Personally Speaking/Jumping in One More Time

Our new Little Brother is learning how to swim. We are learning to see the world once more through the eyes of an 11-year-old. Reminded of what life is like on that brink, on that edge of leaving the Garden. When jumping in a cold swimming pool is still fun and the cold spray of newly fallen snow is again surprising, refreshing and delightful to me as I find myself gliding down the sledding hill, picking up speed over paths already made.

It has been more than 20 years since Bill and I met our first Little Brother. We were newly married, living in a new city, eager to make new friends and try out our future parenting skills. Getting our first Little Brother through the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization was the perfect opportunity to do both. What great adventures we had! From annual traditions like the Soul Food Dinner, to basketball and bowling tournaments, to fishing and exploring the Nicolet Forest from the old Camp 2 and to trips as far as St. Louis and San Diego. But the most important journey was into each other’s worlds. Our Little Brother was learning how to find morel mushrooms in spring, how to hook a bass in a weedy lake, how to cook dinner over an open fire and how to save money to buy his first new bike. We were learning about the multiple facets of poverty. About our privilege and how much we take for granted. And about how extraordinary is the ordinary: a stable job, a safe neighborhood, owning a house – a house with a small garden and fresh green beans we can munch on right from our back deck.

After our Little Brother left high school, he disappeared from our lives for many years. Bill filled that empty space by mentoring boys in the foster-care system and volunteering with young men incarcerated. I dove deeper into my work – helping students in their turn connect with children they would learn from. We continued to “wake up”: to injustice, through an encounter with a poor Mexican boy and his dad; to our faith, calling us to “opt for the poor” by putting the needs of the vulnerable first in our daily decisions; to the joy of community with the first Habitat for Humanity House that De Pere built. There were so many needs and opportunities, we could not do enough. My dear colleague Karina O’Malley’s wisdom would guide us: It is our discomfort (or is it the Holy Spirit at work) that calls us to take action. We don’t act until inaction becomes more troubling – more costly to our moral conscience, contradicting our deepest values – than the cost of the action itself.

So the boys grew up, and we found ourselves focused inward. Fully immersed in our own work and family, it seemed like this more ordinary service might be enough. But there was still a missing piece for me that only became clear when we carved out a bit of time in our busyness and accepted an invitation to join a Just Faith group. It offered an opportunity to go deeper. We realized that, as good as our service to work and family was, our faith invited us to a richer, deeper call by engaging in the “two feet of service” – direct service and advocacy. That the one informs the other. And that being part of a community matters. Throughout the 21 weeks of Just Faith’s curriculum of prayer and study, we were also asked to meet regularly with someone living on the margins of our community, to see the world through their eyes. That this is where the heart softens, love takes over, and transformation and new insight begin.

So a few months ago, as the demands of family lessened, that old discomfort began to surface again – that dissatisfaction with the injustices of the world; that desire to fix something, to make a difference, to become some small antidote, to not be too distracted, too comfortable in our cozy bubble of privilege and artificial sense of security. And then, out of the blue, we got a phone call. It was our long-lost, first Little Brother. He is now a dad who goes to his son’s basketball tournaments, sends his daughter to GLAD Camp, and takes his family on vacation up north each summer for a week of making memories. And not long after that, we were back in the office of Big Brothers Big Sisters, answering interview questions about why we wanted to be a Big Couple again. And the best answer I could think of – because it’s fun!

So the other day, after practicing his newly learned swimming skills, we and our new Little Brother were sitting around the table eating lunch. He says to us, “You know what? I have more friends on Play Station than I do in real life!” What!!?? And our next adventure is off and running.


June 30, 2018