Monday, February 16, 2015


We've all been asked to go somewhere or do something against our better judgment, right?  And the reason we gave was, because.  Because you just didn't want to do it.  And when that happens, how often are we proved wrong?  I'd suspect, most of the time.  At least in my cases it is.....the stubborn one that I am.

This past Sunday was a prime example.  My wife, Joanne, mentioned to me about a speaker who was in the Des Moines area talking about his time in heaven.  "I think we should go hear him", she said.  "He's got a real interesting story".  Well, since I didn't have a real good excuse, at least one that would stand up when it comes to a husband-wife relationship, I sheepishly agreed.  Not with any great excitement, mind you.  But I agreed. 

Sunday morning we shot down the interstate to Norwalk,  a small town south of Des Moines.  As we entered the  high school  parking lot most of my intuitions were met.  There were three cars in the lot and we were 5 minutes away from the beginning of the engagement.  "How about we go", I offered.  "No, I think we should stay and support Mr. Piper, even if others don't", was her reply.

As we entered the building it was apparent we weren't at the right door.  We were greeted by a young lady who said to follow the hallways down to the auditorium where over 500 people were anxiously awaiting words on a journey many were curious of....."90 Minutes in Heaven".  Clearly I ate my least those I could muster up.  And what I heard in the next 90 minutes was nothing short of a miracle.

Remnants of the Ford Escort on the Texas Highway Bridge
Here is the story of Don Piper;s day that changed his life forever as told to a CBN reporter and relayed through their company website:

"Don Piper was relieved when the pastor's conference he had been attending finished a little early that Wednesday in January, 1989.  Being associate pastor and having just been appointed minister of education at a Houston area church, Don was a busy man. The early start home would provide him much needed time to mentally organize his hectic schedule.

"I was thinking about that night and also that I was going to be preaching that next Sunday morning in three services," Don remembers.

Little did Don know he would be late for the service that night--not just by minutes or hours, but by months--and before he got home, he would take a detour he would never forget.

Within minutes of leaving the retreat center, Don drove onto a bridge spanning a lake. It was a fairly long bridge and there was water on both sides of the elevated highway.

Recalling the scene, Don says, "I approached the end of the bridge, and before I reached the end, a tractor-trailer truck owned by the Texas Dept. of Corrections crossed the center stripe and hit my car head on."

Not only did the truck hit Don's car, it ran over the passenger side of the small Ford Escort, completely crushing the vehicle and killing Don Piper. Instantly, Don began an amazing journey.
"When I was killed, I was instantly transported to heaven's gate," he says. "It was an instantaneous thing."  Don found himself standing in front of a divine portal, surrounded by familiar faces. 

"I didn't see a single person that I did not know," he says. "They were relatives, they were friends that died in high school, they were teachers--they were people I had seen and known all my life who had gone to glory. They were smiling; they were embracing me; they were welcoming me' they were in the process of taking me through the gate of heaven." Looking over the heads of his friends, Don saw a looming pearl gate.

While Don stood at the gates of heaven, pastor Dick Onerecker of Kline, Texas, stood on a Texas highway by Don's lifeless body.  He had also attended the pastor's conference.  He came upon the accident moments after it happened.  The EMS personnel had told him that Don was dead.

"It was as though I was compelled to stop and to pray for him.  The Lord had just impressed on me very emphatically, very urgently that I was to pray for him," says Dick.  "I walked over by the door. There was great physical damage on the outside.  I laid my hands on him and began to pray for him."
As soon as Don's journey to Heaven began, it ended. Don found himself back in his crushed vehicle, staring up at a tarp that had been thrown over him by medical attendants.

Says Don, "The first conscious memory was 'What a Friend we have in Jesus.' I was singing. I was thinking to myself, Why am I singing this song? I'm in the dark, and I knew it was about noon time when the accident happened. I'm in the dark, I'm singing, and I'm holding a hand. I'm thinking to myself, What on earth is happening?"  Dick had begun singing hymns to Don.

What's  left out of those words is the facts that Piper broke nearly every bone in his body and his left arm and right leg were severed in the accident.  Why didn't he bleed out, you ask?  Simply, because his heart had stopped beating.  Now, back on earth and with his heart showing life, the rush began to save Don.  Over the course of the next 6 and 1/2 hours he was taken to three different hospitals before finally reaching the best care center in Texas, TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston.  During the next thirteen months and some 300 surgeries, Potter fought for his life and questioned his God.   

The 13-month home of the Don Piper with family at his bedside
One can certainly realize Piper had many unanswered questions while laying flat on his back....about his future, his family's financial situation and most importantly, why was he turned around at Heaven's gate.

"I like to say that I came back by popular demand," he says. "People prayed me back from the gates of heaven. People prayed me back from death's door. I'm here because people asked God for me to be here.". 

