And that’s what he was. My word…as long as I live, I will never understand him. And what’s more, how on earth did this sister of his turn out to be so fearful?
Some of you lucky souls know this, others do not. But…I have an irrational fear of germs. (How am I a teacher, you ask!? Tape on the carpet, air hugs, and space bubbles, people.) (Currently hanging head in shame.) (I promise I love my kids.)
I bring this up because it was during one of those silly moments of mine that Joey first took on the role of knight in shining armor. (And would again so many more times.)
It was several years ago, like 12, and I had just returned home from a mission trip. Everyone in the house had just gotten over the dreaded stomach bug and I was shaking in my boots errrrrrrr sandals and walking around the house in a daze not realizing that there was someone nearby completely aware of the fact that I was about to go into full panic mode. Irrational fears are the worst. I’d like to believe that I’m a work in progress, but I’m thinking becoming an elementary teacher may not have been the best coping method. Anyway, I plopped myself down at the kitchen table knowing that my mind would torment me to no end, but before I could get too caught up in my thoughts, Joey gently brought me back to reality by simply saying, “Tina, don’t worry. I don’t think you’re going to get it.”
I don’t know what it was. I don’t know if it was the way he was looking at me or the reassurance in his voice. Or maybe it was the fact that he cared enough to notice and even address my insanity, but just like that, the words of my little brother (7 years my junior) stilled my racing mind. I smiled at him wondering at what had just happened.
Fast forward several years. It was a Sunday morning and we were sitting in church, my brother and parents in front and me and my sister behind them. I can’t bring myself to go into too many details, but what happened next left me in a complete and total surrender to fear. My first REAL experience with fear.
My mom made a sudden movement that got my attention. My dad shot up from where he was sitting to lay him down. He mouthed something to my sister and she responded immediately. They were all acting without hesitation, helping each other, seemingly knowing exactly what to do. And me? What was I doing? Absolutely nothing. I was paralyzed. And useless. And then bawling. And then inconsolable. Inconsolable by everybody. That is, everybody except Joey.
After what seemed like an eternity, his body relaxed again. I came over to him and he looked up at me and he smiled.
And then he said “I saw you crying” to which I replied “WAS NOT! I just had something in my eye.” We held each other’s gaze for a bit and I’ll never forget the feeling that washed over me. This 15 year old boy was an angel. I’m convinced of it.
One more. Stay with me.
There’s a novel I could write about why I returned to Naaman Forest after my first year of teaching. I’ll save you from that, but for many unsaid reasons, I decided to go back for another year at that nightmarish school. (If you’re reading this, sorry Mike) Quick interjection: If you are a high school teacher, I have the utmost respect for you. You are a warrior. If you are a high schooler, GO EASY Kid!!!
Naaman was a 5A (now 6A) high school in Garland that had a bit of a reputation. Or maybe it’s Garland itself that has the reputation? Nonetheless, this place isn’t for the faint of heart. (Which I was and still am and fighting with everything I have). The day I decided to go back, I called my dad in massive tears asking him why God wanted me there (Garland) when I felt like I was supposed to be here (with them). I was a confused and lost little girl.
And then Dad reminded me that that’s not who I was. A phone conversation I’ll never forget.
That was the summer Joey stayed at Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital. He had lost his ability to speak and get around on his own, but he hadn’t lost that spirit of his. He was facing a battle daily, but facing it fearlessly. If he could do that, if he could look cancer in the eye, if he could wake up every morning and slay those dragons that were wreaking havoc on his body, then smile afterward….if he could do all that, how could I not go back and face those kids? How could I even be afraid? Thanks, Dad.
The thing is, I still was. Even though he didn’t show it, I think Joey must have been afraid too. At the end of the day, (and beginning and midday for me) we are still only human. (Seems I have said that before….) But what’s different now, and what my little brother seven years my junior showed me, (and Dad and Momma and Sister too) is that courage is not the absence of fear (Meg Cabot?). There will, undoubtedly, be times in our lives that make us feel like scared children afraid of the dark, afraid of the monsters under our beds, afraid of what we can’t see. Courage is making the choice to do it anyway. To face the dark, to look under the bed, to turn on the light, or simply to pull the covers up and have faith that God will get you through the night.
In case you need a reminder today, He has made us more than conquerors. Whatever it is you’re afraid of, take heart knowing that because He has already overcome the world, because Satan has already been defeated, God is more than equipped to fight your battle for you. Life is full of scary things, things that serve to remind us that this is not our home. For when we do get home, it’ll be a place free of germs and fear and monsters and darkness and most definitely free of cancer and loss. Come quickly, Lord.