not even a nail; and used wire – yes, wire – to do just about anything.
Dick was a consummate teacher. He didn’t find an outlet for that in the University; he was a teacher of life, and practical wisdom; he was himself a constant and inexhaustible learner – of anything, of everything. He was never intimidated by something he didn’t know how to do. He was naturally good at Math, had an interest in Architecture, and was a voracious reader. He knew something about everything, it seemed. I believe this is one reason Dick related so well to everyone he met; he quickly found things in common, quickly made meaningful connections. He related well to his peers, as well as young people who were a part of his life, even down to the smallest children.
Our church used to hold a family movie night one Sunday each month, and Dick and Nita would bring two young teenage sisters with them to church. They were neighbors. They were simply aware that the girls didn’t have the best home life and investing in them was a way to share their love, so they just took the girls under their wing and connected them to the church.
Dick raised his own children to be independent, guiding and coaching rather than doing everything for them.  When I asked if Dick was a strict father, his daughters replied, “Well, I’d put it this way. He was strict enough.” He related to his children as individuals – with Beverly he was always teaching her things in a hands on way out in the garage, where Dick liked to spend a lot of time; with Charlotte he brought home animals because she had a love for them (rabbits, chickens and even a young horse – which didn’t make Nita all that happy!); and with Roger it was a lot about being at the farm in East Texas  together (Roger – as he said – was given the “privilege” of helping dad work on the farm).
He and Nita were good parents, never missing the band performances or the recitals – the football games and band concerts – helping in all the fundraising programs that were a part of these activities. He was always there for them.
Dick also had a good sense of humor; he was clever and quick witted to the end. He took his Masonic involvement very seriously; but he also took some ribbing at the hands of his kids who could never remember what he was actually, officially called, so they would just say, “Daddy was the grand pooba.” And he would simply laugh about that.
I’m guessing his sense of humor came because as the kids reflected Dick was always having some kind of “bad luck” and it became a bit of a family joke.
Like once he thought it was time to show Beverly how to fly a plane when she was about 8 years old. This was back in the day when they still had some airports without power. They were up in the air and wanting to land, and pilots just had to see where the other planes were around them. Dick felt it was safe to come in for the landing, but there were too many other planes trying to land at the same time. So he landed in a grassy area next to the air strip, and the plane got jammed in some tractor ruts, bringing the plane to a sudden stop, and it tipped nose first into the propeller. Beverly came up with a scowl on her face…That was, to say the least, the last of Beverly’s flying lessons.
There was also the time when Dick was teaching Charlotte how to drive a car. They were in the 51 Chevy, and Dick told her to turn at the next right. As they approached the turn, Dick said, “Charlotte, TURN!” And she said, “No, it’s too soon to turn, daddy.” And Dick said, “TURN! TURN!” and then grabbed the wheel and turned it himself, steering the car right into the ditch! Charlotte wasn’t too happy about that, but Dick again laughed and took it all in stride.
Dick just seemed to take it all in stride.
Some things you may not know about Dick. He was trained to fly P-51 Mustangs during WW2 – how many of those people can you say you’ve known in your life. He also played the French horn – and earned second chair in the state of Ohio.
But Dick wasn’t Dick completely until he met his beloved one night on the streets of Houston. He met Nita, who would be his life-long love, one night when she and a girlfriend were walking to a picture show. Dick was with some of his military buddies from the base. Dick spoke up and asked them what they were doing, and then quickly decided he wanted to go to the picture show himself. It was there they met for the first time, and the rest, as they say, is history. When I got to know Dick and Nita that first year we were here in Houston, Nita was already showing signs of dementia. The care she needed never changed anything for Dick. He was a lifer; for better for worse. He cared for her all along the way and was heart-broken when she died.

I imagine them in eternity, holding hands, having a good laugh about their lives together, and now assured that the fairy tale has come true: and they lived happily ever after.
Personally, Dick was to me one of the kindest and supportive people in my life at church. Not that he was deeply involved in helping steer the direction of the church, but there were times when I think he knew I was feeling the pressure, and he’d say, “Thanks for what you’re doing here Michael. Keep up the good work. Don’t let them get you down.” Dick was always there beside me, with an encouraging word, honoring me as a leader and preacher, even though not all the changes were things he necessarily liked.
Over the last year, we were all a bit worried about Dick continuing to drive. Bless his heart, he would pull up to church, park, and literally have to unfold himself and crawl out of his truck, manage his walker, and bent almost double, slowly and deliberately so as not to fall, he would make his way into the building and find a seat. As scared as we all were, at a much deeper level … we were inspired.
People who are truly committed to be growing disciples of Jesus in their unique time and setting are hard to come by – Dick was certainly one of them I’ve met along the way.
And so it is with a great deal of certainty that we can all affirm that Dick has found his rest for his soul, that already he has passed over into God’s future and heard the words we all long to hear ourselves one day:
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:20-26
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 

The Lord is good, and greatly to be praised. For the last word in this place may be death, but death is never the last word of God.
Death has been swallowed up in victory!
O Death, where is your victory?
O Death, were is your sting?
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ.