Friday was my older brother's birthday, but with the stress of that day--this week--I failed to acknowledge it. And since I know he's a steadfast reader of this blog, I thought I'd redeem myself by writing about him.
R and I are the closest siblings in age in our family. When we were children, there were several times when we even shared a bedroom. One of my most significant memories is sleeping in a twin bed next to his, in the house we rented that still smelled of smoke from a fire the previous year. One night I'd stayed up writing a story--yes, I was writing even then. I don't remember much of that story, except that it began, "Cathy was so excited she almost belched." Seriously. I think I was working hard not to say anything that would offend my mother--which vomiting, peeing or farting would definitely have done (though belching was also appalling to her!). Anyway, when I turned out the light, I tossed the papers to the floor. In the middle of the night, R woke up sick, and promptly vomited (for real!) right on my story.
Despite that, R and I generally got along pretty well. By high school, he was often the taxi-driver of choice for my non-driving friends and I. R knew all the streets/roads in our area where he could get air beneath the tires if he drove fast enough, and believe me, he was willing to drive fast enough. And I remember one summer afternoon when a whole crowd of us piled in the Carry-all and drove around a gravel parking lot on campus just to watch the odometer turn 100,000 miles. Two years ahead of me in school, R was friends with the guy I had a three-year unrequited crush on. I appreciated that sometimes that boy would show up at our house, and I was actually the one to open the door and let him in..sigh! Nothing like a brother who can be so helpful.
R married early--I think he was only 20. And a year later, he moved across the Rockie mountains for about a dozen years. We weren't very close during that time. He, as inevitably happens, was involved in his job and own family. He missed my wedding, wasn't around for the birth of my kids. During those years, I didn't feel like I knew him very well. He stopped into our lives now and then, but not often.
Then they moved back to the northwest. We lived close enough that we saw them frequently. He's a great guy--loves Christ, his family, sports--we had a lot in common. He helped with a couple of building projects, Beve helped him build a deck. But I don't think we really became close again until our dad died. Something changed in R when Dad died. I don't think he'd ever lost before--not really, anyway (Grandparents don't count). And Dad's death threw him. He was surprised with the depth of pain he felt, the crying startled him, the way he thought of Dad every day for that season. All those emotions were less surprising for me, I have to admit. I'm pretty emotional, anyway, and had known my share of loss. Anyway, that year, R started calling me more often--shoot, maybe he started calling me for the first time in our lives. Our conversations changed--deepened. After that, he worked away from home for a couple years, and would call me on the road. Those conversations always had the tint of eternity to them. He was in leadership at his church, led worship, sometimes preached. I liked who he was becoming, the growing up in Christ.
It's a truth of the Christian life that suffering is necessary in order for us to be transformed. It's like Michelangelo sculpting the David. It wasn't a perfect piece of marble that he used. There was a large blemish in it. But what Michelangelo did was, in his words, 'carve away everything that wasn't David.' He chiseled away the blemish until what was left is perfect and whole. I think that's what God has been doing in my brother's life. We all have blemishes, and he's no exception. But there's a chisel in God's hand that is constantly working to cut away those flaws; in fact, to carve off everything that isn't the essential self of R, the Image-of-God self that God intends him to be. Sometimes that 'sculpting' takes a large toll on a person, comes only with suffering. But after all, as I've said repeatedly, whatever it takes to make us whole--that's what I want for R. Good, bad, and in between, let God do what He will to make R His perfect sculpture.