A friend of mine recently responded to an email I sent her. A few months ago she had asked me to make some Christian Year necklaces based on our Christian Year lanyard because she thought folks at her church might be interested in them in our effort to raise money for neuroblastoma. We made them up and sent them on. A little while ago I got them all back, and I had asked her if they never got there or if they hadn't been that popular. She wrote me back:
I haven't been back to that church in a while. I used to be on staff until I hurt my back again in Jan. But I never received a card, call or visit since then, so my feeling were hurt.
I'm not going to jump in right here and make a judgmental comment about what church family is for (which my baser instincts would prefer), but I would like to take the opportunity to reflect a little on that experience and reflect it in our own.
I can remember getting Erin's diagnosis eight years ago this month. When we got back to town, I drove straight to my friend Elaine's house and had a good cry. Soon after I made an appointment with our associate pastor for lunch and share our heartbreaking news with her. Of course, at that point my priorities were hugely confused. There was no doubt in my mind that Erin would survive her cancer, but I was really worried about how it was going to change our life and how folks would treat her. I didn't want her to be a freak or damaged goods or cried over or pitied. Both Elaine and Marie encouraged me to take the lead about the way I wanted people to act and they would follow, and follow they did.
Eight years, they followed, through pastor changes, multiple turnovers in the session and diaconate, new staff, new members, and every step of the way we felt the loving arms of our community of faith. We had more meals delivered than I ever had time to give proper thanks for, endless crafts, gifts beyond measure, visits on lonely days, written messages on every imaginable occasion, and so many, many voices of commiseration, celebration, and encouragement. We shared our friends arms for hugs and shoulders for strength.
This didn't end when April 2009 ended. We still look to our many, many friends at First Presbyterian Church, Bryan with awe and inspiration for how they continue to live in relationship with us. I am reminded of the verse (maybe in Luke, despite teaching adult Sunday School for fifteen years, I'm not very good with verse citations) that loosely translated says love God with all your heart and strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. And I have to say that our friends at church really take the second half of that verse seriously.
Knowing such an experience is possible made me really sad for my friend who heard nothing from her church family when she needed them most.
P.S. Let me know if you are in the market for a Christian Year necklace. I have a dozen or so.