My brother was born with trouble in him. Mischief. He was also born with a fabulous sense of humor, a heart for people who are hurting, serious physical strength, great communication skills, an obsession with all things sports, and an extreme motivation to succeed once he sets his mind to something. But looking back at those early years, the trouble and mischief I mentioned...I have to admit that that's what sticks out in my mind.
And being the older child, a people pleaser and overall goody two-shoes, that little brother of mine caused me a great deal of stress. Even as a young child, I remember feeling responsible for him, like another parent...or maybe like a parole officer. I was probably only five years old, pleading with him to obey the babysitter. A few years later, I was bribing him to behave on the school bus.
I ran interference between him and the neighbor kids when he played pranks on them...like convincing the girl across the street that moldy bread was actually delicious. Behind his back, I defended him continually to older kids whom he wasn't afraid to pester.
He was the kid in the preschool Christmas program who, instead of singing, was shining a flashlight in the eyes of audience members. He was the kid who pretended to be asleep and fell out of his chair the first day of kindergarten...and the second...and the third. He was the kid who told my deepest, most embarrassing secrets to my friends when they slept over at our house.
But what started as funny little pranks and silly mischief eventually got more stressful. Looking back, it was no big deal. Just kid stuff, but it made me nearly sick with worry at the time. I remember him getting in trouble at school for passing a note to a friend that had swear words on it. As my dad talked to him about it in his room that evening, I laid on my bed and cried and prayed and prayed and cried.
He developed a bad reputation among teachers and the parents of his peers. He was friendly, a great athlete, smart and so funny, but he was trouble. And at a very small, strict, private school, it's easy to dig yourself a hole. And once it's dug, there's no way you're getting out. It pained me to see him sitting alone at the lunch table every day for some silly thing he did months before. It broke my heart when his friends' parents wouldn't let him come to their houses. And it made me angry too. I just wanted him to be better...and sometimes hope would flash by and I'd think that things were turning a corner, but then they would just get worse.
As Brad was entering high school, my dad got laid off and was out of work for eight months. Brad's best friend moved away. He switched schools. Tough things happened in his friend group. He did his very best to cope. He fought off the lies that get thrown at teenagers about what will make them feel better, but like so many young kids, he could only fight so hard for so long. He skipped more than a third of his classes in high school. It was only by the grace of God and one kind-hearted teacher that he even graduated. I can picture him right now in his cap and gown, standing with his friends for a picture. I can see that photograph in my mind's eye...and I know that he's high as a kite.
Because by high school, drugs had entered his life...our lives. And the power they wielded was terrifying. Devastating. Watching him spiral downward into harder and harder drugs was like watching someone slowly die. I will not attempt to tell his stories here because they aren't mine to tell. But I can tell you what it's like to be the sister of an addict.
It is the most physically painful, emotionally exhausting, mentally excruciating, spiritually trying thing that I have ever experienced...
...because one night he went missing and I laid on the living room floor and yelled at my dad to "FIND HIM!" and to "DO SOMETHING!" But there was nothing to be done. So Andrew and I drove around the city, looking for his abandoned car, certain that he was dead.
...because my parents came home from visiting him in the hospital one night and my mom collapsed in the entryway, just laid there with her face on a shoe, sobbing seemingly endless tears of heartbreak and grief.
...because the entire process of writing a letter to read at my brother's intervention, sneaking into his dorm room, stationing my husband outside the window in case Brad tried to escape, reading the letter to him, and watching him cry made my entire body ache with sadness.
...because treatment gives you hope. And relapse steals it. And treatment gives you hope again. And relapse steals it. And then you stop hoping.
...because he was homeless a couple of times. Just for a few days each time but when that homeless person is your brother, even a few moments of homelessness feels like way too long.
...because when you are just the sister, you have absolutely no power. You have even less power than your powerless parents and you feel angry with them all the time for all of the things that you think they are doing wrong, all of the ways that they are not saving him.
...because seeing him so skinny made me so sad.
...because it's so hard to go to Alanon and Naranon meetings and family therapy.
...because I didn't trust him. Not with anything. Not for two seconds. I hid my money and my stuff because I knew that addiction turns people into thieves.
...because holidays and vacations were always sabotaged.
...because there were fist-sized holes in the walls of our home.
...because for years, he didn't have a personality.
...because people would ask me what my brother was doing, whether he was in school or working, and I'd have to make something up.
...because he got kicked out of treatment one time and was driving home, across the whole country. And my dad called me and told me that we needed to prepare ourselves because he didn't see how Brad would possibly ever make it home alive. I knew he was right. And I made peace with that. I remember thinking that if Brad died, he would be in heaven with Jesus and would no longer have to fight this impossible battle, and I felt relieved at the thought.
But he made it home. And he kept using. There were times when he did better. When he got a job. When he took some classes. When he made me mix CDs of encouraging music after my miscarriages. But nothing ever lasted. I lost hope for him and faith in him.
And then Harriet was born.
He came to the hospital with my parents and held my tiny, vulnerable daughter in his arms with the most astonished, adoring look in his eyes. He fell in love with her. He just kept commenting about how strong her little hands were, how tightly they wrapped around his finger. He couldn't believe it.
And one month and one day after he became an uncle, he went into treatment for the last time. I have no idea what happened in treatment, what made it different from the times before that. But I know that God heaped miracle upon miracle on my brother's life. I know that his brain and his heart were transformed. I know that the iron grip that drugs had on his life was loosened...crushed...by grace.
