The Other Birthday Brother

It’s my other brother’s birthday and I’m all smiles.  I asked my sister to find some photos of our brother for his birthday blog and this one stole my heart.  Look at that toothless grin, HUGE ball cap (did you borrow that from Dad?) accompanied by a tiny body, lefty baseball stance, and sporting a look of sheer determination!    And you were way ahead of your time with that stylish flat bill…LOL!  Under that hat I imagine that you’re sporting the same haircut you run around with today and that’s one of the things I love about you…you always know what works for you!  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I wish I could remember you when you were little, but I was little too and so we’ll have to go with what I’ve been told…brace yourself.  According to unnamed sources (our Mom), I loved to give you a bottle.  Somewhere I must have learned that happy babies are well-fed babies and so you were constantly having milk shoved in your direction.  As the story goes, it didn’t really matter if you needed or wanted your bottle, whether you were crying or not, I seemed to know what was best for you and as your older sister I decided that was milk.  So, I was a dairy pusher in your early days but don’t worry, you had your revenge later in life when you decided to dump a bowl of melted ice cream on my head immediately after my bath.  Yuck, and it was chocolate almond.

I remember when your tiny hand was all burned from hot coffee and the photo that exists somewhere of you on a picnic table sporting a sweater and a diaper with your paw all bandaged up.  You were small and cute and yes, other fun photos of you exist with your red-tinged hair!  Most of my childhood memories involve you and our youngest brother together.  You were each other’s best friend and worst enemy.  When you added in the neighborhood crew…well, the adventures never stopped.  There were many years of toy trucks, baseball, football, BMX bikes, basketball, track, lawn mowing, weightlifting, and even one season of soccer.  There were so many good times and it seems like only yesterday when we would all stay up late, watching Nick at Nite and playing monopoly for hours in the basement of our parent’s house.

Today, I tell my kids stories about you and our other siblings, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever shared two of my all-time favorite stories about you and I.  Interestingly, they both involve a ghetto blaster (now if that doesn’t send you way back…I don’t know what will!)  First, I remember the time when we tried to convince our little brother that he snored when he slept.  So, after he drifted off to sleep we tried to record him snoring.  But he slept silently, peacefully, and soundly.  No snoring…and I’m not sure if he really ever snored at all.  But we had a mission and the mission was to prove that he snored.  In my bedroom we secretly created a recorded a tape of our little brother sleeping–a FAKE obviously.  It started with a few grunts, groans, some snoring sounds then morphed into a symphony of noises that could only come from a barnyard.  Bogus as it was, we seemed satisfied and waited until morning to play the tape and reveal that yes, indeed our little brother was a big time snorer (not!)  I’ll never forget how much we laughed and how hard our little brother cried.  He told Mom, we were busted, forced to admit that we made it all up, and probably punished (but I tend to block those memories out!)  Ahh…good times.

My other fave story also involves the same ghetto blaster (remember how Dad carved our names into it?)  We were huge fans of the Karate Kid (I and II) and watched those movies over and over.  We were also two broke little kids who didn’t have money to purchase the movie soundtrack…yet we LOVED the Peter Cetera song The Glory of Love.  Nevermind that we were too young to understand the song, that part was irrelevant.  So determined we were to get a our own copy of this beloved piece of music, we decided to request it on the radio.  So, phonebook in hand my brother called the radio station and made the request.  As soon as he hung up, I called the radio station to make the same request.  This pattern repeated for at least an hour as we sat with our hot little hands on the record button waiting…and waiting….and waiting.  I’m sure the DJ was at his breaking point when the song FINALLY played.  It’s amazing what determination, concentration, hard work, dedication, and the sheer act of annoying the heck out of some poor guy who works at the radio station can do for two pesky kids on a Friday night!  Just like the Karate Kid…we were victorious!

Today is my brother’s birthday and I’m proud of the man he has become.  The qualities that I liked about him as a kid are the same qualities that I love about him today.  He is fun, hardworking, dependable, strong, reliable, honest and incredibly loyal.  He is the one who will listen, come up with a plan, and help you out of whatever kind of nonsense you’ve managed to get yourself into.  He’s a wonderful son, brother, father, uncle, son-in-law, brother-in-law, cousin and FRIEND.  Wishing you the happiest birthday ever.  YOU ARE LOVED!  BTW, I requested this song for you….

A true friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need. Proverbs 17:17 NIV

Our Sunday Best

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.  Matthew 18:20

I can remember going to church as a kid and counting tiles on the ceiling.  We didn’t go to church very often and I couldn’t tell you why those tiles appealed to me so much.  Nevertheless, it was a perfect ruse for not paying attention.  It makes me giggle a little because I probably looked quite angelic staring off into space like that.  I imagine that my head was tilted just so that any onlooker might think that I was lost in prayer or in some kind of deep conversation with God.  In reality it was simply–one, two, three, and did I count that one already?

Today I can tell you that I truly look forward to Sundays and attending church.  I rush around trying to get myself ready, tame my son’s bed head, and fight with my little girl about clothing options (and she’s just in grade school!)  Every clock in the house flashes a different time (maddening really) and I rally the troops with coffee and breakfast in hand…then it’s out the door we go.  It’s comical because I go to church for a lot of reasons, but at that particular moment every Sunday morning all I can think about is that when I get to church I can finally REST!

