to katie: a birthday ode | guest post by matthew brittingham


taken at lee and mj’s wedding in spokane

Katie’s Birthday: Some thoughts on my relationship with her

30 years ago today, my sister Katie was born to Susan and James Brittingham. I first met her two and a half years later. From that moment on, she has pinched me, hugged me, kicked me, kissed me, cried with me, laughed with me, been around, been absent, and everything else one could think of in a sibling relationship/rivalry. I’ve seen her grow, sometimes from a distance and sometimes from up-close. For those that know her, this will come as no surprise: she is fierce, independent, adventurous, strong-willed, intense, driven, passionate, and hates missing out on almost anything. At the same time, and this may come as a surprise to some, she is vulnerable, kind, and occasionally insecure (in a way that’s certainly healthy at times).

As a young adult, I wondered if someone would come alongside such a strong-willed, independent women and share life with that sometimes hot-mess (sorry, Katie, but it’s true…this is my minor confession…). Brian was a wonderful surprise in that regard: a man who wouldn’t let Katie’s intensity bowl him over. Instead, he embraced it and nurtured it. Most brothers can only dream of such a husband for their sister(s). I will never forget, after a particularly intense “fight” with Katie, Brian came to Katie’s defense, not by pointing the finger but by adding a delicate understanding of what my sister was actually upset about. (I explain to Ashley all the time that my family’s “fights” are more like breathing deeply after a coughing fit, you gotta hack it out and then its all good.) You know a good man when he advocates on behalf of his wife such that it shows his deep knowledge of her. It’s a sign of intimate communication and a sign of his confident knowledge of his wife.

I have not always been the best brother. We were, and still are, VERY different. Most people don’t even realize we are related. It’s kinda funny now that she lives in Lincoln, NE, a place where I made my own connections. It’s been the reverse of high school in some ways. When I was a freshman in high school, teachers would read my name off the roll and say… “Brittingham…are you Katie’s brother?” I would respond yes, roll my eyes, and wait for the shower of praises about how smart she was, about how much of an overachiever she was, or about how she was going places in life, etc. etc. The amount of public interest she has received from her recent teaching endeavors is a testament to the prophetic vision of these former teachers. I literally got into Honors English my sophomore year on the coattails of my sister’s accomplishments (this is my medium-sized confession…). In the words of my Honors English teacher: “You were close Matt, but just missed…however, BECAUSE YOUR SISTER SHOWS SO MUCH PROMISE, WE ARE GOING TO PASS YOU INTO THE CLASS.” I guess the assumption was that my sister’s natural intelligence and overachievement had somehow rubbed off on me… Back to Nebraska: when my sister and brother-in-law moved to Lincoln, I would run into old friends and acquaintances at Redeemer, where Ashley and I spent the first two years of our marriage, and they would say “wow…you guys are…um…not much alike,” or “wait…what…Katie’s your sister?” Yes, yes she is, and yes, we are not alike…such is life sometimes. Today, when I visit, it is occasionally back to the ol’high school days. Since some my acquaintances and friends have moved away, and a new crop has emerged, Katie and Brian have put their own stamp on Redeemer and its congregants. I am now more likely to get—“Oh, you’re Katie’s brother. We love Katie so much”—than in years past. I do get this quite a bit in fact. Then, they realize I’m Marcus and Jen’s son-in-law and drive home reflecting on Redeemer’s nepotism…probably.

The differences between us once clouded my vision. In college, I often thought of my friends as my “kin,” treating them more like my siblings. Of course, this is partly natural as we college-goers strike out on our own for the first time. Really though, I did not always give my sister the due she rightfully deserved. For example, the night I got engaged to Ashley, I forgot to call (this is my great confession to the rest of the world…). Someone posted something on Facebook and before I had gotten a chance to let her know myself, she found out by reading it online the next morning. I wouldn’t say she was devastated, but everything changed for us after that point, at least on my end. She called me on the phone and spoke her peace: why had I not called, not just the day we got engaged, but a week before, two weeks before even, just to tell her what would be going down? All she wanted was a chance to share in my celebration and embrace the prospect of having a sister. She mustered up the fierceness I now see as her strength and told me that she wished I could treat her more like a sister, the one she had been when we lived under the same roof. She may not remember this conversation, but it happened. My “boys,” as I call them, are still my kin, or a very close variation of kin. Yet, I realized I had started to close the net and Katie wasn’t in it. She challenged me to include her, and rightfully so.

All of this is to say, thank you Katie for letting me ride your coattails into Honors English. Thank you for your confidence, without it we would not have the relationship we do today…which is, though not perfect, always progressing in the right direction. Thank you Brian for being a good man, this is kind of your day too. Katie, it has been fun to watch you grow into the person you are today and I will always look up to you as a big sister.


mb birthday weekend

morning walk–we had a lovely time with matt’s cousin visiting from savannah

birthday apple pie with dino by caitlyn

birthday apple pie with dino by caitlyn

pallookaville with gourmet corndogs and adult milkshakes

pallookaville with gourmet corndogs and adult milkshakes (my “happy birthday to me” shaketail was incredible)

before dinner

before dinner–afterwards we went bowling

ducks at piedmont park

ducks at piedmont park the next day



at the dock

at the dock



i am turning 24.

my mind can’t

quite grasp the meaning of

those words– twenty-four.

it seems like such an old number.

feel stuck somewhere on 22 or 21.

always peering forward

seeing the adults put together

hair in place

smooth. smart. polished. presentable.

looking together


the image i see reflecting

is not what i imagined

all those years

gazing at adults.

is this what adulthood feels like?



just a glaring sign

reading: “adulthood”

sitting on your desk

while you are spinning in a desk chair

watching life fly around-distorting itself.

i am not quite where i wanted to be a year ago.

my arms are still empty

my heart has re-mended time and time


but i am learning

i am not the writer of this story.

there is more to come.

and the plan is so much

greater than me.


to convincing myself of the reality.


yesterday, i woke up to matt’s alarm. i laid in bed until my mother’s phone call took me to the large package that had arrived the prior afternoon. walking to the living room with phone in hand, i stepped through a curtain of streamers–a brittingham tradition: streamer-ing the door of the birthday recipient. matt was trying to upload his beautiful post at the kitchen table as i opened my presents from my family–it was quite the amazing assortment (including homemade toffee from becs).

the simpleness of the day: work meeting, bmv for license plates, chipotle for lunch (i had not been there for over a year–it was time), matt studying, nap, pizza and breaking bad finale with friends (and a delicious chocolate cake and sign!) was perfect. it was a quiet and peaceful day hanging out with the hubby.

however, what matters most was that i was overwhelmed by the love i received from notes left at my door to birthday lunch invites to sweet birthday favors to amazing messages/letters full of love and support. i thank you all for going the extra mile and sharing your love and heart with me. my heart is full and i am ready to step forward into this new year of my life.


the doorway

the doorway


might keep these up forevs

might keep these up forevs