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

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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.

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