I have intended to write some of the things I’ve written here, for years now, and was inspired by a good friend to get it done. I admit that in part, I’m writing here to clear my conscience of some things that have weighed upon me for years. But mostly, I want to share some lessons I’ve learned from an important member of my earthly and heavenly family.
I have a little brother. He died when he was 2 1/2 years old – a day after contracting viral meningitis. My little brother has come to me several times since he died on the cement floor in front of me when I was 9 years old. The first time he came to me was probably a couple of years after he died. He told me that he was happy and in a wonderful place and I shouldn’t worry about him. He also told me that I would be OK too. At that age, I don’t think I had ever “felt the spirit” more, than when my little brother came to visit me. He has visited with me a few other times too – including one occasion when he came with a group of others who are in my earthly family and otherwise connected to me through my heavenly family. I’ve missed my little brother almost all my life, and he has been a source of strength to me over the years. However, he isn’t the brother I’m going to talk about here.
I have another brother – just 15 months younger than me, who has probably shared more life experiences with me than any other human. But most of our days growing up together were not pleasant.
I used to tease him when we were very little and call him by his full name – emphasizing the “pher” part of Christopher. He would cry, and yell back at me, “Don’t call me Christopher, cuz I don’t have a FIR in me!!” (yes, we were VERY little at the time.)
Being the silly little girl I’ve been at least as long as his 40ish-year long life, I didn’t realize I should have been paying more attention to the “Christ” part of my brother Christopher.
Chris and I both boast fairly strong personalities that created a power struggle between us before we knew how to be kind to each other, and before we realized we don’t have to compete – or at least before I realized those things. Since I am the oldest, I assumed that afforded me the right to “pull rank” anytime I wasn’t getting my way – which was pretty much always.
I was usually not nice about it when I pulled the rank card. I think I LOOKED for things to do to torment him. I remember hiking one day in Summit Park, Utah where we grew up. We were probably about five and six years old, and I remember laughing at him and calling him a big huge baby, as he fell down the mountain he was struggling to climb. His back was swollen with probably 30 mosquito bites and it was bleeding and was so painful and itchy for him, that he literally struggled to stay upright.
At around ages six and seven, I recall playing a mean trick on Chris – simply because I had come up with another scathingly brilliant plan to torment him and make him cry. I ran ahead of him as we walked home from the bus stop together, and when I was beyond his line of sight, I hid. At the time, our walk home from the bus stop was about 3/4 of a mile (uphill… both ways… and definitely was 20 below zero back in the day, growing up in Park City area). The point is, this could have been a terrifying situation for a six year old. I hid in our front patio, behind some junk stacked in the corner. My brother finally wandered home, and was clearly upset that he couldn’t find me. I snickered and watched from my lair, as he continued to search for me – even though he was home and could have gone inside to get help from our parents. His frustration topped out, and he uttered the most technicolor stream of profanity I had ever heard at that age. You probably guessed it… instead of thanking him for diligently looking for me – even when he knew I did it to torment him, I ran in and gave him up to the one with the heaviest hand – our step dad, who made him brush his teeth with shampoo through his tears and vomit.
In case you’re still wondering why I never received the “Big Sister of the Year Award”, imagine this kind of thing happening all the time. I imagine it must have been awful for him to live with an older sister who treated him this way – literally every possible opportunity I could steal or create. I suppose I understand – I lived with the same kind of abusive treatment from our first step-dad, who was raising us at the time.
When our little brother died, obviously it was a difficult experience for our family – as it would be for any family. I think our family did just about everything we could to make it worse, though. Dysfunctional was synonymous with the Martindale last name. I know it was especially difficult for my brother Chris when our brother died; he lost his little buddy and was now the only other boy in the family where he remained alone in the middle of four sisters.
I was so utterly jealous of him as he began to fill the void in our family that was left by our little brother Shiloh. I felt like the “red-headed step-child” living with my three little sisters who were regarded as “perfect princesses”, and my brother – the “fair-haired-lad” who could do no wrong.
Our parents used to take us up to Pocatello, Idaho for the 24th of July LDS events that are celebrated in Southern Idaho. They dropped us off together at the “Pokie” fair one year and left us to walk around together. I remember making my little brother walk several feet away from me so people wouldn’t think we were together. I was much less concerned about one of us getting kidnapped during our separation, than I was about being publicly associated with this kid who “made” my life hell each day.
