“Lynn Clark,” was all she said at first.
I refused to hang my head. I knew that if I did I would burst into tears and never be able to stop.
“Why don't you go up to your room till dinner.” It was more of a command than a suggestion, so I obeyed.
I quickly stacked all my school books back up and retreated towards the staircase.
We had just moved into this beautiful, old-fashioned, three story house and my room was all the way at the very top. I had loved it at first but the adventure left when Joe did.
Dad and mom hadn’t meant for it to become a boarding house, but friends and friends of friends sometimes managed to get them to house a child or two for the duration of summer school. The many upstairs guest rooms made it a convenient spot for young girls who needed a place to stay.
I passed Ida and Tiffany on the first flight of stairs.
“Wanna come play soccer Lynn?” Ida asked as she skipped past me with the black and white ball under her arm.
I shook my head.
“Okay. See ya!” They raced on by.
Ugh, I thought, trying hard not to think about the tears forming behind my eyelids. I'll never make it to the top of these stairs. My books were heavy, but not as heavy as my heart. It weighed me down and threatened to trip me on each stair I tried to climb. I fought against it - the urge to quit.
“I just….miss him so much!” I whispered aloud to the dark stairway. My voice echoed back to me, hollow and empty. I missed a lot of things about the previous year. But it was Joe I missed the most. I nearly rubbed the skin off my eyelids as I thought of my big brother. How I hated the very name of the college he’d gone off to attend. He would be gone for a year.
I was crying, “By the time he comes home, he’ll have learned to live without me. What if he makes a best friend somewhere else?” He was so easy to get along with. “What if he forgets about….me?” I couldn’t bear the thought. “I’ll be unneeded.” Then the dreaded word escaped my lips, “Unwanted.” I was sobbing.
I felt it deep, deep down in my soul. And I couldn’t make the feeling go away; the feeling that he would forget about me. Yes, there were people for me here. Great people, girls and boys who wanted to be my friends. But there was no one like Joe.
“Why! Why did he ever have to go?” Even as I asked the question, I knew why. He was growing up. That’s just what happens in life. People don’t always get to keep the things that are the most important to them. I was finding that out the hard way.
My last conversation with Joe had been heated, I had been acting stupid….again. I’d decided to make a big deal out of nothing. Something so small I couldn’t even remember what it was. That’s what made it harder. The worst part of it all was that I hadn’t really been able to say goodbye to him. Just a tight hug and he was gone early the next morning.
My tears fell onto my books and I sat down on one of the steps and buried my face in my arms and cried. Eleanor came by and nervously shoved her glasses farther up her nose. She stared at me and then hurried on. I knew I needed to pull it together. But how could I? My heart ached.
Joe and I, we’d done everything together. From homework to going to watch a baseball game. We’d grown together and gotten into trouble together. Though he’d always taken more than his share of the blame. He’d watched out for me and helped me out when I was too shy to try something. He was all that a brother should be. And he’d taught me so much. We were best friends. That was Joe and me.
“I’m home Dumpling!” It was Joe!
I shot up….in bed. My heart was racing in the darkness and I was sweating. I had been dreaming again.
I could barely pull myself out of bed that morning. I was drained. Stumbling numbly into my school uniform, I pulled my socks up to my knees. They were inside out. I fastened my shoes over them anyway. I stared with swollen eyes at the window before grabbing my heavy book bag and somehow making it down the stairs.
School was miserable as I couldn’t pay attention. I knew that if something didn’t change I would get all bad grades. But still, I couldn’t find the urge to care.
I stared as the words raced each other in crooked lines across the pages of my books.
I doodled around on my paper; ~JBC~
My left foot was bouncing up and down under my desk inside my light brown shoe.
At break, Tiffany took it upon herself to tell me I needed to get a hold of myself. “Really, Lynn Clark? You are pouting around and making the day miserable for the rest of us!”
“You’re just jealous,” I said with a look of complete indifference.
She gasped, “About what?”
I meant she was jealous because she didn’t have a brother, but I quickly bit the inside of my top lip. I’d only told Ida about this problem that was so close to my heart. I didn’t want everyone to know that Joe and I had fought. There was no reason I was gonna tell her. “Forget it, Tiffany,” I said before turning around to get a glass of water. I couldn’t even take a sip. I didn’t want it. I just wanted something to do. I dropped the full cup into the trash can and hurried outside to run laps around the school building.
