We gather this morning to mourn the loss and to remember and celebrate the life of Michael L. Harris.
This is a loss that has taken us by surprise. We need something or someone to hold onto today. So I share with you the something (God’s Word) that points you to the someone (God) who can help us.
The prophet Isaiah wrote,
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and wary, and yong men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40)
Jesus said to us: Come unto me all ye that are weary and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.
We need the open arms of Christ today.
And then there are the words that Mike and his fellow soldiers used to recite whenever they would head to a dangerous position,
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil’ my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Will you pray with me,
Father, we bow before you today. We need your help. We are sad, angry, frustrated . . . and even numb. Prop us up in our time of loss.
Father, you have given us someone special in Mike Harris and we ask that you help us to remember him and to celebrate the impact he had on our lives.
So draw us close. Give us the strength we need. For we ask in the strong name of Jesus, Amen.
Michael L. Harris was born on February 4th 1948 in Peoria Illinois the son of Marvin B. and Donnietta Wertz Harris. He graduated from Washington High School in 1967.
Mike joined the Marines during the Vietnam war. In 1968 Mike’s outfit was virtually destroyed by “friendly fire”. If I have the information correct only five of the men survived and Mike was in the best shape of the survivors. As a result of his injuries he lost both of his legs. Mike received the Purple Heart for his service.
After returning home to Peoria he met Catherine McCord and they were married on May 15, 1971. They moved to the La Harpe area to raise their children.
Mike was a member of the Carthage VFW Post.
Mike died last Sunday, February 20, 2000 at 3:10 a.m. at the Burlington Medical Center. He was 52.
He is survived by his wife, Cathy
His son, Bryan Harris
His daughter, Dawn (Mrs. Lynn) Hardisty
One Grandson, Lane Hardisty
And his mother, Donnietta Harris of Peoria.
He was preceded in death by his father and his grandparents.
Mike Harris was an extraordinary man. He was extraordinary because at a time when he could have been bitter and chosen to give up on life . . . he refused. Mike’s attitude was what made him special. From the moment of his injuries he decided since he was still alive he was going to live that life as fully as he could.
Consequently Mike did all kinds of things. Mike was a drag racer for awhile in his 442 Dodge with a reverse transmission.
He enjoyed hunting. He rode horses. He drove 4 wheelers and 3 wheelers. And many of us saw him in the morning and evenings taking the dog for a walk. In fact, I saw that dog dashing down the street one day with Mike hanging on racing down the street behind him!
Mike cooked, he cleaned, he swept the floors. He changed the oil in the cars and was always up for a job that needed to be done. And who didn’t shake their head in wonder as they watched Mike maneuver in and out of a vehicle?
Mike did not want pity. He didn’t expect special treatment, he just wanted to enjoy life.
Mike was a family man. He loved his wife and adored his children. His kids learned respect and also learned that their dad would stand up for them if they were being treated unfairly. When his kids would do something wrong, Mike would correct them. When they did something right he was there to applaud them.
The Harris home was always full of kids. And there are scores of young adults and children around LaHarpe who knew Mike as “Pop” or “Dad”
Mike would sometimes drive the people at school crazy when he would come to a game. Mike didn’t hold anything back. He was fully involved in any game he attended. He would yell at the kids . . . to try to spur them on to do their best. If they got lazy or careless they knew they were going to hear about it. He’d yell at the officials because sometimes they needed to be yelled at!
Mike never missed a game or activity his children were involved in. They got first priority . . . always.
When Lynn wanted to marry Dawn, Mike made it clear that it would never happen until Lynn did it right and asked Mike for her hand. And the night that Lynn did so . . . Mike enjoyed making him sweat.
His grandson, Lane, was his pride and joy. He was filled with joy to see the next generation growing up. He looked forward to all the things he was going to teach Lane. First on his list, he was going to teach Lane how to be ornery. He would tell Lane, “Grandson, if mom and dad are mean . . . you come live with us.” His goal was to make Lane into a “spoiled, rotten, kid.”
