A Thanksgiving Eulogy


My father is in heaven. He died four years ago, shortly after turning 80. For his last 20 years, he was a traveling preacher, known in the Plymouth Brethren fellowship as a “laboring brother.” Because of him, our family gathers at Thanksgiving instead of at Christmas, because Christmas trees come from pagan worship, because Jesus wasn’t born in December, and because God would never approve of such blasphemies as drunken parties to honor the birth of His only Son. And so this week I’ll travel to my eldest sister’s house to join my family and to be thankful together and to visit and to squabble and to do everything at Thanksgiving time other families do at Christmas time.

A few years ago, we were gathered in my sister’s living room in Southern Illinois, sated from a bountiful feast and engaging in another tradition. Each person read a scripture verse from a card placed before them and then said what they were thankful for. When my turn came I read, “In everything give thanks,” and then said, “I’m thankful Dad’s not here.” It got a big laugh. Not that we didn’t love our Dad. We did. But the statement was funny, not just because of the out-of-context jolt, but because it was true that Dad’s presence made us uncomfortable.

He was a stern man, lacking in the social graces you and I employ daily. I remember one Thanksgiving Dad was there. Three small candied yams remained in the serving bowl and two siblings were eyeing them hungrily. Dad addressed the heavier one, “Leave it for him. He can use it more than you.”

My mother said, “Chuck! Don’t say that!”

“Why not?”

“It hurts his feelings.”

“You want me to lie? He’s fat! I’m just being honest.”

My father was naturally short on tact. A co-worker told me a story from Shure Brothers, where my father was a quality control manager. One day she overheard an employee saying, “Chuck’s smiling. They must have rejected a batch.” My father himself recounted to me a time when he, a fervent young believer, was counseled by an older “brother”: “The Bible tells us to season our speech with salt, Chuck. I believe you’ve been using pepper.”

My father’s mission was to evangelize; in church, at work, and even in the home. My mother made the world’s tastiest spaghetti—no Italian ever did it better—and when an invitation was extended, everyone knew it meant Laverne would make spaghetti. Invited guests would have a decision to make: was her spaghetti worth the post-prandial preaching? I guess the people I got to know best must have loved spaghetti.

Nor were we spared because we were his children. Daily Bible readings were held in our home. To make it less tedious, Dad instituted a contest. It would be my turn to read until I made a mistake. My sister would pounce on my error and then she’d get to read until she flubbed a word, and so on. This Thanksgiving, if you were to come home with me and say the phrase, “brief synopsis of Revelation,” you’d hear a collective groan as we’d all remember one summer when Dad announced that’s what we were going to get. “It’ll take me a week or so to run through it,” he said, but it dragged on for one interminable year of squirming torture.

And yet at Dad’s funeral, I learned something I’d never realized before. Lots of people loved this hard, unbending man. They came from all over—six states, two countries. The preacher didn’t deliver a eulogy; he preached the gospel. And he hit it hard. Hellfire and damnation—and God’s saving grace. Out of place? Not at Brother Chuck’s funeral, it wasn’t. It was exactly what he would have wanted.

At the graveside, a crowd of people gathered. Several stood by the casket and said a few words. They told stories of my dad and shed gentle tears as they lovingly remembered him. It wasn’t like they were ignorant of his flaws. One story highlighted his bluntness, and wisps of smiles rippled through the mourning congregation.

I wanted to say something too, but I didn’t. If I thought I could have done it without breaking down, here’s what I would have said.

I know my father loved me, but he wasn’t the kind of man to just say it. He spent time with his children. He played sports with us and he read to us for hours. But it was only after I’d become a father myself and after my family had been ripped from me and after I’d suffered so severely I doubted the very existence of the God my father knew and loved, that I came to understand how much he loved me.

My father, along with my mother, drove three hours each way to visit me every month all six years I was in prison. My father cried with me and he hurt for me, he prayed with me and he prayed for me, he begged God to dispel my doubt and to deliver me from my unjust predicament. It was clear he loved me. But it was the thing he didn’t do that, to me, proved my father’s love like nothing else could.

This man of God, who’d never avoided the chance to confront a stranger about Jesus, this husband who’d made a practice of ignoring signs of boredom, anger and hostility as he’d driven home his message of salvation to unwilling victims—so much so that my mother’s relatives would come to town and call her out, but they’d never again put themselves under my father’s roof—this father who desperately wanted to assure his son of the futility of anger against God and to show him from the scriptures that God never gives us a trial so great we can’t bear it … this hard, unyielding, insensitive, yes, even selfish man never once preached to me. He wanted to, I could see it, but he must have had some sense of the additional pain he’d pile on, and he never said a word. If that isn’t love, you tell me what is.

And so when it’s my turn at the dinner table this Thanksgiving, I plan to simply say, “I’m thankful for my Dad.”

Thank you for viewing my blog. Please return often. I value your comments.


