Letter from a Loving Brother

    “Letter from a Loving Brother,” New Era, July 2019, 10–11.

    Letter from a Loving Brother

    My older brother missed my 16th birthday because he was serving a mission. Yet the advice he sent me was a present I would cherish forever.

    old photos and letter

    Photographs provided by the author; photo illustration by David Stoker

    Sixteen! What a time of life! “Nobody should have to go through this alone,” I thought.

    My wise parents were kind and always gave me good counsel. My older sister had just gotten married and moved out of state. My little brother was involved with his 11-year-old concerns. I had great friends, and I knew my Church leaders sincerely cared about me.

    But my older brother, Gary, was my confidant. I looked up to him in all things as a teenager. “Whenever I talk to him, things make more sense,” I said to myself. “I wish he could be here right now.”

    But he wasn’t. He was far away in Japan, serving a full-time mission.

    Despite missing Gary, I did have a fun birthday.

    My mom made me our traditional birthday breakfast, and I received a few gifts before going to school. That night, my family and I went out for a pizza dinner and ended with birthday cake. I even let myself daydream about dating, driving, and other exciting things I would do as a 16-year-old.

    However, the best present I received that day

    was a letter in the mail. Gary hadn’t forgotten my super special day! This was before the days of email, so a letter took a long time to travel from Japan to Cache Valley, Utah, USA. I was amazed that his letter arrived right on my birthday! The letter was handwritten, which made it more like having my brother present with me as I read:

    “Dear Merilee:

    “Well, you have got the big birthday coming up, don’t you? I guess when you get this letter it will already be past. I can’t believe it—you are 16 years old. It seems like only a few years ago when you used to [wear your little red cowboy hat].

    “Stay sweet and pure, and always let everyone know that the Church means a lot to you. If you do that, you won’t ever get into a situation where you have to make a decision with all the peer pressure weighing on you. Example: In high school, everyone knew that I didn’t want to drink or smoke, not at all, so I never got invited to a party where that sort of thing went on. My friends knew I didn’t do that. …

    “If you let people know your standards, then people with your standards are attracted to you. I don’t mean you have to tell everyone, but actions speak loud. Your spirit is really sweet, and you do fit your name. And you have a good sense of humor. Happy ‘Sweet 16’ Birthday!”

    The last sentence was underlined in red. No other birthday present could’ve been better! I read it over and over again, until he was back home from Japan and we could finally talk to each other face to face.

    It has been years since I received that letter, but

    I still have it. Many things have changed since then, but not my love for my brother. Today I sustain him not only as my brother and friend but also as Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The counsel he offers as a special witness of Christ to all

    the world is an added strength in my life, just like the letter he sent me on my 16th birthday.

    The author lives in Utah, USA.