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Things Can Change Quickly

In making a funeral plan, we generally consider funeral costs, determining whether burial or cremation services will be used, obituary writer and funeral clergy selection, and whether or not we need funeral insurance or some other funeral fund to help defray the costs which today can be quite high.  Finally, we also must review our probate and estate plan to insure that our loved ones can live reasonably well after we are gone.

The one thing we never think of when making plans, however, is the death of a child.  We always assume that our children will outlive us and generally that is a correct assumption.  But as we all well know, life doesn’t always work out the way we plan and death never takes a holiday.

Sadly, the warm weather which is here now and the activity of young people who naturally think they are immune from harm can combine to create a disastrous situation.  With school letting out and summer almost upon us, now is a good time to talk with your children, be they five or eighteen, about their need to act responsibly and safely in the many fun activities which summer brings.

Following is a true story which involves an acquaintance of my son while celebrating graduation from high school.  The names and location are changed to protect the privacy of the living relatives of the deceased and to respect his memory and peace.  I tell it not to frighten anyone but to make real for others the need to realize just how fleeting the gift of life can.  And since God has given us free will and with it the ability to make choices, poor choices can sometimes result in bad things happening to otherwise good people.

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Johnny was excited.  He was graduating from high school soon and was looking forward to going away to college in September.  He had a good summer job with a local hardware store and enjoyed helping the many customers who came by daily for needed supplies.  But he really looked forward to his free time in the summer since, living in a coastal town, fun in the sun at the beach or on the water was what he and his buddies would be enjoying.

Swimming, waterskiing and fishing were all in the game plan and, of course, whenever they were near the water there were also plenty of pretty girls.  Boys will be boys, but unfortunately they often do stupid things around pretty girls to hopefully impress them or at least gain their attention.  This would prove to be a big mistake for Johnny, one we’ll learn about shortly.

The final week of school went by and graduation was held outdoors at the school’s football stadium.  It was a great occasion and Johnny and his friends immediately left for the beach home of his best friend, Tom.  Tom’s father was well to do and had a beautiful beach home on the ocean about an hour’s drive from the school.  It was within walking distance of a marina, several nice restaurants and the shops and teen hangouts that are always found in beach towns.  A group of four of them had been invited to spend the weekend and relax and enjoy themselves.  Tom’s mom and dad would be in and out, but they trusted these boys they had known since they were children and it was a very close knit group.  Besides, they were warned that the party would abruptly end if any intemperate behavior was involved.

A considerable number of their friends were also spending the weekend at the beach and they made arrangements to meet after dinner the next night at the Rec Center, a group of businesses in a small shopping center beside the beach that catered to the weekend and vacationing set.  It included a fishing pier, ice skating rink, bowling alley and games center, a dance floor catering to teens and numerous eating establishments and shops. 

Linking up in the parking lot, they decided to check out the fishing pier and see if anything was biting.  They had brought their tackle with them and were dying to try their luck.  Besides, it was a beautiful moonlit night, and from the pier the moon shimmered in the water and looking back to shore the twinkling lights up and down the coast were clearly visible beneath the starry sky.

The girls who joined them really weren’t very keen on the fishing idea, so the boys promised if they didn’t have any luck within two hours they would take them dancing.  The girls smiled and were appeased and relented in their complaints.  After all, if they wanted to have a girls’ night out they would have been better off back home.

After an hour or so the boys were growing impatient.  They had only caught two fish and neither were “keepers”.  And this is when things went awry, for the boys started bragging about who could walk the railing from shore to the end and back the fastest.  Johnny’s friend, Tom went first and completed the circuit quickly with no problems. One of the other boys was next and then it was Johnny’s turn.

The railing was four feet high and it was eighteen feet above the water and while wide enough to navigate for someone with good balance, an occasional larger wave coming in would cause the pier to sway a small degree, enough to affect concentration.  Johnny took a deep breath, climbed up and gained his balance and composure and turned seaward.  Heading down the railing he looked strong and confident.  No one could tell he was nervous but he wasn’t about to “chicken out”.

As he made the turn at the end to return to complete his walk, one of the girls yelled that a big swell was coming.  As Johnny looked back and saw the six footer approach, large for an otherwise calm night, he began to lose balance and the passing wave delivered the finishing touch.  Johnny plunged the eighteen feet into the water and didn’t immediately surface.

Tom ran to the point where he fell, looked down, saw nothing and dove in to search for his friend.  It was pitch black in the water below the pier and Tom dove under several times, coming up empty handed and gasping for air before he finally found Johnny.  His body was limp and his head was at a funny tilt.  Using every ounce of strength that he had, he managed to swim with his lifeless friend toward shore, using the incoming waves to push him along.

Finally reaching the beach, he pulled Johnny out of the water and set him down in the damp sand.  One of the girls ran to the rec center to get help while Tom, a certified life guard with experience in CPR, worked on Johnny trying to get him to breathe.  His valiant attempts were unsuccessful and all he could do was wait helplessly for the rescue squad to arrive.

The arriving medic checked Johnny’s pulse and found none, and he noticed the angle of his head which indicated that his neck was broken.  There was nothing anyone could do.  Johnny’s unbalanced fall had resulted in his hitting the water at a bad angle, resulting in his immediate death.