We used to sneak out and go to parties and mess around walking through Summit Park with our friends in the middle of the night, while our parents thought we were sleeping (for any kids getting dumb ideas, this was the 70s and 80s). We got pretty good at making it look like we were still in our beds using strategically placed pillows and wigs, and even helped each other sneak-out occasionally (especially if it would get us both to the party). But the rift was widened as our step-dad began catching ME every time we went out – and punishing me, while my brother remained the star-child of the family who never seemed to do anything wrong; at least in my parents’ eyes.
On one occasion, we sneaked out of the house, and went to the same party up the street, and spent the whole night actually getting along and hanging out with our mutual friends. We sneaked back into the house together, and my brother went to bed like nothing had happened. I on the other hand, found my step-dad waiting for me in my bed. I’m not sure why I expected my brother to give himself up just to make me look “less-bad”, but I did.
My jealousy toward him ran deep. Growing up, we had a family Christmas tradition that began after our little brother died. Each of us would write a letter to Shiloh and put it in his Christmas stocking to be read aloud to the family on Christmas morning. One year, Chris wrote an amazing, heart-felt, beautiful letter to our brother about how much he loved our parents and how he was working hard to be good. Both of my parents cried as the letter was read. I felt like I could not do anything right, and even the letter I wrote that year – and other years, was not good enough to be acknowledged that way. I found that letter my brother wrote, and ripped it to shreds – just to punish him.
I think I’ve done about every possible cruel thing a sibling could do to another; I’ve mocked and ridiculed him at his lowest moments, I’ve attempted to rule over and command him, I’ve judged and condemned him to hell, and I’ve tried to impose that hell upon him and punish him.
When we were in our early twenties, my brother went through some very big life struggles that were incredibly difficult for him, and he made decisions that I could not accept at the time. Instead of trying to understand what my brother was going through and help him through it, I ripped out the scriptures, and judged him with the harshest judgment I could muster. I also punished him with the most severe treatment I could impose, and I let him know what I thought of him at that time. I made this situation all about me (though it had absolutely nothing to do with me), and I did something to my brother that was probably the most horrible thing I’ve ever done to a person. That thing I did has haunted me for the past 20 years.
My brother’s best friend – and my adopted brother, was married a few years ago, and I attended the reception. My brother was there of course, and so were a lot of people from his past, that I didn’t know yet. I was introduced to the people my brother lived with 20 years ago when he went through that horrible time in his life; the people who DID help him through that time. All of those things I said and did, came flooding back to me and brought back that thing that haunted me, that I had buried deep where it could not hurt ME as much, right to the painful surface. I left the reception and sobbed all the way home. I knew I had to resolve this with my brother and tell him how wrong I was. Well that was a couple of years ago, and I still haven’t brought myself to tell him how sorry I am, until this post. In part, I haven’t wanted to bring up things that might be painful for him. But just as much, I haven’t wanted to bring up this thing that is painful for me.
I thought about all of these things on the drive home from the reception, and I remembered a dream I had several years ago, about my brother. In this dream, he was in a car accident and died. I ended up at the scene of the accident and held him and just sobbed. The dream was so real that I woke up sobbing and felt those feelings of losing him that felt so real. At the time, my brother and I were not talking and probably hadn’t talked for at least a couple of years. But when I woke from that dream, I realized how horrible it would be if I lost this brother too, and never repaired all the damage I had caused him and our relationship in his life.
A couple months ago, these feelings were all brought to the surface again as I thought I might lose my brother for real. My mom busted into my apartment one afternoon and frantically told me that something was wrong with my brother. I ran outside where he lay lifeless in the passenger side of his van. I dove inside, and Matt, a family friend, drove us to the ER in a third of the time it should have taken.
As we drove, I fought the feelings of fear that threatened to render me useless in this situation. I felt peace come over me as I prayed, and while I held my brother and held on for dear life, I followed the Lord’s push to ignore how crazy the family friend with us might think I am, and voiced a blessing commaning him to be well. Though he lay there unconscious, I was told to command Chris to overcome this condition that brought him to this weakened and more fallen state, because he has a great mission on this earth to complete and he was not to succumb to this. I was told to remind him that he knows the Lord, and to remember the times He has come to him and what he has been told by the Lord, Himself. I was told to tell him to overcome this and rise up and fulfill what he was sent here for.
I have no idea what was wrong with him and what caused all the terrifying symptoms he experienced that day, but a cat-scan, EKG, and a million tests later, he walked out of the hospital irritated that he lost a day’s worth of work. I left knowing my brother was someone special, and is going to be facing more opposition as he continues to grow into who the Lord knows he is.
