Tribute to George Scipione by Joel Fitzpatrick

From the series:

The Gift of a Good Father-in-Law:
In Memory of George Scipione

There has been a lot said about the way George faithfully lived his life as a Pastor, Mentor, Teacher, Counselor, and more. But, I want to tell you about what it has been like to live with George as a Father-in-Law, to let you in on the impact that this wonderfully gifted, faithful sinner and saint, had on me.

I can remember the night when I asked him for his daughter’s hand in marriage. George, in an unusual moment, didn’t answer me directly. He thought he was saying, “not yet,” but I heard him say something different. I went and proposed that night. Now 20 plus years later, I am sitting and laughing about my hardheadedness and wondering what he thought when his daughter came home with the big news. At that moment I had no idea how much this man would mean to me.

Then came our wedding day, George was one of the presiding ministers and, as he was preaching, he reached up and slapped me right across the face. I always wondered if it was pay-back for my earlier lack of judgment (not actually though). What very well could have thrown our relationship off ended up illustrating one of the many things that we shared in common; the love of Jesus for sinners. After a big hullabaloo, George and I became fast friends.

When our children were born, George came alive, much as he used to whenever children were around. He loved his Eowyn and Colin, he had his names for them, he offered his advice about parenting them, but he always respected my role as their father. He was never overbearing, but always genuinely loved them. He showed it by being interested in what they loved (even when he didn’t find it personally interesting at all). I was impressed by his love and humility with my children.

As I prepared for ministry, my wife and I called George and Eileen to ask them what they thought about the idea. George told me that he and Eileen had been praying for the last three months that God would call me into ministry. As I slogged through Seminary, working multiple jobs, struggling with a deep sense of God’s call and my inadequacy as a man, husband, father, and especially a minister, George encouraged me. Even up until three weeks ago, every time he found out I was preaching, speaking at a conference, or writing a book, George would call and pray with me. He was my encourager, my compatriot, my prayer partner, and my friend.

As he prepared to die I watched as he lovingly and faithfully encouraged me and my family with the hope that this was not a forever separation, but that we would be together again.

You see George was not a perfect Father-in-Law, but he was a good man who trusted in the one who was perfect for him. At times he could be brash or even off-putting, but he was humble enough to ask forgiveness because he knew he was merely a sinner saved by the grace of God.

I don’t think George would want us to try to be like him, as is often our inclination when we memorialize someone who had such an impact. I think George would want us to look to Christ, and follow him.

“A good Father in law is a hard thing to lose”, a dear friend told me. He was right, losing someone who you have learned to love, fought hard battles for friendship with, encouraged and gained encouragement from, prayed with and for, leaves a large hole. But, even though grief comes in waves, George knows now what he told me in some of the darkest moments of my life, Jesus is trustworthy. He is the solid rock to stand on.

George would tell me over and over again as I prepared to preach, “Joel give them heaven!” George has received in full now this glorious hope, he has entered his rest and he awaits the resurrection. I will be eternally grateful for the good gift of a good Father-in-law, and a good friend.

I want to leave you with one last reflection, George and Eileen would always tell my family “I love you, your grandmother loves you, but Jesus loves you best.” Dearest friend, reading this, know this: in the waves of grief, in the midst of sorrow, in your joy, and success, “Jesus loves you best.”