Tom was devastated and blamed himself.  If only he hadn’t thought up the stupid challenge, everything would have been okay and Johnny would still be alive.  It took him the entire summer to return to any semblance of normalcy, despite Johnny’s parents telling him they knew it wasn’t his fault.  They knew the boys were subject to free will and, in this instance, they had made a bad decision and Johnny and Tom both paid the price. Johnny was dead and Tom would have to live with the memory of a horrible accident at a time when they both should have been enjoying their graduation celebration and a wonderful summer.

Death is unfortunately a fate that we all must face and we never know when it will come for each of us.  And I don’t tell this story to show the necessity of having a funeral plan made for someone in advance as young as Johnny, for even the best prepared of us is not likely to plan in advance for this type of occurrence.  But it is important for us to make arrangements much greater than a funeral plan for all of our loved ones, young and old, and it takes their buy in and their acceptance.

The plan I am talking about is one that can only come through individual faith. Having faith in God through His Son, who died for us, is the only way we can truly plan for our future.  For our ultimate future is not in this world, but rather an eternal one involving our life everlasting with the Father.  Teach your children wisely so that they have a plan in place whenever that fateful ending to life happens.  It is the only way to truly live.

God bless you all and have a safe and happy summer, but always put Him first. Your life depends on it.

James Dick

Hawthorne, Florida

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark or

www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick

 

Do You Remember Armed Forces Day?

So as the family’s funeral representative, you did what was required for your loved one who is now gone.  You carried out funeral plans, insured that the eulogy writer prepared a wonderful written memorial and appreciated the wonderful service by the funeral clergy which was delivered before a backdrop of beautiful funeral flowers just as requested in the decedent’s written funeral plan.  After all was done, you directed the payment of all funeral expenses and closed out all remaining requirements of your duty for the family.

Three months later, you decide to go and visit the gravesite now that the marker and headstone are finally in place.  Standing in front of the impressive granite headstone, you suddenly realize that his funeral plot is so bare.  There are no flowers or other indication that anyone has been to visit.  And you realize just how quickly the dead are forgotten as the living must go forward with their lives.  It’s not that they mean to, it’s just that with life’s requirements and things to be done, the best laid plans for remembrance often fade like the sunset.

This coming Saturday is Armed Forces Day, a day when America traditionally celebrated the American military for all that they do to protect us and keep us safe.  It is not just for the dead or the wounded or even those who fought in wars for their country.  No, this is a day designed to honor the composite force of men and women and the military institutions themselves for what they mean to us. In many respects, it has been forgotten in recent generations.

In years gone by, Armed Forces Day was a really big deal.  Communities around the country held parades, usually on Saturday morning, and townspeople planning on shopping downtown timed their trips to first attend the parade and then shop.  Military units were invited to participate, local bands showed up dressed to the hilt and even the police and fire departments entered marching units in dress uniforms.  The reviewing stand for judging performance was decked out in red, white and blue bunting rivaling a Fourth of July parade and many in the crowd wore red, white and blue while sporting American flags.  Patriotic pride clearly filled the air.

I had the good fortune as a boy to personally participate in this wonderful parade of support for our military.  The first time, as a Cub Scout, I remember making sure my mom did a special pressing of my uniform as I wanted it to be perfect.  I stood tall and proud as our group, normally mischievous and active, stood at silent attention waiting to step out.  I think it was right then when I knew I wanted to be a soldier when I grew up.

Later, in the first year of high school before I became active in sports, I marched as a member of the marching band.  In our blue and gold uniforms with gleaming instruments, we all felt a chill go down our back as we stepped out on the avenue at the beginning of the parade route and saw the huge throngs of people watching our every step.  When we broke into a John Philip Sousa march the crowd cheered and we played as well and as loud as we ever performed.  At the end of the long parade, we were hot and tired but happy and we felt extremely proud to be Americans and to have our military to keep us free.

Aside from some American Legion functions and events in heavily military family communities, most of us no longer even know that this day is on the calendar.  And it’s sad to note that since the anti-war movement became so outspoken during the Vietnam conflict, those who give dearly of themselves, even up to and including death for their American brothers and sisters, fail to be recognized on this occasion.  I’m afraid it’s just a sad sign of the times and as fewer and fewer young Americans experience the privilege of serving in uniform it becomes easy to forget the cause which many no longer fully understand or appreciate.

We’re going to have another chance soon to celebrate and honor our military, but this next opportunity is for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, dying for their country and their countrymen.  Memorial Day is right around the corner and while it is positive that more tend to remember this day than any other military-related day, it is really sad that only after death do we as a nation seem to take real notice of all that our brave fighting men and women do.

