Verle Helsel (1932 – 2015)
Eulogy July 3, 2015
Permit me to paraphrase singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg:
The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through our instruments and his song is in our souls
Our lives have been some poor attempts to imitate the man
We’re just a living legacy to the leader of the band
They say that the most important lessons of discipleship are caught, not taught. In other words, we tend to infect those around us with our loves and passions by the way we speak and live our lives. As I thought about this eulogy over the last week or so, I have come to see afresh and anew how profoundly I have been affected by Dad’s passions, and how many of my present day loves were either modeled for me, or given to me by this exceptional man.
Dad loved Jesus. He loved the stories about Jesus, the stories that Jesus used to tell and especially the way that Jesus had made known to him personally the love of God the Father. Dad had a life-long aversion to, and hard-fought battle with, cranky, tight-shoed legalism. And in the last few weeks of his life, Dad delighted to recount the story of the Shepherd who left the ninety-and-nine to rescue the one straying sheep, and Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. Dad loved stories of grace, and stories Jesus, the very embodiment of grace.
Dad loved church and the gathering of God’s people. He was involved in Navigators Bible-studies and discipleship in college, ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church, and routinely opened our home for Bible-studies, prayer meetings and youth group gatherings. As a young child, I often went to sleep to the sound of the saints singing in our living room, or the muffled sounds of heartfelt prayers. We once hosted a record-breaking 130 junior-highers in our home for a youth-group gathering when Dad was serving as a volunteer staffer.
Dad loved the Bible, and what the prophet Jeremiah called, “the old paths.” Dad was “sweet old school” before there even was such a thing. As a kid I loved leafing through the well-worn pages and many underlined verses of his Bible. He loved the poetic cadences of the King James Version, prayed faithfully through the Book of Common Prayer and treasured the reverent rhythms of liturgical worship.
Dad loved to teach. When I was in seventh grade Dad started a Bible study with a few of my friends and me. Bible study with seventh graders. Who wouldn’t want to do that? And what could possibly go wrong? Dad, as only Dad could do, convinced us squirrely pre-teens that it was possible for us, aided by the Holy Spirit, to read, study and apply the Bible ourselves. Dad’s patient directions and skillful explanations resulted in the conversion of one, and the launching of two of our number into full-time vocational Christian ministry. Thanks, Dad.
Dad loved C.S. Lewis. Some of my earliest and most treasured childhood memories are of us kids either seated in Dad’s lap or leaning closely into him on the couch as he read to us (and I believe re-read to us) The Chronicles of Narnia. I often thought of Dad as I imitated him with my own children. Dad loved not only the content, but the clarity and artistry of Lewis’ style and I think he felt a kinship with certain elements of Lewis’ own life and spiritual journey.
Dad loved two-wheeled vehicles (motorcycles) careening at high-speeds down dirt roads and up mountain trails. Before Dad bought me my first motorcycle, I would ride behind him with my hands jammed into the pockets of his corduroy jacket for warmth. I remember quite vividly how I would press my helmeted head into his back while chanting to myself, “I do trust my dad. I do trust my dad” as he would skillfully lean the bike full-throttle into sharp corners. It was Dad who showed me how to coax my motorcycle’s transmission into the small neutral zone between fifth and sixth gears enabling me to coast down Brown’s Canyon above Daroga Park faster than if the bike was running and in gear. Thanks, Dad.
Dad loved books and learning. One look at Dad’s amazing library of books, Great Courses CDs and DVDs would amply demonstrate that Dad was indeed “a life-long learner.” He possessed a wonderful ability to integrate the books that he was reading into everyday conversations. And up until a few weeks ago he was still strategizing how best to sync up a desktop, laptop and tablet computer using cloud-based storage. As Mom put it so well, “Your dad is always thinking about something.”
Dad loved words and plays on words. Computers weren’t computers, they were percutors. I can still picture Dad, in response to a question whose answer was quite obviously “no”, saying “Does a chicken have hips?” And his funny way of twisting words and phrases lives on in his children and grandchildren today. And I love to hear his sense of humor echoing and still entertaining in the conversations of our family gatherings. Thanks, Dad.
Two of my present day loves are the direct result of Dad’s generosity and wisdom. When I was a poor college student, Dad visited me at WSU. When he saw that my cheap little acoustic guitar was becoming unplayable, he drove me over to a music store in Moscow, ID and bought me one of the finest instruments I have ever owned. I still have the guitar today, and often when playing it, I remember not only Dad’s loving provision, but the strangely critical role that guitar music played in bringing me to my current vocation as pastor and teacher.
And last, but certainly not least: In the spring of 1980 my wife, Ellen, reconnected with Mom and Dad in their Edmonds home. Ellen and I had been friends for several years, but she had some lingering questions about our suitability for a more serious relationship. Thirty-five years later I am still thanking God for using this wonderful man and his sage and timely wisdom to convince my sweet Ellen that we were indeed well-suited for one another.
Jesus. Church. Bible. Grace. Teaching. Books. Two-wheeled vehicles on dirt tracks. Learning. Humor. Music and my beautiful wife. Thanks, Dad for infecting me with your loves, and for directing me with your love to Him who is love. Today, I am proud to be your son, your namesake, and to bear, albeit imperfectly, a family resemblance. And I pray that when my time comes, I will be able to say as you did a few days ago: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”