We are gathered here today to mourn the loss, but also to celebrate the life of Carle Howell. We do not mourn today without hope. In the Bible we read,
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us in his presence…Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:8-11)
We have confidence as we grieve today that there is life beyond the grave. And we have the hope that one day we may be reunited with Carle in Heaven. It is this confidence in God that sustains us and helps us as we grieve today. Will you pray with me?
Father, we come before you today saddened because of Carle’s death. We admit that it doesn’t seem right for someone like Carle to die at such an early age, but we trust that you are the Lord of all things, even life and death. Help us as we grieve today. Help us not only to mourn Carle’s death, but also to celebrate his life and the ways in which our lives were enriched by his. We pray that you would help us to cling to your promises as we grieve. Help us in the midst of sadness to know true and living hope. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.
Carle W. Howell was born December 17, 1960 in Macomb , Illinois , the son of Richard F. and Beulah M. Carle Howell. On September 12, 1987 he married Kazuko Kusama in LaHarpe.
He was raised in LaHarpe and was a 1979 graduate of LaHarpe High School and received his Bachelors Degree from WIU. He worked as a dispatcher for the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department for two years and from 1986 – 1995 for the Illinois State Police in Macomb . He was a member of the LaHarpe Masonic Lodge 195. He loved music and played the trumpet, piano, organ and concertina. While in high school he toured Europe with America ’s Youth In Concert. He also sang with the Monmouth College Choir and the Bel Canto Chorale in Burlington , IA.
He died Monday, December 15, 2008 at his home at the age of 47. He is survived by his wife, one sister, Susan (Mark) Schmitz of Quincy, Illinois, two brothers, Richard “Holly” Howell of Dallas City, Illinois and Cary (Melinda) Howell of Rockford , Illinois , one nephew, Richard Howell ofItaly and one niece, Clare Schmitz of Quincy . He was preceded in death by his parents.
It’s been interesting the last week to see just how many people new Carle Howell. Many classmates have contacted me this week to tell me stories about the man they all called “Bear”. They explained to me why they called him that—it wasn’t because he was ferocious, but because he was a big sweet guy, just like a big teddy bear.
If there’s one thing that it seems that everyone remembers about Carle, it is just how talented he was. He was an amazing musician even though he barely read music at all. Susan said they discovered his talent when he was just four years old. They had gone to Burlington to see a concert featuring a famous musician. The next day Carle spent most of the day playing the piano. They assumed he was inspired by listening to the concert. It wasn’t until he came into the room and exclaimed to his mother, “I’ve got it!” that they finally realized what he’d been up to. At the age of four, Carle had managed to figure out how to play many of the songs he’d heard the night before, playing them flawlessly with both hands.
Everyone seemed amazed by his musical abilities. One of Carle’s classmates told me about a time in fourth grade when the music teacher asked Carle to come sit at the piano, and then they took requests for songs from the class. They called out songs to sing, and Carle played them. They could barely remember the words, but Carle never missed a note.
Carle played many instruments over the years. In addition to the piano, he also played the organ, trumpet, and concertina. He did eventually learn to read the treble clef in music, but he really found it unnecessary. When he was taking lessons, the family had hoped he was learning to read music, but they found out that instead of reading the notes on the page, he was just playing back what he heard his teacher play. It was really a tremendous gift.
Throughout high school and on into college, Carle was involved in musical groups. He sang in the swing choir in high school (where he then earned the nickname, “the dancing bear”) and his talent allowed him to be part of some prestigious choirs. He was able to travel throughout Europe while singing with a choir, and was a member of the Monmouth College choir while he was in high school. If I understand correctly, he was also involved in a cover band when he was in college.
Carle was not just talented at music, but he had a keen mind when it came to how things worked. Susan said that when they were little, the city was replacing the sewer line outside their house. Carle found this fascinating and spent many days out there just watching how they did things. After a while, the workers began to refer to him as “the supervisor.”
For many years growing up, and even into college, Carle mowed lawns. At the height of his business, he was mowing 36 yards per week. He managed to put his mechanical abilities to good use with his lawnmowers. It seemed that he was always working on them, making sure everything was working properly. As a matter of fact, I understand that when his class had trouble finding a tractor to pull their float in the parade, they just asked Carle and he hooked it up to his lawnmower and had no problems pulling it down the street.
Not all of his time was spent working on making the lawnmower run better though. Sometimes Carle was just trying to have a little fun. He once hooked up an 8-track player (remember those!) to his lawnmower so that he could listen to music while he mowed. This doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realize that he also figured out a way for his lawnmower to power the player!
