Tag Archives: Siblings

Low-Key Birthday Confessions

Birthday Cake
Birthday Cake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“May the day of my birth perish,
and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’”
Job 3:1 (NIV)

There are always interesting differences that emerge when you marry someone from a different family system. I never expected birthday traditions to be one of them, but life is full of surprises. I come from a family that celebrated birthdays, but did it as a rather low key affair. Mom baked our favorite cake. There were a few small presents from mom and dad, but we never did much of anything between siblings. In the childhood years birthdays meant you could have a sleepover (with a maximum of two friends). It was a special day that I looked forward to as a child, but as the years went by my feelings and expectations around birthdays diminished.

As I progressed into adulthood, the low key birthday traditions of my family evolved into even more low key expectations. If my siblings and I even remember each other birthdays there may, perhaps, be a phone call or voice mail message with kind wishes, though even that is not an expectation. Once in a great while there might be a token gift or a gag gift, but those rare occasions are frosting on the proverbial birthday cake. My family is so bad with remembering birthdays that my siblings and I will occasionally text each other reminders knowing that it’s likely someone forgot.

I’m not proud of this, mind you. It is what it is. Yet, along the journey I’ve come to realize that my low-key traditions and expectations surrounding birthdays are rather offensive to particular friends and loved ones. Wendy finds it appalling, and it only took one memorably disastrous birthday into our marriage to discover that I had better raise the bar for myself when it comes to the annual celebration of her birth. I’m a work in progress.

All of this pondering about birthdays comes as I read Job’s lamentation this morning. His tragic circumstances cause him to rue the day of his birth. Forget being low-key about the date, he curses the day he was born. No matter where you land on the importance of birthdays, there is no doubt that the day of our birth has inherent meaning. It is a special date because it was the date we entered this world. Birthdays, whether low-key or grand affairs, are linked to a celebration of life. To curse the day of our birth is to curse the precious gift of life that God purposed in our being and existence in this world.

I hear in Job’s words the kind of extreme, all-or-nothing thoughts that I have commonly witnessed coming out of despair both in myself and in others. Our life can feel so terrible in this one moment that we are blind to anything worthwhile, life-giving, or redemptive about our lives to this point. Extreme circumstances birth extreme emotions which, in turn, produce extreme thoughts (and sometimes actions). I don’t find anything sinful or improper in this. It is altogether human to experience these thoughts and emotions. The threat that this brings to our lives is to either give in to the extreme thoughts and emotions until it conquers our spirit, or to deny the thoughts and emotions in what will be an unsuccessful attempt to pretend that we are unaffected by our circumstances. Either of these ultimately end in the diminishment of Life.

Today I am thankful for Job and the day of his birth. I am thankful for the example he gives us in the honesty of his grief. This important human emotion, when experienced and processed in healthy ways, can lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of life.

I am also thinking today about birthdays and my relative nonchalance surrounding them. Birthdays are a celebration of lives that mean a lot to me, and lives that have deeply impacted me and my own life journey. They are an opportunity to say, “You are important to me.” Lesson noted. I’ve got some work to do.

Day 27: Talk About Your Siblings

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 27: Talk about your siblings.

I imagine they are all scared at this moment. lol.

This is an interesting one because many of the friends I’ve come to know and love over the past 10-20 years have little or no knowledge of my brothers and sister. I was born the youngest of four children. My brothers, Tim & Terry, are twins born seven years before me. My sister, Jody, is two years older than I am. Like many families, life has scattered us to different places. We see one another, and talk to one another, far less that I’m sure we all desire. Nevertheless, there is always plenty of love and laughter when we are able to gather together.

It’s hard not to begin the discussion about Tim & Terry without talking about them as a pair. They are twins, after all, and most people would find it hard to tell them apart. As a kid I idolized my brothers and was the pesky tag-a-long that they put up with more graciously than I think I would have. When they were lifeguards at Birdland pool for the summer they would take me along and let me hang out at the pool all day. They let me jump in the back of their ’66 Chevy Impala hardtop and accompany them to the bowling alley to hustle a game or two of foosball. Because of them I became a swimmer and because of them I have a knowledge of, and an appreciation for, a wide, eclectic range of music.

Terry is my oldest sib as he beat Tim out of the womb by a few minutes. He is one of the most gracious and gentle spirited people I have ever known. Some of the fondest memories I have of Terry go back to my formative adolescent years when Terry was living in Des Moines and going to Grandview College. I always appreciated that he made a point of showing up at my various events and was always open to letting me hang out with him. Of course, I can also remember him dragging me out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to help him deliver the Sunday Register on the multiple paper routes he kept to help pay for school. I’ve always appreciated Terry for a deep loving-kindness that flows from deep within him to everyone he meets, and I greatly respect the exemplary way I’ve observed him love and serve his wife and daughter.

