My Brother and Me

It is an angry time and anger is my signature vice, according to the enneagram, and, maybe everyone, so I’m kind of in Anger TAG. Nbd.

I’m finding it is not an opportune time to be a Christian, a proponent of power/class/race reconciliation and civil discourse, and an outspoken woman because, aside from the obvious perils, there are many opportunities to just fall flat on my face in a puddle of hypocrisy and/or feel like I’m dying trying every. single. day. And I am likely judging people as I go down, disappointed, but I’m on the top of my own list. It’s not opportune because it’s excessively challenging, but maybe easy was never the point.

It’s not an opportune time to preach grace when there are so many landmines, mistakes, envelopes pushed and lines in the sand. I’m praying that in the midst of all this reckoning, we will regain our souls, our North, and forge a new identity as Christ followers. It hurts, like tearing off a bandage of superglue, but necessary for healing.

But in the meantime, we are human, and he is wrong, and I am hurt, and many of us are all doing it as openly as possible because we care and push has come to shove.

My brother and I have one of the most infamous and observably difficult familial relationships on Facebook that I know of. We have had periods where we decide it’s best to not be connected on that medium, present included. We have had other seasons where we respect one another’s corners and pay each other no mind…but there is a tipping point and undoubtedly we strike up a “conversation” for all to eavesdrop and weigh in on. We do this knowingly. Our dear parents try to busy themselves elsewhere, like kids do when the parents fight. Our conflict-avoidant family members grimace. Our younger siblings, who often have stakes, watch quietly. Our respective fan clubs help. It’s all very beautiful and sagely and calm, in the way mud wrestling or Black Friday doorbuster shoppers really just uplift the senses.

I have a point.

My brother and I have a tremendous amount in common. What we lack in shared DNA, we make up for in common experiences such as being adopted from South Korea as babies, living in Montana and Oregon, and then moving as pre-adolescents to equatorial Nairobi. After some international travel and a revival of sorts in our parents’ faith, we found ourselves in the low-key church public eye as missionary kids. We went to every sort of school, and ended up attending an international Christian school in Kenya, he for 7 years, me for 4. We were joined by three significantly younger siblings there, and watched the news of 9/11 from BBC reports and Kenyan news in a not entirely sympathetic student body. We’ve walked the sewered paths in urban slums; we’ve ridden through the savannah on roof racks, facing a herd of elephants. We’ve also both had the unique experience of moving back to the west coast of the US, attending private colleges and re-connecting with extended family, sending churches, and one another, while our parents and younger sibling remained overseas. Growing up we couldn’t agree on how to fold a shirt, or what should be packed to Kenya or where to go out for dinner, but no one has charted the same path we have traveled but for one another. And that has been a good gift and a wonder as we consider our unconventional stories thus far. It’s good capital to have in the bank as we navigate relating in our present political tumult.

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As adults, our experiences have diverged. He’s rural, I’m urban; he’s Air Force, I’m non-profit. He’s Wyoming, I’m California. We have spouses, kids, bills, wrinkles, and Facebook now. And we’re still growing up.

After a week of recent conflict, which first occurred on Facebook (as we do) and then behind the scenes through texting, my brother called me–aggressively. Like actually wanting to speak aloud. The typing interactions were not ugly but they weren’t exactly congenial. I had called (and by called, I mean I stated via text) for another Facebook break up, and he apparently doesn’t try to avoid the phone as a talking device like I do. I groaned as I answered.

He pursued. We talked and had a productive conversation. He understood more. I understood more. Fists were not raised. There were no one-twos or referees. There was a brother and a sister, who online, and in many other regards (for example, folding a shirt like a nincompoop or not), are opposites. In practice though, we both care an awful lot. I remembered his caring, loyal self. His investment and sympathy towards his community; his sacrificial work for a few, who’ve had a rough go. His reactions are mirroring my own undying commitment to a few, who’ve had a rough go. I told him I didn’t like his sources. He told me he doesn’t see the problems I do. We talked about Christmas.

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It reminded me of a recent Bible study I was a part of. The Sheep and Goats parable was discussed and one person had a different understanding of the passage than I have carried; the feeding, the visiting, the inviting, wasn’t as much a social and determining instructive to this man’s understanding as much as a natural fall out of being sheep already, and first and foremost the movement was towards those in the flock, the “brothers” of the ESV. This person is learned and wise, and while I differ from his interpretation, I let the tension be. I know the habits of this man. He is loving, sacrificial, and spends extra time in prisons, with the least of these, opening his door to the poor in spirit. Truly, naturally, he is practicing in the way of the sheep of this parable, of those who the Lord recognizes as His. By word, I may feel more comfortable with twenty other Christians’ read but their actions may show nothing. I’d prefer the first arrangement.

