Table of contents for Journal Project
I teach Rhetoric 2 to sophomores at Logos School here in Moscow, Idaho, and every year around this time, I assign the (now famous) Journal Project. The Journal Project consists of 30 days of journal entries on the same topic. The students are given one day off each week, so we complete the Journal Project over the course of five weeks (writing six days each week). Only this year my students asked me to do the Journal Project with them. So here we go… My topic is my family.
My brother is getting married today. Two other brothers have already married, and yet this time I somehow feel even more of the weight of this glory. My closest childhood friend, my sparring partner, my partner in crime, my sidekick is getting married. We sat in car seats next to each other in the old Volkswagen van with the manual transmission stick shooting up out of the floor like some kind of alien appendage. I can remember the smell of those black poly-plastic seats. I remember the raisins and peanuts crammed down into their crevices. I remember the smell of hot against the seats and glass. I remember our sweaty backs.
My brother wore red hair and I went with light, sandy blonde. We both had freckles. Even though I was 18 months older than him, he was always as big as me and at times bigger. We rode bikes together, skateboarded together, built forts and jumps together. We played army, G.I. Joes, stuffed animals, and in the cool evenings of suburban southern California we rounded up neighborhood kids for kick the can as the misty blue dusk spread over the sandy hills. Shorts and t-shirts and farmers tans were the uniforms, and we shared bedrooms until midway through my high school years when I got distracted by the busy-ness of friends and work and sports and eventually I moved away for college.
My brother never was one for words. But he wasn’t a pushover either. He had thoughts and opinions though he was frequently happy to go along with my ideas. I’m pretty sure every once in a while when he wouldn’t go along with my plan I would just punch him a couple of times. He’d turn away a little bit, maybe block the third uppercut, and then go on disagreeing. Maybe he punched back a few times, but I don’t remember. I mostly remember knowing that by the time I was trying to force him into my way of thinking it was already too late. Tiffs never lasted long. Quarter of an hour later, we’d have teamed up on something else in the backyard. I had so many ridiculous ideas and thoughts, I sometimes wonder what it was like to be on the receiving end. I suspect he took his time finding a woman and settling down purely on principle. He let me do the family thing for a dozen years before he figured it wasn’t another one of my hair-brained schemes.
Because he was younger, we couldn’t always be on the same teams in sports, but we had at least two seasons of baseball together. One of those years, we batted back to back and hit back to back homeruns frequently enough that our teammates took to calling us “the homerun brothers.” My mom hastens to point out that they weren’t actually home runs; we just hit it over the heads of the furthest outfielders and managed to make it home before they could get the ball back into the infield. I guess “Inside the Park Homerun Brothers” was just a bit too tedious sounding.
I admire my brother. He starting playing drums when he was like two years old. I guess he’s always liked banging on things: pots and pans, empty coffee cans and boxes. Drum sticks, pens or pencils, or even spoons could serve just as well. He could also keep a pretty mean rhythm with his built in beat box. I think he got his first snare drum in fifth grade, and then a few years later mom and dad bought him his first drum kit. There were friends and bands for years in various assortments and styles. While I fiddled around with a saxophone and then a bass guitar and later just a plain old acoustic guitar, he was always improving, polishing, fine-tuning his skills on the drums. Even after he moved out, he managed to keep up with it, and played in a few groups before joining a band and moving to Seattle. He worked odd jobs to pay the bills, from manufacturing heating blankets to cleaning carpets. But there was always the band, always drumming somewhere in the mix.
I remember when we passed through Seattle a couple of years ago, and he came over to our friends’ house where we were staying the night. The first thing I noticed when he walked in was the running shoes. He had stuck pretty close to the Pacific Sunwear uniform requirements for years. Stussy and Vans and Quicksilver brands and their affiliates in the skateboarding, drumming worlds and the usual decorations that went along with those preoccupations. He had always been thick and stout as a little boy, add on the long hair and scruff and he pulled off the rocker look beautifully. But he walked in that night wearing running shoes, his hair was cut short, and he had trimmed up in a startling way. I immediately wanted to know what her name was.
Over a few beers, he told me that he wanted to settle down and have a family. He was tired of the traveling gigs and didn’t really see that in his future. He said he was in the process of quitting the band, going back to school, and had plans to land a career in a manufacturing field. It strikes me today as I’m getting ready to suit up, that my brother did exactly what he said he would do. He quit the band, went back to school, landed a job in the field he identified, and all along he was wooing a girl who loves him and thinks the world of him. And it’s not hard to see why. They met at one of his band’s shows, and that was the beginning of the end of his band career. I guess they met after the gig and exchanged numbers and the rest is (as they say) history.
I have no doubt that Casey will be a faithful husband and father. Though God has given him a different story, a different adventure from mine, it’s clear that it’s the same God, the same Father weaving the details together into glory, into something beautiful. We’ll stand up in a few hours in the Lutheran church Kaylee’s family has been attending for years. And we’ll ask Jesus to smile down on this new family. We’ll ask Him for the same miracle He’s been spinning for the last six thousand years.
I don’t have much patience with people who can’t decide if there’s really a god or whether if there is a god, he much cares about this world. Sure, I’ve seen the pictures of the hurricane that flattened Haiti, and I’ve taught enough history to know how people have pillaged and raped in the name of Christ. But that’s like whining about Christmas because some people are greedy or there are thieves that break into toy stores on Christmas Eve. It’s like going all agnostic about where dinner came from because some people in the world don’t have any. I admit the world is a mysterious place, full of challenges and hard things, but there’s a blizzard of goodness coming down every second.
My cheeks have been wet from the pain of this world, and my gut still aches when I think about the ways life is sometimes hard. But I think back on trips to the hospital, when I remember friends and relatives passed away, grandparents and parents and siblings and children lost but remembered, and the sicknesses, diseases, and wheelchairs that carried them away, and I am not moved. I see some people who can’t look beyond the pain, beyond the loss, and they grow dark and bitter or else they pile distractions up around them hoping to forget the pain and loss. But when I sat across from my brothers last night at the rehearsal dinner, three with their women, one brother and one sister still to find their mates, it is utterly impossible to miss the glory. We’ve all tasted the bitterness of death, the sting of sin, the burn of loss, but all I see are beautiful, confident, good women next to my brothers. And my brothers are good men, every one of them. We eat homemade lasagna together on plastic Chinet plates and tell stories and act out a few skits (according to the venerable Sumpter tradition) and then watch the slide show in the Lutheran Church’s basement fellowship hall. And it’s all grace. It’s all gift, all goodness piled up high for us, for my family, my children, my parents and grandparents, 30, 60, 100 fold.
You can’t look into my 8 month old son’s eyes and tell me this is an accident, this is just good luck. This doesn’t just happen. This was intended. This was intended for us. This was planned for us. A good and gracious God told the story of a red Volkswagen bus and the happy bearded man and his sweet Ohio wife and their two boys sitting in matching, sweaty car seats eating raisins and peanuts in the bright California sun. And now there are more of us. Now there is more grace, more glory.