Thursday, May 21, 2015

an open letter to my brother on memorial day

You know that I'm still mad at you sometimes, right? Mad at you for leaving me behind, despite all the times I insisted you wait for me when we were growing up. I thought it was just some crazy reaction that I was totally by myself with, but I'm not the only one who has said that if her brother walked through the front door today she would hug his neck and then punch him. And since you taught me how to punch, you know that wouldn't be one of those wimpy punches, either.

Sometimes, I still let myself believe for a few minutes that you aren't really gone. When it gets too tough and I just don't have the strength to miss you, I let myself picture a "Bourne Identity" situation for a little while. It doesn't work for long, but sometimes it's long enough to let me swallow the lump in my throat and move forward.

This week has been full of those moments. Memorial Day weekend is coming up, and I don't know how to react to it. My kids--your niece and nephew who would adore you--are excited because they don't have school Monday, but how do I explain to them that while I'm glad they are excited, it's too hard for me to be excited?

I know why you went to Iraq instead of taking the "safe route" in South Korea when you were commissioned. I understand the passion that drives people to dive into the deep end instead of wading in slowly. After all, that passion and drive were things Pop and Mom instilled in all 3 of us (though our baby sister, believe it or not, seems to actually think before she acts...crazy girl). I know what it's like to have a dream that's so much a part of you it feels like you can't breathe when you aren't living it out, so I know why you were in that Najaf cemetery that scorching August day. I know you were there doing what God called you to do--fighting for those weaker than you who weren't able to stand on their own. You were being a soldier, and that was who you were made to be. Like Rambo said, "Live for nothing or die for something; your choice."

Yes, I really did just quote John Rambo. Aren't you impressed?

It's hard living in your shadow sometimes. I thought it was hard being "Little Mike" when I started high school your senior year, but that doesn't even begin to compare. It seems a lot of people like to see you as perfect now. As your little sister, I feel it's my duty to remind you that that's not true. I don't think people know how to talk about you anymore, and it makes me crazy to see the sad, uncomfortable look on people's faces when I mention your name. I don't blame them--nobody ever really knows what to say. But just so you know, I haven't forgotten all the times you picked on me, or when you taught Jeff the lovely French phrase, "Elle est bete!" that the two of you loved saying around me, or when you came home from college telling me, "Sprechen Sie Deutsch!" and refusing to speak to me in English.

My goodness, you knew just how to annoy me!

I wish you were here. I wish I was still just a little bit oblivious as to the true meaning of this weekend. I wish I could make fun of you for being a big softie with your two beautiful nieces who would have you wrapped around their little fingers. I wish I could see you with your nephew who seems to have his "teelings" right at the surface like you did when you were little. He's a protector, too, like you. He came home one day talking about how he didn't care if the bully was mean to him, but he wasn't going to let him pick on one of the other boys.

I miss you every day, sometimes overwhelmingly so. I've tried to be strong, and I hope you're proud of that even though sometimes I fail miserably. I'm not quite the peacemaker you were because I let my emotions get in the way, but I'm trying.

Know you aren't forgotten.
Know you're loved.

"Bless you, my darling, and remember you are always in the heart--oh, tucked so close there is no chance of escape--of your sister." ~Katherine Mansfield

I love you, big brother. And I may get in trouble one day when I step through the gates of Heaven and punch you in the shoulder before I hug your neck, but just so you know that'll be your fault.

~Mandy 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

lessons from kids' songs

Songs have always had an impact on me. I have (quite literally) 45 different playlists saved on Spotify, each with its own purpose. I've had different theme songs at different times in my life, and even now when I hear one of those it brings up the memories of whatever was going on in my life at the time.

There are songs I sing when I feel on top of the world and songs I sing when my heart is breaking. Whatever the emotion, I probably have a song to go along with it--happy, sad, or anything in between.

Sometimes, though, a song comes to mind at a rather odd time. Take yesterday. I was mowing (it seems that something like that makes my brain start working, too) and two songs kept running through my head on repeat. They were both songs I've most likely known for as long as I've been able to talk, thanks to my mom. They were also both songs I haven't thought of or heard in a long time.

"He's still working on me
to make me what I ought to be.
It took Him just a week to make the moon and the stars,
the sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient He must be,
'cause He's still working on me.
There really ought to be
a sign upon my heart:
"Don't judge me yet, there's an unfinished part."
But I'll be perfect just according to His plan,
crafted by the Master's loving hand."

"I am a promise,
I am a possibility.
I am a promise
with a capital P.
I am a great big bundle of potentiality!
And I am learning to hear God's voice,
and I am trying to make the right choice.
I am a promise to be
anything God wants me to be.
I can go anywhere that He wants me to go;
I can be anything that He wants me to be.
I can climb the high mountain,
I can cross the wide sea,
I am a great big promise, you see!"

Since I couldn't get the words out of my head, I started thinking. When kids sing those songs, you can see how much they believe them. The joy pours out of them as they sing about how much God loves them and how He has amazing things in store for them. They know that those words are true because they know that God is true to His word. There simply isn't any other possibility.



All they see ahead of them are amazing adventures. They are truly full of promise and potential, not because they know what the future holds, but for no other reason than that they know Who holds the future.


I'm sure you were like that once. The future was bright, even though you didn't know what lay ahead. God's promises were all you needed.

But then, life.

Somewhere along the way, life happened and you started singing those words with less joy. You started questioning the future, wondering if you would ever amount to anything, ever find God's purpose for your life, ever become who He intends you to be.

"I thank my God every time I remember you.
In all my prayers for all of you,
I always pray with joy
because of your partnership in the gospel
from the first day until now,
being confident of this,
that He who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus."
~Philippians 1:3-6

God has promised to carry His work on to completion--in you. Not just in the world, not just in those people you see who seem like the superstars of Christianity. God's still working on you, and He's dedicated to seeing you live up to your full promise and potential.

You are a Promise.