So, on this Armed Forces Day I ask that each of you take a moment and say thanks to all of our fellow citizens for taking the time and sacrificing a portion of their lives so that we might remain free.  God bless them and God bless the United States of America. May her flag forever fly proudly over a land that remains free.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book page: www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick

Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, a Best Read for 2014 selection of American Pet Magazine

 

The Best Legacy Left Behind is the Way You Live Today

We’ve talked over the last year or so via this blog about the importance of getting your affairs in order including your personal funeral plan.  Determining funeral costs, funeral expenses, and general funeral needs are important and making sure that ensuring the presentation both by the funeral clergy and by the eulogy writer are also important in leaving the memory of you for your loved ones in a tasteful and memorable way.  Your loved ones will look back often at the memory of your last rights as they think back about what you mean to them.

But there is one other aspect of the memories that you leave behind that are so much more important than the presentation that represented you.  It’s the reality of how you lived your life before you died, because those precious memories of the “real” you, witnessed by family and friends in the flesh, that really drive your legacy for the living.  For this reason, it is very important that you evaluate yourself honestly and use what you learn from this exercise to guide the remainder of your life.  It is never too late to change the way you are for the better, after all, as Jesus taught us we are all sinners no matter how hard we try for perfection.

So how do you go about this self-evaluation?  Well, there are many ways, but might I suggest a few questions as a starting point.  These are questions that we can apply to ourselves under any circumstances and they will open you up to many more questions.  Believe me, there is probably no limit to the number of questions that this first set of questions opens, and that is one of the most important features of self-evaluation.  It should be ongoing and regularly used as a refresher course to insure you are sticking with it throughout your life.  As mentioned earlier, it is never too late to change our course for the better.

Here are some questions and a little guidance to get you started:

1.      Are you at peace with yourself and do you have love in your heart?  Now since I am a Christian, I think you probably know where I am headed with this but, even if you aren’t, peace and love are two wonderful terms to describe how we should focus our lives.  If we are caught up in envy or hate we spend our time wasting our energy while also accomplishing nothing positive in life.  For life to be meaningful you need peace and love, and by love I mean love of all of mankind, those who are friend and foe alike.  This is truly critical if we are going to serve as an example to others of good living and what is expected of all of us.  If you don’t feel this way, take a good inward look and determine what it will take to get rid of the hate, jealousy or whatever else keeps you from being happy.

 

2.      If married, do you and your wife (or husband) consider yourself to be as one?  While those of you who have never married might not understand the point here, it is a simple one.  When you make a commitment to a spouse through Holy Matrimony, you are saying that you are each a part of the other.  You are a team in life and you work in tandem, not keeping secrets from one another and enjoying the time, the joy and the counsel that you receive from one another.  If you don’t look at your marriage this way, you are missing something precious and wonderful.  And even if you are not married, I think the idea of this commitment is indicative of how you should approach your life as well.

 

3.      What about your children?  So what do your children really think about you?  Do you spend time with them and encourage their schoolwork and their extra interests or are you overly demanding and hard hearted?  Children need nurture and encouragement to do their best, but they also need rules to live by and consequences for their actions.  And since there is no text book to follow, it is a work in progress.  If you are too rough on them, they don’t like but if you are too soft, you are not helping them to learn about how life operates.  Take time to clearly think about these things and how you respond.

 

4.      When you make commitments to others, do you honor them and follow through?  Many of the same type of thought processes as discussed above also apply here but in a different context.   Be a person of your word and honor your commitments.  Just like promising a child a baseball game, if cancelled, is a huge disappointment, the impact here can be losing your good name as an honest and reliable person.  You can lose your reputation in mere moments but rebuilding it can take a lifetime.  Don’t take this lightly.

 

5.      Do you feel that the successes you have had in life have come honestly?  Deep down inside you know what you had to do to get where you are.  Was it based on good moral values and principles or did you allow things to slide?  Did you justify your shortfall as being a means to the end and nothing more?  This one can lead into a very insightful but also painful process or recollection, but if it does it means it is needed.

 

6.      Are there things in your life that you feel ashamed of and have you tried to mend the errors of your ways?  Here you are looking for those things that you consciously know you have done in the past that were wrong and that continue to bother you.  Probably first and foremost as a result should be coming clean with your God on this one.  He will forgive you and allow you to forgive yourself and, where possible, try to make amends with the person you hurt.  It’s tough, I know, but you’ll be surprised at how accepting people are when they know you are sincere.

 

7.      What do you expect to be your future when this life is done?  Here’s where you look at your future and whether or not you believe in salvation and continued life in another place.  If you believe, as I do, that God awaits those who love Him, it is easy to identify with what you generally expect.  If you don’t believe this, ponder it for a while.  I mean, really, what was the purpose of your life on earth, with all of its trials and tribulation as well as its joys if there is a vast nothingness when it ends.  I just have problems grasping with that possibility.

As suggested, these are just a few questions to get your thinking going.  They merely serve to open the door to your heart and your soul.  But they do hopefully make you focus on your life and how it has impacted others and what that means for your legacy when your time is over. The entire point is to sit down, candidly look at yourself privately and by yourself, and come to an honest assessment of your life so far. You can use it to make any changes necessary to help you take your human self in the direction it needs to go.

Open your heart and your soul and really take the time to look inside yourself.  The reality of the real you as you have been and as you would like to be will surface if you give it a chance.  Won’t it be nice to continue your personal growth into being and living that person you want to be.  Trust me, it will be good for you and it will make your family love you even more.

