My dad died four years ago this past Sunday. He died on a Tuesday. The last time I saw my father alive was on Monday, March 12, 2012. I arrived at his home that morning. Upon entering the back door that my mother had left open I heard deep within me the words “the death angel is here.” The door had been left open by my mother, who was in the front of their home with my dad. When my mother came to greet me, instead of the usual “hello Mitch,” she said, “Mitch, the death angel has been here for two days. He’s come to get your dad. It won’t be long. I was dumbstruck and told her what rose up in me when I entered the door of their home. He went to be with Jesus less than 24 hours later.
Each year, In honor of my Father, I repost the contents of the message I spoke at his funeral. I miss my dad. His influence still molds my life today. Here are my notes from when I spoke:
Robert E. Horton
May 9, 1929 – March 13, 2012
Thoughts about my Dad
My dad’s best friend in my youth was a man named B. W. Smith. They were great friends, and were so much alike. On January 18, 1974, Mr. Smith died of a sudden heart attack in the driveway of his home. This affected my dad deeply. At his funeral, the pastor read Psalm 26 and talked about it. This Psalm fit Mr. Smith and also my dad so well:
Psalm 26- NLT
Declare me innocent, O LORD,for I have acted with integrity; I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Put me on trial, LORD, and cross-examine me. Test my motives and my heart. For I am always aware of your unfailing love, and I have lived according to your truth. I do not spend time with liars or go along with hypocrites. I hate the gatherings of those who do evil, and I refuse to join in with the wicked. I wash my hands to declare my innocence. I come to your altar, O LORD, singing a song of thanksgiving and telling of all your wonders. I love your sanctuary, LORD, the place where your glorious presence dwells. Don’t let me suffer the fate of sinners. Don’t condemn me along with murderers. Their hands are dirty with evil schemes, and they constantly take bribes. But I am not like that; I live with integrity.So redeem me and show me mercy. Now I stand on solid ground, and I will publicly praise the LORD.
When I was a young boy I almost idolized my dad. I thought that he could do anything, solve any problem. For me, he made the world a safe place. My brother Robert used the word superman when he thought of my dad.
Revelation 14:13 reads: And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!”
My mom said my dad was the hardest working man she ever met. My dad worked very hard all his life, and he taught me and my brothers that same ethic. I can remember as a child watching him work in his huge garden, or on any of the many projects around our house. He would work, sweat profusely (with sweat dripping off his nose), and be at the same time either singing, whistling, or lecturing me as to the value of working hard to make a living.
My dad is in heaven now. All labor has ceased. He was in my past. Though not in my present, he will be in my future in eternity.
I want to take a few minutes as a son to talk about the man my brother and I call dad, and the only man my mother ever loved.
Here are some of the “works” that follow that are etched in my memory as Robert Horton’s son.
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
My dad quit school in the 8th grade to help his dad on the farm as they share cropped some land. He would plow a mule all day long as a teenager.
He drilled that ethic into me and my brothers. He later went on to get his GED and to work for Dupont all his life until retirement in 1991.
My dad built 3 houses in his lifetime. One in 1953 when he and my mother were first married. Then, we moved to Florence SC in the early 1960’s where he bought land, and he and his father built the house there that my brothers and I were raised in. Then, in 1980, my dad bought the property where He and my mom have lived there Heath Springs, SC since 1993. He spent 13 years remodeling that house from the ground up. Dad always had a project going on: adding a bathroom to our house; enclosing the two side porches; building a huge garage; installing central vacuum cleaners as a side business; spending 13 years building his retirement home. Building outbuildings on his property; working his HUGE garden.
Lazy people don’t even cook the game they catch, but the diligent make use of everything they find.
My dad was frugal to the extreme. He watched what he did with every penny he made. After we moved to Florence, my mother never worked outside the home, and my father provided for his wife and three sons well. He used resources wisely.
After I was grown and married, he told me that he went to the bank to get a loan for something, and that the banker was amazed at what he owned based on his income. My dad told me the banker was astonished, having never seen anything like it before. My dad was ultra frugal, ultra resourceful, and ultra wise. Every penny counted.
A for instance. In the mid sixties, he decided to build a 2 car garage with a shop area and with a lean-to on the back for his tractor, lawn mower and all things yard and garden storage.
