Where Is Your Brother?

#mikkikimmitravels

Siblings . . . 

Sibling rivalry was real in my house. We didn’t have arguments; we had wars. I remember frying pans to the face, doorknobs to the teeth, and golf balls to the head as things that actually happened between my siblings and me.

Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when I met a Christian family who behaved very differently, I wanted to know what this Jesus thing was all about. I didn’t know people could act that way with their brothers and sisters.

I’m very grateful to say our kids never engaged in fisticuffs. (Grateful because they didn’t and also because I got to use that wonderful word.) Jesus made quite a difference in my outlook on appropriate sibling behavior.

God’s children do not, however, always follow this pattern. Almost the second question in the Bible, after God asks the leaf-clad Adam and Eve where they are and why they’re hiding, comes the question he addresses to their oldest offspring.

It’s a pretty serious question.

Where is your brother?

When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.

Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”

“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?” (Genesis 4. 2-9)

Spoiler: God knows the answer.

Cain must know God knows, so why he gives this patently flippant answer is anyone’s guess. Although, I suspect we know too well why all of us give God absurd answers to things we don’t want to look at too closely.

I don’t know. Am I supposed to be looking out for my brother?

Apparently, we were still pondering it in Jesus’ time, because someone had to ask Jesus exactly who his neighbor was, and Jesus had to tell another story that asked the same question God starts the whole human race with here—Where is your brother/neighbor?

Everywhere.

That was Jesus’ reply. Are you your brother’s guardian, Cain? Why yes. Yes, you are. I’m surprised you didn’t know that. It’s the way I made people to be.

In his new book Everybody, Always, Bob Goff suggests that God created us as one big neighborhood on this earth–all made for one another no matter where or how.

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God decided it wasn’t good for people to be alone, so he made us for one another. Then he made it clear right after the first sin that we were going to have to take that very seriously, because the world was going to get a lot harder. We would need to be one another’s guardians, or no one would make it out alive.

That’s one of the scariest parts of our current obsession with tribalism. When we start to form our groups, deciding who’s in and who’s not, denying brotherhood to those who are outside our boundaries, we become cadres of Cains, denying to God that we have any responsibility in the welfare of anyone beyond what we’ve declared are our lines.

Even when our brothers’ blood cries out from the ground.

To make this easier, we find reasons they don’t deserve our attention. That’s why Cains find it easy to believe sensational news stories with questionable data. If we can make it Abel’s fault, our hands are clean. Humans, and by humans I mean me, will do just about anything to avoid guilt.

“I don’t know. Am I my brother’s guardian?”

I think we’re helped in our answer by the words just before this story. Eve gives birth, and she also gives thanks to God. Remember, the birth process was going to be rough, and Eve not only accepts this part of the curse but gives gratitude to God for bringing her through it and giving her a child.

Gratitude

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Eve’s approach too life oozes gratitude. She chooses to live, after her first unfortunate choice, with constant thanks to God for his provision of everything she needs.

Cain, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have inherited this attitude. We don’t know why God chose to accept his brother’s offering and not his, but he responds with anger. He feels cheated. He wants what he thinks he deserves. He chooses resentment rather than gratitude.

Interesting studies into the attitudes that have created our tribalism in the US point to the same conclusion. Those who choose resentment also choose to close themselves off to their brothers. One study reported by the Washington Post reveals that, 

 Economic anxiety isn’t driving racial resentment; rather, racial resentment is driving economic anxiety. Racial resentment is the biggest predictor of white vulnerability among white millennials. Economic variables like education, income  and employment made a negligible difference. When white millennials scored high on racial resentment they were 42 percentage points more likely to indicate feelings of vulnerability than those who scored low.

People who would prefer to blame and resent rather than open their arms and hearts in gratitude for their lives are the people who refuse to see “brother” in the refugee, immigrant, person of color, or sister.

Interestingly, this is true regardless of the person’s actual economic or physical circumstances. The well off are just as likely to shut out their nonwhite, non-American-born brothers as the poor if they are already inclined to resent others for what they think they don’t have.

It’s as old as Cain. And as devastating.

The answer isn’t anything complicated. It’s gratitude. Choosing to be thankful for everything God provides to children of Adam and Eve who don’t really deserve anything at all but who are granted so much.

