Dedicated to my Dad - William H. Burner
The testimonial "Return of Prodigal Son" was written shortly after my Dad's death (June 10, 1980). I have had it tucked away for years but want to share it with you now; why the words: And put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet (Luke 15:22) have become so dear to me!
Picture was taken when we came to live with the Burner's.
Let's go back to the beginning. Dad accepted guardianship of my sister and I when we were 8 and 9 years old. He raised us as if we were his own and we lacked for nothing. We attended God's house of worship regularly and all seemed to be going well with our family. Dad wanted to adopt us but my birth dad would not allow it; so he changed our last name to Burner.
However, as I grew older Dad and I did not agree on everything and I'm sure he oftentimes became very frustrated with me. I did him many a wrong and he had every right to reject me as a son; but he did not. I entered the service after a failure to complete Business College due to riotous living as that of the Prodigal Son.
Picture of Dad and Mom in the backyard of our new home; next to the old one we first lived in. Dad had the new home built by my Uncle who was a contractor.
As mentioned; I entered the service after failure to complete Business College. My riotous living only increased in such an environment. I even became involved in an episode which left me in a near-death situation. It was then that I turned to the God of my youth. I said if he would spare me I would: (1) Discontinue Drinking; (2) Discontinue using Profanity; and (3) Become more Religious.
I was not to fully keep those promises until nearly ten years later. Meanwhile I only came home once every four or five years and Dad and I seemed aloft from each other during those visits. Largely, because of all that had happened and the many wrongs I had done. I more or less self-imposed myself as the Black Sheep of the family.
In 1978 I learned just how real God is and begin to dedicate my life to serving Him. It was then that I finally kept all the promises I had made some ten years earlier; although I had attempted to do so before. Then the last few years of Dad's life I began to detect a change on his part.
Picture taken of Dad and Mom on the year of His death.
About a year before Dad died he came to our home for a visit. I then learned that he was truly looking to the Lord which gave me a chance to testify of my own faith and determination to live for God. After that visit Dad's letters gave me cause to rejoice for he often mentioned the Lord in them.
Then came Dad's final letter. In the letter he said he could not understand all that he read in God's Word but that it was coming more clear to him and he was praying about it. He also asked my opinion of whether I felt we were in the end times. I received this letter the day before Dad died.
The next day I was reading in the Book of John during lunch hour. I had just finished reading Chapter 11 concerning Lazarus' death and Jesus' weeping when I received the phone call telling me of Dad's death. It was after the call that I myself weeping; for I realized I would not be able to renew that Father-to-Son relationship, which seemed so close at hand. But Dad's last letter comforted me for I knew he was surely with the Lord.
I found out later that after reading his Bible Dad had gone down into the basement to do his daily exercises. It was during this time that he had heart failure. Mother said that when she found Dad he had a smile on his face and she thought he was only pretending to be asleep. So she playfully poked him but found to her distress that he was not breathing.
On the day of Dad's funeral I arose early and felt a desire to read in Dad's Bible where he himself had been reading on the day of his death. It was then I noticed a poem tucked inside his Bible:
I shall fall asleep in the twilight, as I never have before, to dream of the beautiful city, till I waken to sleep no more. There will fall, on my restless spirit a hush, Oh, so wondrously sweet, and I shall cross over the river to rest at the Master's feet.
I want to tell you of a meeting I had with the minister who officiated at Dad's funeral. I had it in mind to let him see the poem but first asked him if he would give me an outline of what he intended to use at the service. He said he intended to start off with John's description of Lazarus' death...my heart leaped for joy for the Lord surely had prepared me for Dad's death; that last comforting letter, and now the same scripture being used which I myself had been reading when notified of his death. He then went on to say he was going to mention the beautiful city John had described in Revelations. A perfect lead-in to the poem I found in Dad's bible!
After Dad's funeral I told Mom I felt like the Prodigal Son who had returned home for I could not have been more fully accepted than I was. Mom asked me where in the Bible it told of the Prodigal Son; I said I wasn't sure. A little later Mom asked me to accept a ring that Dad had worn during his latter years. Then my sister noticed my shoes were about worn out and asked me if she could replace them as an early birthday present. I accepted both gifts.
One morning shortly thereafter I arose early in the morning to read my Bible. I like to open my mind sometimes to whatever Book and Chapter comes to mind - in this case it was Luke 15. When I turned to that chapter I once again rejoiced for it was concerning the Return of Prodigal Son. As I continued reading the chapter these words seem to leap out at me...AND PUT A RING ON HIS HAND AND SHOES ON HIS FEET for that is what happened to me!
I thank the Lord that Dad is now across that river (the River of Life) which is eternal life. We also shall cross that river and be at the Master's feet; if we have a love for the Lord that excels all else, if we put Jesus first and foremost in our lives!