Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lessons From a Younger Brother

In most brotherly relationships, the older brother is the role model and sets the standard for the younger brother.  This is especially true when the boys are young, but as the age the roles can reverse sometimes.  I experienced this situation myself today, and not only did my brother's actions cause me to admire him, but they also made me ashamed of myself.  He certainly did not intend to make me feel bad, nor does he even know that his actions had this affect on me.  He caused me to reevaluate my motives and attitude just by being himself.

Before I get into what exactly it was that he did, I must introduce a number of important factors.  First, this is a very special Christmas for me this year.  While all Christmases are special in their own ways, this year's celebrations mark some very big firsts in my life: it is the first Christmas my wife and I are spending together as a married couple and it is our first Christmas with her birth mom and family.  Both of these firsts have been on our minds continuously as we prepare for December 25.  Second, this is my first Christmas as a college graduate and professional teacher.  Unlike previous Christmases that saw me going to my parents' house for a couple of weeks, I am now on my own (with my wife, of course) and do not have to go "home" for the holidays.  Third, preparing for this Christmas time has been increasingly stressful for myself and my wife.  We have been focused on getting gifts for everyone in our families and not breaking the bank.  Our attitudes have been one of finding the cheapest gift possible while still being tasteful.  We have found ourselves (or at least I have found myself) watching our back account like a hawk to make sure we have enough funds to pay bills and figuring out where we can cut corners.  All of this, I am sure, is typical for couples who have just been married and are still getting used to life in the real world; but it has made us (or at least me; I should not speak for my wife) lose focus of the true meaning of Christmas and what being the Christmas spirit is supposed to be like.

That all leads me up to today.  Earlier this week, my brother had interviewed for a job and was informed last night that he would not be hired.  He has been on the job hunt for months now with no luck.  The money he received from high school graduation has been used up, although not wasted as he was very smart with his spending.  Also, earlier this week our grandma sent each person in my family $50, including my wife which means we were able to add $100 to our bank account.  As grateful as we are for my grandma's gracious generosity, I do believe we were not as thankful as we should have been; our focus was still on the stress present in our lives.  Today I took my brother out to lunch in an effort to cheer him up from his recent disappointment in missing out on a job opportunity, and afterwards took him Christmas shopping.  In years past, he had gotten money from our parents with which to buy gifts and I had assumed that it would be the same case this year; not because he asks for it or is overly dependent, but because he likes the feeling of getting things for others.  When we returned to our parents' house, my mom pulled me aside and asked, "Did he spend a lot of money?"  I said "No" because he really had not spent too much; to which she responded, "That's good.  You know he's using the $50 grandma gave him to buy presents for everyone."

Words cannot begin to describe how small I felt as that moment.  Here I was, thinking that I was doing my older brotherly duties by taking my brother out to take his mind off of his letdown and he is thinking of my family, me, and my wife and how he can use the $50 to get us all something for Christmas.  I immediately felt great pride in him that he was so selfless and thoughtful; I also felt great shame that I had not gotten into the same spirit as he was, the right spirit to be in.  It really made me think of the poor widow in the temple who gave her two mites in the offering, everything she had, and Jesus said that she had given more than the rich pharisees who gave large amounts.

So now, as I reevaluate my Christmas mood, I am going to try to be like my little brother, who is sacrificing almost every dollar he has so that the people he loves can have a present from him.  Even though things have not gone his way lately, he has not let that break his spirit or get in the way of how he feels and thinks about others first.  In the past I was the one showing him how to act; this year he is the one teaching me the lesson.

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