Jimmy was born with hydrocephalus, or swelling of the brain, a birth defect occurring sometime in the first three months of gestation. Nowadays, a shunt is placed in the baby’s brain to direct excess fluid into the stomach, but in 1941 that surgery was unheard of. My brother, who was only supposed to live until age ten, survived to age eighteen.
I have little recollection of this handicapped brother as I immersed myself in play. Only my parents’ stories of his gentle manner, his patience, and his love for music provide a link to the only male sibling I ever had. This saddens me, for I feel I missed a special opportunity to be a blessing to him. Perhaps I was a blessing in some way and did not realize it. Maybe I played at his bedside while mom tended to his needs. Perhaps I curled up beside him while mom read stories. Maybe I even told him my deepest secrets while others milled about the house trying desperately to be normal, but I simply don’t remember. My oldest sister, twelve years my senior, remembers her relationship. The pictures validate their time together. And another sister, five years my senior, testifies to sitting by Jimmy’s bed and talking to him about her troubles hours on end. But I have nothing. Nothing to indicate that in any way I was my brother’s keeper. A friend. A nurse. Even a companion. The only brother I ever had and I missed it!
Sometime after Jimmy died, I was moved to his room to sleep in his bed. From then on, even into my pre-teen years, I was frightened. As a child, I couldn’t put a finger on the fear. It wasn’t rational, but it was real. My parents tried to console me with Scripture, but ended up frustrated at my lack of change. As an adult, I see now that they must have been grieved that they could not help me. They experienced the double grief of a son’s death and a child’s emotional disturbance, a trauma that gained a stronghold and wrapped its ugly tendrils around various aspects of my life. My relationships. My faith. The core of who I was. Even though I had received Christ as my Savior at age eight, the roots of fear and doubt ran deep, cropping up from time to time and choking the fruit God wanted to produce through my life. A dark oppression seemed to cloud my life leaving me struggling for control. Loss of control exhibited itself through obsessive-compulsive tendencies, especially in the spiritual arena.
As a young adult, during some of my darkest days of doubt, God led me to begin a journal. To this day, some thirty-seven years later, the decision to journal was my path to healing. Over the years I have chronicled my thoughts, feelings, and the Spirit’s impressions as He worked through specific Scriptures addressing my needs. One of my favorites is Ephesians, chapter one, where God states who I am in Christ. My security and significance are tied up in Him.
I have faltered many times in my walk with God. Times of great confidence in who I am. Identity securely fixed. Other times when I have allowed doubt and fear to swallow me to the point of anxiety and depression. But a current running strong beneath it all is God’s unfailing faithfulness and sustaining grace.
Knowing my identity is firmly fixed in Christ has freed me to help others. I can serve as brother’s keeper when I offer a cup of cool water in Jesus’ name, write cards to the grieving, sit and pray with a shut-in, witness to a neighbor, or care for a sick child. I can come alongside another believer who may be struggling spiritually or encountering a period of temptation as mentioned in Galatians 6:1-2, always remembering with humility where God has brought me from, that it is only by His grace that I do not succumb to past behavior patterns. Such is the case now as I meet with another sister in Christ for weekly accountability. It is perhaps the first time in my life when I have not experienced one-up or one-down type of thinking. I feel on equal footing. Thus, we serve as brother’s keeper in each other’s lives. And what a freedom that is! To simply be who I am and be accepted anyway. A touch of Jesus—my ultimate brother’s keeper.
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