And my brother came home...healed. People email me after reading my blog sometimes and ask me how I can believe in God. And I want to put one hand on their cheek and with the other hand, point at my brother and whisper, "Because of this. Because lives do not change this way without Christ. Because what you see here isn't just a man who is clean and sober. What you see here is a life made whole."
Because of the trust and generosity of a saint named Steve, my brother got a job. A good one that he has kept ever since. And he fell in love. He fell in love with a girl named Alyssa who supports him and celebrates his sobriety with every part of her heart. She sunk into our family like she had always been part of it. She laughs at my dad’s lame jokes. She delights in my children. She loves our dogs more than we do.
And slowly, slowly I started to hope again. And to trust him again. And God continued to heap miracles on his life. God restored our joy. God rebuilt our family.
And this past August, my brother and Alyssa got married. They asked me to be the only bridesmaid, the maid of honor. And they asked Harriet to be their flower girl. The wedding was a small, simple service at Andrew's parents' cabin, the place that we celebrated his sobriety anniversary every year...a sacred place for us.
After the sweet ceremony, we all sat down under a lovely canopy and ate Alyssa's mom's famous chicken lasagna off of her grandmother's treasured china. My dad gave a short speech and he cried. He just kept saying how all of this...every part of it...was a miracle. How Alyssa was a miracle for our family. How we never, ever would have thought that this day would come. A day that was a celebration of love, yes. But also a celebration of redemption. A celebration of healing. A celebration of a girl...and her family...who risked everything on this boy who loved her and opened their arms and their hearts as wide as they go to the brother of mine whom so many had rejected in the past.
And then it was my turn to say a few words. So I turned to Brad and Alyssa and I said this...
I can’t even tell you how joyful and honored I feel to be here today, standing up there with the two of you, witnessing the creation of a new family, the tangling together of two beautiful journeys to create one story – a story about redemption, acceptance, love and blessing.
I know that the two of you have worked hard to prepare for this day and for the shared lifetime that will follow. You have spent so much time together, adventured together, seen each other at your best and your worst. You know each other so well. You’re best friends. But, Alyssa, you have three brothers, and I’m sure you’d agree that sisters have a special window into who their brothers really are, deep down. So I want to share with you a few words about Brad and who he really is at his core.
But for starters, if I can just give you some advice...don’t play practical jokes on him. You will never, ever win. We have all tried, but every time we think we’re about to best him, he throws it back in our faces. Like the time he gave me a piece of candy with an ant in the middle of it. Or the time he hid a nice tall glass of milk and a pile of shredded cheese in the back of my closet. Or the time he suspended my dad’s electric toothbrush just centimeters above the toilet water. Or the MANY times we’d be on vacation, all sleeping in the same hotel room and the alarm would go off at 3:00 am.
Also, he’s an adventurer. You know this from your camping and kayaking and hunting, I’m sure. But did you know that at age seven, he took apart an entire bed and used the wood to build a boat that he then sailed in a nearby pond we called “Diarrhea Swamp?” Or that at age five, he bungee jumped…off the balcony in our home?
But the main thing I want you to know is that this man…your husband…is a warrior. I want you to know that he will fight for you. He will fight for your family. He will fight for your children. He will fight to keep good things in your life. And when our fallen world knocks on your door, he will not stand down.
I can tell you all of this because I have seen him nearly defeated. I have seen him journey-worn and battle-scarred, face down in the dirt with the enemy’s boot pressed into the back of his neck. I have seen him struggle to stand…and fall again. But that’s the thing about Brad – he never stops fighting. Like I said, he is a warrior. I have seen him come from that low, down-in-the-dirt place and somehow, against all odds, find a way to get back up. To look hopelessness directly in the eyes and refuse to back down. I have seen him battle against the lies this world throws at us about who we are and what we’re worth. And I have seen him win. I have seen him live this victory every single day. And so have you.
And I think that even back then, of course he did it for himself, but really, I think he did it for you. For the hope of you. For the dream that someday something as wonderful as you would come into his life.
And Brad, if there’s anything in your life, anything in this world, worth fighting for…it’s her.
I know girls. I am a girl. I am raising a girl. I lived with six other girls in a tiny apartment with one bathroom and no kitchen. And I can tell you this…Alyssa is a rare find. She is a woman to be treasured and cherished. I mean, you’re a cool guy, but seriously…you got really lucky. And so did we. Alyssa’s unshakeable character, generous heart, kind spirit, and gracious, humble nature didn’t happen by accident. They are the result of twenty-some years of God’s good work in her – molding and shaping her, fashioning her heart after His own. I feel incredibly blessed to be gaining her as a sister. I can’t even imagine how fortunate you must feel to be able to call her your wife.
I cannot wait to see all that the Lord has in store for the two of you. Today marks the start of a remarkable adventure. Love you both.
I look at these pictures of my brother with his lovely wife...the same little brother who literally worried me sick for twenty-some years. The brother whom drugs tried to steal from us. And I cannot get that word – miracle – out of my head. Because every day since January 11, 2012 has been a miracle…straight from the loving hands of a God who never gives up on us. A God who gathers up our brokenness and turns it into something beautiful, something redeemed. Today, my brother celebrates three years clean and sober. One thousand and ninety-five days.