My Brothers Keeper


I’m going to be honest.  This post is not humorous or uplifting, because I’m in the midst of a wrestling match:  my selfish nature vs. God.  This post is real with nothing to sugar coat it.  So if you were hoping for something light and comical, read one of my fiction pieces and steer clear of this one.

“Yield your rights to God.” This was a catch phrase of a fundamentalist group that I grew up in.  In theory, it means that you are giving up your own selfish desires so that God can work through you.  A good thing, right?  In reality though, it many times meant that if you felt violated, angry, or taken advantage of, it was really your own fault.  You needed to confess your selfish desires and repent and “yield that right to God.”  This made it easy for people to take advantage of those who really just wanted to do the right thing.

As a child and teenager, I was one that let people take advantage of me because I thought I was doing the right thing.  I thought that being used and abused by people was okay.  I refer mainly to the relationship with my parents at that time.  I know that it is frowned upon to speak ill of the dead, but it’s true.  And in defense of my father, he is a very different man now than he was then.

My mother suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar.  The best way to describe her is to say that she could be the most kind and caring person one moment (and I think this was who she really was) and immediately turn verbally and sometimes physically abusive the next.  It was as if two people were constantly warring within her and no one knew what would set her off.  Accidents–like spilling your bowl of cereal–in our house meant spankings, yelling, and sometimes a good hard slap.  At other times, she would laugh.  You never knew which it would be.

As a child and a teenager, I thought that I was doing the right thing by becoming the buffer between my mother and my siblings.  I would work from morning to night, caring for the kids and the house because if I didn’t, it meant very bad things for them.  Whenever something bad would occur, I was the one who comforted people and picked up the pieces.  I remember many times finding a quiet room to cry in after taking some sort of brunt for something I didn’t do.  I wrongly thought that I was being heroic and yielding my rights to God.  I firmly believed that to “forgive and forget” was the way to love the offenders.  And if I purposefully put things out of my mind for long enough, I did slowly forget.  I didn’t realize then what I know now; that even if the details of a situation are forgotten, the remnants of the feelings that you felt then, still haunt you.

At the time, my father was not much better. I was about 16 at the time, and was working a part time job, working through high school, homeschooling my siblings, and caring for the 3 youngest who were still toddlers and babies. One evening, I made dinner and both parents came home from work (my mom took a temporary job) to eat.  I set the plate in front of my father who took a bite and spit it out, pushing the plate away from him.

“This is disgusting,” he said. “Can’t you make anything other than chicken and broccoli?”

It made me angry, but I didn’t say anything (yielding my rights…).  A few minutes later, Mom was yelling at my brother who was a toddler at the time.  He wouldn’t obey her, so I told him to do what mom was asking and he obeyed me without a second thought.  At this, she became irate.

“How dare you usurp my authority!” she yelled. “Who do you think you are? You’re not their mother, so quit acting like it.  Stop trying to turn them against me!”

I don’t remember if I said anything, I just remember thinking, “That’s it.  That’s the last straw.”

Up to that point, I had in the back of my mind that I would run away.  I had read about an island of wealthy people off of the coast of GA.  I had saved up enough money for a train ticket.  I would buy a train ticket to somewhere in south GA, and because I knew that trains went very slowly through Savannah, GA, I would jump off the train there so that my parents couldn’t trace my destination.  I would go to the island and apply to be a housekeeper.  I had my resumes ready.  While I was marking up my map, God stopped me in my tracks.  “If not you, then who will be your brothers keeper?”

I had plenty of reason to leave, I told him in my head.  The first being, they’re not my children.  The second being, I had taken care of them since I was their age.

“What more do want from me?” I roared aloud.

A similar dialogue went on for three days.  At the end of three days, I stopped fighting.  “If not you,” God said, “then who will show them that they are loved?” I knew he was right.

“I will be my brothers keeper,” I said, and meant it.  That was my vow.

From that point on, I remained true to my vow.  I didn’t think that I would ever go to college or have my own life.  As things turned out, though, I did have the chance to go to college, to get married and live my own life for nearly 7 years now.

So what has this to do with a wrestling match now?  Well, as a side note, I will say that for nearly 3 years, I’ve been sick with different ongoing illnesses, the last underlying illness of which is yet to be identified, and I’m tired, literally. Physically, mentally, and spiritually, tired.  I feel like I have nothing left to give.  That is where I’m at.

And now, my vow has returned to me in the form of becoming the legal guardian and caretaker of my youngest brother.  I love him and am excited that he is coming to live with us.  Our plan was to begin the adoption process this year (of some kids internationally), but that and other plans will have to wait.  Putting my life on hold, brings back my old feelings of losing my freedom.  And if you don’t know how it feels to give up your freedom, it feels like you’re grieving the loss of a dear friend.

I know that God gives the grace we need at the moment.  It’s just not an easy moment.


  1. I think it’s a good post. There’s freedom in honesty, at least. Can’t change or redeem what we don’t acknowledge, right?

  2. Emily Reitnuaer says

    So very hard to sort out truth from untruth… I can relate. And bone-weariness makes it especially hard to see clearly. May you find peace.

  3. Thank you for sharing Anna. You’re in my thoughts and prayers.

  4. Penny Chambers says

    Our dear Anna, my heart is breaking as I read your post. I wish I had some answers to give you, or some nice comforting quote, but words seem so hollow. I’ve known you since you were 4 years old. You have always been a huge help to your family. In most families, it’s the mom who provides the glue that holds the family together, but in your family, it was you, the oldest daughter. You have endured so much. I don’t know why you were given that life, but know this: you are a beautiful reflection of God’s image. His love and care for us, Christ’s endurance and sacrifice, strong protector and defender, friend. Jesus is called “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” You know that better than most of us. I will be praying for you and Ethan as you take up this mantle.

  5. Sue Wachter says

    You ARE grieving the loss of a good friend. If I have learned nothing else in life it is the importance of recognizing when it is time to grieve and grieve well… and to not allow yourself to grieve for me is the most self destructive thing I can do. Thank you for sharing your true heart. I am blessed for reading it.

    Take care.

  6. I admire your honesty. If you’re ever willing to write more, I’d love to read more about your view and experience with bipolar/personality disorders. A family member of mine was recently “officially” diagnosed with bipolar and I feel as though they and others are using this diagnosis as an excuse for really bad decisions they’ve made throughout their life. You are such a gift to your family!

  7. Chicken and Broccoli… I am afraid you won’t ever get to live it down that or the 25 lb. Browne Loaf. Cooking Aside, You probably kept half the house alive and helped others (me) to keep my sanity until I could run as fast as I could. I have to say though for all the crap that went on and the “interesting parenting” We still always had each other and even though it was hard we persevered and God rewarded us for it. I still believe that God used and is using our lives for a purpose that isn’t designed for us to just be Christians and to just live it out. God is going to use this life for something that is not only going to bring glory to him but also fulfillment to you. Raising 2 (soon enough to be 3) is hard enough and they are mine which I love unconditionally. Trying to help shape your youngest brother into the man God designed him to be will take a LOT of patience but I know that you can do it and that God’s not going to give you anything more than you can handle. God brought us through childhood and all its retardedness and I know he will continue to bring us though this life.

  8. Thanks for sharing this, Anna. You are a strong woman!

  9. Just read this, Anna. Grace to you as you obey God’s call.

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