My Mom called on a Saturday night over two and a half years ago to tell me that my younger brother, Jeff, had died.Picture is of my brother Jeff My Mom didn’t grow up in a family that knew the gospel. In fact, she was the first person in our family to trust Christ. Her parents were divorced at a time when a scoundrel husband could just move across a state border and avoid paying any child support. And her dad did just that. Life was harder for her.
Jeff was called mentally retarded when that term was acceptable in the ‘70s. He would never have been able to live on his own, and so he lived with my parents his entire life. My mom and dad would never think of institutionalizing him. He was actually a great help to them as an adult. He loved routine, so they gave him jobs to do regularly. He could bring wood in for the wood stove. He could shovel snow. He could bring up the laundry. He could put away dishes.
Sometime after I graduated from college Jeff started having seizures. He had never had any health problems related to his disability before. After a seizure he would need several days of rest before he was fully recovered. My mom would lovingly take care of him until he recovered.
My brother didn’t have Down Syndrome. In God’s grace many Down Syndrome children are incredibly compassionate and loving. They are tender and affectionate. That was not my brother. There really wasn’t much emotion in Jeff’s hugs. They were perfunctory not passionate. He wasn’t a robot; he could show frustration, and he even smiled quite a bit. But he didn’t do the normal things that a baby, a young child, and even young adults do to express love to their parents. My mom never got an affectionately clingy infant in my younger brother. He would hug when he was told to, he would even say “I love you” if you said it first, but it wasn’t like when other people said it. I don’t doubt that Jeff actually meant it as well as he could, but love was a concept that really was beyond his ability to understand. He was never able to understand the question, “why?” And you really have to understand that to understand love.
I’ve thought about this over the years, and it’s occurred to me that my Mom’s love for my brother was a wonderful example of what Christian love is supposed to be. We don’t define love like unbelievers. We don’t just love those that love us. We are able to love those who don’t return any love—even our enemies (Luke 6:27-29). Of course with those closest to us it can be hard to love as Christ loved and seemingly get very little in return… maybe even nothing in return.
But it is how God loved us.
…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 (ESV)
In fact, we were his enemies and he still loved us.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Romans 5:10 (ESV)
My mom has been a living definition of biblical love to me my entire life. For a long time, I didn’t notice it. That’s just what a mom does. But now I’m enriched by it. My love is too often selfish. I give to get. But my mom, like God, just gave. And she did it because the gospel changed her. And she did it for my brother’s entire lifetime.
My brother is gone, but I still think of my mother’s love for him. It’s a sweet picture of God’s love for me, and it reminds me of how to love others.
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Luke 6:35 (ESV)
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