Jimmy turned 12 just a few days before I made my entrance into the world. He was a wonderful big brother. Patient, sweet, quiet, gentle, a good listener. I felt safe with him. So unconditionally accepted. He would cheerfully give up other things to stay home and babysit his little sister.
I have very few concrete memories of him. I know he had curly hair and I think he had green eyes. He wasn't a very big person, at least on the outside. His heart and mind were of the deep and pondering sort. He loved to read and think and reflect. Even as a small girl those qualities made Jimmy huge to me.
My parents divorced when I was 7. I lost a lot of things when that happened. Our "family" was gone. Our traditions. Our closeness. Our laughter....
My dad remarried and started a new family.
In some ways my mom was gone too. She seemed to crawl inside herself to find safety.
We moved to Colorado shortly after The Divorce. So, there went my home, my friends, my school, the familiar neighborhood.
I was a "freak", (not the hippy-kind, just strange) when we settled out west. I was the only child whose parents were divorced. I actually had things called "half-brothers" and "step-brothers". I was the first one around to be a latch-key child. The kids in school had no clue what to do with me.
For a brief time, around this time, Jimmy was in the navy. When it was over, he too joined the ranks of lost people, searching for hope and purpose in LSD, marijuana and I-don't-know-what-all-else because I was thankfully too young to follow that trail.
Sometimes Jimmy would show up for a visit. Every time he came he would bring me a present. One time he brought a chess set and then sat with me every evening trying to teach me how to play. During another visit he brought a huge handful of plastic bead necklaces he'd picked up at a mardi gras parade in New Orleans. Once he arrived with a beautiful music box that made me feel grown-up and pretty.
I think the gift I really liked, more than all the others, was a book called The Phantom Tollbooth.
I still remember the moment he gave it to me. He had just arrived home and as he walked in the door he grinned and said, "Hey Jude! Here. I brought you a book. Where's Ma?" And that was that. It was said very casually, but the look and the book said, "I love you. There's more to life than what you're experiencing right now. Some of it is in the world of books..." That story, and the fact that Jimmy gave it to me, somehow made me feel like "Life does go on. It will be OK."
I was such a mess at the time. My heart was full of confusion, anger, bitterness, loneliness, and rejection. Jimmy didn't know Jesus. He was confused, lonely and angry too. But he never projected those things onto me. He loved me unconditionally and like I said before, I felt safe with him. I was not a "freak" to Jimmy. I was his little sister and he accepted me for where I was at and who I was.
Jimmy came for one of his fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants visits when I was 12. He stayed with my mom and me for a week or two and then left. I don't remember saying goodbye. I don't remember our final hug or watching him ride off on his Harley. I just remember a few months later the phone rang. The police in Florida were calling my mom to tell her Jimmy was dead. He'd been in an accident with a drunk driver.
That moment obviously changed my life once again. I learned that not only do people divorce, move away, run away, start new lives...sometimes they just Go Away and Never. Come. Back.
For years and years I wished I could remember my final words to Jimmy. Did I ever thank him for the gifts He'd brought me? The little presents that had told me his heart had carried his little sister with him wherever he'd gone? Did he know how much I adored him? Did he die knowing I felt safe when he was with me? As he'd walked out the door that final time, had I shouted, " I love you Jimmy!"?
I have no idea whether my brother came to know and love Jesus before he died. My heart hurts whenever I think about it. Just because he was a "good" person, and a wonderful big brother does not mean his salvation was secure.
One thing I do know is that I have a different perspective on scripture than others might. Is it any wonder God tells us to make things right with people immediately?
To forgive an offense this minute? It's not strange that He tells us to love others from the heart because love covers a multitude of sins.
I think He tells us those things because He is a Holy God. He is pure, and perfect and just.
However, I also think He tells us those things because He alone knows how many more minutes our friends and loved ones are going to walk the earth. He knows our hearts and He knows the regret we would feel if someone should walk out the door, never to return, carrying our anger. Carrying our resentment or perhaps a wound we inflicted. He knows the heartache we would feel if the words, "I love you" went unsaid and we had to carry that memory to our own End.
The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion...