Monday, October 8, 2012
How blessed is the man who fears the Lord
I know this is long. Please read it. These powerful words written by Dennis Rainey, President and CEO of Family Life, speak volumes about my father-in-law.
Tethering the cities of Fort Worth and Dallas to each other are a series of freeways. One is named after the great Dallas Cowboys coach—the Tom Landry Parkway. It slices its way through hills peppered with mesquite between the two great cities.
Now the picture I’m about to paint didn’t happen, but for a moment I want you to imagine a hearse traveling from Dallas to Fort Worth on the Tom Landry Parkway with a motorcade of three or four hundred cars following behind it. And standing on both sides of the road, as far as the eye can see, is a line of husbands and wives, heads bowed. More than 90,000 people paying tribute to a couple who cared about their lives, marriages, and families.
Wouldn’t you want to know who was in that hearse? Wouldn’t you want to know more of the story behind one man’s legacy and the wife who shared in it with him?
To do so, we must go back to 1985 and a couple whose marriage was on life support. Stale religion and a quiet bitterness were about all that Skip and Becky Leffler shared. That wasn’t why they had married, but it was what had become of their relationship. Skip was a quiet man, a banker. Becky was an outgoing mother of two, who had lost all hope of ever having a real marriage with a man who once was the man of her dreams. Both were ready to split the sheets and the assets and stop the endless bickering and quarreling.
No one at church knew. But two of Becky’s friends did. One told Becky, “I wonder if you will ever smile again.”
On this night 25 years ago, Skip and Becky sat in a hotel ballroom, arms folded and jaws set. They were surrounded by 1,500 people who filled a ballroom—people who were there to find out how be more than “just married.” But they were like two bunkers in a battlefield, ready to face off against each other.
Even though they attended church regularly and Skip was the chairman of the board at church, Becky had never heard anything like the messages she heard that weekend. She sat there and sobbed during the entire conference as she realized how far they had truly missed God’s plan for their marriage.
Skip left that conference convicted, but not quite ready to assume his responsibility. But Becky determined she was going to stay in the marriage regardless of “that man.”
She remembered the teaching about I Peter 3:9, “Don’t return evil for evil or insult for insult, but give a blessing instead.” Her initial response was, “God, I don’t want to be called to do this.” But she went home and placed that Scripture on the wall, gritted her teeth, and asked God for a miracle, beginning in her heart.
A year later, Skip and Becky returned to the Weekend to Remember conference, this time with a glimmer of hope. This time Skip said, “Okay, we’re going to make this work.”
Even then, there were times when the relationship wasn’t working. Becky caustically warned Skip, “You’d better enjoy this Christmas, because it’s going to be your last one!”
Skip didn’t leave.
Becky didn’t quit.
A total surprise
They returned to the Weekend to Remember a third time in 1987, still struggling. But when a speaker asked the audience for volunteers to help promote the conference the following year, Skip totally surprised Becky by volunteering. “Skip had never volunteered for anything,” she remembers. Although it was unnatural, Becky kept her mouth shut when Skip said, “We need to go talk to that man about helping with the Fort Worth conference.” And they did.
A year later they took over the local leadership of the conference as Volunteer City Ministry Directors. God had transformed two bunkers into a platform for ministry.
Becky said, “Skip and I would tell couples that … if we hadn’t been through the tough times, we would not have been serving. Our tough times gave us the validity to minister to others. We knew our tough times gave us purpose … He had a plan.”
But Skip and Becky didn’t wallow in the failures of the past; they resolutely began to make strides in their marriage and pass it on to others. It wasn’t long before they were teaching marriage and family classes at church, leading small groups using the HomeBuilders Couples Series®, and training leaders to lead more groups. Working together with the same goal, they slowly grew closer to God and each other.
Leading a volunteer team
In fact, it wasn’t long before they found themselves in charge of all the Weekend to Remember conferences in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, with thousands coming each year. Skip and Becky built a volunteer team of nearly 100 who would help promote the conference and build marriages in the Metroplex. Over 90,000 people attended in the years that followed. Last year, more than 4,000 came to the Gaylord Texan over Valentine’s Day weekend for the biggest Weekend to Remember conference in the history of FamilyLife.
A last dance
Skip and Becky, and their team of volunteers, were planning on a big event at the Gaylord Texan in June. In late January, on a Thursday night after Skip came home from a number of meetings, Becky asked Skip for just one dance in their living room. One dance turned into five as the two enjoyed the last hours they would share on this side of heaven. The next morning Skip went to work just as he always had, but was killed in a tragic car wreck.
A week later, at lunch right before Skip’s memorial service, Barbara and I sat at lunch with Becky. She commented at one point, “Skip could not have done a better job of loving me.” What a love story they wrote over the last 25 years after nearly coming to divorce. I reflected on Becky’s statement privately and wondered, “Could Barbara say that about me?”
Later, I would be one of the seven men who gave tributes to a man who left a mighty legacy at home, at work, and in his community. It was the only memorial service I’ve ever attended where, at Becky’s request, the Weekend to Remember was promoted by one of those men.
After Skip’s death, Becky found some notes from Skip in which he underlined the phrase, “Changed Life Junkies!!” He was planning to give a pep talk to the local team of volunteers to remember that God would use them to change lives.
Rather than giving in to the cultural pressures and divorcing his wife, Skip Leffler left a very different legacy. And he impacted many whose legacies will never be the same.
Skip’s legacy reminds me of my life verse:
Praise the Lord! How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments. His descendants will be mighty on earth; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Psalm 112:1-2