THE FALLING OF A GIANT OAK – A TRIBUTE TO MY FATHER
My father went to be with his Lord and Savior one year ago today. I miss him more than I dreamed possible. His minister and close friend, Walter Albritton, wrote the following tribute in his column in the Opelika-Auburn News immediately following dad’s death. I thank Walter for allowing me to share this beautiful eulogy on my blog.
The falling of a giant oak is a time for reflection.
My friend Ted Cheek was not a perfect man. There are no perfect men among us. Since time began there has been only one and his name was Jesus. We all have our flaws. Ted had his. I have mine. You have yours. Of our weaknesses we are all aware. That is why we long for our friends to love us “warts and all.” And that is really the only way people can be loved. Love finds a way to leap over a person’s faults.What inspires us all is to see a fellow human being rise above his flaws and make a difference with his life. Ted Cheek was such a man.
In his early years Ted’s problems seemed to overpower him. More than once he was on the verge of defeat. But Ted was a fighter. He kept clawing and scratching for a way to win. And he did.
The difference for Ted was faith. Like most of us Ted struggled with many questions. But finally he found his way out of the woods by becoming a devout Christian. He became a new man in the best sense of that phrase so common in Christian parlance.
A changed man, Ted never took credit for the change. He would tell you emphatically, “The Lord did it; he took all my problems off my back.” And those who knew Ted best realized that the Lord had begun changing Ted’s question marks into exclamation points. Ted had thrown out his doubts and embraced faith in God wholeheartedly.
The transformation of Ted’s life led him to become more than a church member and more than a church “leader.” His faith rubbed off on those around him and as the years rolled on he helped his church to grow even as his own faith was growing.
One of the Old Testament prophets used an interesting phase to describe people whose lives God had changed. Isaiah said, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (61:3).
In the forest an oak can be quite a tree. A giant oak is impressive. Ted was a big man physically but even more he was a giant oak of the faith. Though not perfect Ted was an “oak of righteousness,” a man sold out to the God who had rescued him from his weaknesses.
This past Tuesday Ted departed this life almost a year after being diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Terminal illness is a shock to the best of us, even those with strong faith. Ted’s faith was tested but it did not fail. During a year of struggle and suffering we saw Ted look death in the face and refuse to be intimidated. His faith grew stronger. He prayed. He sang. He witnessed. He testified to the love of the God he had trusted with his whole being. He immersed himself in the Holy Scriptures. When you visited Ted you realized that God was all over that house.
Ted did not go whimpering to the grave. He knew the death of his body would usher him into the nearer presence of his God. He showed his family and friends how to die – with absolute confidence that Jesus had prepared a place for him in heaven, a room in the Father’s House.
Ted loved to sing and though he could barely hear we had some great times in his home singing songs of faith. All his life Ted loved the songs of Johnny Cash. As a fitting footnote to Ted’s uniqueness, a medley of Cash’s songs were played by his friend Guy Johnson as Ted’s body was taken out of the church he loved so dearly.
In recent years Ted enjoyed Josh Turner’s song, “Long Black Train.” The song begins with the words, “There’s a long black train comin’ down the line, feeding off the souls that are lost and cryin’. There is a warning in the song to “watch out brother” because the “devil’s drivin’ that long black train.” I think Ted liked that quaint song because of this affirmation in the lyrics: “You know there’s victory in the Lord, I say Victory in the Lord; cling to the Father and His Holy name and don’t go ridin’ on that long black train.”
The devil had to be disappointed this week because he never succeeded in getting Ted to get on board that long black train. Instead Ted boarded that “sweet chariot” that came down Tuesday and gave him a ride to the Father’s House.
We will miss Ted but we will never forget that unique giant oak the Lord planted in our midst to display his splendor.