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Arrangements Pending

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It's a regular occurrence for the guys of the house to read the sports page while eating breakfast, but the obits? Never. A story's headline intrigued me, so I grabbed the page to read while eating fast food later.

At lunchtime, I read the article as I munched on the last of my sandwich, surprised to note it was yesterday's edition, one I had seen the day before. Out of the corner of my eye, a tiny ad at the edge of the page caught my attention. It read simply on the top line "Arrangements Pending." On the second line was the man's name. The funeral home was also listed.

Could this be our Mr. Duff who attended services with us? I had not seen him for weeks. With Mr. Duff, it was neither a surprise to see him, nor a surprise not to see him. He had some challenges in his life and did not attend church regularly.

Scanning the page for an obituary or death notice was fruitless. I knew of a fee for obituaries, but wasn't a death notice to mark someone's passing newsworthy? Trying to ascertain if this could be the man who worshipped with us, I called the funeral home. Describing him as a thin, older man with graying hair who wore large horn-rimmed glasses, I determined this most likely was our Mr. Duff.

The funeral director explained Mr. Duff had suffered a stroke and that he had no family, no means to pay. His legal guardian had arranged the burial. There would be no visitation, no funeral. A female minister—a stranger—would pray at the gravesite. The burial was the next day—in less than 24 hours! What could we do?

"I don't think Mr. Duff would have liked having a female minister do his service," I said. The funeral director quickly agreed that my husband, who is a minister, could officiate. At the forefront of my mind was that no one, especially someone in our congregation, should have such an ignominious passing, buried in an unmarked grave observed only by a legal guardian, a paid preacher and a funeral home attendant.

Immediately, my conscience was pricked, realizing how little I knew about this man, simply because I hadn't befriended him while he was alive. Now it was too late. The first half of James 2 came to mind. Starting in verse 2, it reads: "For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, 'You sit here in a good place,' and say to the poor man, 'You stand there' or 'Sit here at my footstool,' have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?"

I had not completely ignored the man, but I had failed in befriending him. There was no door we could enter to go back in time to change the past; but with less than a day to make it happen, a simple, dignified farewell was arranged. The next morning at the burial plot, we joined a few hurriedly notified brethren, one couple from another congregation and the guardian. We were surprised when a fire truck pulled up, and several firefighters in full gear joined us. Forming a circle around the grave, each shared how we knew the deceased. The firefighters had befriended Mr. Duff after dousing a fire at his apartment.

A bitter winter wind blew across the cemetery, buffeting the bright orange gerbera daisies as they sat atop the inexpensive casket. Not typical funeral flowers; but this wasn't a typical service, and I had requested something cheerful. Knowing the funeral home had donated the plot, it was no shock when a freight train roared close by, drowning out my husband Michael's words as he began to speak. A strong wind whipped the pages of his Bible; and tears sprang to our eyes, both from the cold and the loss we felt.

But the words of Job rode on the wind that winter day, reminding us we will meet again in a better world where disabilities of mind and body will be healed. Speaking above the wind, Michael said, "That You would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes. You shall call and I will answer You: You shall desire the work of Your hands" (Job 14:13-14).

More than one winter has passed since that day, allowing time for reflecting on what lessons could be taken from this unusual 24-hour period. One of several things brought home to me with Mr. Duff's death is how very much God loves all His little ones, rich or poor, able or disabled. If He cares and notes the passing of a humble sparrow as in Matthew 10:29-32, how much more does He care about the death of the humblest of us? Because God loves all His little ones, I firmly believe He led me to read that that day-old obituary page containing Mr. Duff's name, which seemed to jump out from a one-column-inch notice. Of course, presently Mr. Duff is unaware of the details of his interment. But in the resurrection, I think the man will appreciate the farewell provided him. It was the right thing to do.

When I hear the term "arrangements pending," I imagine Mr. Duff will forever come to mind. But reflecting on it, doesn't the term "arrangements pending" pertain to all humanity, set by God's timetable and plan for the resurrections? I am so grateful that our pending arrangements are in His capable hands and that we will not be forgotten or misplaced.

We cannot be sure when we arrive at Sabbath services if we will return next week or if someone we expect to see again will be gone from our midst. So, any befriending, any sharing, any honoring we intend to do, we need to do now.

The next time I meet a person who is shy or seems to be on the fringe of church society, I intend to befriend him or her. I will do it in memory of Mr. Duff. I think he would like that. And I know it will please our Heavenly Father. UN

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