Thursday, February 26, 2009

For My Brother

Some of you may have heard that my brother is getting married next week. Yeah, yeah, I know--I haven't really said much about it to most people; heck, I haven't even really talked much about it with him. His fiance's name is Sarah. She's a nice girl and people like her. My brother's crazy about her. You might have guessed that since, you know, they're engaged and stuff.

They've been engaged for about 6 months now and have been dating for 2 years. My, how time slips past me unnoticed--so quickly the days turn into years and, here I am, an adult. And my brother! He'll be 26 in a month--by anyone's standards he's a man. Still, in my heart he is my little brother and I am wildly protective over him.

I remember one instance shortly after our family had moved to Arizona. I was 15, which means that Brian was in all of his prepubescent glory at the age of 11. No one looks back at being 11 and says, "Ahhh yes, 11 was my golden year. That's when life was the sweetest for me. Oh to transport back to that year and live it over and over again for eternity." People just don't look at 11 in that kind of a light, especially when you're a sweet, shy, overly-sheltered boy as my brother was. My sister and I often stayed up late at night, worried about how he'd fare in the big bad world of High School. We worried that he would be bullied and that he wouldn't stand up for himself. We fretted over how he might feel when he was rejected by insensitive high school girls who haven't yet figured out how to tactfully reject a boy without shattering his heart into tiny bits. But on this particular occasion, Brian got into a fist fight with a couple of the local neighborhood boys. I can't even recall what the fight was about, only that he was defending himself. All I can really remember about that day is that for the first time, I felt white-hot rage build up inside me. I didn't know I was capable of that kind of instinctive protective reaction, but knew that at that moment, if it was necessary, I would track down those boys and give them a taste of their own medicine.

Brian and I have always been close. He's not a talkative guy and often people make jokes about his one-word answers. But that's never been an issue for Brian and me. When I was away at college in South Dakota, Brian and I would spend hours on the phone at night sometimes, just talking about anything and everything--whatever happened to cross our minds. And when it came time for me to move back to California, Brian flew out to help me move and we trekked across the country together, from South Dakota to California in a U-Haul. We even lived together for 2 years in an apartment in Glendale while I attended Fuller Seminary. He paid 3/4 of our rent as a favor to me so that I could finish my degree without the added stress of working full-time. Never once did he complain about the long hours he had to work to make ends meet. I knew that if I asked him for help, he would have done whatever it took to make sure I got what I needed; he's so much like our dad in that way: the gentle, quiet, supporter.

Times have changed. Terry and I got married and life is busy. We don't get to spend much time with Brian or anyone else for that matter. We don't get to talk often, but I know that I can still pick up the phone and spend an hour just catching up with him without skipping a beat. Maybe that's what it means to be family, but I think it has more to do with the fact that he and I really "get" each other. All I know is that Brian's wedding is quickly approaching and I have very mixed feelings.

How can I have mixed feelings, you might be asking? Shouldn't I be ecstatic about this event because Brian is elated to be marrying the love of his life? Well, yes and no. As his still-over-protective-fiercely-loyal-older sister I claim my right to feel sad and excited at the same time. On the positive side, I am deeply happy that my brother has found a woman who loves him dearly and who will support him and encourage him in exactly the right ways. No one is perfect and I don't expect Sarah to be the exception. I know they will disappoint each other at times as all mankind falls short of perfection. But they have a good foundation and I trust that the Lord will grant them wisdom and patience and the grace they will need to push through even the toughest of times. I am so very thankful that Brian has found a woman who loves the Lord with all her heart and wishes to serve Him to the best of her ability. I know that she sees in Brian a man who also desires to honor God with his life, and a relationship built on that mutual desire to please their Savior is a relationship that has a marvelous beginning.

Now it's time to bare my dark selfish nature: to put it simply, I am hurt. A few months ago, Sarah confessed to me that she told Brian one night in a fit of tears that she "needed to be his Amanda"--that she, Sarah, is supposed to be his confidante and his "go-to" person. Oh my crushed, trampled, broken heart! I felt like I had been side-swiped. I hadn't seen it coming. I was being pushed from the only role I have known as his sister. I literally had to fight the tears from rolling down my cheeks and revealing my true feelings on the matter. NO. NO!! I am Brian's go-to person. I'm his big sister and I understand him better than anyone! I don't want to participate in his life from the sidelines! He's more than my little brother, he is one of my dearest, oldest friends and I don't want to lose that capacity of relationship with him.

