At the outset, you need to understand that my older brother, Bob (Robert Redding McConnell), is one of my heroes. Over the years he has been one of the most impactful people in my life. He is very ill and I am facing the fact that, in the near future, for the first time in my life I may be experiencing life without him. I am finding the whole notion unnerving. Never in 66 years have I lived a day without knowing my big brother is there for me. I am reminded that, at its heart, grief is selfish and self-centered. Bob is ill and I am grieving – feeling sorry for myself.
Being a pragmatic realist, I am under no delusion that my brother Bob is perfect. He has been known to lie. During our growing up years, my parents held us to high standards. At the McConnell house bringing home anything less than all A’s and B’s would get one grounded for the following six week grading period. Invariably, report cards would be sent home on a Friday and at dinner that evening Bob would be hailed as the scholar in residence with all A’s and an occasional B. And I would be grounded. At least that is what should have happened. Instead, Dad would ask if we had received our report cards and Bob would look him in the eye and lie to him. “No, sir,” he would say. “They are coming out Monday.” He lied for me so that I could have one last weekend of fun and freedom. Since mom and dad thought Bob could do no wrong, they believed him every time. Well, almost every time.
There was the time I put a cut out on my mother’s Oldsmobile convertible. Dad spoiled my mother in many ways. One of those ways was to buy her convertibles. So, as teenagers, we got to drive mother’s big fancy convertibles. And they were fast. So, of course, I raced them. To gain a little speed, I attached a cut out to the exhaust system with a cap on it. When I removed the cap, it allowed the exhaust to bypass the muffler which gave me a little more power and an awesome roaring engine. I did all of this without mentioning the modification to my father. I was thinking that what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him – or me. One summer evening my father came by and picked me up at work. On the ride home he asked me, “What is a cut out?” I thought, “Oh, crap, I’m toast.” It seems that dad had taken the Olds in for an oil change and the mechanic had asked him why he had put a cut out on his car. Dad went home and asked everyone handy who had put the cut out on their mother’s car. My brother confessed. And my father didn’t believe him for a second. Dad told me Bob had confessed but he knew better. Even with my big brother’s attempt at intervention, I was, again, grounded.
Bob was also one of the few people on earth who has earned the right to speak truth into my life. Most of the time for most of his life, Bob has been a truth teller. During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college Bob and I were afforded the opportunity by our father to take the trip of a lifetime. We bought a used Chevy station wagon (For my younger readers – it is kind of like a van.) packed up a bunch of camping gear, took enough money to pay for gas ($25 per week) and set off to see America. We spent two and a half months driving and camping across the continent. It was awesome. It was during that trip that Bob told me some truth that changed my life. He told me that in the past year he had learned some things I needed to know. It was, he said, very exciting news. I figured that his exciting news was that he had finally found a decent girlfriend. I was not amused when he told me his exciting news was that he had met Jesus. My response to his announcement was a sarcastic “Whoopee!”
Undeterred, he went on to explain to me that Christianity was much less about being religious and much more about having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He continued by telling me that Jesus wanted to be the Lord of my life. Instantly my defenses went up. “I,” I told Bob, “can be the lord of my own life.” I said that in the context of having played sports in high school; having dated some of the cutest girls in school; was pretty popular; had been selected for membership in the only fraternity on my college campus and was in line to be the next President of the Student Body. I was a success and didn’t need anyone’s help; much less Jesus. But brother Bob insisted on telling me the truth. When I told him I could run my own life he fixed his clear blue eyes on me, looked into my soul, and said, “Oh really. Well, how are you doing?” His question spoke into the truth of my life. Even though I was a “success” he knew that I was completely hollow inside – empty. Because he had the courage to speak truth to me, I was saved. Unlike people who are saved from a life of addiction or crime or other destructive behavior, I was saved from an ordinary life. I was saved from a life of acquiring possessions or bouncing from one relationship to the next in an attempt to fill the emptiness in my soul. I was saved from living several decades of meaningless existence to live a life filled with meaning, joy, excitement and purpose. I was saved from me. All because my brother Bob told me the truth.
In our growing up years Bob was an amazing brother. My parents saw him as “the good son”. But he didn’t. Bob felt that he never measured up; up to my dad – or who he thought my dad was. Bob brought home great grades; he was a great athlete (I still have no doubts that, with the proper coaching, he could have been a major league pitcher.); he was elected class President all of the way through high school; Bob was kind and thoughtful (He told me that before he did anything he thought about how his actions would affect our parents. I thought he was nuts.); he really was “the good son.” But most of all he saw himself as my brother, my confidant, my protector, my number one fan. We shared a room and sometimes fought like cats and dogs and we loved each other. Everyone at school knew that if you picked a fight with one of the McConnell’s, you were going to fight both of them. We drove to school together. We double dated. We TP’ed houses together. (We did it professionally. People paid us to TP houses.) We stayed out all night together. We made and set off bombs together. We harassed our sisters and their dates together. We shared clothes, friends, adventures, sports and life in general. We lived through each other’s heartaches together. His friend was my friend and my enemy was his enemy. We sneaked around doing things our parents wouldn’t approve of and (as I have mentioned) we lied for each other. We were there for each other through decades of life. We encouraged each other in our spiritual journeys and suffered with each other when a relationship went sour. We celebrated each other’s joys. I was thrilled when he had his first book published and he was more excited about my first book than his. We love and pray for each other’s children.
Brother Bob has had a profound influence on my life. He is one of the most prominent people in my life. He did more to change my life than he can imagine because he lied to my parents (and showed me how much he loves me.) and because he told me the truth about myself so I could get to know Jesus. Thanks Bob. You are the best brother ever.
Copyright © 2013, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.
He can be contacted @ firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon