From June 19, 2014
I get to talk to my little brother for exactly twenty minutes every Sunday night, and tonight when he called, I said, “hey do you think I could share part of your story?” His reply was immediate. “Yes! Please tell it. I want people to hear it in case it can help others.” Here it goes.
In 2011, I received a phone call from our mom, telling me Andy had been in a terrible car accident, and yes, he was fine…in jail. One of his dearest friends, however, was not fine. He was in critical condition. Something about hitting a pole, and another something about drinking and driving. There were no other details. My heart fell into my feet. My little brother- the prodigal who hadn’t returned, yet. The one who was forever in trouble with the law. The one who was always totaling vehicles. The one who only called me when he was wasted, telling me he didn’t want to drink anymore. The one who cheated death a thousand times. I spent years praying for him, crying for him, being angry with him, and longing for the prodigal to return.
The next night I stood with Andy on the balcony of his apartment, listening as he wished away his mistakes, and hoping for a miracle for his friend and roommate. For many years, Elijah had been like Andy’s family, and he cherished his friendship. He was horrified at the thought that he may die due to his own recklessness. As we stood on the balcony, he received a phone call and time stood still. When he hung up the phone, I was crushed under the weight of his body. He clung to me, punched the railing, and cried tears of anguish. I thought I would collapse under the weight of his sorrow. Over the next couple of weeks, he stopped hanging out with all of his friends, fearful that he would drink or do drugs again. He called me one day saying, “I want to go to rehab”. He went to rehab for a month, and then spent the next nine months awaiting his sentence for “Vehicular Homicide”. Not a lot happened during those months. He moved in with our mom, spent tons of time at my house during the day, and got a job as a janitor at a gym. He spent time learning about what it means to be a healthy, sober person, and what it looks like to have a relationship with Christ. On July 16th, 2012, Andy was sentenced to nine years in prison. I was stunned and heartbroken. I had watched the man he was learning to become over the past ten months, and though it came as a result of immense tragedy, I was still thankful to have my little brother back, and I wanted to keep him. My images of prison were the horrific commercials of shows I was too scared to watch. I watched as he was handcuffed and led to what I considered his doom. “God, how can he endure this?” I thought. That night I awoke at 3:00 in the morning, kneeling in bed and crying out to God to protect him and give him strength. I posted a Facebook status, pleading for people not to ask my family questions because we just couldn’t handle it at the time.
Over the next year, he was transferred to three different Colorado state prisons, and seemed to have a new cellmate every other week. We visited often, chatted on the phone, and sent letters and pictures of the outside world. In 2013, he was transferred to a prison in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, and was hired to be part of a team of prisoners who gets to leave when the weather is nice enough, and camp throughout the mountains, fixing trails, cutting down trees, etc. Andy loves to work, and the idea of leaving the walls that confined him for four days at a time was a dream come true. Some of you are undoubtedly thinking, “well, he got what he deserved; why should he get to camp in the mountains and enjoy life in prison?” But here’s the thing…my brother is a child of God, Who makes all things new, Who is a God of grace, Who is bigger than our addictions and our shortcomings and our lack of perfection. My small mind and my sinful, fearful heart forgot that God is bigger than prison walls. My 28 year old little brother is freer than most people I know who walk the streets as they please. He is full of hope, new life, encouragement and faith. He is a new man.
I am writing this post for two reasons: (1.) For the addicts, the brokenhearted, the hopeless, and the rebellious. If you just read the story of Andy and think that you are not strong enough to change your life, he can proclaim that there is hope for YOU. There is hope for every.single.person on this planet, regardless of the mess you have made of your life. (2.) To encourage you to be a friend to someone who doesn’t quite have it “all together.” What does that mean, anyhow? I don’t know anyone who has it all together, and if you do, I am pretty sure he is pretending. That’s not real life, right? Everyone is messy, and different, and beautiful in his own way.
When I think about Andy and his future, prison-free life, I wonder what kinds of people will surround him. Who will meet him where he’s at and join him on his journey? Who will cheer him on when he succeeds and cry with him when he struggles? Guess what? It probably, realistically, will not be you. Unless…UNLESS, you are known to befriend the ones who are a bit different than you. The ones who have been inside of the prison walls, or sleeping on a bench in a park, or who have had so little money that their stomachs cried for food. We struggle to do this because the unknown is uncomfortable. Andy recently sent me a letter with this little nugget that I almost missed: “It is always when I stop seeking comfort and start seeking God that He uses me.”
My little brother will leave prison one day, and he will appear scary to some. His tall frame, chiseled prison build, buzzed head, and plethora of tattoos might intimidate you. Let me tell you though, if you don’t turn your head; if you walk right up to him and greet him as a brother, he will embrace you like an old friend and join you in your own life story.
How many times have we averted our eyes when someone just seems “too different”? Last week I wondered what it would be like if every flower on our planet looked just the same. Would we even notice them at all? Just like the vast differences in every flower, I hope that one day I can look at my friends and see how different and lovely they each are. I would wither and die if everyone I knew was the same. There is a beautiful book called Same Kind of Different as Me written by two men who became best friends: a billionaire and a homeless man. I lovelovelove this book. When we can get to that place of seeing similarities rather than differences, I think that the world will be a bit more lovely, with each new friendship.
Dear reader, I completely grasp the cheesiness that this has taken on. I am typically not one to endorse cheese, but in this case, I choose to embrace it. I would love it if one day my brother is surrounded by people who love him for him, and who encourage him to be the best version of himself. Will you join me in this? Will you begin to gather a bouquet of friends who aren’t all the same? I would be thrilled if you adopted my brother as your own. Since that is not possible right now, will you go out and adopt someone else’s brother or sister as your own and love him or her as such? Go.
(Cheesy points=10. Kaa-chow.)