God bless you and have another wonderful week.  Spring is here in its full glory and it offers us a wonderful sign of the New Life that we all have available to us.  Let’s take advantage of it.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book site: www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick

Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, selected a 2014 Best Read by American Pet Magazine

 

 

Selecting Appropriate Funeral Clergy or Eulogist

So you’ve basically completed your own funeral plan.   You’ve taken out a funeral insurance policy to cover the funeral costs and funeral expenses that your estate is likely to incur, you’ve selected an obituary writer and drawn up an outline of what you want covered, and you’ve even addressed other funeral needs.  But now you are faced with a problem.  You are not sure about the funeral clergy requirement and what you want said.

Maybe you’ve had a bad experience at a particular church or maybe you even doubt the existence of a Higher Being.  Perhaps you’ve been to a funeral where you thought the comments were not inclusive or they contradicted your point of view.  Or maybe it means you have personal decisions about your faith and beliefs that need to be made. Whatever the reason, determining who will officiate at your funeral is important since it will determine how your life is presented to your loved ones and friends as a means of remembrance.  Clearing the air, thinking through your thoughts and reaching an answer not only makes it easier for you to finalize your plans, it can also open your eyes and dramatically change your life.

Uncertainty is a common problem for many today.  With the nuclear family and the constant relocation of household units during a life’s career, it is more difficult than ever before.  Back in the old days, when many Americans grew up and lived their lives within a small geographic area, it was not uncommon for a family to attend the same church with a limited number of different ministers throughout their life.  Today, the changes in life have also brought with them the likelihood of attendance at many different churches, often of different denomination or doctrine, and it can be difficult to decide what specific clergyman or woman matches up with you and your beliefs.  And if you are not a church goer or are unsure of your beliefs, you need to think very carefully about what you want said at your final ceremony ending life.  It can be very confusing and even troubling.

From my personal viewpoint it is sad that there are so many of us today who don’t have a strong basis for our own lives based upon faith in a loving God, a God who gives us hope for the future through His love and grace.  But if we don’t, and since our decisions are based upon our free will, shouldn’t we at least ponder the possibility?  It doesn’t cost anything and while for some of us it will make no difference, for others it could totally change the direction of your life. It’s never too late for that.

For those of you who are unsure and questioning about your beliefs, I am providing a series of questions about faith which I hope will be helpful to you in really knowing who you are.  It will also help you decide whether or not you want a funeral clergyman or just an official with no religious significance.  Even if you think you are set in your way, it can do no harm to consider these questions for, remember, the answers are entirely up to you and only you will know what you think about them unless you desire to share the information.

 

1.      Do you believe in God as the Creator of all Life? If so is your belief Christian, Jewish, other?  These questions are designed to determine what your actual religious beliefs entail from the perspective of a Creator.  It should start you thinking about your place in the Creation.

 

2.      Do you believe in the tenets of the Holy Bible or some other religious doctrinal foundation?  Here we begin to explore the documentation with which your beliefs were developed and what they mean to you.  This is your foundation for what you believe.

 

3.      Do you believe in Heaven and Hell? If so, what do you see as the differentiation between the two and do you believe in Life after Death?  The questions of the purpose of life enter here and the resultant consequences for the way you live your life.  You have free will but you must understand that the decisions you make will impact you directly, be it good or bad.

 

4.      If no to the above, do you have a different context of a religion or do you have no religious beliefs?  Here those who have another concept of religion will have the opportunity to focus on what really provides meaning in their life.  If the resultant finding is a void it will open them up to deep self- scrutiny.  Sometimes we can find that we are truly searching for meaning and haven’t found it yet.

 

5.      Do you want a religious ceremony?  If not, do you want a secular ceremony with a memorial presentation of your life?  Eulogies by family and/or friends?  This will clearly separate those who want the religious connotations foremost in their final rites or not.  The impact of the family is considered here because the funeral actually benefits the living that are in attendance and, because of this, it may change the way you look at your presentation to others.  Example, your wife is very religious yet you aren’t.  What kind of conflict does this create and do you accept that or you may even want to change things.

 

6.      Do you have an idea of who you want to officiate or, if not, do you know if qualified persons are available near your location?  You may want an officiant, or religious official or clergy, which requires specific religious qualifications or someone instead to officiate which can be anyone you desire.  

 

7.      If you are a non-believer, what kind of official do you want and what kind of background do you want presented?  This question, after the buildup in prior questions, begs the cold, hard option of non-belief.  You may very well find that by this point in the questionnaire your feelings of non-belief have disappeared and you find yourself to be a believer, just uncertain of your specific beliefs. Introspection frequently does this.

8.      What part does your family play in this decision?  Again, as alluded to earlier, most people want their family to be proud of them and if your non-religious option causes heartache and sadness from those you love, you may want to look inward and address the cause.

 

9.      Are you still considering where you really stand on your beliefs and do you need help and guidance in addressing your needs?  If you are now in turmoil because of the earlier questions, that is a healthy sign that you really aren’t sure where you stand.  As long as you are alive it is never too late to open your heart and soul to love.  As for help; there are many good people available who will help you find yourself and your place.