It’s utterly impossible to take the attitude of Eve and have the heart of Cain. We can’t revel in the undeserved graciousness of the Lord and refuse to invite your brother into the circle.

If we live consistently grateful, humble lives, we will always know exactly where our brother is. He’s all around us. He’s everyone. And we are his keeper.

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*I’ve signed up for the Human Race again, raising money for World Relief and refugee resettlement. These wonderful people I have come to know and love as I work with them more and more are certainly those God calls our brothers and sisters. With God’s help, I’m going to walk it and meet my fundraising goal! If you’d like to donate to my walk, please follow the link. I and the amazing refugee population I know and love would appreciate it greatly!

Surprised by Peace

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May is my favorite month. I gaze out the kitchen window at the brilliant pink crabapple trees standing over blushing tulips. Lilacs come into the house in bunches. Bikes come out for long rides, during which we smell morning rain over the forest preserve prairie. Sound carefree? Don’t let it fool you. This kind of peace doesn’t come easy in May. It’s also my craziest month.

 

When our oldest daughter got married two years ago, I informed my other two daughters they had to follow suit and keep all the family weddings in May. We could all go away for one big weekend to celebrate four anniversaries, one birthday, and Mother’s Day.

What’s the answer to craziness that threatens to steal our peace? Click on to the rest of this post at The Glorious Table to find out.

Too Whatever (Being Real, and Grateful, about Our Bodies)

It’s been a year. A year and a half, actually. Eighteen months since I began a health odyssey that started as an innocent stomach bug and ended much later. Well, it hasn’t really ended, but I can see the finish line from here.
 

Long Story Sort of Short

The stomach bug didn’t end in 24 hours like it’s MO says it should. It didn’t end at all. To summarize, for over a year, I could not eat much, had constant abdominal pain, could not get up and do anything for more than fifteen minutes before exhaustion set in, had a body temperature like I was floating on an iceberg, and had to stay in immediate proximity to a bathroom at all times. TMI? My friend, you have no idea. I will never again underestimate the value of normal bowels. Just saying.

 
I lost over 50 pounds involuntarily. That’s not as awesome as many women assume. Because it was so fast and unhealthy, all the muscle mass has gone bye-bye with the fat. Do you know there are muscles in places you never even thought of that you need to function? Like even vocal muscles? Yeah, truth.
 
Why am I inflicting this story on you, like you just got stuck in the DMV line behind the old lady who wants to tell you her entire pitiful health history, in graphic detail, just before getting a driver’s license you are quite certain she should not have, given that history?*
 
There is a point.
 
A year and a half ago, I could not imagine uttering phrases like “I really need to gain some weight.” A year and a half ago, I would look in a mirror, or at a photograph, and think, “Eew. Look at that fat stomach and those chubby short legs. I hate the way I look.”
 
I knew this was wrong. I preach all the time about girls owning their bodies and not being ashamed of them. But what we say and know to be true and what we feel in our hearts are not always the same deal, are they?
 
Now I look at photos and think, “Eeew. I look like a poster for a ‘Don’t Do Meth, Kids’ campaign.”
 
My arms and neck are scrawny; they look like I imagine my mom’s would have if she had lived to be 80. I am not 80. Or even orbiting in its proximity. I have bags and creases the size of an elephant’s under my eyes as a result of of chronic dehydration. Half of my hair has gone AWOL. And that famous thigh gap? Yeah, got that, too. It’s not nearly as glamorous as it’s made out to be.
 
Before.
Now. A picture I really hate. I give it to you.

Too fat. Too skinny. Too fill in the blank. Whatever, people.
I am over it. 

Ten Seconds of Awesome

For about ten seconds in the last eighteen months, I looked like we always fantasize—exactly the right weight. Then the scales tipped too far the other direction, and self-criticism set in again. And I realized, how dumb is that? To only feel confident about how you look for ten seconds of your life? What a waste of the other millions of seconds.
 
Is constant self-criticism really a good use of the time God gave me?  . 
 
Is a focus on the unattainable a colossal waste of what I can attain right now, today?  .
 
Do I care too much about what counts too little?  .
 
Have I failed to be grateful for the amazing gift of a body that’s alive, no matter what it looks like? Have I failed to be thankful for a soul that’s alive?
 