He bought the material from a torn down house and had them delivered to our yard. My brother Robert and I spend hours pulling nails out of boards and placing the nails in plastic milk jugs. Then we spent hours straightening the nails with a hammer on a piece of steel. My brother Robert and I chipped all the old mortar off of used brick with a hammer and chisel. The garage was built with the materials from the old torn down house. Frugality. Nothing was wasted, ever. The garage was build with cinder block, used brick, used mortar (under the cement floor), used lumber, and used nails. Add to that a lot of creativity.
One time he bought A LOT of plastic 55 gallon drums, and had them delivered to our property during the winter months so he could store them in his garden space on our land. Dad sold them a little at a time for some good profit! Frugal. Nothing was ever thrown away. He may be able to use it later.
Ephesians 4:25 NKJV
Therefore, putting away lying, Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.
My dad was a very honest man. He did not lie and did not cheat. On anything. Ever. We were taught that lying was one of the worst things a person could be involved in. This impacted my life deeply before I met Jesus.
I’ve not always been a “good” guy. As a teenager I got involved with smoking cigarettes and pot before I met Jesus. On the way to church he asked me if I smoked cigarettes. I could not lie and answered yes. It got really quiet in the car. Then, my dad asked me if I smoked pot. Again, I just could not lie, and told him yes. I knew I was in trouble when he spoke not one word the rest of the trip, and did not look at me even one time during the rest of the ride to church, while there, or while on the way home.
When home, I went to my room and shut the door. Just before he retired for the night, my dad came into my room. My light was on while I was reading. I thought he was going to absolutely butcher me. Instead, he sat on my bed, looked deeply into my eyes, and with tears streaming down both cheeks said, Mitch, you disappoint me.
I would have preferred that he beat me, for that would not have pierced me the way his words did. I quit smoking pot soon after this. His honest heart broke mine. I’ve never been the same.
My dad loved my mom
Proverbs 5:18 NKJV
Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice with the wife of your youth.
Ephesians 5: 25
Husbands, love your wife, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her…
In this day of easy divorce, live in lovers and adultery, my dad loved my mom in a pure way.
They met in December of 1953 as he had just finished a tour in the Army being stationed in Korea as an MP. It was love at first sight.
My dad dated plenty of girls, but when he saw my red haired, freckled faced mom – he went head over heals for her. My mom did the same for him. When she saw him in his army fatigues for the first time, she just this week told me “a feeling I never had before came over me.” They dated 6 months and were married in July of 1953.
My childhood was filled with memories of my dad singing love songs to my mom. Like:
You, you, you are my true love; you, you, you are the one. We’ll spend our lives together sharing the rain and the sun. Just one look at you; that’s when I knew we’d never part; they’ll never be another true love for me, you are the one love that lives in my heart.
Or, tell me why the ivy twines, tell me why the stars do shine, tell me why the sky is so blue, and I’ll tell you darling just why I love you…
They sang, held hands together, helped each other when sick, disagree with passion, hugged, kissed, and just romanced each other their whole lives long – for over 58 years. It never stopped.
Just the day before my dad died, this past Monday, my mom told him that she would love to just lay down beside him in bed and hold him. He could hardly talk for the hard breathing (congestive heart failure)…He intertwined his fingers together and finally got out…I would squeeze you like this…
My dad taught me how to be nice to womanhood, to hold the door open, to help women. To respect and not demean them.
My dad loved gardening and all things horticulture…
He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, But he who follows frivolity will have poverty enough!
He planted all sorts of bushes and flowers; fruit trees and grape vines in our yards. He planted a HUGE garden every year of my life. He loved it, sweat and all.
Every Sunday Dad and mom would walk around the yard and admire the beauty of the bushes, the trees, the flowers, the fruit trees, and the garden. My dad adored God’s creation and loved to make things grow.
I never in my life had vegetables bought from a grocery store until I was married and moved away from home. Thanks dad.
Wit and humor
A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.
My dad loved to joke around. He constantly picked on all of us…mercilessly.
He cut up and picked on friends and family, on my mom and my brothers and me. And if you talked to him long, his wit would automatically display itself. There was no way to keep a straight face. My dad thought life was to be enjoyed.
