Sunday, January 20, 2013

New Year

A new year. It always seems like that should mean something to me. Every year since I was a teenager, I have pretended that a new year means that I will set new goals and become a new person. That works for a lot of people, I know, and I respect that. But ever since I was that ornery teenager, all of my goals and resolutions have been the same, and they tend to fall away before Valentine's Day.
I don't know if any of you know this about me, but I have very little self-motivation. If it is left up to me to get myself to do something, it will wait until the absolute last minute if it is a necessary thing, or it will not get done at all if it is not necessary. I am also prone to sporadic spurts of energy or devotion or fascination, which inevitably become old and fade away. This makes my rare moments of self-motivation success fade just as much as the rest of them, since they, too, become old.
For example, take my devotion only a few years ago to becoming fit and healthy and toned and thin. I worked out five days a week at a gym and did core workouts at home every night. I was dedicated for a few months and there was nothing that would stop me from my goals. Then it got cold in the mornings. It became too easy to stay in my warm bed and just do my workouts at home. Then I swapped my pushups for being propped up on pillows with a book in my hands. And thus was the end of my fitness fad.
Anyway, that's how I am. My resolutions have been the same for years. Delve more deeply into the Gospel. Be a better visiting teacher. Pray with more feeling. Be physically healthy and more active. Be positive about life and love. Etc etc etc.
Last year I decided to try something different. I knew it would be a big year, one in which many things about my life would change, and I was nervous. So instead of resolutions, I opted for a theme. After much deliberation, I chose this one: Have hope. No fear.
I wrote it at the end of my [very] occasional journal entries and it became my mantra. When I had a rough time for one reason or another, I repeated my mantra. It helped a lot more than my random resolutions ever had.
So. This year I will also have a theme, because this year, I will need extra help. My life is HARD right now. A lot harder than I ever thoguht it would be. I've been thinking about this for a while now, and I tossed around a few ideas of what could help me. Nothing has seemed right, for one reason or another. But right around the new year, two new phrases popped into my head, mostly because they are on a ring my friend gave me years ago, which I wear every day, so I see these words often. But after reading my "Daily Message" from yesterday, I am decided. The message was President Uchtdorf's talk from last General Conference called "Of Regrets and Resolutions", and this was the quote that struck me today:
"Brothers and sisters, no matter our circumstances, no matter our challenges or trials, there is something in each day to embrace and cherish. There is something in each day that can bring gratitude and joy if only we will see and appreciate it."
I needed to hear that, and I need to remember it. My life is not exactly what I want it to be right now, but it is not in my hands. It is in the Lord's hands, and He is the one who will get me where I need to be. I need to be happy regardless of my situation and have faith that all will be well.
My theme is similar to last year's, but has one distinct difference: Be Brave. Love Life.
I need to be brave in the Gospel and in my faith in the Lord. I need to love the life that He has given me and remember what a blessing it is to even be here.
So, for the year of 2013, I will be brave and I will love life.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fifteen and Twenty-eight