I learned later that week, that my mother had been prompted to give my brother a blessing using almost the exact words I used in the blessing I voiced for him.
This series of events taught me a lesson that is only learned with excruciating pain. I learned that the Savior had knocked, and every time I answered, this is the treatment I extended to HIM – because that is the treatment I afforded my own little brother.
I’ve spent my entire life fighting against one of the greatest allies I have, and I’m grateful my vision is not as clouded today. I’ve joked for the past two years that his ex wife is crazy for divorcing him, and that I wish I had an ex husband like him – because he never would have become an ex husband. He has learned to treat even his enemies – those who spitefully use and abuse him, with respect, and with concern for the greater good, not catering to the disdain and guile he could feel for them. My brother is a man who has sacrificed himself for everyone around him. He has lived in poverty, slept in his car, and paid thousands a month more than he should to his ex wife, just so his kids can be comfortable and enjoy the closest version of a happy family he can help create for them. He has gone out of his way not to show any bad feelings in front of his kids for their mother – despite their divorce and the contention that continues. And although he may teach his kids slightly differently than I teach mine, HE TEACHES his kids. He counsels with them and acts as a true Father to those kids, no matter the discomfort it causes to him.
My brother is a seasoned Private Investigator by trade. He is hired to acquire and report information. He does this job very well and works hard to compile UN-biased, and impartial information, without inserting judgment that could skew the truth he is expected to report. That is what he gets PAID to do. But I have watched my brother spend just as many UN-paid working hours counseling the distraught clients he takes on. After all is said and done and the information he obtains is used to reveal the truth of the situation, someone is inevitably left broken and in pain. After the paycheck comes, Chris seems to always make time to pull out the “counselor/new friend” hat, and help those people overcome the struggles they have because of the information he is paid to provide them. Most companies provide free samples or other superficial perks to make their customers and clients feel “special”. My brother offers his clients the pure love of Christ, simply because he has that gift to share.
About a month ago, Chris and I had a conversation about some of the dysfunctional garbage and abuse that was prevalent growing up in our home. We actually laugh about it regularly these days. We were talking about a day that was particularly difficult between our first step dad we grew up with, and myself. I learned that Chris confronted our dad after watching him throw me around my bedroom, and essentially commanded him to back off and not touch me that way again. I never recognized this and other times in my life that he had my back, and I continued turning my back on him.
I want my brother to know, that I don’t NOT-hate him as little as he might think I do. 😉 I’m writing too, to let him know that he has taught me more than he’ll ever know. He played the crappy role of the arch nemesis I get to learn to love with the pure love of Christ. He helped me learn that all these jealousies and fears I had within myself, turned the one I was given to walk through this life with me as my only living brother, into my enemy. He took on the crappy roll of being one of MY Saviors on Mt. Zion, as he will be for others, too.
This last weekend, I got to attend my brother’s re-baptism – where he also baptized our current step-father Scott (not the same step dad who raised us), along with his best friend Rocky, who helped inspire this post. Like me, Chris was led to do this in his symbolic, 40th year on this earth. Truth be told, he squeaked it in four days before the symbolic deadline – as his birthday is tomorrow, and the reason I’m writing this tribute that should have been paid to him each day of the past forty years.
Forty (one-ish) years ago when my brother was born, I did not realize who that loud, annoying, poopy, snotty, bacon loving, mullet sporting, air guitaring, pet-little-brother was. Now, I SEE who he is and I stand all amazed at this man who has risen from the ashes like a phoenix of light. I’m grateful and honored to be in the same family as the man who uses the words of Nephi found in 4:17 as his personal mantra, to inspire and lift him a little higher, every day:
I am not sure what earthly gift I could give him right now that would benefit him or express the feelings I have for this brother of mine who has literally been to hell and back with me. So this post is a tribute to him and a testimony to the world that my brother IS a man of God. He knows the Lord, and he becomes more like Him every day. I am better for knowing him, and I only regret that it took almost my entire life, to realize that. If you know him, you are just as blessed as I am.
So here is my birthday gift to you. Along with it, I am sorry, for everything. And I forgive you, for all the things I chose to “not like” you for. You probably already figured this out by now, but I needed to put it into words, “for the record”.
Along with this, I’d like to remind you that I left a pack of expensive, fat-cut bacon in the freezer of your new apartment. Enjoy it today, without a lecture on how unhealthy it is.