Cain’t & Able: A Tale Of Two Siblings
“The Lord looked with favor on Abel…but on Cain…He did not look with favor.” (Genesis 4:4a and 5a, NIV)
In many respects, the imagery created by Charles Dickens in the opening lines of his book A Tale of Two Cities is similar to the images one might expect as they consider the lives of our two sons – lives of marked contrast.
He was the best of sons, he was the worst of sons, his was an age of wisdom, his was an age of foolishness, his was an epoch of belief, his was an epoch of incredulity, his life a spring of hope, his life a winter of despair, he had everything before him, he had nothing before him.
Our two sons are also somewhat similar to history’s first siblings Cain and Abel. One son that God looked upon with favor and one that God did not look upon with favor – or so it might have seemed.
As prospective parents looking forward to the birth of our first child Joshua, we never dreamed of one with the multiple handicaps that he would be born with. That would be the realization of any parent’s worst nightmare. But he was born with them, and so it appeared as if God had not looked upon with him favor. As a result of these disabilities, his was to be a life of apparent foolishness, incredulity and despair – a life seemingly with nothing before him, except an early death. A life that many might say was the “worst of sons.” A life that was marked by what he could not or “Cain’t” do.
Then there was our youngest son Joel, a life that God has clearly looked upon with favor. He was the realization of the dreams we had with Joshua and had once again when we learned we were expecting Joel. His has been a life of wisdom, belief and hope – a life thus far with everything before him. A life that many might say was the “best of sons,” blessed with health and doing better in life than his parents. And as noted above, a life in marked contrast to his older brother by what he has been “Able” to do.
In reality, God favored both of them, just in different ways. And in the process He has immeasurably blessed our lives, our extended family’s lives and the lives of others that are familiar with their tale. But the praise is not theirs, and it is certainly not ours. It is God’s. A God who has clearly demonstrated that He can love, favor, use and bless both those who are “Able,” as well as those who “Cain’t.”
In The Beginning
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24, NIV)
The story of Cain’t and Able, our sons Joshua and Joel, is best told with a little context. So we must go back before their beginning, when our children were no more than a future dream. Although God knew them by name long before their parents had even met.
Eileen, my wife, was born to and raised by Robert and Yvonne (Braband) Schroeder in Geneva, Illinois. She was the second oldest of four siblings. Her older brother was Dale and her younger brother was Craig. Joyce was her younger sister. During Eileen’s High School years her father made a mid-life career change. Schooled as an engineer, but worn down by the daily pressures of his job, he decided to go into business for himself. He purchased an Aamco transmission franchise. Rather than open his shop in or around Geneva, where there was significant competition, he decided to go west where there was little or no competition. He decided upon DeKalb, Illinois, the first “big” town (along with its sister city Sycamore), due west of Geneva. After Eileen’s graduation her family moved to DeKalb. This was the first in a string of “coincidences” leading up to Eileen meeting me, her future husband and the father of Joshua and Joel. God was getting Eileen and me in closer proximity to each other so we would eventually meet.
I (Steve) was born in Jackson, Michigan to John and Roberta (Grubb) Brewer. I was the youngest of three boys: Robert, the oldest, Richard and then me. From the age of four I was raised in DeKalb, Illinois. I was preparing to attend my first year of college at Northern Illinois University (NIU), located in DeKalb, in the fall of 1973. This was about the same time that Eileen’s family moved to DeKalb. Attending NIU was, perhaps, the second “coincidence.” Rather than leaving DeKalb to attend some other college or University, which would make it difficult for me to meet Eileen, I stayed in town. Also, about this same time, my high school sweetheart decided to break up with me. Ironically she broke up with me (as I later learned) because she felt we were getting too serious about each other. This was “coincidence” number three, I was now unattached. This coincidence was also one with a theme that would be similar to many of the things that we would experience over the years as a family. I had strong feelings for this girlfriend and the breakup was emotionally painful for me. While I was unable to understand it at the time, the pain was necessary in order for me to experience the greater joy of meeting, falling in love, marrying Eileen and having the family we were ultimately blessed to have.
New towns often mean a lot of new things. One of which was that Eileen’s mom needed a new hairdresser. Rather than selecting one in town, which would be the most likely place to find one, she “stumbled” upon one located just outside of town. This particular hairdresser also just happened to be the mother of a former girlfriend of mine (not the high school sweetheart mentioned above) with whom I stilled maintained a friendship. Comparing notes, Eileen’s mom and the hairdresser discovered that they each had teenage daughters that were the same age. Soon the two daughters became friends. This was “coincidence” number four (actually a series of related “coincidences”), someone in a good position to introduce the future couple to each other.
Eileen and my ex-girlfriend began hanging out together, which eventually included Sunday Church services. The Church “just happened” to be the same one that I attended. I was a member of the Church’s choir at that time (yes, this book is full of surprises) and had a pretty good view of late-comers entering and taking their seat. The attractive gal that came in with my old girlfriend looked like someone I just had to meet. This was “coincidence” number five, Eileen was put in one of the few places we would both be at the same time and where she could attract my attention.
And we did meet, a few weeks later, at the Church’s annual Halloween party and hayride. I “suggested” to my ex-girlfriend that she should bring Eileen. This would allow us to be introduced to each other. In all the years since then I always believed that this was my clever idea. But as I re-read what I have written I saw it for what it actually was – God the King moving the other chess pieces, working things together, while I was the pawn. After the party we went out for coffee and hot chocolate at a local hangout – The Junction. The next day I invited Eileen to Sycamore’s annual pumpkin festival parade, and we began dating.
While it may not have been the proverbial love at first sight for me (oh yes, I was definitely interested from the start!), it was for Eileen. She simply loved my 1969 Camaro SS – blue, white interior and a four on the floor. Mystery solved. At least she had good taste in cars.
Two years later, on November 22, 1975, we were married. We entered the church separately as two but left together as one, “for as long as we both shall live.” While we vowed for “richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse,” we anticipated that our “happily ever after,” would be one of riches, not poverty, one of health, not sickness, and one of better, not worse. As we would learn, happiness may be dependent upon riches, health and life’s better experiences, but joy can overcome poverty, sickness and life’s worst experiences. Neither of us knew “whither” we were going (in retrospect maybe a good thing). But we were going together, all because God put together a string of “coincidences” that made it so.
To think that it all began on a “blind” date, or was it? For Eileen it truly was a blind date (no bad taste pun intended), she had no indication of my plotting. I did not think it was a blind date, I thought I had arranged the whole thing. In reality I was blind to the truth of who really arranged it. God saw it coming from the dawn of creation.
Next week, my story – “Adam’s Life Will Be Full Of Toil,” and the following week “All About Eve,” Eileen’s story. Both stories provide context for “Cain’t Leaves His Mark,” Joshua’s story and “But God Looked On Able With Favor,” Joel’s story.