I join the thousands of others who have a story about the far reaching impact of Pastor Ty and Terri Schenzel.
Yesterday, like countless of other people, I received some of the most devastating news I have ever received. The text came at 8:15. Numbly, I walked to my bed, pulled my covers up protectively against the crushing grief that was threatening to consume me and told my husband that the news just couldn’t be true and I refused to believe it. I prayed it was all a very bad misunderstanding. Social media was still silent, allowing me a few minutes to hope, but then the horrible news began to flood in around me from a million directions and I was devastated. This news did not just devastate me, but also countless of others in our community and beyond. There would be a tremor of crushing grief that would course it’s way through so many of the ones I love and thousands more in our community. I sit here in disbelief with a broken heart that my youth pastor growing up and his wife, were killed in a horrible car accident on Thursday night in South Dakota. I am heartbroken first and foremost for their children and family and after that, for all of us. Still in shock, words do not come easily, but random thoughts collide in my mind as I try to process.
Ty and Terri Schenzel were extraordinary people – they truly were. They did a lot of big, amazing things, but their biggest influence in my life was from ’89 to ’95 when I was in their youth group. So many of my ideas about family and life came from watching them. I have voiced many times over the years my gratefulness that they are the ones who I had as youth pastors for my entire teenage life. I could fill a book with the things they taught me, but here are a couple that influence my life daily.
I learned so much from both of them. I learned that marriage is beautiful. You really couldn’t say Ty without saying Terri because they were together in everything they did. Their love for each other was evident in the way they talked about each other, looked at each other and supported one another. I remember going to their house for Bible studies and when Terri would talk about Pastor Ty, her face would light up and you could tell that she enjoyed him so much. She loved and honored him in an extraordinary way. I knew he was amazing and there was something special about him even when I was young, but the way she honored and loved him made me think he was one of the greatest men on earth. I truly think he was. He was the same way about her. He loved her and his love for her was evident in the ways he talked about her and to her. There was never a question if he treasured her. Because of the way he talked about her, respected her and loved her, we knew that she was amazing. She wasn’t just his wife, she was his prize. He reminded me of a kid who had won big and was beside himself with joy. When he introduced her, he would call her ‘bride of his pride’ and she really was. His face glowed when he would watch her. They would smile at each other all the time and you knew the smile shared a million secrets that only they knew. For our wedding 15 years ago, they gave us two popcorn bowls and some things to go with it. I remember knowing that the bowls held more meaning. They spoke of togetherness and sharing life together which Ty and Terri did so well. I never use the bowls without thinking about them. When they were my youth pastors, they were fairly young and in their earlier stages of marriage, but here’s the thing, I have been around them almost my whole adult life in various settings and their love for each other only grew. It didn’t diminish over time, but deepened and together they loved others extraordinarily. Through them, God’s love engulfed all who knew them.
Not only did they love each other amazingly, but they loved their children wholeheartedly. I remember at Bible studies and other places, Terri taking care of them while leading us. Her love for them was so evident and she cared for them so tenderly. They both were so proud of their children and honored them. So many times, we as parents forget that it is important to honor our children both in our attitude to them and about them. Ty and Terri did this well. Not once did I ever think that their children were a burden or a bother to them. Even when they were small, Terri conveyed that it was a privilege to take care of her children. Motherhood was a privilege to her, not a burden. I’m sure she had tough seasons, but what we saw was that motherhood is a gift and taking care of other people is an honor. (I think this is why everyone felt so loved by them). She understood the treasure her children are and invested in them. You can see the fruit of this in the beautiful post Emily put on facebook this morning. Ty and Terri’s investment and the way they showed God’s heart to their children is the very thing that will carry them through this impossibly hard journey. I knew I always admired them, but reflecting on their lives, I realize that they influenced my life in ways I hadn’t even noticed. Even in those years, she was very invested in the youth, but we knew that family was her priority. It wasn’t family or us, it was family and us. Both of them could love us all well and at the same time hold their family in even higher regard. No person was low in their life. All were honored and loved. Now that I’m a mom and can remember back to our early years of marriage with small kids, I do not know how she did that so well, but she did. They both did. Pastor Ty and Terri enjoyed and kept enjoying their children and it was evident to everyone around them. One of my favorite memories is when Turner was born and Pastor Ty brought him up in his infant carseat to show everyone. Ty tripped, kind of did an extra thrust with his hands throwing the carseat across the platform. We all stared in horror until we realized that Turner wasn’t even in the seat. Terri came out of the back holding newborn Turner with a big smile on her face. Pastor Ty had planned the whole thing out. They were hilarious and real. I am so thankful that they invited us into their lives and allowed us to watch their family so that we could follow and learn.