So, this morning I was sitting in my usual pew feeling quite good.  I had just received communion, the organ played in the background and I was at REST.  Then, all of a sudden, the REST was over and I found myself counting!  No, I wasn’t staring at the ceiling or counting tiles, instead I was counting blessings.  I was watching as each member of the congregation came forward for communion.  My counting began with a memory of the first time I met this person, the kindness of that person, the loss that this other person had recently experienced.  My heart counted children whom I’ve come to know and love in our church, their parents who have become my friends, and a woman who will soon have a baby.  I counted the people who have joined the church in the almost three years we have served here.  I counted people who have been at this church for years and years and who will continue to worship here long after we’re called to serve elsewhere.  My counting included those who faithfully serve the church each Sunday…ushers, communion stewards, and musicians.  I counted staff and their families who attend worship each week.  And when the moment passed, I felt more than REST…I felt true peace.   The funny thing was at the end of all my counting I didn’t have a number.  I couldn’t tell you how many people received communion that morning (and of course, that number was completely irrelevant.)  I was left only with that warm feeling that fills my spirit every Sunday…and I will happily count on that!

Faithful attendance at Church meetings brings blessings you can receive in no other way.  –Ezra Taft Benson

Fried Chicken Evangelism…or Happy Birthday, Steve!

I think I’ve met my match where birthday blogs are concerned.  I’ve been wanting to write this one for days, but I’ve had two things stacked against me.  First, trying to write this blog and keep it a secret from my husband (BTW, it’s HIS birthday) and the difficult task of condensing a relationship that means so much and expands a great deal of time into just a few paragraphs.  It’s a story whose chapters continue to be written quicker than I can type.  Yikes!

I could start with when we met.  Now that was funny.  I was interviewing for a reporter job in Jonesboro, Arkansas.  As I was meeting various staff members, off in the distance I could hear this loud, booming voice.  Upon turning the corner in the newsroom, I could see that the source of this voice was “holding court” in the center of the room.  I clearly remember that he was in the middle of telling a story, when he stopped and said, “You’re from Kansas?”  If memory serves me right, I think the look he gave me spoke volumes.  I’ll sum it up by saying that I’m certain he was searching my smile for a shock of wheat and wondering if I wore socks with my shoes, maybe even if I wore shoes at all.  You see, HE was from California…which explains his loud, all-about-me nature…which I would later learn he referred to as the “wonderfulness of Steve.”  This brief encounter concluded with various Kansas jokes…I’ll spare you the details but they had to do with telephone poles and cow patties.  Somehow this was the beginning of our love story.

Fastforwarding, I’ll share another one of my favorite Steve stories:  Our honeymoon.  Let’s just say we took a wrong turn back to the hotel following a Hawaiian midnight Christmas Eve mass (we sure know how to have fun don’t we?)  Down this dark, semi-spooky street we happened to walk past a woman.  Being the naive Kansas girl that I am, I just assumed she was waiting for her ride.  Turns out she was waiting alright…but her attire didn’t suggest she was on her way home from church.  As we moved past her and down to the street corner, Steve suddenly decides that he has to speak to her.  Maybe it was because she was all alone on a dark street, maybe it was because it was Christmas Eve and maybe it was because we had just come from church…regardless, Steve just had to go over there and talk to her–leaving me alone, standing on a dark (somewhat seedy) street corner!  I wasn’t privy to the conversation with this “lady of the night,” but anyone watching would have thought this scene was hilarious.  A man leaves his bride of less than a week, on a street corner, in a strange town, in the middle of the night, to minister to a prostitute.  As if this scene wasn’t hilarious enough, you should have seen the send-off she gave him…let’s just say she told him where to go and how to get there!

I should mention that my husband is now a pastor.  It’s his calling that has taken us from Arkansas, to California, and miraculously back to my home state of Kansas.  Before you think a pastor’s family life must be boring…let me tell you we’ve had some great adventures and God has blessed us with some incredible opportunities.  At the same time, Steve’s calling tests my skeptical nature on a regular basis.  Nevertheless, he continues to serve others in a variety of settings and throughout all hours of the day.  One of the things that I’ve really had to get used to are the constant phone calls.  Did you know that someone is always in need?  I had no idea.  But when your name is printed in the phone book and/or is associated with a church, many times you are the first person that people call.  Steve has given money, boxes of crackers, high-priced danishes (inside joke,) and arranged transportation and motel rooms for those who have come across hard times.  I’ll never forget the time he told me he was leaving the house to take fried chicken to a guy holed up in a motel room who didn’t have any money for food.  Don’t ask, it’s a really long story.

I’ve often thought of writing a book about Steve and his faith walk…gushing about how wonderful I think he is and how much I love and respect his story.  He’s a big part of bringing me to this point in my life…not just physically to this place, but mentally and especially spiritually.  I fell in love with Steve because he makes me laugh.  I  continue to be amazed by the depth of his heart and how much he genuinely loves and cares about people.  I admire his strong faith and the inspirational way that he seeks to share God with me, our family, our church, our community and just about anyone he meets.  If you know Steve, you know I could go on and on.  When I do write that book, I already have the title picked out…Fried Chicken Evangelism.  Happy birthday, Steve.  YOU ARE LOVED.

A bowl of vegetables with someone you love is better than steak with someone you hate.  Proverbs 15:17 NLT