Sunday, 01 August 2021

G Guest Editorials

Celebrate Lit - Providence

Did you have a hero growing up? I was so blessed that my brother was not only mine, but also my best friend. I have more memories of him when we were young than everyone else in my family combined—including my parents and three sisters. He was born a year before me, and we were together so often people mistakenly thought we were twins.

You know that song, “Anything you can do, I can do better”? It pretty much describes our childhood. If Mike climbed a tree, I wanted to climb it higher. If he caught a fish, I wanted to catch a bigger one. Of course, that was after he taught me to fish. In fact, he told me he’d pay me $20 when I caught my first one. Thirty minutes later, as my trophy fish (all four inches of it) hung from my pole, he reneged. But I didn’t care, because just hanging out with him made me a winner.

Jennifer SiennesThe problem with having my older brother as my hero and favorite playmate was that I got talked into doing all kinds of things better left undone. For example, it wasn’t our brightest moment when we painted his closet doors with Dad’s shaving cream. And although I was a participant in his shenanigans, it was his idea that we pepper his bedroom carpet, so every time Mom vacuumed for the next month, she sneezed like crazy. Oh, and then there was the day he found a box of chocolate Ex-Lax in our parents’ bathroom medicine chest and decided to share it with me. Fortunately for me, his way of dividing the goods was “One for you, two for me.” That one had painful circumstances.

At the time, we lived in a new development which backed up to ranch land. There was only a barbed-wire fence dividing our backyard from the cattle that roamed the pasture. Mom was cleaning the upstairs bathroom one day when she looked out the window to see us climbing through the fence with a stool and a bucket. Mike must have been into westerns about that time and decided we should milk the cows. There was only one problem—aside from us not knowing what we were doing—they were steer. Poor Mom. It’s a miracle she survived our childhood.

When Mike and I were in middle school, our family moved to Alameda, California—right across the bay from San Francisco. Our paternal grandmother lived in another town which seemed close when Dad drove us to see her (only thirty minutes by freeway). One summer day, we were bored, and Mike got the brilliant idea that we should walk to Grandma’s. However, the short cut was right through inner-city Oakland. Two white kids looked awfully stark and scared, let me tell you. That was well before cell phones, but we had enough change to call Grandma at the corner telephone booth, which is what I voted we do. She then called our uncle, and he picked us up and drove us to her apartment. When Dad came to get us after work, he made it very clear our adventures were over. We weren’t about to argue with an angry, 250-pound, 6’5” father.

Mike had the best sense of humor and often used it to his advantage. He could talk like Donald Duck better than Donald and morphed into the cartoon bird any time Mom tried to chew him out. She ended up laughing so hard, she forgot what she was angry about. He also got away with saying the most insulting things to my sisters and me by using Donald’s voice. Somehow, it always sounded cute rather than rude. His ability to make people laugh is one of the things I miss most about him.

When Mike was 48, he took his own life. He’d been a born-again, evangelizing Christian, but he also suffered from misdiagnosed bipolar disorder. It was when I was standing in front of a church full of his friends and family, recounting our childhood antics, that I clearly felt the Lord whisper to my spirit, This is your story.

Providence, Book 3 of the Apple Hill Series, was inspired by my brother’s suicide. If you’ve ever known anyone who has his or her own life, you know the devastation that’s left in the aftermath. Survivor’s guilt, confusion, anger, betrayal…these are only a few of the emotions family and friends struggle with. But when one well-meaning woman casually informed me that my brother went to hell because of his last act, I knew there were many others out there who may be misinformed.

Providence is not a story about Mike, although his death inspired it. I hope and pray those who read it will come to see that God is in every moment of our lives—the joyous and the tragic—and He desires our good and His glory above all. Providence wasn’t birthed with the writing of it. It started before Mike or I were even born. That’s the amazing thing about our God. He was in it from the very beginning. I know one day I will be reunited with my big brother, childhood hero, and favorite playmate. Maybe I’ll tell him about the novel he inspired.

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