“A brother was born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17)
On my office desk, co-existing with the stacks of books and binders that constitute my ministry toolbox, sits a picture that was taken 19 years ago. It is one of my parents, brother, two sisters, and myself. The place: Honolulu, Hawaii, in the living room of our Hawaii Kai Queen’s Gate home. The date: July 31, 1997 – the evening of my younger sister’s 12th birthday. That picture was the last complete family picture that we took.
Less than a month after it was taken, my parents separated and divorced shortly after. We haven’t taken a picture with the six of us together since.
The photo serves as a reminder of my roots, of the family soil from which I bloomed. Life has moved on for all – parents and children alike. Today, my father lives in the Philippines; my mother in Las Vegas. Both are remarried. I see my mother a number of times a year on special occasions, and my father about once every year and a half. My brother currently lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children. I see him a few times a year, and our kids are the best of buddies. Both of my sisters are married and live in the Bay Area; them, I see quite often, since we live inhabit the same part of the globe. During the first two weeks of September of last year, I had a chance to see all of them – yes, all six of them and their families. Kathy, the two kids, and I spent a week in Asia with my father, and then traveled straight to Hawaii for one week for my mother’s sixtieth birthday celebration, where all my siblings and their families were present. It was a blessedly refreshing time for us all, and it prompted me to write this entry.
There was a particularly long stretch of life when I valued friends above family. When I headed off to college, I had no real ambition to remain close to my parents and siblings. I began trekking a new trail, restructuring my sphere of close relationships that consisted entirely of Christian friends from church or fellowship. Toward family, it was less of a despising and more of simple disinterest. I saw them as infrequently as possible, and during the times that I did I was distant and aloof. Perhaps it was an outflow of a man who was seeking to find my identity in my newly forming social circles. I vividly recall a conversation with my brother the day before I was scheduled to fly to Phoenix for a family reunion, during which he asked me why it was that I had planned it such that I would fly into Phoenix and also leave the evening of that same day. He asked me why it was that, every time we had a family event scheduled (which wasn’t even that frequent), I seemed to always be interested in leaving earlier than everyone else. I was offended during that phone conversation…and it was mainly because he was right.
In that particular season, a reality was concurrently beginning to unfold of which I became aware only near the tail end; I would go through one cycle after another of gaining and losing friends. Close confidants became people to avoid. Those who vowed loyalty one day would betray it in the next. But throughout the rising and setting of friendships, my brother and sisters remained by my side. My parents never removed their love and support. To say that “they were always there for me” sounds cliche-ish, but its truth can’t be denied.
Admittedly, I used to think that exhibiting strong familial ties were particular to certain cultures and not to others. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that it is not fundamentally a cultural practice, but a biblical principle that stems from both biblical commandments and biblical wisdom. Cain, though he denied such a responsibility, was called to be his brother’s keeper. In the Old Testament, Hebrew slaves in the Old Testament who were too poor to redeem themselves were to be redeemed by their blood brothers – hence the term “kinsman redeemer.” A woman who was widowed by her husband’s death was called to be taken by that man’s brother as his wife. In the New Testament, believers are commanded to be devoted to one another in “brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10), carrying the implication that the relationship amongst brothers ought to both valued and be set as the model for the way the members of God’s church were meant to treat one another. So yes, I admit that in my previous failing to value family, I was biblically off the mark.
Today, Cuevas siblings do live our separate lives, exclusive of each other in its daily workings. My older brother, the business-savvy one, currently works in Phoenix as a product manager for Annexus. My older sister, the logical genius of the bunch, works at Google as a senior software engineer and team lead manager. My younger sister, in many ways the clan’s most talented, will be starting a professorship at U.C. Davis for bioinorganic chemistry. As for me, the “different” one as my mother told me on the eve of my college graduation (it’s a euphemism for “headstrong”), am a full-time vocational minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As it is, we don’t get into each other’s business or tell each other what to do. Quarreling and arguing are as rare as a Diamond Head volcano erruptions, if not altogether non-existent. Our reunion routine: we start with loud “Hi!’s”, embrace, find a place to eat at a restaurant, and talk. There’s a lot of story-telling, laughing, and reminiscing about our childhood – both the good and the bad. Nothing can replace that. There’s something particularly special about the common grace that was extended to us through my parents and how they raised us. And as I write this, I’m humbled that the Lord didn’t repay me for my previous perspective of at times throwing them under the rug, and instead kept me integrated into their lives.
As we continue to stay in touch as adults, I’ve reflected deeply on Proverbs 17:17: “A brother was born for adversity.” The meaning is simple. God providentially gave us parents, brothers, and sisters to be one of the greatest sources of security, safety, and support during life’s most adverse seasons. I knew this biblically; I now know it experientially.
So live we must, as Christians, for the kingdom of God and the ministry of the gospel to the ends of the earth. The ministry today to which God has commissioned me and Kathy – the pastoral ministry of the gospel and edification of the church in the Bay Area region – is an endeavor that is mutually exclusive of my familial ties. But my parents and siblings remain a most valuable and lasting set of earthly relationships apart from the ones I have with my wife and children, and ones deserving of great honor. It just took me a while to figure that out.