 

10.  Finally, what kind of image of yourself do you want to project to be remembered by?  Bingo, the image you want to reflect, once you fully realize what it is, is what you truly want to be.  And that’s the purpose of the questionnaire, to help you identify the truth about yourself.

 

I hope that those of you who took time to address the questions have learned something about yourself.  I used it myself long ago and it really got me thinking about what I want to leave behind as my personal legacy to those I love.  The questions forced me to look at myself openly and honestly in evaluating my beliefs and, in my case, they made me a better Christian.  While I thought I knew the answers before I began, I found that my desire for having a funeral clergy of my Christian faith, one in tune with my individual views of many differing alternatives became clearly important.  Whatever your particular faith, I hope it might have a similar result for you and, for those who either don’t acknowledge a God of love and grace or have doubts about Him, I hope this might open your heart.  There’s a wonderful life ahead for all of us and it need not be limited to our life on earth.

Have a wonderful week and God bless you all.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark portrays my family life with animals living with and near me at my farm in North Florida. Animals are truly a gift from a most gracious Father above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wonders of Heaven Are Simply Divine

Last week I suggested that each of us have fun with a little exercise about Heaven.  I asked that we try to think of what we would expect our Heaven to be like and put it on paper.  I also stated that I would offer my personal perspective on the subject and you might feel free to use my approach to develop your own.  Since each of us is different and since each of us has greatly varied likes and dislikes, I will follow with some of the things I would like to see in my Heaven based upon my lifestyle.  I’m sure you will have fun interjecting your views into your own personal dream relationship with God in Heaven as well.

Based on last week’s commentary, let’s assume I have spent my three days in the cottage pondering my meeting with God about my past and that I have now completed that visit.  I have been assigned to my “own little piece of Heaven” and have entered it.  It is magnificent beyond my wildest dreams, a beautiful open meadow on rolling land surrounded by a lush forest under a deep blue sky with bright and warm, but not hot sunshine.  Since I am no longer constrained by the limitations of the body, the land reaches as far as needed for whatever wonderful plans I might have.  There is no house to live in for here in Heaven there is no need, the weather is always clear and sunny and never too hot or cold, even at night.  I was told upon entry that building a proper home, should I want one, would come a little later.

As I walk about the expansive countryside, I see animals approaching me.  There are horses, dogs and cats, even a couple of parrots and song birds.  As they get closer I see they are my old friends from earth who predeceased me.  They remember me and either whinny, meow or bark while the parrots “talk” with their customary sarcastic humor. 

Lou, a wonderful horse we had to put down years ago, is the first to greet me, licking my hand as I put it out.  And then there’s Prinny, a wonderful mama cat and Blackie, my pride and joy who I will always love.  Finally, many of my canine friends, Amos and Daisy, two wonderful Dalmatians, Gretchen, my loyal mixed breed, and Yeardley, the happy Springer spaniel approach with tails wagging.  In customary fashion, Yeardley shakes the water off on me.  He obviously was enjoying a good watering hole similar to his pond on earth.  I’ll have to check that out.

It’s really “out of this world” here.  If you think about something you want to do it happens.  For example, if you are a person who doesn’t like to sleep, you don’t have to, but if you do enjoy resting you can rest easily in many wonderful places such as by the seashore, on a lake, even in a beautiful green meadow surrounded by purple majestic mountains.  It can be daylight always or night, depending on what you like and you are not constrained by any physical requirements.  You don’t have to eat but if you enjoy eating there is a bountiful harvest and you may partake.

God and His Son, Jesus, visit with me frequently and they enjoy hearing what I think of my Everlasting Life environment.  They offer guidance to make things better and are always interested in input.  I must confess that sometimes I do long for my family left behind and the Lord listens attentively to my longings and allows me to see my loved ones and observe them from afar.  And I pray regularly for them and their souls, asking them to always live for Him.  I do earnestly do look forward to seeing my wife, my grown children, and my darling grandchildren join me sometime when they are finally called home.

One of the things I wanted to do most upon arrival was to see my parents and grandparents.  I was told that would come but that I needed to settle in to the environment and learn to appreciate the gifts that were here for me first and the rest would take care of itself.

One day I decided that I wanted a change of pace and desired to go to the city.  Here they have the City of Angels with beautiful churches and magnificent choirs with their melodic music heard all over the town.  As I thought about the city, I was suddenly there and I found myself walking down a wonderful street with large elm trees and old fashioned houses.  There was a parkway in the middle of the street and I suddenly realized I was back in my home town and in my old neighborhood.  As I came near the end of the street there sat my mom and dad on the porch out front, just like they did when I was a little boy.  As I approached, they both welcomed me and came down the sidewalk to greet me.

We went inside to the sunroom that was so good to see and Mom went to the kitchen and brought out a pitcher of her wonderful Southern sweet iced tea.  Wow, was it good and I had forgotten how much I missed it.  We chatted about our time together and I was amazed at how they both looked as they did when I was a boy.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that even though to myself I looked the age I was at death, they both commented that I appeared to them as the little boy they loved.  It was simply amazing since you see things just the way you want them to be.