My dad loved to sing, whistle and hum
Ephesians 5:19 NKJV
Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,
Working around the house, in the yard, in the garden…or taking a shower and shaving…or driving wherever…he would do one of three things. He would either sing, whistle, or hum.
Often it would be songs from the baptist hymnal like At the Cross, or Tell me the Old, Old Story, or Love Lifted me, or How Great Thou Art (I tell you, I know them all because I heard them over and over again at home). Or love songs from the 40’s, or songs from the 50’s.
I always wondered what a one eyed, one horned, flying purple people eater was (a popular hit song he sang over and over to me from 1958).
I can still sing London Bridge is falling down… in perfect Korean…he sang it to me as a child.
Pragmatist and Jack of all trades
My dad would rig something out of nothing to make whatever work. He repaired our cars, our bikes, the water heater, the toilet, the roof, the furniture, the yard and gardening equipment.
At the same time he taught me how to tie my shoes, my tie, how to ride a bike, how to shoot a gun, all manner of gun safety, how to hunt and fish, how to throw a baseball. He also taught me that it was OK to think a little girl in my class at school was cute. He also taught me to look my best when I was going somewhere.
He took a course in small engine repair so lawn mowers always worked; he took a course in pesticides and got a license just to rid the garden of bugs and the yard of those pesky mosquitoes.
He rigged an ingenious device on his riding lawn mower when I was a kid that sprayed a mixture of used motor oil and malathion (bug killer) on our bushes so the mosquitoes would not drag us away.
A huge snow storm in 1973 dumped 20 + inches of snow on SC and nobody could travel. He rigged a snowplow made of wood onto his 1950 John Deere tractor and cleared our country community roads.
He threw away nothing. Tires, lumber, brick, milk jugs, nails, screws, washers, nuts, bolts, baby jars, coffee cans…you name it, we saved it.
My dad celebrated rest on Sundays.
He worked like a trojan 6 days, but Sundays were for church, eating dinner, and resting. I’ve been in Christian ministry for over 32 years. He would constantly ask me, Mitch, are you taking a break each week?
My Dad was a Christian – a real one
He did not like the political facade that some attach to church life, – he was real about everything. He did not play religious games.
But he loved going to church. My dad read his Bible. He prayed. He loved people. But he would not play the lip service religion game. Not my dad.
He prayed over his meals, and he prayed for us boys. He was an ordained deacon for many years. He taught Sunday School classes. He repented when he sinned.
After I had potentially serious auto accident that all walked away from in August of 1995, I called mom and dad. My dad told me that he had dreamed that I had died the night before and had prayed for me all day long the next day.
In 2004, I was on the way to Calcutta India, and to Kathmandu, Nepal on a missions endeavor. My dad kept asking me for weeks, “are you sure you should be going on this trip?” He intuitively knew something was up. At the beginning of the trip,my appendix burst mid-flight from Raleigh to Atlanta. I never got on the next flight. I had an emergency appendectomy. My dad knew beforehand and prayed.
My dad was ready to go to heaven
He told me many times the last few months that he would be in heaven soon. He asked me to preach his funeral, and to make sure my mom was cared for. He was going home.
This Tuesday, an angel came to take his spirit into eternity and away from his body. My dad passed from death into life. I miss him.
The death sting is gone…
1 Corinthians 15:55-58-NKJV
O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (56) The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.(57) But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (58) Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that if we are absent from the body we will be present with the Lord.
Paul said in Philippians 1 that to die is gain, and said that death is far better than living on earth.
David the Psalmist tells us that in God’s Presence there is fullness of joy, pleasures forevermore.
In Psalm 116, David declared that the death of His saints is precious to God.
My dad is not dead, but very much alive. In my memories and in heaven.
D.L. Moody, an evangelist from the late 1800’s said, One day you will pick up the paper and read these words Dwight L. Moody is dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. At that time I will be more alive than I have ever been in my entire life! To me now, dad is so very alive, and very fulfilled and happy.
I hope I can impact my world the way his simple honorable life impacted mine. I would not be who I am today without the influence of the man I call daddy. I love this man. And always will.
My dad was born again. My dad was ready for heaven, are you? Romans 10:9-10 shows what to do to get there. Make it count for you.
I hope you enjoyed reading about how my dad’s life impacted mine. Let’s make the most of each day that God gives us on earth. Let’s leave a trail of faith, blessing, and encouragement for others.