While Terry hung around home during his college years, my brother Tim went off to Iowa State and then moved to Texas for an engineering job right after school. As a result, I didn’t see Tim as much for several years, though he did make a point of letting me hang out with him from time to time. One of my favorite memories is of Tim letting me spend the weekend with him at ISU. He took me to a keg party and when girls would notice the “cute little kid” in the room Tim would introduce me as his genius little brother who was attending ISU as a 12 year-old. One of the things I appreciate most about Tim is his gentle, contemplative spirit. Through the years Tim and I have shared long, life-giving conversations as together we’ve tried to grapple with some of life’s core issues, to understand how our family system has molded us, and what it really means to be a man.

With Tim & Terry being the older pair, my sister Jody and I naturally banded together to become the younger pair. Jody and I were closer in age and we became playmates, confidants, partners, and friends. We worked out secret deals to tell one another what mom and dad were giving us for Christmas, and fought like cats and dogs (until I got bigger than her). Jody and I started our respective faith journeys on the same weekend when we both committed our lives to Christ. We went to college together and hung out all the time. Because we have been so close, I sometimes think that Jody and I have the ability to feel deeper sibling love and more intense sibling anger depending on the moment. Anyone who gets to know Jody comes to love Jody, and I laugh to think that Jody was at one time frustrated at always being known as “Tom’s sister” because most of my adult life I’ve been pegged “Jody’s brother.” I appreciate her unquenchable joy, her contagious laughter, and her sincere faith which I find to be at once simple and infinitely deep. Jody is currently winning a courageous battle with lymphoma which has served to reveal to me even greater depths of her fragility and her strength.

I’m blessed with great siblings .  We share great memories of a really good childhood and I’m fascinated to see how our respective journeys have created strong intersections while remaining very independent.

Chapter-a-Day Judges 15

Sibling squabble. Three companies of men from Judah went down to the cave at Etam Rock and said to Samson, "Don't you realize that the Philistines already bully and lord it over us? So what's going on with you, making things even worse?" He said, "It was tit for tat. I only did to them what they did to me." Judges 15:11 (MSG)

As a child, there were plenty of conflicts between me and my siblings. My sister was my closest sibling and, therefore, the one with whom I fought most of the time. We would cycle into periods of conflict when all we did was fight with each other. There was always a past hurt or misdeed she or I could point to justify our current attack. "She did that to me," I would argue, "so I don't feel the least bit guilty about doing this to her." And so, the pattern of perpetual conflict continued. Fortunately, our sibling grudges faded with time and maturity.

Nevertheless, I have seen the same patterns of conflict between married couples, friends, neighbors, and nations. There is no end to conflict when each party perpetuates and justifies it by pointing to a host of past wrongs. We see the same cycle at work in Samson's continuous acts of violence and retaliation.

Today, I'm thinking about conflicts in my own life and contemplating the ways I may be contributing its' ongoing cycle. The holidays are approaching and I'm mindful that God chose not to hold my sins against me, but to sacrificially reconcile me to himself. I think it's my job to be engaged in the act of sacrifice and reconciliation rather than perpetuating conflict.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and KenWilcox

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 133

Vwell_50th_four_kids4_LR How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along! Psalm 133:1 (MSG)

Like most people raised in a house full of kids, I remember days of knock-down-drag-out fights with my siblings. My brothers were seven years older than me, five older than my sister. So, they generally couldn't get away with beating up on the "little ones" outright. Their attacks took a more sinister approach, such as asking me if I knew what a "Hertz Doughnut" was. When I responded "no" I was immediately punched by the offending brother who then asked "Hurt's, don't it?" as he cackled with glee. My sister was closer in age and the only girl. So, our fights were worse. One of her favorite things was to grab my wrists and dig her fingernails into my skin until they bled. It was not lost on me how much nicer she became immediately after she realized she was no longer large enough or strong enough to sit on me and hold me down! As for my sibling infractions, those records have been sealed 😉

How my mother made it through the madness, I'll never know. I know that I was responsible for many of those white hairs on her head. But, now we are grown and our parent's house is filled with laughter rather than the screams of rival children. It's a wonderful thing.

How sad that, for some families, the madness never ends.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 133

Vwell_50th_four_kids4_LR How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along! Psalm 133:1 (MSG)

Like most people raised in a house full of kids, I remember days of knock-down-drag-out fights with my siblings. My brothers were seven years older than me, five older than my sister. So, they generally couldn't get away with beating up on the "little ones" outright. Their attacks took a more sinister approach, such as asking me if I knew what a "Hertz Doughnut" was. When I responded "no" I was immediately punched by the offending brother who then asked "Hurt's, don't it?" as he cackled with glee. My sister was closer in age and the only girl. So, our fights were worse. One of her favorite things was to grab my wrists and dig her fingernails into my skin until they bled. It was not lost on me how much nicer she became immediately after she realized she was no longer large enough or strong enough to sit on me and hold me down! As for my sibling infractions, those records have been sealed 😉

How my mother made it through the madness, I'll never know. I know that I was responsible for many of those white hairs on her head. But, now we are grown and our parent's house is filled with laughter rather than the screams of rival children. It's a wonderful thing.

How sad that, for some families, the madness never ends.