So you know what? I’m owning it. At least, I’m trying to. Let’s be real, here, I am a proud creature, as are most of us. I don’t like looking at photos of myself when I look far worse than I want. Yet I wantto want those photos. I want to own them. This is who I am, this is what I look like, and this is where God has brought me.
 
And to deny that and be ashamed of seeing it, looking at it, letting others see the truth and beauty of what it looks like to be deconstructed and revived? Thats a worse kind of pride I don’t want to harbor. It’s a pride that won’t let others in because I only want them to see the image I want to portray. It’s not ministry–it’s just selfish. It’s thinking so much about me I don’t ever look away from the selfie to see the ones who need me to be real for them.
 
I want to spend November being grateful on the blog. You know, because, Thanksgiving.
 

Grateful is Good

Today, I am grateful. I am grateful for where I am. I am grateful for what I’ve learned. I am so grateful to be alive, to be getting healthy, and to see an end to this long tale. I do NOT take for granted that I can get up and have energy to do life anymore. 

 
A year and a half of enforced nothingness has taught me gratitude for just about everything my body can do and did do before without considering what a miracle that is. I am grateful for whatever that body looks like, in whatever stage it is, because it works. It functions. It is capable of doing whatever it needs to do to be what God wants me to be. I have been forcefully reminded that this is really all it needs to be.
 
Grateful.
 
What do you need to be? What are you not owning as yours, as something God can and will use? Look at it. Take a picture. Whatever works. Say thank you. Even if you don’t really mean it just yet. Saying it starts the work of meaning it.

* True funny/slightly terrifying story. I once had a woman hit my car five times with her car door because she could not figure out that she had parked too close to me to be able to get out of her car. (The full parking job is a story unto itself.) She just kept hitting me, perplexed as to why it would not open. I was Sitting. In. the Car. She proceeded to get out of the car (after finally reparking, a half dozen times), grab her walker, and get into line at the DMV. Jesus hold us all if that lady actually got a renewal and is on the roads.

 

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Pumpkin Pie (To Be Grateful)


This year, we are staying home for Thanksgiving. The past few years, we have traveled, and we will miss seeing family. But this is the first year that child #3 is away at college, and she would have to drive five hours home and then six hours farther and do it all over again a few days later. It’s too much. 

Plus, there are things moms recognize about that first year away. She would need “normal.” She already feels she’s missed so much. To miss The Great Christmas Tree Cut Down, the decorating, the “home” feeling down in your heart that says it’s all still there and all OK—that would be too much. Sometimes, you have to recognize that the intangibles are the most real things in existence.
I remember the feeling. My first Thanksgiving in college, I, too, came home. But it was not the home I had known for eighteen Thanskgivings. It was a home without the mother who always cooked the turkey dinner. (Although really, I think dad did quite a lot of it. He was the better cook. Just like in our family.) Without her sisters and their busy families, because it was without the glue that had held those extended family units together. Take out the mother, and you take out a network.
So I did what I suspect my daughter would do. I cooked dinner. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, lemon merengue pie, pumpkin pie, cranberry relish. I don’t even like pumpkin pie. But the offerings hadn’t changed in eighteen years, and they must not now. I set all the good dishes out. I did everything to maintain the illusion that this was normal. This was dinner as always. Though the universe might turn sideways, this would not alter.
I had no idea what I was doing.
I mean, literally, I had no idea how to cook. Mom hadn’t taught me, although I’d gained basic knowledge by watching. But as mentioned, she was not the better cook of the duo that was my parents. 

Beyond that, though, I had no idea that illusions failed. We hung on to the traditions, my dad and I, but we weren’t fooling one another. This was not the same, it never would be, and we had no idea how to navigate it into something else. I can’t say that we ever really learned.
This year is the first Thanksgiving with child #3 away at college, and it’s the last Thanksgiving with child #1 unmarried. Next year, she’ll have her own family with her own relationships and traditions to navigate, and we’ll have to learn a new dance. But—and here’s the big but—we will. (Yes, I did just say big but. I know you laughed. You can’t pretend.)
We will. I’ve learned some things since the fall I was barely eighteen.
Particular faces and specific dates alter with time and circumstances. Just like I no longer feel compelled to bake pumpkin pie because, in fact, we dislike it, some details no longer apply. As with the year we ate Thanksgiving burgers at the Hard Rock Cafe in the alternate universe called Orlando, or the Christmas dinner in Costa Rica involving coconut, pineapple, and spaghetti, traditions sometimes bow to present realities. And that’s OK. (Because, hey, we remember those two holiday dinners.)
The tangibles change. The intangibles remain the real things. That the things we do together happen, in some form, matters. When they happen or precisely how, not so much. That the feeling of home remains “it’s

all still there, and it’s all OK” matters. What the menu or makeup is, not really. That we recognize the fleetingness of “same” and express gratitude for the times we have matter. Whether there seems to be little or much to be grateful for does not.

