the little things: three small words (mary loebig giles).

Oh friends, you are in for a treat today.  (Do I say that every week?  Probably.  But it’s really, really true today).  Mary is a writer-friend and mama-friend and an encourager to the nth degree …so let her words capture your heart and spur you to action, as I know they will.  Enter in and enjoy! 

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My younger brother is in jail. It’s not the first time and will probably not be the last. Mom sent out an email alert, telling us about the charges (fraud), the tragedy (his pregnant girlfriend’s unexpected death) and his new county jail address where he is only allowed postcards.

He and I are estranged. I feel guilty when I say it. Our 10-year age gap and the currents of our lives meant we just kind of drifted away from each other. There was never any ill will. No argument or words we wished we could retract. Just a slow ebbing away. He was still little when I went away to college. I married. Moved away. Had kids. He dropped out of high school. Got a girl pregnant. Then there was another girl. And another baby. He worked as a nightclub manager, a cook, a marketing manager for a family bar. His Facebook page says he studied at the New England Culinary Institute. I never knew that. My sisters are the ones who told me he moved to Florida to look for his birth parents. That’s where he was arrested.

I remember the day we adopted him. I was almost 11. His head was misshapen, which was the first thing I asked about. I can’t remember if my mom told me then or later, but his foster parents had left him in a crib with his bottle attached to the side rail. He was rarely held or moved. It was like baby jail. His head was as flat as his mattress on the side where he lay, nestled next to the bottle.

“Why would they do that?” I asked.

Mom, who was a nurse, shook her head sadly,

“I just don’t know, honey. I don’t know why anyone would treat a baby that way. But he’s with us now and we’re gonna love him.”

It didn’t take long for his head shape to return to normal, because once he learned to crawl he never stayed still. He was making up for lost time. He excelled in almost every sport he tried, although he struggled in school. Reading was hard. Discipline was hard. My brother didn’t take direction well. I remember the time we went skiing as a family and took group ski lessons. My little brother, who was about five or six at the time, was the only one who refused to listen to the instructor, because he insisted,

“I don’t need lessons. I can ski. Watch me!” But he just took one tumble after another, wanting to move faster than wisdom would carry him.

Then came another email with a link to his public arrest file.  I almost didn’t open it. One click and I was staring at his mug shot. His beautiful brown eyes, wide open, staring at me.  And the only thing I could think as I looked at him was that he looked like the suffering Christ. Those same soulful eyes.

And I lost it. I cried and cried and cried. For the loss of his girlfriend and unborn child. For the loneliness and pain written on his face. And for shame that I felt. I never made much of an effort to connect with him after I married. To check in. Let him know I cared and that I loved him. I stupidly recall letting myself off the hook.  We’re both busy. He knows where he can reach me. We’re good.

So when I sat there, face wet with tears, looking into his mug-shot eyes, I wondered what I could possibly do after having done nothing for so long.

Well, I can write, I thought. I can speak the words that have lain unspoken for too long. I can sit with him in this terrible place of waiting and sorrow. It was a beginning.

He could only receive post cards. So, post cards it would be. I bought five with brightly colored artistic scenes of New York: the trees in Central Park, the coin-operated binoculars on top of the Empire State Building, the signs at Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge, Lady Liberty.

What does one say to a brother one barely knows? The message on each card was different: sympathy, Scripture, encouragement, reminders of what is true. And yet the same: I love you. I love you. I love you. I numbered them and then mailed them, one by one, over several weeks.

The truth is some things are small. So small we can talk ourselves out of them. So small they don’t seem worth the effort. Like a phone call. Or a 34¢ postcard.

Like three small words. 

andy warholish picMary is an urban mama, freelance book editor and avid distance cyclist. It’s been an interesting year in moving their family from SF to NYC, considering a life beyond homeschooling, and asking God all kinds of question about her career, call and future. She’s been told this might be a good time to rest and dream a little. Go figure.  Have you picked your jaw up off the floor yet?  I mean, was this story of the little things just GORGEOUS or what?  Leave a comment for Mary below, and encourage her today!

11 thoughts on “the little things: three small words (mary loebig giles).

  1. Oh Mary – what a heartbreaking story. I have a cousin that’s been in and out of jail and various drug treatment facilities, and even though we aren’t close in age and we never really lived close enough to get to know each other, I always think… is there something I could have done differently to change the course of his life? Actually, though, I think at around age 40 he’s finally getting clean (at least according to his sister’s facebook updates in our family group). I should send him an email and say hello. Thanks for the reminder that the little things really can make a difference, even if its a small one.

    1. Thanks for your encouraging words, Sarah. We are not alone. By happenstance I have tripped my way into conversations with so many others who share this story. The story of your cousin’s life is still being written. I wonder how a small act of kindness or love might change his story. I’m reminded of Mother Theresa’s words, “We can do no great things–only small things with great love.”

  2. Mary, thank you for sharing truth. It all seems to boil down to love. And I feel thankful for the reminder that I can do that. I can love. Thank you again for sharing.

  3. Mary, I cried when I read your blog, and it renewed my hope as we continue to pray for Blaise unceasingly. What your words brought to mind; our efforts to teach the love of God to all of our children will continue to bring fruit to all of us. It is all about love; we judge an action but not the person. Love, Dad

    1. Dad, your words are gift. Thank you so much for this: We judge an action but not the person. I love you and am so thankful for the ways you live out kindness, courage and truth. Our lives are always going to be imperfect, messy things. We all need the disarming grace of God.

  4. Oh Mary – I am so sorry. I am so sorry for you and your family, your dear parents, and your brother. As I sat with this story, my heart broke reading about your brother’s misshaped head as a baby. But through your family’s love and care, God brought healing to his body! What an amazing story. And the story is not over. You are so perfectly equipped for loving him well right now. What if you were a fabulous opera singer or an olympic athlete? Those would be amazing God-given talents but they would not be of much help to your brother right now. God has blessed you with a tremendous gift of communication – written and spoken. And all he is allowed is postcards. Your gift of words! We will be praying. Love you. xo Shannon

    1. Shannon, you are such an encouragement! We need each other. There is so much suffering in the world and in our hearts, and yet we have the power, by word and deed, to be with each other and bear one another’s burdens. Thanks for sharing mine and keeping us in prayer.

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