By Linda Porter Carlyle
Joseph Anderson Donetti sat in the pew between Mom and G.M. His stomach felt nervous and fluttery. He could see the back of Mac’s head two rows in front of him. Mac sat quietly between her parents. Even her bouncy red curls were still. The whole church was hushed. Joseph heard someone sniffle.
G.M. looked down at Joseph. She put her arm around his shoulders and gave him a squeeze.
Pastor Chuck came out of a little side door and walked to the front of the church. He smiled. “I am glad you could all come to this special memorial service for Brian,” he began.
Joseph shifted in his seat. He couldn’t really believe yet that Brian was dead. Brian was one of the big boys he saw at church every Sabbath. Brian was tall, and long-legged, and always laughing and dribbling an imaginary basketball. Brian couldn’t be dead. Only very old people were supposed to die!
Joseph listened as Pastor Chuck told how Brian had been driving his car to school only three days ago. The car skidded on an icy place on Jacksonville highway and ran into a big walnut tree at the side of the road. Joseph knew exactly which tree it was too. He went right past it every time he rode to town. People had put flowers all around the base of the tree.
“We are so blessed to know that we will see Brian again someday,” Pastor Chuck said. “We are not like the rest of the world that doesn’t have that kind of hope.”
Pastor Chuck went on talking. He told about what a good student Brian had been. He told how Brian had wanted to become a pilot. A pilot who would fly missionaries around the world so they could tell people in far away places about Jesus. Pastor Chuck talked about how Brian had loved basketball. And he reminded everybody how much Brian had loved Jesus.
Mom pulled a tissue out of her purse. She handed it to G.M., and then she got out another one for herself.
Joseph didn’t cry, but his hands felt cold. He didn’t like Brian being dead.
Pastor Chuck stopped talking. He looked at everyone for a moment. Then he smiled. “I know this is a very sad occasion,” he said. “We are all going to miss Brian very, very much. But we need to keep our thoughts on heaven. That is where we’re going, and it won’t be very long until we get there. And then we’ll get to watch Brian and Jesus play a little one-on-one. We can watch them shoot baskets into golden hoops.” Pastor Chuck opened his Bible. “It says so right here,” he said.
Joseph frowned. He didn’t know the Bible said anything about basketball.
“‘Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise,’” Pastor Chuck read.
Joseph thought for a minute. What did that have to do with basketball? Then a little laugh sort of burped out.
Everybody laughed. They seemed to feel better for it.
“I want you to remember something else,” Pastor Chuck said. “Brian’s death was not a surprise to Jesus. Jesus knew exactly which day Brian would die, and He kept him perfectly safe until that day. Listen to this verse. It’s Job 14:5. ‘You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live,’” he read.
“Now listen up,” Pastor Chuck said firmly. “God doesn’t want His children to worry about anything—what we eat, or wear, or what might happen to us tomorrow. He doesn’t want us to worry about dying either. God wants us to remember His promises. He promises to take care of us, and He promises to take us to heaven if we love Him. Jesus said, ‘There are many rooms in my Father’s house . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you…Then I will take you to be with Me so that you may be where I am.’”
“It’s perfectly normal for us to miss Brian and be sad about that,” Pastor Chuck concluded. “But we know we will see him again. And we need to rejoice about that.”
Outside, after the service, the sharp wind felt good on Joseph’s face. Mac pushed through the people. “Did you hear what Pastor Chuck said?” she asked excitedly. “We’re perfectly protected until the day we die. That’s so cool! Perfectly protected!” She flung her arms out and whomped G.M. in the back.
“I’m sorry!” Mac gasped. “I didn’t mean to hit you! I’m really, really sorry!”
G.M. turned around. She pulled one of Mac’s curls. “I forgive you,” she said with a grin. “I love you. And I sure hope we get to be next-door neighbors in heaven too.”