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Friday, August 28, 2009

Harper Hull
Harper Huntington Hull

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"To Die Is Gain"

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

In his song, "Because He Lives" Bill Gaither describes death as fighting "life's final war with pain". There is no war as personal or painful as the war that rages for a person on the brink of life and death. The excruciating process of death is painful not only for the person dying but for all who walk through the shadow of the valley of death with him.

We've been praying nearly eight months for a friend who has been fighting life's final war with pain. Harper Hull, at 87 years of age, still worked full-time as an accountant at a business we serve as chaplains.  A very gifted and skilled man, he was also a devout follower of Christ.  In January he was suddenly stricken with a brain infection. Following surgery he improved slowly but steadily until  several weeks ago when he suffered setbacks and since then struggled to survive.

We visited him last Friday evening and could see from his grave coloring, the amount of oxygen he was receiving, and his comatose state that his time on earth was soon coming to an end. His family, weary from the long struggle that ensued as they sat with him day after day, had just left prior to our arrival.  Hymns were playing from a CD player on a table near his bed.

We picked up his well-used Bible filled with personal notes from sermons and his own studies and read a portion from it. Then Brooksyne, Ester and I unhurriedly quoted the 23rd Psalm knowing that if Harper could hear us he would recognize and find comfort in every inspired word that flows from this famous Psalm.

Brooksyne then took Harper's hand and began to sing, "Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus". It's a hymn that she sung to my father and her father as they lay on their death beds and many others over our 33 years of ministry.

Then something remarkable happened.

It was the last verse that brought about an unexpected response that brings a tender memory even as we write of our experience. After she sang, "I'm so glad I learned to trust Him, Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend, and I know that Thou art with me, Wilt be with me to the end"... Harper brought his lips together and mouthed to her the word, "Amen."

He didn't use his voice nor did he even whisper. She would have missed his response if she had not fixed her eyes on his face as she sang the hymn. In Harper's "place of quiet rest" where only God's Spirit could enter, his Amen assured us that he heard every word, the prayer we prayed, the Scriptures we quoted, and the inspirational music God wanted him to hear.

What rich blessing his unanticipated response brought to our visit. As always, we who seek to refresh others in their time of need are ourselves refreshed. We commended Harper's soul to Jesus before we left his room.

The great heavenly transfer took place about ten hours later about 3 A.M. in the morning when Harper's final war with pain and death gave way to everlasting victory. The shaded veil that clouded his vision between heaven and earth was lifted and Harper clearly saw the lights of glory where Jesus reigns. He received his initiation into the house of the Lord where he now dwells forever!

Harper lived for Christ and then experienced the wonderful truth that "to die is gain".  May we all be encouraged by those who go before us who have lived their lives for Christ and in their death gained the reward of eternal life.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily prayer: Father, we pray for those who are walking in the valley of the shadow of death with a loved one today.  Give  them deep abiding peace and calm assurance in place of worry and fear as they're confronted with the circumstances that surround them this day.  We pray for their loved one who is waging war between life and death, that they will find a place of quiet rest near to Your heart, O God; a place where Your sweet Spirit ministers in ways where human words fall short.  Help us to trust You for that which we can't understand and to search the Scriptures for that which You want us to fully comprehend on this side about life and death.  In Jesus' name we pray.  Amen.

A further reflection by Brooksyne:  I've thought a lot about those who are in the dying process who can no longer respond or communicate with their loved ones or medical staff.  It is very discouraging and emotionally crippling to sit hour by hour, day after day, and watch a dying person who is unable to communicate.

Before my mother passed away she lay in her bed for days and didn't talk or respond to our conversation.  Prior to her comatose state she made us promise that we would daily sponge bath her as she was very particular about being clean.  The hospice worker instructed me on how we were to go about doing this.  It required turning her over to one side and doing so caused Mom a great deal of pain. Knowing how important it was to my mother I told her what was involved and wanted to make sure she still wanted us to carry out her request.  I said, "Mom, I know you can't talk but if you squeeze my fingers I'll know you want me to turn you." She surprised me by squeezing my fingers. It left no doubt that she could hear what I was saying.  My sister and I followed her instructions and gave her a sponge bath.  It was during the process of gently turning her back over that she took her last breath.  I remember as though it were yesterday though this happened nearly eight years ago.  

It has served as a lesson to me over the years when attempting to communicate with those who are unable to respond.  Even though they can't talk to us they're still hearing and are greatly comforted by our voice, our presence and our vigilant love for them in their critical hour.  My mother, though unable to voice it, was with us to the very last minute.

Diligent in Business
This is a plaque Harper had on a shelf in his office.  We often discussed the phrase on the plaque. It is based on a verse from Romans 12:11 that states "Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord" (KJV). However I have not been able to find a translation that uses the precise same wording. I would conjecture that's it's either a phrase based on the verse or perhaps is from a translation no longer used. Either way it sure is a Scriptural concept! I did find the phrase in a sermon by Charles Spurgeon titled "Serving The Lord With Gladness" (pdf).  (Note also the model of the Conestoga wagon behind the plaque. The Conestoga wagon, which was used by scores of settlers heading west in the pioneer days was  made right here in Lancaster County, named after the Conestoga River.)

Today we will attend Harper's funeral service. For those who may know Harper Hull or desire to read more information about him, his informative obituary is here. (I am uncertain as to how long they will archive this link).

Several years ago we wrote a daily encouragement message about Harper which tells more about him.  Among many accomplishments he was the founder and long-time president of "The Trojan Yacht Company" here in Lancaster County.

Argonaught from Se Hunt (made by the Trojan Boat Company, Lancaster, PA)Interestingly the Argonaut yacht was the yacht featured in the weekly TV series of "Sea Hunt" from the early sixties. It was constructed by Harper's company.

I recall how much Harper enjoyed talking about his hobby of racing remote controlled hobby yachts with his fellow residents at the Willow Valley Retirement Community.

Harper left a lasting impact on many and I am sure some reading this will know him. Yesterday I was visiting with Rick Steudler, a friend of ours now in his early sixties, who spoke of Harper's involvement in Sunday School when he was a boy.  Harper served as a Sunday School teacher and superintendent.  Indeed, "Only one life will soon be passed, only what's done for Christ will last."

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources
Click on the link to open and play.
(In some cases you may also need to click again to start the song.)

"Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus"  Video  This arrangement of the song that Brooksyne sang to Harper is sung by "Casting Crowns".

"Because He Lives"  Video

"Near To The Heart Of God"  Video

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.

Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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