Today marks a year since we lost my brother, Brian. I’ve been missing my family, worrying a bit about my parents, and thinking about my siblings. Last night I made chicken pot pie for dinner and had leftover crust. So, of course I had to make pie crust cookies. You see, when I was four years old, my dad went away to the war in Viet Nam. My mom wanted to make sure I didn’t forget him because of my young age, so she created activities for me to do for him. Stick with me for a bit; we’ll get back to the pie crust cookies.
In addition to a lot of letters, Mom and Dad sent each other cassette tapes of themselves just talking to each other about everyday things. Dad would ask about what we were all doing and tell her about the church and orphanage he was helping build, and how the Holy Spirit was doing amazing and miraculous things in him and in that dark, war ravaged place.
A few years ago, we found one of those tapes, and it was sweet and hilarious. You could hear me constantly chattering in the background. Constantly, chattering. Did I mention, constantly? The oldest of us kids, Dane, got to talk to Dad on the tape, and then Mom told Dad that Brian, my other big brother, had something special to tell him. Brian got to tell Dad about getting baptized at church. His voice was so deep for an eight-year-old little boy!
For some reason, I got it into my head that I had to tell Daddy something special, too. My poor mom was trying to explain to me that I could talk to Daddy, too, but I was so determined that it had to be something special, that I started crying in the saddest, most dejected voice, “I want a secret for Daddy!” Somewhere in that process, “something special” had become a secret in my little mind. I love that Mom just let the recording keep going, allowing Dad to hear all the normal family stuff.
When Dad came home on leave, Mom hid me behind one of her huge house plants—I can still see the palm leaves as I peeked through them. I heard Dane and Brian yelling outside so I knew he had arrived. I couldn’t see them, but I could tell they were jumping up and down with excitement. After they calmed down, I heard Dad reading the clues Mom had left for him to find a special surprise. I remember thinking how shocked he was going to be to find out that the surprise was me! He came into the house, loudly declaring that he just couldn’t imagine what the surprise could be, and asking, “Where’s Dawn?” When he found me, I was so excited to jump into his arms! The boys were jumping up and down again—or still—and I felt like it must be the most important moment in time, and somehow I was very important, too. I knew that Daddy coming home was the most significant thing that had happened in my life.
But most often, Mom would call me into the kitchen to make Daddy’s favorite cookies. She’d help me roll out the leftover pie dough, enough for a full batch of cookies, and cut out shapes with cookie cutters, and we’d brush the shapes with butter. The final step was the most important. I had to focus carefully to sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on all those cookies. Not too much, but just enough for each one to get some. The next day, Mom would tell me when she had mailed them, keeping me aware that Daddy would soon get my cookies. I don’t remember a time after that when she had so much leftover pie crust.
You know, I don’t know what kinds of things she did with the boys. They were eight and ten, so they weren’t going to forget their Dad. My sister Robyn was just a baby when he left, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Mom was doing something with her, too. I’ll have to ask her what she did with the boys. One thing was probably having them talk to him on those cassettes, and they most likely only recorded when I wasn’t around after the “I want a secret” incident!
Those are my memories of the war. Daddy wasn’t home, and there were other hardships we experienced, but those special times are what stand out in my mind today. There was separation, and it was painful. But there was the baptism of a little boy and later that year I asked Jesus to come live in my heart. God met with my dad in ways that he had never imagined, right there in a war zone in Viet Nam. He got plunged into spiritual warfare and was taught by the Spirit what to do. Mom didn’t want to get left behind so she begged God for the same Spirit to fill her, and he did. Their lives and our family’s story were never the same. That time was full of the baptism on our family.
So, I made those pie crust cookies last night and I smiled. Today marks one year since we lost Brian, and the separation is hard. What kind of baptism did he get a year ago? Baptism wouldn’t be important for us here if it’s not significant somehow in heaven. It seemed odd that of all the time and memories with my brother and our family, those years would be what I was reminiscing about. But then I remember that deep, little boy voice saying, “Um, Daddy? I um… uh, I was at church. And um… I got baptized.” Maybe it wasn’t such a random memory, after all.