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My Brother Ben

He isn't like other boys his age. But to me, he is perfect.

This letter was written to my younger brother, Ben, who has been mentally impaired since birth. He is 17 and looks like all other teenage boys, but acts more like a 3-year-old. He can’t talk, read or write, but he’s taught me much about patience, gentleness, hope and faith.

* * *

Dear Ben,

So many things came to mind when I thought about writing a letter to you. It’s not easy to put my thoughts on paper. Where do I start? And what do I really want to tell you? Maybe I should just say that I love you — I love you even though some people would say that you’re more work than you’re worth and that I’ll never see any results from loving you.

Maybe I should tell you all the reasons why I love you. Sometimes I lose sight of them, but when I can see clearly again, there they are, the same as always. First, your smile. Big, silly, and accompanied by a hearty laugh; or soft and trusting; or (the one I like best) the mischievous one that brings out the sparkle in your eyes.

Second, your unashamed acceptance of everyone. Who wouldn’t love someone who gives huge, vise-like hugs to the people he knows every time he sees them? Who wouldn’t appreciate your efforts to make everyone feel welcome at church by taking one of your friends by the hand and leading them to someone else, watching expectantly as they introduce themselves? You are a great example of how friendly the body of Christ should be.

Third, because you’re my brother. And you never let me forget that, do you? You may not be “normal,” but you still know how to push my buttons! We’ve shared so many things together: roller-skating at the rink with your class — hanging on to the wall together so we wouldn’t fall; dressing up for Halloween in the costumes Mom made for us — me as a purple bunny and you as a gray mouse; going to Sunday School together (oh, how I hated it when the teachers thought they knew how to handle you better than I did!); playing our version of cops and robbers; taking bike rides together (remember the tandem?).

Fourth, your extreme silliness when we are together. You love to play hide-and-go-seek, but your idea of hiding is to stand behind me with your hands on my shoulders, crouch down a little, and ask (in your language, of course) “Where’s Ben?”. It’s getting hard to hide your six foot, 200 pound frame behind me! At other times your face-contorting expressions make me laugh out loud. I can almost imagine you’re normal when you act like that.

Fifth, your gentleness with people who are hurting. Sometimes when I have had a bad day and I’m trying not to cry when I say goodnight to you, you instinctively reach to give me a hug. You look at me a little bit confused, and sad, and try to make me smile by hiding under the covers.

Those are a few of the reasons I love you. But that’s not all I really wanted to say. Maybe I should tell you how I love you. There’s all the normal ways — hugs and kisses, saying the words, writing notes for you when you go away so your respite giver can read them to you — but I also get to love you in a way that most people don’t. I share the hurts you don’t deserve. I have seen all the stares and pointing fingers, heard the whispered comments and felt the isolation of being “different.” I saw the way people looked at us one Sunday morning when you reached for my hand as we walked into church. Teenage siblings aren’t supposed to act that way, but you didn’t know that. You still like to give me kisses on the cheek sometimes at inappropriate times, and people still look, but I don’t mind anymore. You’re just proud to have me as a sister.

I heard the sarcastic remarks made at family gatherings about the trips to a special doctor for you: “Guess he needs to go to that doctor some more. It sure hasn’t helped yet.” We were willing to try anything that might help you be more normal. They were blinded by their own ignorance of who you are and what you have to offer them! Their idea that you would be better off in a “home” while they didn’t even know you made me angry. They don’t understand you, and because of that, they’ll never be able to fully understand me, because you are a part of who I am. I swallowed the comment of a friend who said they always kinda thought of us as Dad, Mom, Jenny, Rachel and their dog, Ben. I know they didn’t mean it to hurt me, but it still stung.

I remember the launching of “Ben’s Buddies” at church, in hopes of finding some friends for you. Months went by and nobody called to take you out for ice cream, or a movie, or just to hang out. But they always let us know when they saw us that they were “still planning on it, but have just been so busy lately”. The problem was that you were the one who wasn’t busy; that was the whole point of Ben’s Buddies! Any night of the week was wide open for you, and it didn’t seem fair that you couldn’t go have fun with friends like I could just because people were too “busy”. Your stubborn anticipation for them to come through on their promises is an example to me.

I don’t say all this to get back at the people who’ve hurt you. I’m not angry with them, just sad. They’ve missed out on a wonderful relationship they could’ve had with you. And, some of them have changed and started pursuing your friendship. I can’t describe how happy it makes me when people discover you! To see you smiling your good-byes after a night at a friend’s house is one of the most wonderful things I know. You probably won’t get to read this letter while we’re on earth, although we’re praying for your healing yet. But I hope that other sisters and brothers with someone like you in their family will be encouraged by it. We all feel alone sometimes, and it’s nice to know that someone else feels the same way we do. I also hope that other people will be challenged to seek out the lonely, the different and the hurting. That’s who Jesus hung out with.

Isn’t He great?

Thank you for being happy with how God made you. Just Ben. I love you the way you are.

Love forever,


Copyright © 2000 Jennifer Boerema. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Jennifer Boerema

Jen Boerema is a senior studying small business management at Baker College in Muskegon, Mich. When she’s not at school or at work you’ll find her at home on the farm with her four younger siblings, playing with the kittens or the Angora goat kids.

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