We gather today as several different communities to mourn the loss and also to celebrate the life of Clifford Dannen Latherow. At a time like this; when loss is so profound, we need help. We need something deep.. So we turn to the Lord and His Word for comfort.
The Apostle Paul wrote these appropriate words:
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.
Will you read with me Psalm 23 as it appears In the New Living Translation of the Bible
1 The LORD is my shepherd;
I have everything I need.
2 He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
4 Even when I walk
through the dark valley of death,
I will not be afraid, for you are close behind me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
5 You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You welcome me as a guest,
anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.
Will you stand and join me as we ask God to help us.
Our Father, we bow before You today. In our honesty we must confess that we confused, we are sad, and even a little angry. We are weary from the tears, numb from trying to comprehend our loss, and desperately in need of your help.
So, Father, we ask that you turn this gymnasium into a sanctuary by your presence. We ask You to comfort these families . . . their loss is something only You understand. We ask also that you help us. Help us to see beyond the pain . . . and to rejoice in the blessings of this life. For we ask it in Jesus name.
Clifford Dannen Latherow was born May 1, 1983 in Macomb, the second child and only son of Donald and Peggy Steck Latherow.
Dannen was a junior at LaHarpe High School and was active in football, track, basketball and baseball. His freshman and sophomore years he was active in band, chorus and the Swing Choir. He was a member of the National Honor Society, and a member of the Student Council. He was the Sentinal for the Future Farmers of America. He was recognized by Who’s Who in American High School Students.
Dannen was active in the Fountain Green 4-H Club for eight years and an active member of the LaMoine Valley Angus Association and the Illinois Angus Association. He was a member and active participant in the Fountain Green Presbyterian Church.
Dannen died on September 26 in McLean Illinois.
He was preceded in death by his grandfathers.
He is survived by his parents; his sister, Megan Latherow, his Grandmothers, Ruby Steck of Carman, Illinois and Betty Latherow of LaHarpe Illinois, several aunts, uncles and cousins; two great-aunts; and two great-uncles.
Dannen Latherow was an exceptional young man. He had a sharp, quick and dry sense of humor. He loved a challenge and loved to argue. At times he was the most delightfully annoying person you could know. Dannen always wore a smile. Sometimes it was because he was up to something . . . most of the time it was because he was enjoying life.
Dannen was always busy. He loved a challenge of any kind. He loved sports, he loved doing puzzles, and he was always looking to play a game of some sort. He was the kind of guy who when he started a game of Monopoly wasn’t going to quit until the game was over. He liked playing all kinds of games.
Dannen got along with people of all ages. He was a unique young man in that he was comfortable and conversant with 80 year old men and women and little kids. He liked spending time with the men at the cabin, and enjoyed helping the young kids learn how to show their animals at the fair. He and Randy enjoyed leading the Recreation time at Vacation Bible School. Dannen didn’t care whether kids were popular or part of the “in” crowd. It didn’t matter to him. He saw everyone has a potential friend.
Dannen made friends with Stuart Curtis at the WIU basketball camp and became instant friends. They loved to do things together and competed in everything they did. They looked forward to basketball season so they could wage their own battle against each other. Stuart talked about how many points he would score on Dannen and Dannen talked about how many times he was going to steal the ball from Stuart. It was Stuart and Dannen who pushed for Megan and Grant to get together. They were great friends.
Dannen loved his FFA work. He liked all kinds of animals. He was good at showing his animals and enjoyed the experience at the fair.
Dannen loved his family. He admired his grandfather, wanted to be like his dad, saw his mother as his confidant and counselor, and viewed his sister as his dearest friend and companion. He loved family gatherings when the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins would get together. He made the most of these times; whether playing ball with his cousins, or fishing with his dad. He spent a lot of time with his grandmothers. . . . He would head to Grandma Betty’s when he didn’t want to or couldn’t drive all the way home.
Dannen was a young man who would do whatever needed to be done around the house. Whether it was fixing a light, pounding in a nail, or helping set up the Christmas tree . . . he saw something that needed to be done and he did it. He was a responsible young man.
Dannen was also a reflective young man. He would give his best to anyone who gave him a chance. He thrived when someone encouraged him. He loved asking questions in class and interacting with the things he was learning. He thought deeply and cared greatly.
Dannen enjoyed life. As a child his mom had to keep the sides down on his bed because if she didn’t he would climb over the railings to get out. He lived all his life that way. After a health class that talked about stress he told his folks that he thought that they were making it impossible for him to do well in school because of the stress of trying to meet the grade requirements that they had set for him in order for him to play sports. He spoke with all seriousness about this harmful stress he was under. When mom said, “O Come on Dannen!” His response? “Well, it was worth a shot.”