When Lane was sick, Mike was told that he couldn’t have any contact with him for a few weeks. Mike replied that this isolation was NOT going to happen. He wasn’t about to miss a moment that he had to enjoy his Grandson.
Mike Harris loved and appreciated his wife. He knew Cathy was a special companion and he cherished her. She stuck by him in the times of depression, during flashbacks, and through various medical problems. He knew she was a special woman.
And Bryan and Dawn would certainly tell you that Mike was a wonderful father. He was more than just their father. He was their friend.
But as much as Mike was a family man . . . he was also a very special part of the La Harpe community.
Mike enjoyed having fun with people. He didn’t let you get away with anything. If you said or did something stupid, he would be quick to draw attention to that fact.
He made his “rounds” around town and made friends wherever he went. He’d stop to get his mail, he’d sit and visit with friends at Ayerco and several days a week he would go into the Bank and spend an hour or more giving the employees a hard time. And everyone looked forward to his visits.
It was not uncommon for Mike to be sitting in a bench at Ayerco while someone else sat in his wheelchair trying to learn from Mike how to pop a “wheelie”. And he’d squeal with delight when Rena would push him around the store as fast as she could.
Kids were drawn to Mike. If a child came up and asked Mike what happened to him . . . he would kindly explain his injuries and then they could be friends and talk about something else. Kids around the neighborhood would come by the house and ask if Mike would come out and play with them.
Mike liked to give people a hard time. And people enjoyed giving Mike a hard time. Once Alan Driskel stopped by to see Mike at the Burlington Hospital but Mike had already been dismissed. Alan called Mike and told him that he tried to see him. And since Mike had already been dismissed, Alan wondered if Mike would reimburse him five bucks for gas. The next day Alan got a note from Mike. And in the letter were five pictures of Bucks.
One day he deliberately came charging out of Ayerco in his chair right in front of a car so that he could tell everyone that Jeanette tried to “run him over.”
It was not uncommon for Mike to ask some of the girls around town for a hug. Some days he would confess that “Today, I could really use a hug.” . . .And some of those days you had the feeling that he didn’t need the hug as much as he thought someone else did.
Mike Harris could have been self-absorbed. But he wasn’t. Instead, he became a kind, caring, giving man. He welcomed the opportunity to help someone else.
During the last several years Mike was suffering the effects of Hepatitis C. It was destroying his liver. Mike went through treatment after treatment. And I remember him confessing to me that he was sure that some of those treatments were only prescribed because the Doctor needed the money to pay some bill of his own.
Mike only wanted a “fighting chance” to live. He got on the list to get a liver transplant. He went through the tests and endured the treatments. He didn’t complain . . he just kept fighting to squeeze every ounce of enjoyment from life he could find.
Mike was a proud man. He carried his own groceries, opened his own doors and enjoyed being independent. He didn’t like to wear a coat and he hated winter because it made it so hard for him to get around.
As Mike became weaker it was hard for him to ask for help. He wore a coat so he wouldn’t get sick. He didn’t like these things but he did them in the hope that it would give him the chance to get a new liver. He never got that chance.
Don’t get me wrong, Mike Harris wasn’t a saint. He had his down times. His language was “salty” and “tact” was not his strong suit. But an entire community looked up to him. You couldn’t help but smile at his spirit.
Mike had a hard time understanding how people could give up on life, marriage, or each other. To Mike Harris some things in life took hard work . . . but the good things in life were worth the work.
Mike said once that he had “no regrets” in his life. That’s quite a remarkable statement. He didn’t have time for regrets . . .there was nothing productive in looking back. He had no regrets because he lived well. And I hope that Mike will forgive us for that sense of regret that we feel, because he left us so soon.
The Apostle Paul talked about attitude in the tough times of life.
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 Corinthians 4)
Mike Harris was a man who never lost heart. He was a fighter. He loved life. He enjoyed people. His loss came suddenly, unexpectedly, and leaves us all stunned.
Today you face a crossroads similar to what Mike faced. You have encountered a devastating and life altering loss. And like Mike you can become bitter or you can grow deeper. I hope you will choose the later course. And as you seek to grow deeper I urge you to avail yourself of three things.