Today is fifteen years. I met my youngest brother fifteen years ago this morning. Probably right around this time, actually, I can’t remember that. He was born late the night before, and we went to visit him in the NICU as soon as we could. I remember thinking that he didn't look sick, though I knew he was. I knew he probably was not going to live very long, but my twelve year old brain didn't really comprehend what that meant. After all, I had a big brother that I had never met and I knew he was dead, but I’m sorry to say, that never really meant that much. I didn't know him, I had never seen him, and aside from a few pictures at our house I saw on occasion, I never really thought about him that much. Except that I wanted to meet him someday. When we found out that Andrew had the same disease, I thought about Timmy more. But it had been thirteen years since he had died, and medicine was constantly evolving, so I knew it would be different this time.
I would never have expected that meeting one small baby boy would change my life so profoundly.
He didn't look sick, and if you ignored the wires and tubes hooked up to him, all you would notice was that he already had a belly, which I thought was really cute. He had big eyes, like my sister, and he had dark hair like me. To a twelve year old, a baby is a baby, and they’re all pretty cute, but I immediately felt that he was different. This was my brother. I knew it and I felt it, and he was just as much my brother as Chris was. I remember wondering to myself if Timmy was there with us, looking out for his little brother, wanting to be with him just as much as the rest of us did. That is the first time I can remember feeling that there was someone else in the room with us, someone that we couldn't see.
I talked to Andrew a little, not much, because there were nurses around and Mom and Chris were with me and I didn't want to look like an idiot talking to a baby. I wish I hadn't felt that way. I wish… Well, I wish a lot of things. But I remember telling the little guy that I loved him and that I would come back to see him soon.
I would not see him again. Not in this life.
That hurt. I promised my brother I would see him soon, and I couldn't keep that promise. I take being an older sister very seriously, and I felt like I had failed my littlest sibling.
The second time I remember feeling that someone else was with us was at the funeral. I had spent days trying my best to be brave, all the while feeling sick inside. I had seen my parents handle this second tragedy with remarkable grace, poise, and faith. I remembered wondering how they could do that. They had to be hurting like I was, even more, because he was their son, their little baby. This wasn't something you got use to and going through it again didn't seem fair. I didn't feel like I could complain or tell anyone what I was feeling because they didn't. If they weren't going to scream and yell and ask why, then neither would I. But I wanted to.
I stood a little ways from whoever I was standing beside when my father said the prayer at the cemetery. I felt numb, cold inside. And then I felt as if a warm hand was resting on my shoulder. I cried and I smiled and I kept my eyes closed, because even at twelve years old I knew that my brother was there for me. Which brother, I don’t know, and that doesn't matter. He was there, and I felt at peace. I still hurt, because, obviously, I would much rather have all of my brothers in one place. But I no longer felt pain. Sadness, but no pain.
I never realized until that moment that death is not an ending. It is a transfer. Instead of having three brothers here, before my eyes, I have one brother here and two elsewhere. My little brother had a different course to follow than I did, and my big brother was already on that course. They were still my brothers, and would always be my brothers. They would be there for me just as surely as Chris always has been. I remembered hoping I would feel them again somehow, somewhere.
Meeting Andrew in the flesh was a life changing. Seeing him, touching him, talking to him, and then that sweet experience at the funeral. It changed my perspective of life and families, even at twelve. And it made me develop a relationship with Timmy as well. I think about him more as I get older, and I like it. I wish I could tell you their personalities, but I can’t. But I have a feeling they know all of our private jokes, and they find them just as hilarious as we do. Come on, we’re Connollys. We all have the same crazy sense of humor.
I know they've been around for important events in our lives. They are my brothers, why would they miss out on things here just because they don’t live with us? I know they were at Jenny’s wedding. I know that because I felt that my whole family was there for that moment in time. I know that they will be here at other times, and I know that sometimes they are here and checking in on us.
Sometimes we talk about them. Not always, but sometimes. One time in particular was hilarious. My sister was making a sweet gift for our aunt that involved all of the names of the family, and we had counted up the names, and there was still one missing that we couldn't figure out. Then she suddenly shouted “Andrew!” There was a moment of silence, and then she muttered, “Little brat probably did that on purpose.” I don’t think we've laughed that hard in a long time. Because a little brother would do something like that to his big sister. A Connolly certainly would. And Andrew is our little brother, and he is most certainly a Connolly.
It’s okay to talk about them. It’s okay that sometimes I won’t want to. It’s okay to tell someone that I only have one brother, because saying I have three requires a longer conversation that is too personal. It’s okay that I still cry during the four days on the calendar that they were here, and random other days. It’s okay to miss them.
Fifteen years is a long time. Twenty eight years is a long time. But it’s not forever. It’s just for now. Timmy and Andrew are not lost and gone. I haven't broken my promise to Andrew. I will see him soon, in the grand scheme of things. I haven’t lost two brothers. I still have them. I have three brothers and I always will have three brothers. I miss all of my brothers, and I miss both of my sisters. Some are farther away than others, and for a longer time, but it will just make the reunion that much better. Connolly reunions are always loud and crazy and full of laughs and hugs. Imagine the stories we’ll have to share then.
And on that best of all days, I will look at the two of us that have been gone the longest and say “We knew you were there.”