Ida later told me the only reason the day was miserable for Tiffany was because Eddie had a concerned look on his face whenever he got up the courage to glance in my direction. Ralph also tried to catch my eye during recess. I didn’t care. I missed Joe.
The days dragged by like the sticky wake of a snail. More and more people were growing annoyed with my tears, which I tried desperately to hide, but often failed. It seemed to be getting harder and harder.
Sitting at dinner that night I just couldn’t eat. I tried, but choked instead. Before too long Daddy called me over. I heard some of the students snicker as I pushed my chair out to follow him onto the back porch. Ida squeezed my hand as I passed her.
I stepped onto the porch behind Daddy. Thick ivy clung to the side of the old wall like a huge spider’s web. I still wasn’t completely used to the new house. I hugged myself in the chilly air. I was miserable.
“It is a beautiful day, yes?” Daddy asked, pressing his calloused hands together.
I nodded, finally noticing it for the first time. The sky was already a soft red, the beginning of sunset. Thin rays of pink streaked the sky behind the willow trees. I knew I didn’t have long to wait. Daddy always got to the point right away. I smiled a little as he began again. I was right.
“I know you’re having a hard time Lynn. I love you very much. I want what is best for you.” He scratched his ear, “I want to challenge you to consider something….” He paused.
I swallowed whatever it was that was trying to hinder my listening and waited with an open heart.
“Do you think it is possible that in your love for your brother, you have raised him a bit too highly?”
I stiffened just a smidge.
“Think of it Lynn, you have not been caring for those around you. You're nearly dysfunctional. You may have turned missing him into an obsession.”
“Never in a million years, would I have worded it like that,” I answered honestly. I watched the trees sway back and forth. “But Daddy, it can’t be wrong to miss someone! And besides,” I was quick to add, “God is the one who gave me a big brother. Am I supposed to hate him?”
Daddy smiled a little, “You know the answer to that question. But you don’t just miss him.” Daddy paused and I listened harder. “Has that become all you dwell on? You have lost your joy, Lynn.” He was quiet for a moment before finishing with a small question, “What should you be dwelling upon most?” He squeezed my shoulder. A gesture that said more plainly than words; ‘I’ll be praying for you.’ He turned and entered the house.
I stood quietly for another full hour, thinking and watching the sunset. I replayed each thing he had said over in my mind, much like rolling a ball in my hands. I looked at each sentence with great care, and I took them upstairs with me. I didn’t toss them on my bed with my books but brought them to the window. I laid them on the sill and stared out at the moon.
Daddy was right. I hadn’t been thinking about God first. I hadn’t surrendered this to Him. The situation was already out of my hands. I needed faith.
“You, LORD,” I finally prayed, “are the one I should be dwelling upon most.” I stretched my arms out on the sill and slowly opened my hands. I imagined God taking the problem out of my open palms. I imagined Him smile, because He knew the plans He had for me, almost as if He couldn’t wait to share the secret with me.
“Please, please forgive me for not putting You at the center of my heart. I’m sorry. You are number one now. Forever.”
I thought that after that everything would be easy. All I had needed to do was surrender….right? Well, to be honest - no. Everything wasn’t easy, but I was making progress, and I could tell. Each time that choking fear would grip my throat, I would look heavenward and beg to be released from my fear and given faith! Whatever the future held, it was already my future. I was going to face it, while trusting the One who created it. I was gonna face it with the joy of the LORD as my strength and the strength of the LORD as my joy. All I needed to do was keep walking.
I looked forward to the midsummer week long break. I looked forward to it like the sleepless eye looks for sunrise. During the break, I would be allowed to visit Joe! Then I could work through all this mess. And maybe, I hoped, the visit would help him not to forget me.
But things only got worse.
He didn’t write home on the weekend like he’d said he would, and somehow Tiffany found out about everything. It was one of the days I was working on being joyful in all things. I was doing fairly well. I’d smiled at everyone I passed and even called a few people by name in cheerful greeting.
Tiffany sauntered over, “I’m so glad you've gotten over the loss of your brother.” She patted me on the back like I was a kitten.
