My father was in his mid 50s when he had his two children, and while the doctor said of my birth he had “never seen a more perfect baby” (which I am sure he said to most parents), my brother was born prematurely and with several learning disabilities. My parents spent a great deal of money and time helping him learn. He went to the best doctors at Walter Reed Hospital as a child and continued to attend special courses and training programs designed to help him overcome his handicaps. My parents both spent hours driving him from one program to another and then both would work with him at home to help him learn to do everything from dressing himself to counting money.
As his older sister, I was brought up to “take care of your brother.” When I was seven years old and living in Falls Church, Virginia, my parents taught me how to escape from the house if it should catch on fire… but first I was to go get my brother. Taking care of him and protecting him was the family priority.
Our father began to notice that my brother was quite capable of learning what he wanted to learn, but had problems learning things he wasn’t interested in, like counting money. He spent hours and hours working with my brother throughout his life trying to not only teach my brother to count money, but to instill in him the NEED and DESIRE for learning to count money. Our mother was more inclined to enable him. When he was in a bad mood, we were all encouraged to “jolly him up,” and our mother would take him someplace special, or buy him something special, or fix him something special to eat to get him out of bad moods.
The results of this were easily predictable: as my brother grew up he began to resent my father’s efforts to teach him and to expect the immediate family to cater to his moods. Our father became the “bad guy,” for setting goals and expectations. My brother began to look to other people for male roll models, usually picking the ones least like our own father. Sibling rivalry also took on new dimensions as I began to date, excel in school, go to college, and do other things that he wanted to do. He resented me immensely for doing the things he could not do.
When he was in his late 20s, my brother discovered something that most people learn in their adolescent and teen years – that you can complain about your family to outsiders and distant relatives, and many of them will listen and sympathize. He came up with a story that his whole life, no one had believed in him or thought that he could do anything, but he worked and worked and made something of himself. This was even published in a Goodwill Industries booklet that featured him in one of its articles. When I read it, I had to wonder how he could so easily forget all the countless hours our parents spent trying to help him… such as driving him across town to Goodwill Industries so he could get special job training.
When our parents died and I became the person responsible for my brother, I taught him how to count money and balance a checkbook. It took three years of my weekends and nights, but this time, he eventually learned because he wanted to be independent. I spent the decade of the 1990s helping him learn to pay bills and helping him set up automatic payments for most of them. I helped him find a house, work with the bank, pack, move, unpack, fix up his house, and learn to prepare simple, healthy meals. I helped him fit into his new community. I got him involved in a local car club, I coaxed him to become involved in some Mayberry activities, I persuaded him to get involved in a local church, introduced him to local events he would enjoy: music venues, jazz nights, annual picnics, 4th of July parades and more. After he was situated, I tried to schedule at least one meal a week with him to give us both family time. When his old dog grew ill, I helped him take her to the vet, get her medicine, set up a schedule to care for her, put her to sleep when he decided caring for her was too difficult, and helped him get a new dog. During the past sixteen years, I have helped him through many problems, difficulties, and scrapes. Although far from perfect, I have tried hard to be a good sister.
As my father had before me, I gave up a great deal of my own life to help my brother establish his life. In many ways it has been the most rewarding task of my life. However, I eventually stopped catering to my brother’s moods and began to try to teach him to control his moods himself. I saw how sweet and cheerful he could be when he wanted to and how moody he was with our aunt and uncle (and me) here in Nashville. I began to try to teach him personal responsibility, self-discipline and social skills.
Much like my father, I quickly became the “bad guy.” Sibling rivalry, which was already a palpable barrier he had erected between us, soon became a monster. He needed my help, but he resented the fact he needed me, and he despised any suggestions I offered on things ranging from table manners and driving habits to managing his money. He began to sabotage our plans and take his phone off the hook when he knew I would be trying to reach him, or not be at his house when I came to pick him up. He discovered he could call people and exaggerate, gossip, and fabricate, and he could manipulate the uninformed into getting angry with me. This had two tremendous benefits in my brother’s mind. One, it caused outsiders and relatives who had not been close to us growing up to include him in family functions where he was pampered and petted for having such a “hard time.” Two, I was not not invited, and my brother took great pleasure in being the “special” one and repeating hurtful things said about me behind my back until I refused to listen to those stories anymore. I had to wonder at how willing people are to listen to malicious stories and to participate in gossiping without ever trying to learn the truth.
He began to call my best friends and managed to damage four good friendships with his gossip, telling my friends things I had mentioned in casual conversation while changing the tone and context of those conversations into much more offensive statements. When that worked, he began to embellish and fabricate. Eventually my friends began to see through him, and the end result was always that the friend wanted nothing more to do with him. However, he is my brother, and I could not very well maintain a close friendship with someone who would not have anything to do with my brother. I had to wonder why my “friends” would listen to gossip about me in the first place.
Now here we are well over 10 years after our parents have died, and my brother is still portraying me as the “bad guy” to anyone who will listen, and he spends hours on the phone every day calling people to talk. I would bet it is no exaggeration to say that well over 100 people have heard his tales of woe and apparently believed them: distant family members, old family acquaintances, friends of his, people in the community and their families. I have to wonder at how prone seemingly intelligent people are to believe the worst about someone who has bent over backwards to help the very person spreading the gossip.
Then one day it dawned on me — the most generous, giving, loving, self-sacrificing person who ever lived was called all sorts of names. He was estranged from much of his family. He was gossiped about and ridiculed by those he sought to teach. He was persecuted by those he sought to live among. He was beaten by those he sought to help. He was called a blasphemer and accused of having a demon by those he sought to correct. He was despised and rejected of men, denied by those he sought to love. He was crucified by those he sought to save. If the perfect Lamb of God, flawless, sinless and worthy of adoration, could illicit such malice while living a sinless live, it is little wonder that people find it easy to gossip with my brother about such a flawed creature as I!
And when I look deeper, I see that I am guilty of all my brother’s sins. I deny Jesus on a daily basis by the things I think, the things I do and don’t do. He seeks me, and I take the phone off the hook. He knocks at my door, and I don’t answer. He has plans for me, and I sabotage them. He gives good gifts, and I have no gratitude. He delivers me from harm, and I take all the credit. He teaches me, and I learn only what I want to learn. By a careless thoughtless word, I say ill of His name. He proves Himself over and over, and I have no faith. I need His guidance, but I resent His guidelines. I despise His correction. I turn away from His instruction. I spurn His love. I want Him to cater to my moods and to “jolly me.” And if something happens to me that I don’t like, I blame it on Him, and I tell people who will listen how hard I have it. How often I despise and reject the One who loves me most!
We are a perverse people. We want others to think the best of us, but are quick to think the worst of others. We can count all the hurts others inflict upon us, but we go through life unaware or uncaring of the damage we do to others. We want others to be sensitive to our grief and pain, but we are indifferent to the pain around us, especially the pain we cause. We cry out for a Saviour and crucify Him when he comes.
Ah, my brother, I have looked into your angry, resentful, frustrated eyes and seen myself looking back out of them
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53: 3. KJV,
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Matthew 5 -11. KJV.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Matthew 7: 3. KJV.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? Matthew 5: 46. KJV.