Whether you’re sitting around a table with family Thursday or eating alone, swapping adult kids between tribes with the dexterity of David Copperfield or working all night to accommodate early (crazy) shoppers, stop. Find your intangibles. What matters? What doesn’t? When all is stripped away, what remains real? That’s what you have to be grateful for.  

laughter, joy, and making poopy soap

The sun is setting on another cold day (who knew?), and I should have written a blog post hours ago. But I didn’t. I didn’t feel like it. Like that excuse would fly in the real world.

Then I remembered the Monday Joy Dare, and I thought, maybe. Maybe that’s just what  need on another cold (though warm relative to the last month of Mondays) day of no motivation. I’ve been playing with the idea of joining in on the Joy Dare for a while, but honestly, time. Just . . . time. One more thing to add, and anyway, I already blogged on Mondays.

Still, today of all Mondays, I need to take some time to discover joy. To be grateful. To drop kick thoughts of anything other than joy in my Savior and the abundant life he’s given me for no good reason except that he loves me, also for no good reason that I can come up with. Theologically or personally. Some things as huge as grace defy our tiny clinical reasons.

Just take my word for it–I need this today. Maybe you do, too.

The Joy Dare asks people to count their blessings, basically. Then chronicle them, because, hey, we all know no one will ever remember what she thought of five minutes later if it isn’t written down. Let alone five weeks later when we really need something to be grateful for to get us through. Thus, chronicling. In any way you like.

Its funny, because before I saw this dare, this is the assignment I gave my friend Wally. Write down three things you’re grateful for every day. He texts them to me. And no matter how little you think you have to be thankful for, let me tell you, Wally probably has you beat. When I told him to do this, he was fresh out of prison with nothing to his name, homeless, jobless, and facing threats to toss him back in because he had no permanent address. Hard to have one when you have no way to pay the rent. Did I mention all the blizzards they’ve been having on the Northeast?

See, I knew that if Wally could find three things every day now, at his worst, he could find them anytime. I also knew that doing it would make him look for, and FIND, three things. It’s magic, I tell you.

Right now, I need three things. So today’s joy prompt is “Three times you laughed today.” I can’t remember the details of why I may have laughed today. (See? That’s why we write things down. I told you.) But I know they most likely had something to do with my kids. They are excellent laugh-creators. So my laughter is tied to them, and that is good.

I laughed making soap with my oldest last night. She invited me to share in her passion for what she loves to do. Instead of huddling in a reading a book, which I had planned, I made soap. I definitely remember laughing when we both realized it was going to turn out reminiscent of the color of pooh, and I made her promise it would not color my face. “It won’t. I promise. It shouldn’t.”

It’s beautiful soap. I won’t remember the book later, even after I finish it. But I’ll remember that hour of soap making. It was worth a laugh of enjoyment.

I laughed when our middle child came in with her whirlwind trademark style, looking for food, picking up mail, and offering up love. In the midst of the whirlwind, she stopped to try to explain to her California-raised roommate that licking an icicle just meant it melted, not that it stuck to your tongue a la Christmas Story flag poles. I definitely laughed.

She isn’t just here for the food. I’m blessed to know that. It’s worth a laugh of joy.

I laughed when youngest tried to explain to our exchange student why American Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about boyfriends and girlfriends but can just be about love. Some things don’t translate well. But I am blessed that she knows her value doesn’t come from being loved by a boy. And I’m doubly blessed that she’s got the courage and the spirit to open her home and status as the only child left to a stranger from another country who has become dear to us all.

The sheer joy of knowing a kid I gave birth to, with all my flaws and fears, could be that adventurous and giving is worth a laugh of amazement.

Have you laughed today? Have you felt plain, unadulterated joy and the healing force it is? Have you been grateful? It’s the key. Look around, Find your things. Take the joy dare even. You don’t have anything to lose, and you could gain a good dose of joy.