I'm not some crazy, clingy, overbearing sister. I'm really not that way at all. But I am still concerned for Brian's well-being and emotional health as much as I ever was. It is very surreal to watch him take this huge step--this leap into something so all-encompassing and serious that most people don't truly understand what they're getting themselves into. Marriage is a wonderful thing, but in the words of Nathan Clair, "Marriage is a grave, grave, grave, grave, grave, GRAVE endeavor..." and unless both people are truly ready, it can be disastrous.

All relationships evolve over time as those involved in the relationship change. The same goes for sibling relationships. I know that my hesitation comes primarily from the way I view Brian. I think he's eternally frozen in my mind at 20 years old, and because of that, I still feel like I can offer him guidance and support. There is not a doubt in my mind that Sarah will do a fine job of taking care of Brian and that he will be a wonderful husband to her--they are both capable individuals who care for each other. I am simply adapting to the new role I play in my brother's life and it has been a surprisingly difficult change for me to make.

For Brian and Sarah, I pray that the Lord will bless them richly and that He will provide for their every need. For me, I am praying that the Lord will show me how I can be a blessing to them in their married life together and how I can serve them as their big sister. I may not be the confidante anymore, but I can still offer them my fierce protective instincts to keep them safe! I am excited to see what a wonderful husband my brother will be for Sarah. He has so many of the qualities I admire in our dad--he is even keeled and steadfast, he is gentle and generous. All of these traits and more are what I see in Brian and I know they will aid him well in his new role as husband.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tuesdays at School

Wow, it's been a while. I'm kind of ashamed of myself, to be honest. Well, nothing like a fresh start (at 1:15 am) to get me back into the swing of things.

I would like to share with you my latest stupid student story. Now, I want to take a moment to clarify that I do not think all of the students at CSUN are stupid, but there are quite a few when, after attempting to aid in the solution to their their most current life or death situation (please sense the sarcasm here), I am left only to shake my head in wonder that such students are able to walk across campus without their mommies. Now on with my story.

Today was a fairly uneventful day at work. I was actually able to sit relatively uninterrupted at my desk for several consecutive hours which resulted in the knocking out of a load of paperwork that had been accumulating for quite some time. Tuesdays are nice because I get to shut down my desk computer at 6pm and mosey on up to the "Counter" for the final shift of the day. The counter is an area where students are able to order transcripts, change their majors, apply for graduation, and ask all sorts of questions that may or may not be anything we can answer in Admissions and Records (which doesn't stop us from trying). We generally have two or three shifts at the counter per day, and I honestly enjoy myself up there. It breaks up the day nicely and it gets me out from behind my computer and away from my eternally ringing phone. I like the counter until I have to deal with God's curse to the Universe: spoiled rotten, whiney students with a sense of entitlement that even Paris Hilton can't match. And so enters my last student of the day swaggering to the counter with a form in hand that has been mailed from an auto insurance agency. The student needs us to verify that the GPA is above a 3.0 and that the class load is considered to be full-time.

Just for a bit of history, I'll explain to you that I had to go through the same thing when I was in college: every semester I drove across town to my auto insurance agency with a form from the school stating that I was, indeed, still eligible for the much coveted "Good Student Discount." Never once did I walk into that office and berate the poor employee's intelligence or knowledge, nor would it ever have occurred to me to do such a thing. I was raised to treat people with respect and dignity and was under the impression (until I began working with the general public many years ago, and more specifically in the food service industry) that others were raised with the same ideals and principles.

To make a long story short, and to preserve a greater level of anonymity for privacy's sake, I will not go into details except to say that the student was not eligible for the discount based on the criteria listed on the form. I explained calmly that I was unable to verify this information and listed the reasons. At this point, the student erupts--a veritable Mount Vesuvius of anger and outrage at my unwillingness to help, exclaiming, "I don't understand why you're making this so difficult for me!" Me? I am making it difficult? The last time I checked, I was not the author of what requirements a student must meet in order to receive a good student discount.

The most outrage-inducing portion of the exchange between this student and me was when I was accused of being ignorant and that this student has been attending the school for years and it's never been a problem up until this point to just get this (insert multiple profanities here) form stamped and signed. I was, according to him, screwing up the system with my incompetence. Well, maybe--just a guess--in previous semesters we were able to sign such a document with clear conscience because the student actually met the qualifications. The student would not take my word for it (after 10 minutes of continuing to spell out the limitations the school has in FALSIFYING INFORMATION), and so I got my supervisor so that she could repeat exactly what I had been saying for the past 10 minutes, but with the authority of the title "supervisor" behind her (and a motherly raised eyebrow, which, I know from experience means "Do you really want to push the issue?"). She was able to send the student scuttling away from the counter, tail between legs.

The moral of the story? Be nice. Treat people with common courtesy, and watch out for the raised eyebrow because it has the power to make even the toughest of the tough feel remorse for his actions.