There was a game that my little brother and I use to play as kids. We called it hawgs-dawgs. Wait, you’ve never played? Really? Oh, let me explain!
You see, my little brother Brandon and I grew up rather poor. We didn’t know it. That was the world around us and it was all we knew. Surrounded by a cow pasture in north Georgia sat an old, creaky yellow house. Heads of cattle behind us (none of which ours) were kept restrained by a rusty barbed-wire fence. Our mother spent her days creating. She would make wooden doo-dads that would typically embellish the exterior of this old yellow house. One of those creations was a wooden duck, painted in its Sunday best with a bonnet that was affixed to the front door—which no one used—welcoming visitors. Honeysuckle grew wild along the side of a small, broken concrete porch. It would climb the trellis in the summer and retreat to bare stalk in the winter, only to give it another go the following year. Trying ever so hard to reach the un-shaded expanse of the small roof.
Dad’s 1970-something green and rust colored Nova sat in the gravel drive. But this is where the magic was. This small patch of dirty earth wasn’t just a gravel drive. We managed to transform this gravel into currency, art, people, medieval fortresses and usually a weapon against each other (where one or both of us would end up in tears).
It was in one of these magical moments on Brandon’s birthday that we created IT! The ultimate game…HAWGS-DAWGS! This game-of-games was birthed after trying to fling arrows (throw gravel) at a dragon (Brandon) in order to save the medieval town of Parlour (off-brand legos). During a particular salvific throw, I missed the dragon; but this rock turned spear landed in a sock hanging from the clothesline out back. “AHHH, BUBBA!” screeched Brandon, all of eight years old. “Do it again!” As hard as we tried, we couldn’t manage to get another arrow into our black, cotton target until….
Brandon yanked this sock off of the clothesline and started stuffing handfuls of gravel into it. With a gritty, frustrated determination he filled it up, tied off the top of this sock and flung it. “Whoa…” we both exclaimed in amazement. This thing flew. This thing flew far and fast. Today I certainly understand the physics behind flinging a sock filled with two pounds of gravel at someone, but back then we didn’t care. We each cornered off on separate sides of our weed-filled lawn and created a game that we would play with childlike wonder into our thirties (I’m currently thirty-five). But, there was a day none more exciting than on the anniversary of creating this eighth wonder of the world; Brandon’s birthday, August 18th.
We’ve since created a scoring system, traded gravel for dried beans and no longer use dad’s sock (he only had one leg anyway). But this August 18th, I won’t have Brandon to play hawgs-dawgs with. In a methamphetamine-induced rage, he committed suicide on November 3rd, 2012. Recalling this faith-bending tragedy, I’m reminded that God is in control of life and death.
“‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand. (Deut 32:39)
Was Brandon saved? I don’t know. My brother’s actions over thirty-four years indicated that salvation had not been granted to him. What was his purpose? He was my brother, that’s a purpose. Perhaps the chapters in his life were written (in part) to tell this story. After all, God has given to us this gift of life on earth as part of His story. He has placed us exactly where He wants us as a character in this cosmic narrative—though but a vapor physically—in order to enjoy Him and glorify Him eternally.
As N.D. Wilson states in Death by Living:
“Understand this: we are both tiny and massive. We are nothing more than molded clay given breath, but we are nothing less than divine self-portraits, huffing and puffing along mountain ranges of epic narrative arcs prepared for us by the Infinite Word Himself.”
“You are spoken by God as the stars. You stand in history with stories stretching out both behind and before. We should want to live our chapters well, but doing so requires that we know the chapters that led up to us in our time and our moment; it requires that we open our eyes and consciously begin to shape those chapters that are coming after.”
How gloriously and faithfully true! Wherever you are, stand back and look around! This world and our duty to God is so much larger than us and the 12 inches in front of our face. He is the author of life. You are alive! He is the potter. You are the clay! He has spoken. You are the part of that Word! Take some time and remember that game of hawgs-dawgs that you played as a child (or whatever you called it). Use it to shape the way you think in order to shape the way you walk while remembering that there is absolutely NOTHING; no circumstance, no birth and certainly no death whereby He isn’t in control.
As for me, I’ll remember this chapter in my life every August 18th and use it to shape those forthcoming. Instead of lamenting what could have been with Brandon’s life, I’ll relieve the wonder of dominion-mandated creation. I’ll put away my understanding of physics (without their mom watching) and play hawgs-dawgs with my kids. I’ll shape the forthcoming chapters of my life by instituting a new rule: helmets. But I’ll play. We’ll play. And I’ll live my God created character in this narrative of life…by dying.