Love splashes all around us this week!
I have a stack of shiny red and pink cards at my elbow just waiting to be stamped and sent. Whether you smooch your way through St. Valentine’s Day or sip your bodyweight in mimosas to celebrate your Galentines – this week, Cupid will be unavoidable.
His arrows sting some more than they cause us to swoon, and as your Hopers – we wanted to fully acknowledge that this week can be a tough one. BUT, with a little love (see what we did there?) and a little encouragement, hopefully we can all shift our gaze and gratitude towards at least one relationship in our lives that fills our hearts with real love and gives us a chance to love big in return. So only one post this week will be of the romantic variety and the rest will be taking a gander God’s good gift of real love in very real ways.
It’s interesting to me that Jesus never got married, in fact – there was no mention of romance in his time on earth. Same with Paul. That guy that we all quote and preach and resonate with, ya know what he had to say in I Corinthians 7?
“Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am.”
Wait a minute! Didn’t God Himself in the garden say that it wasn’t good to be alone? But if His main homie Paul is touting the benefit of single life, how can those two truths coexist?
Because, we often forget how deeply passionate God was about community… relationship… friendship… brotherhood. We see it stitched all throughout Acts and more of the New Testament as God’s heartbeat for the church pulses with everyone living selflessly and fully – better together than they are alone.
In my life I had almost twenty roommates before I moved into a sorority house, and now the number of humans I’ve lived with reaches close to two hundred. I’ve been on dozens of first dates, a handful of second dates, and as for long-term romance … in the past fifteen years I’ve fallen deeply in love three times and puppy love once. I’ve been lucky beyond measure to stand up in many weddings, and sit in beautiful church families, and hold the hands of lots of pals as we’ve prayed or they’ve jumped into something big + scary.
Life has never been void of humans to care about and hearts to pursue. The seasons that have been without deep, true community have been sad seasons indeed. But in 32 1/2 years of my 34 trips around the sun, there’s been one pal who’s lived Proverbs 17:17, who has always been loyal and always been there in times of need. My brother Bob.
I was born first and twenty months later a little baby boy with a Charlie Brown head and blue eyes was born. Being that we don’t remember much from our beginning years, there’s literally not a moment of my life that I remember when he didn’t exist.
Friendship forged through sharing bunk beds and late-night chats well into elementary school, having only each other as a playmate and best pal through moving every 2-3 years, through helping to raise the other two baby brothers that were born when I was old enough to babysit the lot of ’em.
And I can tell you that the gift of this baby brother grew exponentially as we grew in faith. I remember we had a celebratory spaghetti dinner in our Ohio house when he accepted Jesus into his heart. I remember when our Christian school hosted a speech and fine arts competition and he preached, as a young teen, and I saw clearly why God had made him, and what God had made him for. His passion for Jesus and His calling always emphasized loudest to my ears in the way he loved others.
Sweater vests and sermons aside, I remember sleepovers with our friends and cheering till my throat was raspy at his soccer games. I remember dance parties till we fell over laughing. We both made best friends that we still hold dear today. We grew up together and luckily chose wonderful pals to walk with in the years to come. But this brother of mine was just always my “person”.
It wasn’t always, and won’t always, be perfect. I struggled when he was applauded for being near-perfect, but I was usually the one clapping the loudest. My heart had to push down waves of bitterness when others ignored me, but I was usually the one swinging a spotlight in his direction. We’ve fought so hard that one had to get on a plane to come apologize to the other. We’ve had to take months apart to hang out with and make our own friends. I’ve sunk under spades of jealousy as his dreams came true over and over, and continue to. He’s had to wrestle with the messy broken heart of a broken sister when many others would’ve walked away from the wreckage.
When I have been unable to “receive” truth from anyone else, I trusted him enough to listen. When I had to say really tough stuff, he did the same.
