Thad was obviously challenged intellectually as most kids are not. But he knew stuff. He just knew stuff. Like how many movies Elvis made, how to make a gourmet meal out of tomato soup and hot dogs, which Speer family album “The King Is Coming” was on, and every birthday and anniversary of pretty much everyone we had ever known.
He knew other stuff too that was not so specific. He knew how to tell the truth about the most obvious things in a way that just made sense. When my parents lived in
He knew how to turn a hair brush into a microphone and do the Elvis shimmy in front of 10,000 imaginary, adoring fans without even a blush. (video)
He knew how to be discrete when talking about people from the past where the conversation might be painful. Instead of saying their name he would spell it, TYE.
He knew how to work the crowd like a pro. At Aunt Ruth’s funeral we were in this very sanctuary. Thad was sitting right down front here between Mary Ruth and Jerry. Mary Ruth told me that at one point in the funeral she and Jerry both looked at Thad at the same time. He saw them looking and he put his face in his hands and his shoulders shook with apparent sobbing. Then he peeked back at both of them and grinned real big, before burying his face in his hands again.
Thad had an unbelievable sense of humor and he knew how to have a good time, even when it backfired on him. When Aunt Ruth lived in Smyrna Mary Ruth came to visit one time. They all went to a Dairy Queen and as they were walking out Thad decided to sneak around the corner and scare Mary “Roof.” What he didn’t know is that Mary Ruth held the door open for a lady behind her that had her hands filled with two milk shakes. The lady turned the corner and Thad jumped out and yelled at her. The lady screamed, Thad screamed, the milk shakes went up in the air. Randy said the woman’s husband was sitting in the car watching all of this unfold and he was doubled up in the front seat laughing. Thad kept saying, “I am so sorry. I am so sorry.”
For all of his challenges Thad knew a lot of stuff and we loved him for it. But what I really want to remember today are the things he did not know. For example, he did not know how to be unforgiving or hold a grudge. In that short frame God apparently saw fit to place a massive heart. Thad expected the best from everyone and he usually got it. He saw people not as we did but as God did, always seeing the good, overlooking the not so good, and when he was hurt, being willing to forgive.
Like any family we have had out share of black sheep, ex’s, and outlaws. There were those that had wounded us in ways real or imagined. But Thad never gave up on them. He would always ask about them, pray for them, and not let us stay down on them. Maybe that was in part because of his own willingness to ask forgiveness. Oh, Thad could get upset with you. I can’t tell you how many times when we were little I heard him yelling at Kimmy, the mean little kid that lived down the sand street in
. He’d come in and tell me to go down and beat Kimmy up which I would dutifully do. (Mainly because Kimmy was smaller than me and I could.) But it wouldn’t be long before Thad was heading out to say “I’m sorry Kimmy,” to forgive him, and go back to playing. We heard 100’s of times “sorry Sis, sorry Mom, sorry Almeda.” Thad did not know how to keep anger in, to stay bitter, to be unforgiving. He was blessed with the innocence of a child and what a blessing that was. Jesus said in Matthew 18:3 “Except you become like a little child you won’t enter heaven.” I think probably this is what that means as much as anything else, you just can’t hold on to stuff. You have to be able to let it go. Thad taught us that. He did not know how to be unforgiving. Sumter
Another thing he didn’t know, he did not know how to doubt. Faith was not a problem for Thad. He lived with an absolute confidence in the things of God without the slightest hint of disbelief. For all the sorrow that Thad endured, physical shortcomings and pain, the death of two fathers and a mother, the loss of friends and heroes, I just don’t think Thad had the ability in him to doubt God. He was so sure that the promises of God were true that, well, it made me envious. He was sure about other things too. That bread was nasty. That every pretty girl loved him. And that sometimes you needed to take matters you’re your own hands.
Mary Ruth said I could tell this. Thad started to really get serious about losing weight a couple of years before Aunt Ruth died. She and he would go to the YMCA in Dickson and Thad would walk. He really cut back on what he was eating. And he lost a remarkable amount of weight. One time he was visiting Mary Ruth and she said, “Thad I am so proud of you for losing weight. I have tried and tried. Would you pray with me that I would be able to do what you have done?” And Thad pointed his short finger at her and said, “Mary Roof, you need to leave God out of this and get yourself on a diet.”
That was one of the few times Thad left God out of it. He was so sure of the ever present working of God in everything. He would talk of Uncle Harry and Pop being in heaven together with such clarity and confidence that you knew doubt was not possible for him. He was so positive my sisters were singing together in a heavenly choir that I could picture it myself. And one I struggled with a little, I confess, Thad saw Elvis walking with Jesus on streets of gold, no doubt about it.
I was thinking how in the Beatitudes Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” Maybe that’s not some future promise. Maybe that means that when your heart is pure enough, like Thad’s you really do see God, at work, in the present, here and now. And when you do there is no place for doubt. Thad certainly did not know how to not believe.
And that leads me to the last thing I want to remember, he did not know what it was like to not be loved. The amazing capacity of Thad was not his ability to love others, though that is mind boggling. The amazing capacity of Thad was his ability to bring love out of others, especially for him. Listen I will freely admit this now, every date I had on the SC campground was because I was Thad’s cousin. The pretty girls just swarmed all over him. And me and Johnny Webb and Johnny Wallace would just hang around for the leftovers. He had such an undeniable “lovingness” about him that I just don’t think he ever imagined not being loved. He was the poster child of
But I tell you where that was most evident, in the love and care that his family gave him. I had the joy of growing up with Thad. He was in and out of my life for almost 58 years. But he was not always there. Aunt Ruth cared for Thad 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, everyday of his life until she passed away. I preached a message about her one time. The text was “whatever you have done for the least of these,” and I said I believe for all she accomplished, song evangelist, pastor’s wife, district missionary president, the most significant thing she ever did in God’s eyes was taking care of Thad everyday. And when you live with that kind of care, how could you possibly know the feeling of not being loved?
And it continued. After Aunt Ruth died Jerry and Ann, and Mary Ruth and Randy have been absolutely incredible in taking care of Thad. Doris and I would come out and visit and watch as Jerry cut up his food for him, lifted him up to take him to the bathroom, and tucked him in bed at night. Not every once in awhile but everyday, night after night. Jerry and Ann, Mary Ruth and Randy, you are my heroes. Because of you Thad did not know what it was like to not be loved. Thank you.
John wrote in I John 1:3, “Behold what manner of love the Father has for us that He allows us to be called His little children.” Thad knew that, without question he knew that and he did not know how to know otherwise.
There is so much we can learn from remembering all the things that Thad knew but on this day I am pretty sure that his greatest gifts to us were the things he did not know. God, help me to not know like that.
And oh, by the way, those dates were the dates that people Thad loved went to be with Jesus. Uncle Harry, Gene Kennington, Charlotta, Elvis, Cheralyn, Pop, and Aunt Ruth.
And let me give you one more date, December 2, 2011. On that day Thad and Elvis sang “You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog” in front of Jesus and all those people I just listed. And I believe on that day Thad knew what it was like to get a standing ovation.
(For those of you who do not know, Thad was my cousin. Born with Down’s Syndrome and not expected to live past 20, Thad passed away on Friday, nearly 58 years old. He was absolutely adored by thousands of people across the country. This is the message I gave at his funeral today.)