David Hendricks


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A Zealot in the Fog

I wrote this very long poem in a prison cell in Menard on deadlock. I was thinking of my family’s regular Sunday drive from Mosinee, WI to Rockford, IL, 200 miles. One Sunday morning, a misty rain froze on the pavement, making driving treacherous. We made the trip anyway, and I remember Becky leaning over the front seat as she liked to do, her long pigtails dangling on the seatback, asking why we did such a crazy thing.

This poem is a ballad filled with allusions to scripture and to the doctrines of that branch of the Plymouth Brethren. I wrote it in their most common hymn meter, in which the lines are and the 6-beat lines rhyme. For an exmple, think “Amazing Grace” or read this incredibly long poem.

The wipers squeaked across the glass
To scrape the fog-made mist,
A pair of pigtails crossed the seat,
He felt a tiny wrist.

My Dear, he said, you must climb back,
I cannot drive like this,
This fog is thick, my eyes are sore,
Climb back now, little Miss.

How come we always drive so far
Just to meet with God?
My good friend Mary walks to church,
It’s just a block for Todd.

We go where God would have us go
We’re gathered to His name,
The Christian saints in Acts did so,
And we’re to do the same.

But Dad, she asked, how come we can’t
Meet God near where we live?
That way you’d save a lot of gas
And there’d be more to give.

To hearken’s better than the fat
Of rams, was his advice,
And to obey is better than
A great big sacrifice.

Now climb back girl before we crash,
This fog is closing tight,
And listen well to what I say,
I’ll teach you Truth and Light.

The thousands, millions, billions who
Seek God in their own way
Are headed for destruction sure,
I faithfully must say.

If you could bore a tunnel through
The earth below our feet,
You’d land in what we call the East
If you got through the heat.

Religions there teach people that
When dead they’ll live again,
Their Karma may make them a rat,
Now that belief is sin.

A little closer to us here,
But still so far away,
Five million Jews in Palestine
Believe in their own way.

The Muslims in the Asian land,
Six hundred million strong,
Say Jesus equaled Abraham,
So they are just as wrong.

The little head appeared again,
Hey Daddy, see that truck?
It makes the fifth one off the road
And all of them are stuck.

My Dear, the fog is freezing now,
So sit back still and tight,
And I will teach you as I drive
And you’ll learn what is right.

Where was I now? Oh yes, I know,
The atheist is next,
God calls him fool, agnostic too,
He’s only more perplexed.

But all of those you’ve mentioned are
An unbelieving throng,
My friends are Christians just like us,
They cannot all be wrong.

My little girl, the lesson you
Must learn from me today:
All who profess Christianity
May not be what they say.

The Mormons hold their man-writ books
To be the Word of God.
On Saturday the Adventists
Would never mow their sod.

Jehovah’s Witnesses there are
And Christian Scientists some,
With Guinea pig they share this trait:
Not pig, nor Guinea from.

I know that well, my father dear,
But my friends Bill and Todd
Believe in Jesus as their Lord,
Their parents worship God.

Of Catholic priests you could say that,
But error filled are they
To grant what only God can give,
To say “Absolvo te.”

At first the Protestants were right
To leave the Roman bed,
But now, though they profess to live,
They are as good as dead.

But my friend Todd is none of these,
His dad’s no priest of Rome,
Or Mormon, Jew or Protestant,
I’ve been in his home.

His folks believe that Jesus saves,
Their Bible church is sound,
They read the scriptures and they pass
The bread and wine around.

Why can’t we go to church with them?
It’s in our neighborhood,
And we could spend the time we’d save
To treat old people good.

Oh, little one, it sounds so fine
To let go principle,
But God has shown us in His Word
The Path of blessing full.

And I must tell you one thing more
Oh, that this fog would go
In things divine you must believe,
You shouldn’t reason so.

Todd’s Bible church, I will admit,
Speaks well of Jesus’ name,
The Nazarenes are saved by grace
And Baptists are the same.

But they all pay their clergymen,
They call him Reverend,
God is the Holy Reverend One,
All knees to Him must bend.

Disdaining all of these we meet
In all humility,
But we are sure we have the Truth
If never harmony.

Now there’s a group much closer home
That satisfies me fine,
They were in Fellowship until
They left the Ground Divine.

Though evil birds lodge in the tree
We must fight nail and tooth
To serve our Lord, the Prince of Peace,
To champion the Truth.

So if we drive through fog and mist
And freezing slippery road
To please the Lord who loves us so,
It’s not a heavy load.

I have a question for you, Dad,
If you can answer me,
Compared to groups in all the world,
How big a group are we?

Well, Child, we are a feeble lot,
A Remnant, just a few,
Six billion holds the world, our group
Six hundred fifty two.

The little girl was good in math;
She sat back and she thought,
She worked the problem in her head,
The way she had been taught.

Why Dad, she cried, in great surprise,
This all must be a hoax,
Would God keep Truth from all but one
Among ten million folks?

My little Dove, he cried, amazed,
Don’t ever talk that way,
We must keep reason from our faith,
Oh Lord, teach us to pray.

He stopped the car and then he said,
Let’s pray right now, my child,
Help us, oh Lord, to know thy Truth
And make this fog more mild.

Her little eyes peered through the glass
As they drove on again,
She looked ahead, she glanced behind,
This little girl of ten.

