When Siblings Rescue

During my junior year of high school I took Physics. Knowing that I wanted to be a nurse, I poured through the catalog of the school that I wanted to attend after high school and looked at the courses that were recommended. Chemistry was required; Physics just recommended. Intent on making sure I was accepted to the program, I decided I would take Physics and Chemistry. I’m normally not an overachiever, but call it delusions of grandeur or healthy self esteem, at the time I secretly fancied myself a brilliant scientist or, if not a scientist, than definitely a brilliant nurse.

Our school building was an old British church that had been repurposed as a school with a huge auditorium in the center and classrooms along the sides and upstairs. Physics class was held in the science lab, located at the back of the auditorium, up steep stairs, in the highest spot in the building. We sat on stools around large, rectangular tables surrounded by science in the form of long tables, beakers, formulas, posters and pictures. A sign saying “A Physics student took a drink, but he shall drink no more. For what he thought was H2O was H2SO4” served as a warning to all of us of the violent death we would undergo if we did not pay attention. Bunsen burners, beakers, pipets, droppers, and funnels became familiar equipment and goggles were a necessity.

Like most classes in Murree, the class size was small. There were perhaps 12 of us and a mixture of juniors and seniors. Importantly, I was the only girl in the class.

The year started out okay, but as summer turned into Autumn, I began to despise Physics class. From what I wore to what I weighed, I was fair game for intolerable teasing from every single guy, egged on by the teacher. I laughed right along with all of them until one spring day when I didn’t laugh anymore. I left class sobbing like my heart had broken in a million fractals. It was my brother Stan who saw me leave the school building sobbing. Though he had graduated a couple of years before, he was back for a short time working at the school. He heard my cry, hugged away my tears, and marched up to that Physics Lab in a full-blown rage.

I don’t know what Stan said, but I know his righteous anger burst forth like a canon. Physics class got better for me. Though I still could not wait for it to end, at least a certain measure of respect developed. Never again did I leave Physics class in tears. Stan had done what I could never have done. He had marched in there, and in righteous love had demanded that the bad behavior stop. It was an early lesson in advocacy, it is a lifetime memory of sibling love.

A few months later, my brilliant brother Tom arrived from the United States. Patiently he sat with me each evening, teaching me what the teacher could not because I was so wounded by the class. He coached me to the Physics finish line and I ended up the class with a B+. This was a miracle. It was an early lesson of sibling patience, it is a lifetime memory of sibling love.

That’s the thing with siblings. They just are. While others have to earn a place, siblings have it and you don’t really pay attention to them. Except when you think back on a childhood and the role they played, the times they teased you mercilessly always trumped by the times they stood up for you with rage or coached you with patience. You may be able to count the deep talks you had with siblings on one hand, but that’s okay. Because beyond the deep talks is the deeper understanding of what it is to grow up in the same places, to experience the same household with its strengths and weaknesses, to face life’s challenges together.

It’s been a year to the day since my brother Stan died. A year to the day since we received those awful text messages through the large family Whatsapp. A year to the day when the wretching sobs made me throw up and scream in a silent house. A year to the day that marked my waking up thinking daily about my sister-in-law, my niece, and my nephew. Anyone who has siblings will go through this at some point. Last February was our turn. It came too quick. It was too tragic. It shouldn’t have happened are all places I can’t go yet I go there anyway.

The week following his death was filled with some of the most remarkable love I have ever experienced in my lifetime, as a handful of us gathered in Thailand. We cried, talked, laughed, and comforted each other in that sacred space of grief. We drank mango smoothies and ate Thai curries, walked in gardens and basked in warmth while the Northeast I had left froze over. We did not know that a few weeks later a pandemic would upend the world and our grief would be eclipsed and upstaged by a worldwide crisis.

But it was, and so our grief was put on hold to make room for an angry public that enjoyed outrage so much that they were of no use to the truly grieving.

And now it has been a year. I do not have more words, but I do have more understanding of grief, more understanding of grace, more compassion, and more need for God. And I know, that Christ, who redeems all, is in every moment of this day.