These things do not even touch on the Hope Center, Hope Filled Marriage and all the other ways their lives have had impact on countless people. To write about the impact they’ve had on lives would truly take books. I think if we could compile every individual story of each person who knew them and the impact they’ve had on lives it would be a long read, but we could learn so much. I am dumbfounded at all the stories that people are sharing about Pastor Ty and/or Terri writing them a personal note, meeting with them, calling them, helping them in their grief, praying with them etc etc etc. I know Pastor Ty took the time to meet with my husband over breakfast when we were walking through a dark time. Even then, I couldn’t believe that he could find the time.
I asked my husband this morning how in the world two people could have the time to love so many so well. It seems that thousands of people felt that Ty, Terri or both were there for them in a hard spot, a milestone and/or had impacted them greatly and personally. Thousands feel as if they have lost a part of their life in that horrific accident. And we all have.
As I think think back over the lives of two heroes, I cannot help but wonder what we can learn as we reflect on how great they truly were. Looking at their lives, we see that loving God is central to a life well lived. When we love God wholeheartedly, His heart for others begins to mold our hearts and lives. We begin to love others like He loves. We see that there is not a person not worth showing God’s heart to and we will spend our time loving others not just in extravagant ways, but in small ways that no one sees. Sometimes those are the ways that impact people the most.
I think the reason they had time for all of us is because their life was truly about investing in people. Their life had a clear purpose that has come into sharp focus to all of us suddenly through all of the words and memories people are sharing. The truth is, they didn’t do much that people forgot, because they did what was important.
They did so many big things that everyone saw, but they also did so many small everyday things that few people saw, but made a big difference to people personally. There are an unfathomable amount of hidden, beautiful acts of kindness and selfless giving coming to light. The part that we all saw during their life did not compare to the depth of their lives that is now being revealed.
It’s made me wonder if that is true of MY life? I know that I love God a lot, but do I love people really well? Can people see that God loves them because of my actions toward them?
I see that sometimes I am busy with the wrong things – things that don’t really matter all that much. I love people some, but do I really get into their lives or do I not want to be very bothered with their loads or even their successes? Sometimes, more often than I’d like to admit, I think it’s the latter.
I want to be busy with the right things. I don’t want to be so busy living my life that I don’t really live. The thing that made Ty and Terri so extraordinary was their unselfishness and true heart for others. They knew what was important – God and people, not just some people, but ALL people – and that is what their lives were about.
May we all learn from their amazing lives what it means to love God and love people. Let’s rejoice in two lives well lived even as we mourn our loss. Each of us is truly better for having known them and even knowing about them. I cannot imagine the joy that they are experiencing now. As Pastor Ty posted to twitter Monday, “I want the gap between how much God loves and how much I experience His love to be narrowed.” Wow! Is it ever! For he and Terri, the gap is completely closed forever.
Emily, Annie, Tyler and Turner – thank you for sharing your parents with thousands of us and we grieve with you knowing that your loss is far greater than ours, but that our Father, who knows the deepest parts of our hearts, is able to hold even the deepest grief and make something beautiful.