When I’ve cried over sandwiches at what “should have” been a light lunch, he hasn’t flinched. When we’ve cranked the radio and pop ‘n’ locked in the front seat (as very-much-grown-adults) we’ve never paid attention to who might be watching. When there was very bad news, he was my first phone call. When there was the best possible news, I ran to tell him.
He’s helped me write papers that I struggled to piece together when we were both theology majors at colleges two thousand miles apart. He has held my hands and prayed with me when I’ve had wonderings too big to keep to myself. I’ve been able to pour prayers over him and encourage his heart towards giftings he might not see. We’ve eaten bowls of Boston Market mac ‘n’ cheese after his breakups and mine. We’ve done improv workshops and worshipped together. We’ve both committed our lives to full-time ministry even though our paths couldn’t have been more different.
The morning after the worst heartbreak of my life I woke up with my puffy tear-stained cheek stuck to a pleather couch cushion, covered in a some sort of poncho-makeshift-blanket. My face inches away from the NyQuil cap I’d used to swill myself to sleep for at least a little bit. I was wrecked, but I was in Bob’s living room, and even though he had no idea what to say to make it better, and no possible way to “fix it” – he was there.
And on his wedding day, to the beautiful and wonderful woman of his dreams, without a word he grabbed me before we all took photos and squeezed me even though I tried to pull away. Without a word, he knew that for as much as I was truly overjoyed for him and for our family, there was a deep ache I couldn’t talk about in my own heart. He just knew. And so in the middle of the glorious celebration of prayers answered and perfect weather and dreams-come-true and a new family making forever promises, he sought out his big sister to say “I see you” without saying a word.
That’s the kind of “brotherhood” that God desires for ALL of us. The intimacy of knowing another’s heart comes from walking well and waist-deep in each other’s lives, being unafraid to swim out past the shallow end. True brotherhood is earned and expressed by grieving and celebrating together. Giving of ourselves and our time and our empathy even when it’s inconvenient or messy or costly. (Especially when it is.)
But Bob isn’t the creator of best-friend-brotherhood. So who is?
How can we walk this well with one another if that example isn’t inside of our own family tree?
In one of my favorite Chris Rice songs, these words are sung:
“Fallen heart and broken…
Will there ever be a place where I belong?
I cower ‘neath the monster trees,
And try to stand on tired feet,
But gravity knocks me to the ground,
Where I give up, and tears roll down.
I claw the dust and beg the end,
Curse the day that I began,
To hope there’d be a place where I belong.
I hear a sound I recognize…
You lift my chin and seek my eyes.
Song of love You sing to me.
I ache to sing it back to Thee –
“Father Love prepares a place,
Brother Jesus leads the way,
Follow to the place where you belong!”
What a wonder that Jesus chose to be our BROTHER!
King, Master, Teacher… yes. But, by choice, He sat amongst us, relishing and exemplifying the gift of brotherhood… meals and laughter shared, sleepless nights of prayer, selfless sacrifice… Jesus the Savior is indeed our brother, how unbelievable!
When the darkness of my heart has felt sunk, Jesus has used the brother-heart of the one here with me in flesh and bone to lift my chin the way He does spiritually.
Don’t fret if your tween twerp of a brother never lives up to the ode I’ve written here to mine… I’ve also had many close and wonderful “brothers” that didn’t share my last name over the years, and have never believed even for a second that men and women can’t be friends. Of course they can! So whether your family tree is full of boys or not, God can provide men of character to walk with you, men who will also need your eternally-minded friendship and encouraging sisterly love.
This world is HARD, and the enemy wants to use season’s without romantic love, or of failing romantic love, to convince us that we are alone.
But God created a good plan for community regardless of romance, and God decided to create brothers. How glad I am as Valentine’s Day approaches, for friends as close as brothers. Though the lack of romance in my romance-loving-heart might ache big time this week, how grateful I am for a Savior who chose to be our Brother. And when my alligator tears spill over or some crazy plan needs a compatriot, how thankful I am for that blonde-haired blue-eyed best friend who lives up the street – one of God’s greatest-ever gifts to this sister heart.
“A true friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.”