I called him ‘Brat’ instead of Brad, mainly because that was the way big sisters were expected to think of a brother seven years younger. The only quarrel I remember was once when I was left to babysit and he refused to ‘obey’ me. Can’t say that I blame him. The bedrooms were on the lower level in our house, and the first time I returned from college he came pounding up the stairs to throw his arms around me. The next time I came home I looked forward to the same enthusiastic welcome, but he was outside shooting baskets with the guys and all I got was a curt “Hi.”
Brad didn’t grow as early as classmates, and childhood dreams of being a Big Ten basketball star went out the window. Instead he focused on competitive tennis and later cross-country. The personal discipline and self-control he struggled with in tennis, served him well in cross-country, and he was the captain and spiritual leader of the team.
Brad gave his heart to Jesus Christ at a young age. My father used to lead us in family worship every evening. When Brad had friends over, my dad offered to skip it if Brad would find it embarrassing, but he didn’t. Some of his friends came to look forward to those frank, practical discussions around the Bible.
He married his high-school sweetheart before he finished college. They had three children, and Brad became a pastor. They came to visit us in Africa where we were serving during the Mozambican civil war. We spent a week in Swaziland together enjoying the game reserve, the hot spring and hikes in the hills before we flew back to Maputo for a few days so they could see the realities of our lives. Sometime later Brad confessed that even as we drove home from the airport, dodging potholes and weaving through the crowds that spilled from the shacks, he was asking himself, “How many days do I have to stay here?” But he never let on his discomfort.
One evening Brad started asking me questions, and I found myself sharing things I had never told anyone but my husband. I was in tears by the time I finished pouring out the pain of living in a place surrounded by war and poverty I could do nothing about. I was at the end of my rope, wondering if God even cared, and my ‘bratty’ little brother was a pastor to me.
He performed the ceremony when my widowed father re-married. He played soccer and tennis and cheered at his kids’ games. His church gave him a hot air balloon ride and a day of NASCAR training when he finished his doctorate. He loved life and enjoyed it to the full.
On a Sunday in January 2005 shortly before his forty-sixth birthday, Brad asked his assistant to preach. He had a persistent headache and was going to the emergency room. He was young and fit, and the doctors sent him home, saying it was probably just a migraine. At home he collapsed, and on Wednesday he was pronounced dead of a blood clot in the brain.
Brad had been preaching through the Gospel of John. A few weeks earlier he preached from John 11 when Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. The day he was scheduled to preach from John 14—“In my Father’s house are many rooms…. I go to prepare a place for you”—a colleague preached Brad’s funeral from the sermon notes in Brad’s own Bible. The service began with a section from the recording of that John 11 sermon where Brad told us how we should behave at a funeral.
The other day I came upon a sheet torn from a notebook. On it was a list of things I was angry with God about. (It had been a bad day, and I had a need, like David, to lay it all before the Lord.) At the top of the list was taking my little brother in the prime of life at the peak of his ministry when his family and his church needed him. I still don’t understand. I have not stopped feeling angry about every item I wrote on that list. But as the preacher said at Brad’s funeral, “We don’t understand, but God says, ‘Trust me.’” I’m trying, Lord, but some days it’s hard.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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