I don’t remember the first time I meet Kenny. It must have been on a Sunday or a youth meeting at our church in 1973 or so. He was funny, tirelessly upbeat about everything in life and had so many friends as to make you feel terribly deficient because you couldn’t hope to catch up to him. Danny Glover (not the movie star but my lifelong friend from grade school, another story and another time) and I shared an apartment back in the day when electricity was abundant and cheap. Kenny would come by our place. We kept our apartment at 68 degrees. Sometime during the evening his nose would start running and turn red and shivering, he would ask for a blanket — in the middle of July. Funny the first things we remember about people.
I don’t know what Kenny was like before he became a follower of Christ. I heard stories about him and they were pretty dramatic. The Kenny I knew and became friends with was a voracious reader of God’s word, a friend to all, a prayer warrior, a pursuer of God. From what I heard about him before, his life was a remarkable transformation from darkness to light, from spiritual death to life.
Kenny and Joe Brown eventually moved in with us and we were a household for a couple of years. We played a lot of basketball. I know, I know, we don’t look like basketball players but Kenny loved playing basketball. He loved watching football, bragging on Reagan High School’s football team and his closest friends who played on the state championship team. He followed most of the other sports, but as far as playing, Kenny was a driving / slashing point guard trapped in a football body. I know it sounds a little crazy. I can still see that goofy looking, looping lay-up from the right side and the silly grin on his face when it went in. Then he would talk trash for a couple of minutes. It might not be that humorous now — I guess you had to be there.
Kenny didn’t bother with the small details of life. Little things like car inspections and working brakes on his old VW Bug often seem kind of important to some people, but he had a way of getting around those things and getting on with life. Somehow, he even trusted my younger brother, John Dorman, to run some errands in his car and forgot to tell him about these little insignificant items. It made for an exciting drive. John still shakes his head about that. You might even think those things would drive a normal person over the edge, but, somehow we all thought, “That’s Kenny. He’s got this.” I guess you had to be there.
On another occasion, Kenny and 5 or 6 of our really good friends from church made the long trek to the lovely west Texas city of Wink! My home town. They met my family, ate some of that down-home Dorman cooking, worshiped with my mom at the piano, toured the Wink schools and attended the little Assembly of God church I grew up in. Kenny always fancied himself as a boisterous, bold worshiper in church. That day my mom and dad led the singing, the congregation entered in and about 15 minutes later, one of our dear sisters was overcome by the Spirit and let out a shrill whoop that pierced the air and lasted for several seconds. She was 3 rows behind Kenny. I looked over at him and his face was as red as a beet. He had never been in a service like that. We talked about that for several weeks as he tried to come to grips with it. He couldn’t describe it adequately. I can’t either. I know you had to be there.
Lastly, Kenny loved to worship God, loved to worship by singing. Unfortunately, he couldn’t carry a tune in a bushel basket, as the old saying goes. Somehow, I was actually the choir director for a couple of years at our church — a story for another time. One holiday season, Kenny approached me and asked if he might sing in the choir. He said he just wanted to be part of the choir, to see what it was like to be up there and sing with them. What could I say?? Of course you can! We made a deal. The most important thing was for him to worship in the choir, to sing from within about the truth he knew. The second most important thing was to sing softly in the tenor section. He humbly agreed.
I was so proud of him. I still remember him standing up there, arms raised upward, tears rolling down his cheeks, singing from the bottom of his heart. I’m so glad I was there to experience that. In the end, I had to be there. I didn’t miss out on the unique person, Kenny Smith. I saw transformation in him, experienced life with him, laughed with him. He was such a great friend. I’ve kind of come to an understanding with God that it’s OK to be angry about things at times, maybe even a little angry with Him over how things turn out. I am struggling with feeling like Kenny had to go too soon and I’m not happy about it. I know I’m kind of looking through a murky glass and not seeing the big picture but it’s how I feel.
It’s been a hard week for me, after hearing that he had passed on from this life. I can only imagine how hard it has been for his kids and close family. Our prayers go out to God on behalf of you as we mourn this great loss. At times like this, without trying, songs my mom would sing through the years return to me to remind me of God, of his faithfulness, of our home with Him. There are too many to mention. Kenny often talked about Heaven, about being with Jesus. Those songs were all around me today.
For some reason, the one line that has stood out to me is the last line of the second verse of the hymn, “Fairest Lord Jesus.”
Fair are the meadows
Fairer still the woodlands,
Robed in the blooming garb of spring;
Jesus is fairer,
Jesus is purer,
Who makes the woeful heart to sing!
I didn’t remember the rest of the verse, just this line “Who makes the woeful heart to sing.” Certainly, my heart has been heavy and woeful for several days. It hasn’t felt like singing much recently. We comfort one another with Hope and a certainty that He will make our woeful hearts to sing. We’ll see you soon, Kenny. Warm up those pipes.