You can find out more about Piper's story. Some sixteen years after the crash, he began selling a book, "90 Minutes in Heaven".  It has sold over 6 million copies and it's still as popular as ever.  A movie depicting his life will be released soon

Here are several takeaways I had from the morning.  Prayer Changed Everything.  Piper said that in addition to Onerecker's prayers at the accident scene, his church put out a prayer request for his well-being that went around the globe.  Little did his church know, Piper was dead at the time.  "Just recently", Piper mentioned, "a gentleman came up to me after a lecture and told me he prayed for me that day while in Taipei, Taiwan.  Imagine someone telling you that some twenty plus years later." 

In addition, Piper encouraged his audience to look for a miracle in their lives...."because you're going to need one to live this life".  "Take your test and make it a testimony and your mess and make it a message", he added.

And time, I need to surrender and see where God is at Work.  Not on my terms or my schedule.

And to think of what I would have missed if I had stayed home.




Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Several years ago I provided you some facts about Hawkeye, the black Labrador friend of Petty Officer Jon Tumilson laying on the floor near the coffin of his owner.  It was a picture worth more than money and fame could ever offer.  It was the "ultimate gift" one friend gives another, regardless if one of those happened to be four-legged.

Lisa Pembelton, Tumilson's sister, shot the photograph which moved around the entire world.  Petty Officer Tumilson and 29 other Seals and Afghani Nationals were killed when their Chinook helicopter was shot down on August 11, 2011.

The bond between Hawkeye and his faithful buddy, Jon, was one of great affection and love.  So much so, that in the summer of 2013, Tumilson and Hawkeye were bronzed in a statue with the two of them running through the prairies of the Rockford Fossil and Prairie Park.  "Thank you to the board for allowing us such a beautiful place for Jon and Hawkeye to run forever", said Tumilson's brother-in-law Scott McMeekan.  The statue was made by Jeff Adams of In Bronze in Mt. Morris, Illinois.

"I can't tell you what an honor it was to be entrusted with the image of Jon", said Adams.  He said he spent six to eight months trying to "breath life" into a man he never knew.  The Tumilson family sent photos and measurements such as shoe size and Adams read Navy SEAL books, but it was the stories of Tumilson that inspired him.  "Here on this extraordinary hilltop we dedicate this statue to the memory and intensity Jon brought to life", Adams said.

There have been several questions concerning the real-life Hawkeye's whereabouts since the funeral in 2011.  Here is what we know:    

"Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson's longtime friend Scott Nichols and his family are Hawkeye's new owners, confirmed Carol Darby, a public affairs officer from Fort Bragg supporting the Tumilson family.  "Scott is Hawkeye's new owner and that is according to Jon's wishes," Darby told "He's very happy. He's with a family that he has known for a long time and that has loved him for a long time." The Nichols family cared for Hawkeye when Tumilson was away on duty. Darby said that Hawkeye has gained a human family and a dog family, including two or three other Labradors owned by the Nichols. 

Kathy (left) mother of Jon hugs a family member at dedication for son Jon
Yesterday I received some news that was totally unexpected.  Kathy Tumilson, Jon's mother passed away from cancer.....the one who was a rock within the family....the lady who took three total strangers (myself, and two members of Project 52, Bill Clark and Dustin Blythe) throughout her house showing us artifacts of Jon's life when we planted a tree in his honor.....a pillar in the Rockford community for sure, who shared with me stories of Hawkeye that few knew.  It's with her passing that I wanted to share some "other" sides of the Hawkeye story.

As I mentioned earlier, Hawkeye moved to Texas.  And he has lived a good life....albeit a guarded one.  Not too long after arriving in the south, his new owners took him into the vet to have some work done.  Apparently there were some individuals who caught wind of the celebrity in town and wished the dog to be theirs. They pranked the veterinarians office with words that the owners had something come up and they wouldn't be able to pick up Hawkeye....and they would be doing the errand for them.  Sensing something was fishy, the vet's office called Hawkeye's new family and made an inquiry into the truth.  As Kathy would relate to me, "when the Nichols found this out, they were furious".  Imagine someone trying to steal a dog that wasn't yours and had so much sentimental value". 

Kathy also relayed other calls and letters and emails she received after Hawkeye became world famous.  "One caller said he was a disabled vet and he was entitled to Hawkeye", she said.  "Others were down right demanding they should be the new rightful owners".   For Kathy and the Nichols family it was hard to fathom that people were so callous in their thinking.   For some time, it caused the Nichols to be extra special cautious in their dealings and who came around their home.  Time has healed some of those thoughts and concerns, but not all of them.   And they might not ever leave.

As I reflect today on Kathy's passing, knowing the Tumilson family, helping plant a tree in the family's back yard and having an insight into the keen canine known as Hawkeye....I am somewhat downtrodden in knowing Mrs. Tumilson is gone.  But, as my wife Joanne offered, "she's with her son now in Heaven.  How bad can that be?  And in time...Hawkeye will join them". 

And that, as they say, will be the rest of the story