Like him, my brother’s life, in practice, is not opposite in character than my own. We have seemingly opposing environments, lifestyles, and definitely opposing media images but I am comforted by his love for others. For all that is behind the scenes, for all the similar that no sharing of articles can confirm nor deny. And not because he’s more like me than I thought, but simply because he’s striving to be loving to his people, including me. And in doing so, he helped me develop better empathy and understanding. And gave me the opportunity to do the same. Cheyenne to Los Angeles. Seoul to Nairobi. Who knows what the future holds.

The truth is tangled. Our anger gets misrouted. People are usually much different than in the 2-dimensional spaces we observe them, and this is generally a good thing. Our relationships are really at risk. I wanted to share these stories with you because I can talk in broad strokes about faith, and loving others. I can champion the underdog in my way, promote civil discourse, and preach giving the mic to those with less power… but I’m in the trenches of this too. If I lose the ability to relate with people closest to me in the midst of activism, I have missed the mark.

In case it wasn’t clear: I mess up all the time. I’m still writing midway. I’m making mistakes, I need grace, and I am learning and falling, and learning too. Despite all the errors of the past couple weeks, heck hours, there are good things about push coming to shove. Anger and discourse are necessary for there are a lot of things to be vigilant about if our faith matters a bit. In the midst of the fight, pushing in, like my brother did, is better than writing off. Pushing in will help us get there, without losing each other.

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(This was posted with my brother’s blessing.)
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Newlyweds, Ryan and I

I dearly love my husband. We have been through a lot with each other and because of each other. It has never been the perfect marriage but thankfully, that is not our expectation or role. It’d sure be nice but that is just not our story. It’s been perfectly messy at times and we have included others in that mess, hopefully in healthy, opening ways. (Not in the pointed, friend-ostracizing, facebook status sort of way. :)) We continue to be students to the marriage covenant, even while finding ourselves already plopped down in one.

It helps to know that to be married, to stay married, is to commit to being a beginner.

Women in our society are frequently and especially sequestered to an imaginary starting line at each stage of life. Each milestone of age and position is burdened with a new set of flawed expectations and matrices of “success” that generally disregards the preceding set. Meanwhile, as our gender goes through those gymnastics, our culture values finishers. Winners. Experts.

And I am never finished being married. Being a wife.

At times, he is my companion and confidant and my opposite in all the right ways. We are walking beside each other now with fresh, substantive memories of Guatemala, a year of counseling under our belt, triumphs and trials in ministry, joined hopes for a daughter, harmonious perspectives on our family and families. He knows the valley I am in right now, agrees with it, sometimes identifies with it, and is willing to study it.

At other times, he has been a stranger and changes from my complimentary opposite to the opposition. He can be the catapult sending me into deep places of fear and abandonment. I have been a person from whom he wants to flee, who has not been safe and caused indifference to pattern. We have seen each other in the psalmist’s agony: “For it is not an enemy who taunts me–…then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng” (55:12-14).

Marriage-keeping is a constant starting over because people change and the covenant does not follow. In Kathleen Norris’ words, we continually have said “yes” to marriage. With each yes, our understanding of the cost of the yes is greater, and it began quite steep. In a bizarre arrangement, the first agreement in marriage is the instant of the least understanding. Our first agreement was June 10, 2006 around 2:45pm PST. Since that walk to the end of the aisle, there have been many feelings of dead ends. The end of our healthy arguing resources. The end of our love for each other. The end of our wits. But our dead ends are not His. We are not beholden to the weight of the moment.

And so we begin again. Reacquainting. Refilling. Learning to share again. Share the bathroom. Share the plans. Share a smile. With each yes, true the cost is understood better. But also with each yes,  each dawn of a wedded day, the thing that is greater than two small lives put beside each other is understood better. The sense that roots are deepening, vows are divine, and that this thing, this breathing animal called marriage, is worth insisting on, morning and night, becomes stronger.

I have often considered what a good marriage might be. Aside from our mission and what we may accomplish or do together. What would count as success at this ongoing starting line? Do I aim to be conflict-less? Is passing the years without splitting up the goal? If my kids think of marriage as desirable? So far I know two arcing hopes for the journey–two things that would contribute to making a marriage beautiful: that whatever our marriage brings and shows, our need for Jesus–our reliance on Him–is dominant. And two, that because of that, we can fully engage the humanness, the ups and the downs, honestly, openly, deeply, so as to work out this thing without losing either of us.

Sometimes people ask us for counsel and about our story. Not because we appear to have it figured out but I suspect because we are obviously such difficult people, so human and full of trying. Beginning. Hopefully this helps. Knowing there are others who fight in their marriage but mostly fight for their marriage. Knowing it is hard and deep and confusing. Believing in humble beginnings and perpetual starting lines and coming to rely on those as the saving graces that change one day into a span of years.

We have been beginning our marriage for over seven years.  It is a start.

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