Mom said she would bring dad and come to visit soon.  I told them I had a country lifestyle and I didn’t even have a house to welcome them too. 

She smiled and said, “Don’t worry, an angel will come to see you soon and he’ll tell you what to do.  God gives you a little time to relax and enjoy the environment first.”

“Gee, Mom and Dad”, I said. “It’s great to see both of you and I look forward to getting together often.  I hope that is possible”.

Mom looked at me and said, “Son, you just think of what you want to do and God makes it happen.  We’ll be together lots.  Now head back to your beautiful rural place and wait for that angel.”

As I started walking away and began to think about the rural land I had just found, I was suddenly back there again.  It’s as if a magic carpet brought me back.  And you know what else?  The next day that angel that Mom talked about, Harold, came by with a book about building your own home.  He told me to read it, think about it, and it would give me the power to build my own dwelling. 

“Don’t worry”, Harold said, “the instructions are foolproof, you just have to think about exactly what you want and in no time the supplies will arrive and there will be new friends to help you.  There are no limits to what you can do with the care of God.”

Well, I eagerly accepted his book and started reading.  This would be quite an adventure for a man who is all thumbs but it sounded exciting and I looked forward to it.  I guess I’d better get to work.

So now I turn it over to each of you.  What would you like to see in your Heaven? Think about it and treasure your thoughts, for whatever you come up with in your mind will in reality be so much grander.  The wonder and glory that awaits you is truly something to look forward to.  When your funeral plans are carried out you will not be dead but in a magical world where pain, suffering and worry will be no more and you will be in the company and the glory of God and Jesus Christ.  That’s something to eagerly anticipate and work to attain.  It will well be worthy of your best efforts.

God bless you all and have a great week.

Next week: The Wonderful Memories of Easter

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Author page: www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick

 

So Your Final Plans Are Made, Now What?

You’ve been responsible all of your life and have lived within your means.  Moving into the retirement phase of life, you’ve drawn up your estate and probate plans and your funeral plan is in order.  Planning ahead with your devoted wife, you’ve determined who will be your obituary writer, even providing an outline to go by and you’ve set aside sufficient funeral funds to cover all funeral needs and funeral expenses.  Yes, indeed, your funeral plan is ready and written, locked away with your last will and testament for the day it is needed.

For the first time in your life you have time on your hands and can do the things that you’ve wanted to do but convinced yourself you didn’t have time for.  As a Christian, you’ve always been a church goer, offering time and money in support of His cause but you’ve never really taken the time to study what it’s really all about.  So many of us Christians find ourselves in this predicament, but the retirement phase of life offers the opportunity to continue to learn about our God and Savior through The Good Book and in prayer.  We’re never too old to learn more and in so doing get closer to Him.

Since you are a thinker, some call you a dreamer, you decide to sit down and really think what the goal is for a good Christian, what it means and what the ultimate glory provides.  Becoming a bit tired since you were up late the night before, you stretch out for a little early afternoon nap, something you never had the luxury to do in your prior busy life.  After all, you have the time and you want to recharge your physical batteries.  You drift off thinking about what things will be like after your time is up on this earth.

                                                                        ***

Suddenly you are awakened in a soft, yet warm light.  Your body seems suspended in air yet it is racing down a corridor toward a golden beam in the distance.  You pass out of the corridor into the lightness and find yourself in a meadow with beautiful blue sky and puffy white clouds drifting by.  Even though you are on the floor of the meadow, your new unlimited senses allow you to see the earth below and you begin to realize that you are no longer earth borne.

While looking at your former home planet, you think about your life and family below and suddenly your mind is able to focus on the exact place from which you just departed.  You can actually see your lifeless body lying on a bed at the hospital where you died with your family crying and comforting one another in their final visitation before your body is removed.  You try to speak out to them but cannot and your consciousness just as suddenly returns to the meadow and you realize that you are either in Heaven or a place nearby.

An angel appears.  No, he does not have wings but he is dressed in a perfectly pressed linen suit and he has an aura of peace and light surrounding him.  He smiles and motions you to follow him but he does not speak.  As you walk through the meadow you see a wide assortment of animals and even shepherds and farmers tending to them.  They smile and nod as you pass.

Finally the angel leads you to a golden gate which has a bright sign on it which says “Welcome to the Gateway to Heaven.”  The angel motions you to a large cushioned bench on the porch of a beautiful little cottage just outside the entrance which looks like something out of a fairy tale.  You both sit down and he turns toward you and speaks for the first time.

“John, I am your guiding angel Harold”, he says with a smile. “And, yes, you are at the Gateway to Heaven.  You will still have to meet with the Father and discuss your successes and failures in life and receive His instructions for the future but you will be staying with us forever.  Your life was lived well for a mortal and you did a good job with your family.

“Your immediate task is to decide what it is you expect out of Heaven.  Time and space are no obstacles, and only good and favorable things are included, but God will want to know how you see yourself as a Member of the Eternal Flock.  For the next three days you will stay here in the Welcome Cottage and pray for the answers to what your place in Heaven should be.  The Father knows that each person is different and He wants each of His family members to have the Heavenly Experience that they seek.  Think about it, pray on it and when I come back I will take you through the gates to meet him. 