O Christ, redeem this day.
I do not ask that these lingerings
of grief be erased, but that
the fingers of your grace
would work this memory as a baker
kneads a dough, till the leaven
of rising hope transforms it
from within,

into a form holding now in
that same sorrow the surety
of your presence, so that
when I look again at that loss,
I see you in the deepest gloom
of it, weeping with me,
even as I hear you whispering
that this is not the end, but only the still
grey of the dawn before the world begins.

And if that is so, then let that which
broke me upon this day in
a past year, now be seen
as the beginning of my remaking
into a Christ-follower more sympathetic,

more compassionate, and more conscious
of my frailty and of my daily
dependence upon you….”*

*Excerpt from Liturgy for the Anniversary of a Loss © 2017 Every Moment Holy by Douglas McKelvey

Sibling Pride

Ed brown

I have remarkable siblings. I am the only girl in a family of five kids, fourth in the family line up with three older brothers and my youngest brother, the exclamation point on the sentence of our family.

It is an understatement to say that my brothers are gifted. They are, without doubt, some of the smartest people I know. Each has their sphere of influence, and they work well within that sphere. My husband and I joke that if we could be the public relations representatives for my brothers, we would be wealthy. We would have no problem telling people how smart and talented they are. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, they haven’t hired us.

But it is my oldest brother that I am thinking about today. Ed is seven years older than me, which makes him quite young…..! Like many firstborns, Ed has a confidence and drive that are admirable. But what he has accomplished has come with its share of disappointments, tragedy, and true grit.

Throughout my childhood, Ed was the big brother to look up to. He was personable, smart, and confident. When I was ten years old, we were on a furlough living in an industrial city in Massachusetts. At the time, Ed was a junior in high school. When the year ended, my parents and Ed talked and made the decision that he would stay in the United States for his senior year of highschool, while the rest of the family returned to Pakistan. He would be living with my aunt and uncle in a town nearby; he would be well cared for, but it left a hole in our family that was not easily filled. The next time we saw him, he was engaged. While we continued life in boarding school thousands of miles away, he became a man.

Through the years, my brother has grieved the deaths of those closest to him; faced church squabbles and pride; experienced poor leadership; and given up his retirement funds to fuel a passion. He founded an organization called Care of Creation to mobilize the church to care for God’s world, pressing on in the never-ending battle to convince churches that we are stewards over God’s creation. The organization is now over ten years old and does workshops and projects around the world, supporting staff in Kenya, Tanzania, and the United States.

Tomorrow night, my brother will receive an award from Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. The award is the A.J. Gordon Missionary Service Award and is given to an alumnus who had demonstrated integrity and commitment in cross-cultural service for ten years or more. I think about all that Ed has done to make this vision of creation care a reality, and I am so proud of him. It has not been easy. For years he wondered if there would be a next paycheck; beyond that was the difficulty convincing people that caring for God’s world is part of the Gospel message.

So tomorrow night, in a public way, his work and his life will be honored.

A couple of years ago, in a post about another brother, I said this:

The sibling relationship is one of the strangest relationships in our world. We grow up with these people called ‘siblings’. Eat at the same dinner table, are loved and nurtured, disciplined and scolded by the same parents. We sit around Christmas trees or Eid feasts, go to churches, mosques, or synagogues with family. They hold similar features, characteristics, and memories.

But we grow older and often apart. And we’re left wondering what happened. When did the ease with which we communicated, laughed, and fought turn into difficulty trying to figure out what to say to each other? When did a solid relationship turn sketchy and strained?

Sometimes, but not always, we figure out this new relationship and move forward – tenuously at first, but then with more confidence.*

So tomorrow I will confidently and enthusiastically attend the ceremony, sitting in the audience as the unknown sister full of sibling pride.

Congratulations Ed! You deserve this more than Gordon will ever know. 

Care of Creation’s mission is to “pursue a God-centered response to environmental challenges that brings glory to the Creator, advances the cause of Christ, and leads to a transformation of the people and the land that sustains them.”If you would like to learn more about Care of Creation, take a look here.

*From “The Importance of Being Siblings”