Jennifer Sienes

Plain and simple, my nearly Irish-twin brother Michael was my best friend and hero. I say he was nearly an Irish twin because I was born nineteen days too late to make it official. We were both January babies—he at the beginning of the month, and me a year later at the end. I don’t have many childhood memories where Mike wasn’t front and center. You know that old song, “Anything you can do, I can do better”? It pretty much describes our childhood.

If Mike climbed a tree, I wanted to climb it higher. If he caught a fish, I wanted to catch a bigger one. I don’t know if I was a tomboy because I hung out with Mike, or if it was hanging out with Mike that made me one. We spent so much time together (and shared more than one birthday party), people thought we were twins. And although he was older, being a girl, I developed intellectually faster. I taught him how to tie his shoes and was able to read first, so of course I took it upon myself to educate him.

The problem with having my older brother as my hero and favorite playmate was that he was more adventurous than I. Because of this, I got talked into all manner of things better left undone. Since he was the only boy of five children, he had his own room, which is where we spent much of our time plotting our next scheme. I clearly remember us painting his closet door with Dad’s shaving cream. Later, he had the brilliant plan for us to pepper his bedroom carpet, so every time Mom vacuumed, she’d sneeze. Oh, and then there was the day he found a box of chocolate Ex-Lax in the bathroom medicine chest and decided to share it with me. Fortunately for me, he was a little selfish when it came to “candy” and his way of divvying up the goods was, “One for you, two for me.” By the time Mom got us to the hospital, it was too late to pump our stomachs. He got the raw end of that deal, let me tell you.

When all these adventures took place, we lived in a new housing development which backed up to ranch land. There was only a barbed-wire fence dividing our backyard from the cattle that roamed the pasture. My poor mother was cleaning the upstairs bathroom one day when she looked out the window to see us climbing through the fence with a stool and a bucket. Mike must have seen something on television that gave him the idea we should try our hand at milking the cows. The only problem with his plan, aside from us having no idea what we were doing, was they weren’t cows. They were steer. Poor Mom. It was a miracle she lived long enough to see us grow up.

When we were in middle school, we moved to the small town of Alameda—just across the bay from San Francisco. Our paternal grandmother lived in San Leandro, which didn’t seem all that far away when Dad drove us to visit her. Less than thirty minutes by freeway. One summer day, we were bored. Mom was working full-time in San Francisco, so other than one older sister who had a life of her own, no one was in charge to squelch our questionable choices. Mike decided we should walk to Grandma’s. The backroads would surely be faster than the freeway, so we’d be there in time for lunch.

Things got a little dicey when we reached downtown Oakland only four miles into our trip. Two white kids looked pretty stark and scared, let me tell you. And when a boy much bigger than us decided we should share what little money we had, we realized we’d made a mistake. Fortunately, we were left with enough change to call Grandma on a pay phone (probably wasn’t more than a dime back then). Grandma called our uncle, who picked us up and drove us to her apartment. When Dad came to get us after work, he made it pretty darn clear our adventures were over. We were wise enough to know we shouldn’t argue with an angry, 250-pound, 6’5” father.

Mike could make me laugh harder than anyone I’ve ever known. He used humor as a way of getting out of trouble—especially with Mom. When she was ready to lose it with him, he’d morph into Donald Duck—I think he spoke Donald better than Donald. He had it down to an art form. Mom couldn’t be angry while at the same time laughing so hard her stomach hurt. Mike got away with saying the most insulting things to us, his sisters, just by using Donald’s voice to do it. His sense of humor is one of the things I miss most about him.

When Mike was 48, he took his own life, for which I still struggle with to this day. If someone you loved has committed suicide, you understand survivor’s guilt. I knew there was something horribly wrong with him, but I couldn’t get through. The harder I pushed, the angrier he became. The angrier he became, the more he shut me out. The last time I spoke to him was just after his birthday. By the time mine came around, he was gone.

I want to be clear. Mike was a born-again, evangelizing Christian. He was instrumental in my own decision to surrender my life to Christ and gave me my first Bible for my birthday four years before his death. He was a member of Bikers for Christ. He traveled to Thailand on a missionary trip. He taught others how to share their faith. But he was broken, misdiagnosed, and lost. I believe with my whole heart he is now with Jesus, who came to save the lost—not to condemn them.

You might wonder why I’m sharing Mike’s life with you. This beloved, sweet, funny brother of mine was the inspiration behind my next novel, Providence (Book 3 in the Apple Hill Series) and now available for preorder. When I stood up to share these anecdotes of Mike at his funeral, I clearly heard the Lord say, This is your story. It’s not about Mike or his family, but it’s about the emotional upheaval suicide causes those who love the victim of such a senseless loss.


Susan K. Beatty

Notes from the Past for the Future

Black Leuchtturm notebooks, filled with scribbled ideas, notes, and tasks, line a shelf above my desk. But wait! What is this lone red one?

I snatch it, gingerly of course, from its place to see what’s inside. Is it new with pristine pages waiting to record notes of import? Or already full of ideas and long-forgotten notes? Why have I allowed it to languish, untouched for who knows how long? After all, it is bright red among a bevy of more sedately colored tomes.

Ruffling the pages, I realize it is stuffed with nuggets of gold from 2017. Notes from writing courses, meetings, and conferences like Mount Hermon, SoCal Christian Writers, PENCON. Words of wisdom from mentors. Oh, the memories.

I find ideas for settings, characters, and titles. And here’s a list of scenes for my upcoming novel, Faces of Courage.

And sermon notes! I’m surprised because I usually store these elsewhere.

The Lord must have known I’d need these words today.

Number One in an outline is: What kind of faith does Jesus marvel at? Faith that trusts in God’s authority and power without having to take control ourselves. Faith is humbly trusting God’s authority and power. Ouch.

Lessons listed from Number One: The story of the Centurion reminds us we can have a trusting faith in God in every situation as He can do all things; to be humble because God isn’t looking at our status or accomplishments, but at our heart.

Number Two on the outline: We can trust Jesus because He is not only powerful, but compassionate. The lessons listed are you can trust that our all-powerful God loves you, cares for you, and wants your best; trust that no enemy stands before God, not even death; and be certain in your belief that Jesus is the Christ. (Luke 7:17)

I write about courage at the intersection of faith and grit. These notes remind me it isn’t in our power to have courage, but it’s in God’s power to give it to us, so we can, as the Lord leads, step out with grit. The dictionary says grit is firmness of mind or spirit.

In faith, we ask for more faith, and as the Lord answers our prayer, we find courage at the intersection of faith and firmness of mind, that is, grit. My main character Olivia in Faces of Courage feels ill-equipped to confront difficult challenges. Will she humbly ask for more faith and step out with grit? Find her courage?

As you read this, we’re one month into 2021, although I’m writing it much earlier in the year. We don’t know what the year will bring, but we know that we can humbly trust that the almighty God loves us and has promised no enemy will stand before Him, even death.

May 2021 lead you to trust Him more.