My big brother used to pick on me. For Dee no day was complete unless he had made mine miserable. He’d trip me as I entered the room. He’d yank back the covers on my just-made bed. He’d wrestle me to the floor and sit on my chest until I couldn’t breathe. When his bike had a flat tire, he’d steal mine. He’d kick me beneath the dinner table, and when I kicked back, he’d feign innocence, and I’d get caught. Thanks to him I learned the meaning of the word wedgie. He stole my allowance. He called me a sissy. He threw grass burs at me. His waking thought was How can I pick on Max?

But all his cruel antics were offset by one great act of grace. He picked me to play on his baseball team.

Mom had given him baby-brother duty that summer day. He could go to the park if he let me tag along. He groaned but relented. He wasn’t about to miss the daily baseball game. We grabbed our bats, hats, and Spalding gloves. We jumped on our bikes and raced to the baseball diamond. By the time we arrived, the place was swarming with kids.

When it came time to pick teams, I took my place behind the others and braced for the worst.

Squad selection is enough to scar the psyche of a young boy. It works like this. Two players, presumably the best athletes, begin calling out names. “I get Johnny.” “I get Tommy.” “I want Jason.” “I’ll take Eric.”

Johnny, Tommy, Jason, and Eric strut and swagger in the direction of their respective captains and strike the cool-kid pose. They deserve to. They were chosen first.

The winnowing process continues, one by one, until the last kid is standing. That day that kid, I just knew, would have freckles and red hair. On the social ladder of summer baseball, I dangled from the lowest rung.

Everyone else was a middle schooler; I was a third grader. Everyone else could handle a baseball bat. I never got a hit. Everyone else could pitch, catch, and steal bases. I had a rag arm, slow glove, and bricks for feet.

But a miracle happened. When angels discuss mighty acts of divine intervention, this moment makes the list. Along with the stories of the Red Sea opening and the was-dead Lazarus walking is the day my brother chose me. Not first, mind you. But far from last. He still had plenty of good guys from whom to pick. But for a reason known only to him and God above, he chose me.

“I take Max,” he announced.

A murmur rippled through the crowd. “Max?” “Max?” Had the event been part of a movie, the gaggle would have parted, and the camera would have focused on the little fellow wearing the red hat. My eyes opened watermelon wide.

“Who, me?”

“Yeah, you!” my brother barked as if to downplay his largesse.

I tilted my head to the side, smiled an Elvis smile, swaggered through the sad, pitiful lot of unpicked players, and took my place next to my unexpected hero. In the time it took to say my name, I went from the back of the pack to the front of the line, all because he picked me.

Dee didn’t pick me because I was good. He didn’t select me for my skill or baseball savvy. He called my name for one reason and one reason only. He was my big brother. And on that day he decided to be a good big brother.

The New Testament has a word for such activity: encouragement. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11 NIV).

God does this. He is “the God who gives endurance and encouragement” (Rom. 15:5 NIV).

So does Jesus. “We pray that our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father will encourage you and help you always to do and say the right thing” (2 Thess. 2:16–17 CEV).

Max Lucado, How Happiness Happens: Finding Lasting Joy in a World of Comparison, Disappointment, and Unmet Expectations (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019).

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