He was a remarkable young man in that he enjoyed wherever he was fully. He enjoyed the golf course as much as the fishing pond. He enjoyed the city (especially when he went to a Bulls game) and also enjoyed the country. He enjoyed his time in school and enjoyed his time out of school. He enjoyed himself when he went shopping for clothes (he always checked with Megan to make sure he was “cool”) and enjoyed painting at Grandma’s with Megan. Dannen enjoyed church and it didn’t matter which church he was at. Wherever Dannen was . . . he was fully there and squeezed everything he could from the moments he had.
Dannen Latherow was a quality young man. I don’t know how many times we sat around our dinner table and laughed about something Dannen said. As a parent, I never worried about my son spending time with Dannen. I only wish they had more time to spend.
[COACH TIM LAFFERTY COMMENTS]
During the course of this week, the students at the high school shared some of their memories. And I want to share some of those in form of verbal snapshots. Let your mind remember the blessings and joy of Dannen Latherow . . .
- Hiis Tony the Tiger Watch and T-Shirt
- The night he almost fouled out of both the JV and Varsity basketball game . . . and each time he was sure he didn’t foul the guy.
- His Volkswagon shirt
- Driving Mr. Mealif crazy in study hall
- Tapping his feet during English class
- His disgusted look when someone asked him to fix them up with his sister.
- Tormenting Mr. Gunn
- Singing “Angel of Mine” or any song that he liked on the radio
- Clifford the Big Red Dog
- Calling Jeremy an “ugly girly boy” in Spanish
- Go-carts, Putt Putt Golf and Picking up Chicks
- His Hawaiian Shorts
- His sly smile that said he was “up to something”
- His arm around your shoulder
Dannen Latherow left us with a host of memories that will always bring a smile and we will always be grateful for.
We have been numb all week due to the overwhelming sense of loss that we have. Like you, I have cried often. At the very moment I think I have things under control, I find I don’t. Don’t misunderstand me . . . there is nothing wrong with crying. It is a most appropriate response to a most devastating experience.
At times like this we look for answers. We can blame the railroad. We can blame God. But it doesn’t make the pain go away.
It may surprise you that I find great comfort from the book of Job in the Bible. The Bible says Job was the most godly man living at his time. Yet, Job experienced incredible tragedy. One day Job learned that his oxen and donkeys had all been stolen and his farmhands had all been killed. Then a messenger came who told Job that all his sheep and all his shepherds had been destroyed in a fire. Then another messenger came and told Job that another army had stolen his camels and killed all his servants. A fourth messenger came and told him that his seven sons and three daughters had all been killed in a tornado. . . . and we read that Job was overcome with grief.
But the pain was not over. Job developed a terrible case of boils that covered his body from his head to his feet. And then Job’s friends arrived. At first they said nothing . . .and Job drew comfort from them.
Job was upset and confused. He asked out loud, “Why God?” He vented his frustration and confusion. This is a normal and right thing to do. But Job was relentless. He called for God to explain His actions. He called on God to “face him like a man.”
Job’s friends decided that Job was misguided. They decided that they would explain why this was happening to him. They suggested that Job was being punished for something. They told him that bad things never happen to truly good people. These comments naturally upset Job. People say a lot of stupid things in the times of tragedy.
It might interest you to know that God had a few words for these friends of Job. God told them that they were a lot smarter when they kept their mouth shut. And then He told them to ask Job to pray for them!
But I’m leaving my story. Job continues to rant against God. And guess what? God appears to talk to Job. But before Job even has a chance to ask God a question, God begins by asking Job, “Who is it that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words?” . . . and then He relentlessly asks Job a series of questions that drive home the point that God is God and Job is not.”
To Job’s question, “Why?” God answered, “Trust me.” That’s it? “Trust me?” Yep, that’s all the answer Job gets. Let me be honest. I’d like more of an answer than this. I would like God to explain why the railroad gates weren’t working. I would like to know why God didn’t delay the boys five more minutes. I’d like to know why they didn’t get to the railroad crossing fifteen seconds sooner. And yes, I’d like to know why two really good young men were taken from this life so soon.
But God does not answer those questions with anything other than what He said to Job: “Trust Me.” Job accepted God’s answer. He apologized to God. Job realized that
- there are things at work he does not see
- there are issues involved he cannot understand
- and there is a life beyond this one that he cannot begin to imagine.
