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"The Gift of a Brother's Love"

I just returned from a youth retreat in Tuscarora, PA. Each year our church hosts the retreat and about 19 churches come from various states to be a part of this exciting event. Not being back for five years, I was amazed at the changes that were made especially with the state-of-the-art auditorium we had available to host the retreat. I was asked to emcee the entire event so I was honored to be a part of the weekend's activities. This was the first big outreach I've done since my father passed away and, in many ways, it was great to step-out again and work with young people on this level. For the past five months, I've been working with the student youth leaders at my church and helping out in some small capacity. But this weekend was an entirely different experience.

I've known for many years that I want to make some sort of difference in the lives of the current generation as well as with the future generations. As I continue to recognize my father's ability to touch people in such a wide and large capacity, I'm constantly assessing my life to see how I can make an impact in the lives of others - no matter how minimal it may be. In my opinion waiting until I'm in my forties or fifties is too late, for as my family and I learned, we never know what time we have left on this earth. Thus, the time to see our role in touching a life is now.

Our trip down to the retreat center was awesome because I had plenty of time with several of the young leaders. Getting to know and laugh with them helped in the bonding process. I've had some time with some of them over the past few months, but not enough to get to know them on a more personal level. This trip would prove differently. As they shared I was quickly reminded of how special each one of them are and that my time with them is truly sacred. Each moment with them should be viewed that way. Although my responsibilties included speaking, making videos, and hosting the talent show, I was able to get to know more of them during this time.

I have much to share about the kids, but I wanted to write something that was perhaps the most fulfilling aspect of the entire retreat - the privilege of being and working with my brother, Kristian. Prior to the retreat, I took some time off from work to plan and brainstorm creative ideas for the weekend, and I wasn't sure if Kristian could be a part of the weekend due to his demanding work schedule. However, late Friday evening, he showed up. Just getting that embrace from him - which we're so used to giving each other whenever we're apart for some time - meant so much. It's hard to express in words but there is something special about the bond we share. So many times we catch ourselves saying or thinking the same thing. You would think we were twins. He was there just to support me and his presence, his creative ideas, and his input was so crucial to all of my work. Behind the scenes we laughed hard and long, even to the point of tears. And to see the leaders and kids laughing just added to the overall fun of the weekend. With each video we made and the conversations we shared both on a strategic and personal level, God was knitting our hearts once again.

Working on little sleep and lots of adrenaline, it wasn't until we began returning home that I noticed the sacrifice my brother made to help me. I was touched by his willingness to give up his weekend just to help me out. When we stopped to fill his truck with gas, it really hit me. While he was in the store paying for the fuel, my eyes began to water because I was so touched by his love and support he gave me. Here I was coming off a great weekend, but I knew that the success of my work came only because I had a brother who gave so much of himself to me.

During my reflection I was reminded of my father's word to us a few years back: In life, most people will fail you, but your family will always be there, no matter what. We learned that principle by the example my parent's led in raising us. That capacity to be faithful, loyal, and committed to one another is so deeply ingrained in our beings that we couldn't think of living life any other way.

As my brother hopped back into the truck and I held back my emotions, I glanced over at him and expressed how appreciative and touched I was by his support. Although I had plenty of support from others, it was Kristian's encouragement that meant the most to me. Perhaps it reminded me of my father's constant support in our lives. It was that reminder that even when things go bad or when others leave you high and dry, your family will be there to pick you up, cheer you on and, when "wounded," carry you for a time until you can tarry on again.

I'm humbled by the tremendous sacrifice my brother made this past weekend. Feeling humbled by his generosity, I can only pray that I may one day demonstrate a similar faithfulness to him especially when he is need of some support. The same goes for the rest of my family. My mother and brother, Tad, have been there for me, especially after my dad went on to be with Christ. Sometimes I wish I had the same capacity that our Lord has to touch a heart right where a person needs it the most. I want them to know how much I love them, but as humans we don't always love well. I'm determined to express my appreciation for my family more. I know in heaven I willl do a much better job. But for now, may I grow in my ability to love my family and others better.

Thank you Kristian for your love, your friendship, and being a model to me. May you know that your trip was not wasted. If anything, you really touched my heart. I'm continually learning. You've reminded me once again about the gift of a brother's love. I love you.

Your older brother,

Justin (j-dawg)

PS. Remember that circle trust. My eyes are watching you. ;-)