“Oh, and this is also a good time for you to plan what you will say when you meet with your Maker.  He knows what is in your heart and soul and He wants to make sure that you know both the good and bad of your life past.  Going forward, you won’t have those problems as you are now in the direct company of the Lord Jesus who you will also see in person soon.”

With that, Angel Harold stands, turns toward the roadway and walks through the Gates of Heaven and disappears into a fog.

As you sit and ponder what you were told and look at the beauty of the small taste of what is to become the beautiful Eternal Life you are entering, you begin the initial steps of formulating the answers to your assignment.  You pray that you are up to the task and that God will be pleased.

                                                                         ***

Suddenly you hear the door close and realize that you were sleeping.  Your wife walks into the room and smiles asking, “I’m glad you got some rest.  You have quite a magical look on your face.  Were you dreaming?”

You look at her with a radiance to your face and tell her, “Oh, yes, but I’ve got to think about it before I tell you about it.  It was wonderful; actually it was Heavenly.”

And with that the reason for the dream becomes clear.  God has spoken to you and told you what to expect and with the wonders you have seen you want to work hard to live up to His trust.  You now know that you must devote the remainder of your life to furthering His love and grace so that others will use their lives to fulfill his Heavenly wishes for them as well.

Who can say what is going in the hearts of others?  No one knows except God who knows all.  Who knows what Heaven will be like if we attain that lofty eternity?  No one until they experience it.  But I can tell you this much.  We do have some hints.  Here are just a couple of them from the Bible:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.

                                                                        Revelations 21:4 (ESV)

But as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of men imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

                                                                        1 Corinthians 2:9

It sounds pretty magnificent doesn’t it?  So while we’ve got our funeral plans done and our life aiming in the right direction, let’s devote the remainder to He who is responsible for it all. Let’s live the rest of our lives with the Love of God in our hearts and souls and act accordingly.

Oh, and I hope you will seriously consider the exercise of thinking about what you would expect out of your Heavenly Life in the hereafter.  I think it might be fun and next week my blog will be my personal desire in this matter drawn from my individual perspective of my life experiences and loves.  Maybe we can even compare notes.  Until then, have a wonderful week with God in your heart.

James Dick

Website:  www.northfloridawriter.com

Author page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark or

                        www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick

Author of Honey We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, a Best Read Selection (2014) of American Pet Magazine

 

 

“Rocket and Me”

INTRODUCTORY NOTE:  Death can bring many surprises about people.  Sometimes those who know the decedent best are as much in the dark as everyone about what was really special in their heart.  All of the necessary tasks associated with last minute funeral plans and execution including determining actual funeral costs and sources of payment (burial insurance and funeral insurance, etc.) are made even more difficult with this uncertainty.  A well organized decedent who was prepared in advance makes it much more manageable. 

In the case of a popular man who lived alone, the tasks of initially organizing the home for visitation and planning funeral meals and death notice and eulogy writing require immediate attention and can be stressful, but when something is learned that is unexpected yet positively displays the content of the man’s heart, things become much more a pleasure than a chore.  This story is about one of those situations.

________________________________________________________________________________

John and Mary Walters had been friends with Ben Williams for nearly twenty years.  Ben was a good next door neighbor but since the death of his wife, Susan, three years ago he was a different man.  His jovial nature had become subdued and he just seemed lost without her. The Walters’ knew that Ben had some heart problems but they had no idea if the problems were critical or just of a cautionary nature and he never offered any information. They still stayed in daily contact with him but things were never quite the same since the “light of his life” had been taken from him.

Ben’s only daughter, Sheila, had died about two years before his wife, and after both of his loved ones were gone his devotion was to his little pet dog, Rocket, a lively Jack Russell terrier.  Ben bought the dog about fifteen years earlier as a puppy and after Susan died he was his constant companion, accompanying him wherever he went.  He even had a license plate on his car which read “Rocket and Me.”

As if it was the last straw for Ben, Rocket developed a tumor and died two years after Susan and Ben was devastated.  He took the little dog’s body to a taxidermist and had it stuffed and mounted on a wood block that he could keep.  After he brought the figure of the dog home, no one ever knew what happened to it.  Even Ben’s best friend John would not bring the subject up; he knew that Ben felt this third death in a short time put him at his limit.

One beautiful spring morning while out on their morning walk, John and Mary realized that things seemed unusual at Ben’s house.  He was usually an early riser and his biggest enjoyment left in life was his prize rose garden where he could usually be found in the cool of the morning.  The couple couldn’t remember a day in months when Ben wasn’t out there working on his flowers during their walk.  They usually stopped to chat with him, sometimes even joining him for a cup of coffee before continuing.  John made a mental note to check on Ben if he wasn’t seen moving about by lunch time.

After lunch and with still no sign of Ben, John and Mary walked over to their friend’s home. The garage door was open with the car parked; the hood was cool to the touch and it had not been driven.  Ben usually took a quick trip each morning to the hardware store he had owned for thirty years and sold just after Susan’s death. The new owner loved Ben and always was glad to have him around, even offering to let him work part-time if he desired.  The fact that he had not been out of the house all morning increased their apprehension greatly.

