On the wall in our kitchen, just above the phone, there was a calendar. The paper kind sold now in the seasonal stores, the kind you traded for your phone. Usually it was illustrated by Mary Engelbreit, my mother's favorite, and a perennial source of color in our home. Countless times I would walk by the hub of our kitchen and my mother would be standing there, tethered to the wall, looking at the squared off pages and taking notes while listening to the other end of the line.
And, each year, she would unwrap the new calendar and begin filling in from the old. My mom would go through fifty two weeks and two decades of notes, transcribing names, dates and events that she wanted to remember:
the birth of friend’s children
the death of friend’s loved ones, and of our friends.
the birth of family, and the death of family
wedding anniversaries and church activities
-- all amidst the lives of two busy kids and the court calendar of my judge father.
For all the celebrations to be remembered, the occasions of suffering are the dates that stick with me. It was then, when the day came that she would call - or we’d get in the car with a warm meal in the back seat. A note would get dropped in the mail, a meal on the doorstep to say: you are loved, you are not forgotten, and neither are they.
We were no strangers to the house of mourning. The weight of simple presence was evident the day of and in the weeks, months and years after. It was the calendar that quietly reminded us that on that day, mourning may visit the house again, and a brother or sister could use a phone call to say: you are loved, you are not forgotten, and neither are they.
This last weekend marked a year since we buried a dear friend. He stood shoulder to shoulder with my dad during a hard battle with cancer, and years later his family said goodbye when cancer took him. On Monday I hugged his widow, his daughter and struggled to know what to say - but the calendar had been on my mind for weeks and I knew that to avoid it for my own comfort may well rob them of comfort due in mourning. The reality of his absence does not change, and any little thing can bring the shadow of mourning. In the darkness of the shadow, we are our brothers keeper with the hope of the gospel.
Our young church has seen it’s share of suffering, and if we are not careful, it is the calendar of our work that will keep us from the dates of our member’s lives. The very nature of keeping the calendar - of minding events in the lives of others - is to care for them. To consider their lives, joys, hurts and the opportunities for loneliness, despair, and withdrawal in their suffering. To think of the other and act on their behalf, for their good, is simple enough in its premise that we miss it in the midst of our hurried hours. Being present is rarely productive, but it is.
Because caring for people takes time.
Because caring for those made in God’s image is not efficient. It is more often inconvenient.
And the means of caring are so rudimentary that we think that someone else will do it. We’ve got things in our calendar to get to.
But humans haven’t progressed beyond the value of presence and attention. Friendship doesn’t thrive in good intentions alone. And loneliness can steal hope in bite sized memories. Pastoring isn’t done best through your inbox and over coffee. It’s in the milestone moments of joy and suffering that get written down on the calendar.
My professor in seminary told us, when a child is born in your congregation - go to the hospital. Stay 5 minutes. Write down the date in your book and on their first birthday - send them a card. When you enter the house of mourning with your people, and you preach the funeral of their loved ones - write the date down. The next year, send them a card and tell them: you are loved, you are not forgotten, and neither are they.
Prof said this because he knew. Remember the events of your people’s lives, be present and let them know that they are not alone.