Without thinking, I backhanded her right in the mouth, as hard as I possibly could. It left a red mark. My hand stung.
She screamed loud enough to wake the dead and took off for the headmaster's assistant.
I knew my fate was sealed. Tiffany was the most popular girl in school. Ralph looked at me admiringly, but I ignored him.
My punishment was greater than I could bear. Because it wasn’t the first time I’d lashed out like that in a moment of anger, it was decided. I was denied the midsummer week long break. The world lost its light. I thought my heart would fail me and give up in my chest.
I begged the headmaster to beat me for hours, if need be, days! But not to take away the break! I wanted so desperately to visit Joe! Even if just to say I was sorry and tell him how thankful I was for him.
They sent me home from school early that day - for obvious reasons. I kinda yelled at the headmaster. I kinda told him that God would judge him for his cruelty.
I staggered into the new house. It was hollow and cold. We students weren’t expected home for a few hours, so the house looked empty as Mom was out shopping.
I collapsed on the bottom step of the staircase and sobbed my heart out. “I can’t do this! I’m too weak!” I wailed. I sat there crying and crying. In the bare house, I repeated to myself, “I’m too weak!”
“God is strong, Lynn.” The voice was soft. “Think, in just one year things will already be back to normal. You can wait one year.” It was Daddy.
“No, I can’t!” I replied stubbornly, trying to choke back my tears. “I can’t.”
“Don’t say ‘can’t’,” he told me. “Take off the ‘T’. You can. Just wait for 365 days. Trust me.”
I tried hard. I took a deep breath even though I didn’t want to. Every time I caught myself saying ‘can’t’ after that, I reminded myself to take off the ‘T’ and I’d say, through Christ, I can.
“It could be worse,” Daddy had said. He was right. Joe was far away. It's not like we constantly passed each other and he just ignored me. I couldn't have borne that. Not like he would have done that though. But at least this way, I could imagine that he hadn't forgotten me. I could imagine that he missed me.
Daddy put his hand on my bowed head before he continued into the kitchen.
Eventually I wiped my eyes and re-situated my bag on my shoulder. After a moment of gathering strength or willpower, (I still don’t know which) I stood. My hair was ruffled and falling out of my french braids, gathering around my face and curling into a wild, brown wreath around my head.
I turned and faced the mountain of a staircase that still loomed up in front of me; so much like the rest of the summer did.
I squared my shoulders, “It’s just one step at a time,” I whispered. “I just need to….keep walking.”
I began to climb. “Keep walking, keep walking,” I repeated as I quickened my pace.
As I hurried up the first flight and sped up to reach the next. I realized I had to make it all the way to the top to reach my room - just like I had to make it through the school year before I could see Joe again.
I ran faster and faster chanting louder and louder as I neared the top floor. “Keep walking!”
My spirit lifted as I reached down to pull it from the mire it was stuck in. When I reached the top floor, I flung open the door to my room. The curtains were swung wide and the sun burst in, filling every corner of the room. “Through Your strength I can do all!” It was somewhere in between a prayer and a shout. “The LORD is faithful!” I told myself aloud.
“He will guide me,” I whispered. “By His strength, I will keep walking.”
The rest of that year was a battle but I learned so much, so very much. God had grown my faith and given me a dependance upon Him that no man could now fill. He truly was my everything.
I pressed my nose against the truck’s window and stared at the passing scenes. But I didn’t really see them. Joe was on his way home! His flight was arriving any minute! Daddy and I were almost to the airport. My mind was so full.
Finally I reached into my school bag at my side and pulled out my small, floral patterned notebook. I slowly took out a pencil and chewed the end for a moment. I knew I needed to write. I had no idea yet what it would be. I just knew something was coming. So I waited, with my pencil in hand until it came. And this is what I wrote;
Though I don’t yet understand it,
LORD, I know You're always right!
I’ll rest in Your awesome planning,
And rely on Your great might.
You're the One I’ll always run to,
Falling deep into Your love.
You alone know what’s best for me
And You'll guide me from above.
Through this time, I’ll stay behind You,
Never running to the lead.
For You are the path’s Creator,
And You know my every need.
Shine Your light down, oh my Father,
Show Your faithfulness to me.
You are righteous, You are holy,
Help me always trust in Thee.