John called Ben’s name and knocked hard on the inside door which led to the kitchen; there was no answer.  Calling his name again, he tried the handle and found it open.  Walking into the kitchen, he found the portable counter TV turned on but no John in sight. 

Both now being fearful, they entered the living room where a full cup of cold coffee sat on the coffee table next to an unopened newspaper.  From there, they split up, Mary going one way and John the other.

As John turned into the hallway toward the master bedroom, Mary shrieked from the Florida room.  Rushing to her, he found her sobbing and kneeling beside Ben’s body, face down on the Arabian rug he loved so much.  There was nothing they could do as he had no pulse and his body was losing normal temperature.

After calling 911 and waiting for the body to be removed, John went to John’s business desk in the study.  Even though retired, John, an attorney by trade, had agreed to be his friend’s executor and he knew where to find his important papers.  There in the center drawer was an oversized clasp enveloped with Ben’s signature across the seal and annotated “to be opened by John Walters only”.

John carefully opened it and found a series of smaller business envelopes, each labeled separately.  One was his last will and testament which John had prepared for him, the second was labeled property and financial information and the third contained funeral instructions.  John started with the funeral plan envelope since it was the one thing that required initiation right away.

Opening the envelope, John first found a hand-written instruction sheet on two pages of a legal sized tablet detailing his funeral notice and wishes for a church service at his place of worship, First Methodist Church with burial in his family plot next to his wife in the church cemetery.  He even specified type of casket and pallbearers.  The listing also referenced an additional smaller envelope contained therein which held additional special instructions.

As he opened it he was totally surprised.  First were two pictures of his little dog, one in life and the other as a lifelike stuffed and mounted remembrance, complete with his smiling eyes.  A note attached told John to bury Rocket with him in his casket.  Also in the envelope was a passbook to the local savings and loan with rights of survivorship passing to John.  A note attached said it was to be used for his final expenses and looking at the balance it had more than enough deposited to handle a first class funeral.  That was just like Ben, a cash and carry guy.

John covered the house and found the mounted Rocket in the floor by Ben’s bed and made the necessary arrangements with the funeral home to initiate the final funeral plans and include Rocket with Ben in the casket.

Ben took care of all other immediate matters and at the funeral Rocket was ultimately posed beside Ben as if he were sitting at his master’s side in final repose.  He remained in this pose throughout the viewing and the funeral and, when all was over, he was placed with his head on Ben’s shoulder before it was lowered in the ground.  It was actually very touching to all and was certainly memorable and the large audience saw a new side to the spirit of the lonely man that they liked but didn’t always understand.

John and Mary made arrangements for the reception after the funeral to be held in Ben’s side garden where the roses were in full bloom in the glorious sunshine.  They brought in two canopied tents for the caterers for serving lines and all enjoyed the beauty of nature as they chatted about Ben and his life.  Even his only known remaining direct relative, his nephew Freddie, came to the funeral.  John had trouble locating him and surprisingly found him living only fifty miles away in Wilmington.

Freddie was a retired soldier who had been disabled in Afghanistan.  He and his wife and little girl lived in an apartment in the nearby town where they were struggling to make do on his pension.  His wife, Sally, held a teacher’s certificate and was trying to get full time placement but thus far had only been able to secure substitute assignments.  A real surprise was about to be given to them, courtesy of Ben’s will and John’s astute work.

All of Ben’s estate, which was considerable, was given to charity with the exception of his home.  The house was granted to Freddie in Ben’s will and John was going to advise Freddie at the end of the reception.  What’s more, using a few contacts and some good luck, John had secured a teaching assignment in the local schools.  A teacher had to drop out two months before the end of the year and Sally was being offered the temporary assignment subject to being hired in permanent status if she handled the end of the school year well.

As the last of the guests were departing and John gave the catering crew the okay to close it down and clean up, he walked over to talk with the young Williams couple with Mary.  At first, they seemed dazed, then they smiled broadly and finally both Freddie and his wife hugged John and Mary.  It was a dream come true and they couldn’t believe their good fortune from an uncle that Freddie remembered and respected but didn’t know real well.  John told him it was from an appreciative uncle in honor of his service and sacrifice.

John told them to go back and get things finalized back at their apartment and he would start getting the house cleaned and in order.  The belongings left by Ben would be theirs if they desired, otherwise he would have things donated to charity.

That night after the long day, Mary hugged her husband tightly and said, “I’m proud of you, John, and I know that Ben is smiling in gratitude from his new home”.

“I don’t know about that, Mary”, he replied, “but I know there is one thing I did that will get his attention.  I donated what was left over from his funeral account to the new dog only park that the city is supporting and there will be a memorial picture at the gate dedicated to Ben and Rocket.  And the auto tag everyone in town recognizes will be included.”

As they relaxed and talked about the day, John was right. Ben, who now was looking down with Susan and with Rocket at his side, was grinning from ear to ear.  His funeral plans had been administered to perfection and with the added touches made possible by John, dog lovers all over town would learn and cherish the story of “Rocket and Me” for generations to come.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Author page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark was selected as a Best Read for 2014 by American Pet Magazine