Hey Dad, look at the car ahead,
Just two pink spots of light,
The headlights of the car behind
Are just a touch more bright.

But Dad, I see you just as well
As if the air were clear,
Just we can see, while they’re all fogged,
The Lord answered our prayer.

Oh silly girl, he laughing said,
It just appears that way;
You have so very much to learn,
We’re just as fogged as they.

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you visit often. My upcoming book, Tom Henry: Confession of a Killer, will be e-published in September.


David Hendricks


This I Believe

Today my niece, Paula, who blogs for True Woman, a Christian ministry, referred to my 30-year-old case in her well-written blog (in case you can’t tell, I’m proud of her). She referred to something I told her recently, that my doubting of my former faith began with a comment made to me by a member of our Christian fellowship during the wake of my wife and three children. He had said to me, “God must have some great work for you to do!”

The following scene is from my upcoming book, Tom Henry, in which I tell, for the first time ever, of that comment and how it affected me. The setting is Tom Henry’s prison cell, into which I had just moved because we had decided to work together to write his story. Here is that scene:

“You go to chapel for something to do, or are you serious about your faith?” I asked.

“Dead serious. I got saved at a place down home called Penitentiary Bend, believe it or not. I went there to commit suicide by running my car off the road over a cliff. I was drunk at the time. But my car skidded and got stuck in the mud and I got saved. And I’ve been saved ever since.”

“Do you think it was God that got you stuck, or you being drunk?”

Tom Henry paused a thoughtful beat. “Let me put it this way. God did it, but it was one of his easiest jobs ever! Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life could’ve arranged it.”

“Never seen it. I grew up in a house without a TV and Susie’s home growing up was the same way.”

“You didn’t have a TV?”

“No, we were a very devout church and we believed we should keep our homes free from the influences of the world. Actually, about half of us had TVs. I’d guess in a few years most will. Times change.” I remembered those good, sober, devout people. “But those folks don’t change too fast.”

“Do you still consider yourself a member?”

“No. After I was convicted of these murders, I resigned. Even then, some of them didn’t want to accept my resignation, but it was for the best. You can’t be a Biblical church and have a convicted murderer as a member!”

“What kind of church was it? I’ve heard it called a cult on the news.”

“Well, cult is a tough word to define. If it means a small religious group that’s a little bit unusual, yes. They take the Bible as the literal, inspired Word of God. They believe we’re sinners in our natural state, because of Adam and Eve’s original sin, and only the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross can satisfy a righteous God as payment for our sins.”

“That’s not unusual. My church believes that,” Tom Henry said.

“OK, then, how about this? They don’t call their buildings churches. They’re ‘meeting rooms’ or ‘assembly halls.’ And they don’t have an ordained preacher. So it’s pretty old fashioned, but not a cult. If you want a simple way to peg them, think of them as Baptists on steroids.”

“So you’re not a member, but are you still a believer?”

“That’s a good question. After being hit by this tragedy, I looked around and I noticed what appears to be blind random luck, not divine guidance, regulating human affairs. Bad luck and good luck, and you’ll never know what’s going to strike you until it does. So that’s a pretty humanistic belief. It’s certainly not faith.”

“Well, if you don’t have faith no more,” Tom Henry said, “you’re not a believer.”

“I’m still willing to get my faith back, but, to be honest, I’m angry at God—which is a stupid thing to be, I know, because by definition God is good—but it just kills me when people from my church group tell me things like, ‘God must have some great work for you to do.’

“What are they thinking? To form me to be useful for some job God had my family killed? They’re talking about children who never had a chance to grow up. They’re talking about a woman who was the sweetest, most selfless person I ever knew. And a good God had them savagely murdered so I could be prepared for some work? Are they nuts? Who would even want to work for such a God? That’s no God; that’s a beast!”

I’d uttered the last three sentences with such vehemence I was trembling.

Tom Henry sprang off his bunk. “Man, I’m sorry! I would never—I didn’t mean to get you like this!” He paused, searching for words. “You got a lot of anger in you.” He started to sit back on the edge of his bunk but before his butt hit the mattress he sprang up again. “But you can’t call God a beast!”

“I know. I got carried away. For the last year and a half I’ve had to take it and take it and take it and I’ve never had a chance to talk it out with anyone. I can’t talk to my family or Susie’s family like this. It would just kill them. Just knowing I’m losing my faith is tearing them up. So I’m really glad to have you to talk to. I hope you aren’t sorry I moved in.”

“No, Big Stuff, it’s cool. When I get to the point in my story where I tell you about how low I got before I found God, you’ll understand. But anyway, I’m glad you’re here and I’m glad to be here for you. I mean that, Bro.”

“All right. Let’s just put this down as ‘to be continued.’”

But the need to continue that conversation never arose. I’d opened my heart to Tom Henry and he’d received what I had to say, despite his obvious disagreement. A bond of understanding had been formed between two guys about as different as two guys could be.

I thank you for reading my blog. I hope you visit often.

My upcoming book, Tom Henry: Confession of a Killer, will be e-published in September.


David Hendricks