And we must see this too. For now, we have to trust what we know . . . rather than grumble about what we don’t know.
We know that God loves us. We know this because of Jesus. We know that Jesus came to earth to tell us the truth about God and about ourselves . . . and to give His life to pay for the way we have ignored and scorned God in our living.
We know that there is life beyond the grave because Jesus came back from the dead and told us so. He didn’t come back in some spirit form, or in some mystical way. He didn’t communicate to us from the dead through some spirit guide. Jesus came back to life. The one who was dead from crucifixion and a spear through His heart, walked among His friends again. He ate with them, talked with them, and walked with them. He lived even though He had died.
We know that we can live beyond the grave too. Some people think that the way to get to Heaven is to die (the Bible says not everyone goes to Heaven). Others say you only get to Heaven if you’re good enough. (The Bible says no one is good enough). The Bible tells us that Heaven is given to those who place all their trust and hope in what Jesus did for them when He died on the cross. I think Dannen had such faith.
This is significant for two reasons. First, it is significant because it means the most important thing we need to do in life is get right with God. The dumbest thing we can do is ignore God. To put off getting serious about God is like playing Russian Roulette with your soul. This would be a good time to settle this issue in your heart. It is time to stop playing “Chicken” with God. So, who do you trust? Will you trust the One who died to set you free and lives to lead you home? Will you entrust your life to Jesus? I pray so.
There is a second significant thing here. If the Bible speaks the truth (and I would bet my life that it does), then what we have been calling a tragedy was the same event that brought Dannen and Stuart face to face with Jesus. It was the event that opened the door to Heaven to them. This means they are celebrating a homecoming far superior to anything that we have ever dreamt of. We don’t need to grieve for them . . . they haven’t lost anything . . .in fact they have gained everything. We grieve for ourselves. We grieve because of OUR loss . . .not theirs.
Does that help our pain? I hope so. But I still want to know why God didn’t keep two great young men in this world that so desperately needs people like them. I still have the questions why. I still cry at unexpected moments. But I am also reminded by Job that things are not always what they seem. There are things we don’t see. There are issues we don’t understand. And there is a life beyond this one that we cannot begin to imagine. It is clear to Dannen and to Stuart. They see. They understand. They are celebrating homecoming. Someday we will understand too. Until then God says simply, “Trust me”.
It is a horrible thing to lose Dannen at age sixteen. . . but it would be more horrible to be unchanged by Dannen’s life. So let me suggest some of the things we should have learned from Dannen in his all too short sixteen years..
- We should learn that life should be lived full throttle, like Dannen, because we never know how much time we have.
- We should learn from Dannen that there is value in every life. Labels are stupid. Snobs are missing out.
- We should learn from Dannen that a smile can be contagious
- We should learn from Dannen that you don’t have to agree with everything people tell you . . . in fact, sometimes you learn the most by getting in a debate with someone else.
- We should learn from Dannen that if you are persistent you can eventually gain victory.
- We should learn from Dannen that the journey of life will be long and hard if we don’t have a little fun along the way.
- We should learn from Dannen that if you are going to excel you sometimes have to risk having a foul called on you.
- We should learn from Dannen that the mistakes of yesterday need to be forgotten . . . or they get in the way of the dreams of tomorrow.
- We should learn from Dannen that a little encouragement accomplishes and spurs other on a lot more than criticism.
- We should learn from Dannen that the goal in life is not to live long . . . but to live well. For the one who lives well impacts those who are around him.
- We should learn from Dannen that eternal issues should not be pushed to the side for a future day. Life is unpredictable. Now is the time to begin and to develop our relationship with God. Now is the time to address the all important question: “Will you trust God to forgive you, and to change you through Jesus?
- And we should learn from Dannen Latherow that we should appreciate the people in our lives that bring us joy . . . . because they are precious and few. . . .in fact, there are two fewer of them after this week.
Will you pray with me?
Our Father, words escape us. You have told us that Your Spirit understands the groans of our heart. So we sigh before You. Our tears reveal our pain. And we also know that they reveal our blessing. For we would not hurt, unless we had first loved.
Our Father, give us the strength we need. O Lord, stand with Peg and Don and Megan and their family. Keep the memories of Dannen sharp and clear in their mind. Comfort them as only You can. Stand also with Ron and Dorothy and Grant. Give them that peace that surpasses comprehension. Strengthen and deepen the faith of these families.
And help us. Help us to grow. To learn. To change. To be grateful. To believe. Amen