I used to tell people my brother was adopted. My parents have five kids, and I assumed if any one of us were from a different family, it was most assuredly him.
It wasn’t always that way. Rewind ten years, and you couldn’t have found better friends. I have all kinds of good memories about the brother he was to me back then.
One day, we sketched out the plans for an evacuation tunnel in our front yard, and then began the excavation, together, with a plastic shovel. Another time, when my dad expanded the irrigation ditch under our driveway, Nick and I made sure to explore the giant tube of sewage water, building up rocky walls to protect ourselves from “bad guys”.
Occasionally we would take Lincoln Logs and set up war zones on the bedroom floor, attempting to destroy each others logging camps.
We were full of adventure, both real and imagined.
The most realistic danger of our childhood was an oak tree in the front yard which happened to house a cozy little bee’s nest. There is no doubt my parents had continually warned us not to go snooping around their little home—
But we were full of adventure. Remember?
So one time, with robust bravery, Nick and I approached the nest to inspect its intricate structure. Within seconds, the intruder’s buzz sounded and swarmed around us and stingers repeatedly pinched my flesh. I screamed in protest, but to no avail. The bees wouldn’t listen to my persistent objection.
Jumping into action, Nick did the only thing he knew to do. He grabbed a baby doll stroller, which happened to be lingering nearby, and started swinging. He bludgeoned the hell out of our swarm of attackers.
My brother is a protector.
But after he saved me from the swarm of angry bees, my brother and I spent most of the next two decades at odds. It has nothing to do with the bees, necessarily. It was just that as soon as we were old enough to form our own opinions about things, and our strong-willed personalities began to clash, we spent a good portion of our energy opposing each other.
We did an excellent job pointing out each other’s insecurities.
We are sixteen months apart, and even though he is older than me, I hit my growth spurt before his voice could crack.
Just following the rules of puberty.
I never allowed him to think he had authority or knowledge greater than my own. He made sure to offer all kinds of solutions to my weight problem and poor driving capabilities.
Then there was college.
He drove up February of my freshman year, excited to show off his new car and meet all of my friends. I wanted to be proud to show off my brother, the way a young sister “should” be. But for two days I watched Nick fail to meet my friends expectations for ‘cool,’ appropriately humorous, adequately educated, etc.
I was so embarrassed.
At our last dinner of the weekend I watched my brother
watch my friends,
mock my brother.
And I watched my fragile reputation crumble.
I was bitter and upset over it, but I also felt ashamed for feeling bitter, which just made me feel more upset. I couldn’t even love him. Or them. The whole scenario felt like lumped, spoiled sugar in the pit of my stomach.
The weirdest part was that, as ready as I was to disown my brother to salvage my reputation with my friends, those friendships quickly melted under the hot lamp of prideful anger. I didn’t trust them.
I worried that their disrespectful treatment of Nick wasn’t just about Nick, that it was also a reflection of their feelings for me.
It was all about me.
And the insecurities kept spinning.
Instead of giving grace to my friends, and respect to my brother, I chose to lift my nose into the air and spend the next three years coldly squashing Nick into the ground.
It was September 28th, 2011 when something shifted.
Two beautiful baby boys were born to Nick and his wife, Stephanie.
Mid-pregnancy, Stephanie and Nick traveled to Houston for an emergency surgery. I remember asking Nick if he would sacrifice the babies if necessary to protect Stephanie. He boasted that he would fight vehemently for his wife and unborn sons.
Abortion would never be an option.
In the moment, I misinterpreted this statement as a lack of concern for Stephanie. Now I realize how I had grossly misjudged his character and had allowed the well of shame and anger from college to drown out the memory of my brother, armed with a stroller, fighting off enemy bees.
Nick the protector.
I was reminded of this when he slept on the floor of a hospital room for three months while Stephanie was on mandatory bed rest. And again when we gathered as a family to witness two new lives, smothered in love and the strong arms of their father, enter into this world.
Nick and I still don’t agree about who should be president, and he continues to dress his boys in camouflage despite my vocal protests.
But I am learning that different opinions do not have to destroy a relationship. In fact, they can produce great fruit when paired with humility and respect.
So thank you, Nick, for being the man that you are, the man that teaches me and challenges me.
And, of course, for protecting me from evil killer bees.
Question: How have tough relationships shaped you? Do you have any childhood memories that foreshadowed the character of a friend or sibling?