First, turn to God. I know you may be mad at Him at this time. That’s often the case in circumstances we don’t understand.
But, the Bible tells us that God cares about us. God’s arms reach out to you. The Bible tells us that the whole reason Jesus Christ came into the world was to give us strength on this side of eternity and the promise life beyond the grave when this life is over.
The Bible is really quite an honest book. It faces life squarely. It tells us the truth about ourselves. And it shows us a way to overcome our failures and all the times we have ignored God in our life. I encourage you to make the Bible your companion.
The Bible tells us that Jesus came to give His life as a payment for the wrongs we have done. And when the Bible tells us about the resurrection of Jesus after three days in the tomb . . . it says that those who follow Christ . . . those who will give their lives to Him . . . will live beyond the grave as well.
It’s not wishful thinking. The evidence for Christ’s resurrection is really quite compelling. Unfortunately, most people have never taken the time to check it out.
The One who gives life, strength, healing, and hope is there for you. But you have to turn to Him. I know you may not be able to pray . . . so just sit and let God put His arms around you. I know words barely register at this time but don’t give up the search for God. I know that worship can be awkward in times of heartache but it is also where you find the strength you need. He’s your lifeline. . . turn to Him.
Second, I encourage you to turn to your friends. One of the reasons for a public gathering like this is to share the grief. I know there have been lots of people who have said to you, “If there is anything I can do . . . ” I think they really mean it. They want to help but don’t know how. So, tell them to call you every so often just to visit. Tell them to stop by frequently and help you fill the time. Tell them to share their stories of their life with Mike because you don’t want to stop talking about him . . . you comfort in talking about him with others. Let your friends help you as you grieve and as you move forward.
Finally, I encourage you to find strength in memory of the kind of man Mike Harris was. Remember the wild things he said. Remember the times he gave you a good natured hard time. Remember the times you shared together. And by all means remember the attitude he had toward life. Hardships made him stronger. Hearing people tell him what he could not do made him more determined to prove them wrong.
Develop a deep faith. Trust your good friends. And continue to remember some of the things Mike taught us. Things like this:
1. A Handicap is less a physical thing and more a mental thing. You are “handicapped” because you focus on “can’t” rather than can. People who are willing to work, adjust, and be creative can overcome limitations of their physical circumstances.
2. Life is what we make it. We can complain or we can rejoice. We can get down or we can work to lift others up. We can live in the past or we can focus on the future. But the choice is ours.
3. Sometimes the best way to show somebody you notice them and like them is to give them a hard time.
4. You must make time to have a little fun.
5. We learned from Mike that this country may have it’s problems . . . but it is our country. Serving our country whether it is in World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, the Persian Gulf or even in the states is to do something honorable. And we have been reminded that there is often a high price paid to serve our country. We must never take that service for granted.
6. Life is short and unpredictable . . .so we need to make the most of every opportunity. Don’t miss opportunities to cheer on your children. Don’t pass up a chance to have fun with your grandchildren. Don’t take your spouse for granted. Every day is precious.
7. And we learned that we should never think that we can’t make a difference. You may not be the prettiest Belle at the ball. You may not be the sharpest mind in company. You may not have anything about you that the world would naturally applaud. But a person with zest for living . . . the person who does what they can do rather than mope around about what they can’t do. That person will turn heads. That person will be noticed. And that person can change the world around them. And if you don’t believe me . . . look at the difference Michael Harris made in his community.
Will you pray with me?
Father, we thank you for blessing us with Mike’s life. Thank you for his example of courage, determination, and his zest for living. Give us a measure of his spirit.
Lord, I ask that you now take care of Mike. Wrap your arms around Him. Love him, heal him, and make him new.
And for his family I pray that you would help them to live in spite of the tremendous void that is left in their lives. Draw them even closer to each other. Surround them with friends who will stand by them in the months ahead. Heal the ache in their hearts and replace it with wonderful memories and fervent faith.
I ask this in the name of Christ. Amen.