While he was in college, he met Kazuko on a blind date. He knew after that date that he wanted to see her again, but unfortunately, he didn’t have her phone number. So, he kept hoping that he’d run into her somewhere and have the chance to ask her out again. It was almost a year later before he had his chance. As the story goes, he saw her on the square, stopped his car in the street and went to talk to her again. The wait was well worth it, and six months later, he proposed. They’ve been together ever since.
Carle also had quite the sense of humor. He joked once about how he didn’t know if Susan would ever get married, but if she did, he already had the music picked out. He sat down at the piano and played the circus theme. He said that if Susan ever got married, it was going to be a circus. One of Carle’s classmates also told me a story that Carle had told to him. He said that when Carle was younger, he used to go to the drive through at fast food places and order two or three meals. On one particular occasion after he finished his order, the person on the other end asked, will that be all for you? Carle’s response was, don’t you think that’s enough!?
Even though Carle was a big guy, he was also a big softy—just like a teddy bear. When Clare was born, he was excited to get to meet her, but he was also scared to hold her. He loved animals and it seemed that he always had some sort of pet around—usually at least one dog and many cats. It was not uncommon to see Carle asleep with one of the cats curled up in his arms.
Like most of us Carle also had his share of struggles, but he worked hard to overcome them and not to let them rob him of life. Carle read a lot of religious books, seeking to understand who God really was. To be honest, I don’t know what conclusion he eventually reached, but I do know that he was searching, and I take comfort in that fact.
Jesus told his followers,
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matt. 7:7-8)
Carle knew about Christianity, he could explain to you what Christians believe. But we stand here today hopeful that Carle found what he was looking for, that he discovered that Jesus was who he was looking for all along.
There are people who don’t believe in life beyond the grave. They say, “you live, you die, and that’s it.” If that’s true, then I don’t see how there is any hope for us as we mourn the loss of someone we love. I believe that the Bible is true, and the Bible tells us a different story. In John 11:25-26, Jesus tells his disciples,
I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live even though he dies and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?
Jesus says that there is life beyond the grave. Why should we believe what he says? Because he died and then rose again! He knows what lies beyond the grave, so we should really listen to what he says.
He tells us that if we believe in Him, then we will be able to live even though our life on this earth has ended. He’s talking about heaven. Many people think of heaven as a place of harps and clouds, where you just sing all day long. While Carle would probably enjoy that, there are many of us that would not. I think there is certainly music in heaven, but that’s not all. Heaven is a place where we can live as God intended, without the pain and struggles of life on this earth. Let me share with you how one pastor puts it,
“No more common colds, no more uncommon cancers. Everyone would have his day; there would be no second-class citizens. Prisoners and slaves would be free; hungry people would have plenty; no one would lift a finger to harm another; and we would all be at peace with everyone, even with ourselves.”
Heaven is what we were created for, and it is what we truly long for. Jesus says that if we will believe in him—that we believe him when he says that we are sinful and need a savior to die in our place, and that He is that savior—then we will spend eternity in heaven with Him. Notice the question that Jesus asked at the end of his promise though, “Do you believe this?”
That is a question that you must answer for yourself. One thing that we are reminded of in Carle’s death is that you don’t know how much longer you have on this earth, so it is a question that you need to answer today.
I don’t know exactly where Carle stood spiritually, but I have absolute confidence that if his faith was in Jesus Christ, then today he is at home in heaven. He is no longer facing the struggles he had to face in this life, but he has been delivered from them and is now at home with Jesus.
We can also have confidence that if we have trusted in Christ, then when our life on this earth comes to an end, we too will go to heaven, where we can be reunited with Carle. It is because of this confidence that we do not mourn without hope today. We mourn the fact that Carle is no longer with us, but we look forward to a day when we will be together again.
Will you pray with me?
Father, you alone are the Lord of the universe. You alone know how long we have to live on this earth. And you alone have made it possible for us to live forever in heaven. Help us to remember these truths as we grieve today.
Father, we thank you for Carle’s life. We thank you for the talents that you gave him, and the way that many of us were enriched by knowing him.
Lord, I pray for Carle’s family, and ask that you would strengthen them in the days, weeks, and months to come. As they face Christmas without Carle, there will be an emptiness that casts its shadow over the celebration. In those times, comfort them with fond memories and the hope of a future reunion. Help us Lord, as we grieve, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.