Appreciating my brothers, part 2

In honor of my youngest brother’s birthday yesterday, here is the second part of an appreciation of my brothers. If you missed part one back in March, you can catch up on my thoughts about my middle brother, Lee, here.

Lyle Elrod Wallace joined our family January 13, 1981, disrupting the roles and responsibilities each of us understood. Lee went from being the baby to the middle son, and I went from carefree older brother to frequent caregiver and babysitter. His birth came with complications, but not long after, he was thriving and playing his part as the baby absorbing all of the attention.

three brothers on the porch. Lyle Wallace. Lance Wallace. Lee Wallace.
Can you guess who’s oldest? Lyle, Lance and Lee, slightly out of age order.

Dad often resorted to a rhyme when introducing us for the first time, particularly to older people, who visited the church — “We’ve got Lance with the ants, Lee with the fleas and Lyle with the smile.” Maw Maw, my mother’s mother, frequently told people without apology, “Lyle is the best behaved and best looking of the bunch.” The baby of the family always comes out on top in familial comparisons.

By the time he became aware of social hierarchies, Lyle understood that our household was divided into two classes: royalty and the serfs. He, of course, was royalty, and Lee and I were the serving class known as “the brothers.” When chores were handed out, he just assumed they were meant for “the brothers” and did not apply to him. He calculated, correctly, that if he just waited, the compulsion that had become ingrained in Lee and me to accomplish assigned tasks would take over, and we would do the chores without him lifting a finger.

This may have caused resentment at the time, but it didn’t last. Maybe it was that smile. Or maybe it was his low-key, cool personality. Whatever tools and tricks he employed, I liked that he rolled with punches and took life as it came to him. He didn’t seem to get worked up about anything.

Lyle Wallace in a cap and gown holds his master's degree diploma in a blue leather folder with his mother, Sharon Wallace, in front of a light brown brick wall.
Maw Maw always said he was the smartest, best behaved and best looking of the three of us. He earned his master’s of divinity a few years back and is now working on a Ph.D.

One day when he was in elementary school and I was off at college, Dad rushed out of the house, late for some commitment for the church. He forgot to take Lyle to school. When Lyle came downstairs and realized he had been left at home alone, he didn’t panic or go into hysterics. He just settled in for an unscheduled holiday.

When Dad came home for lunch he was shocked to find Lyle on the couch watching TV.

“What are you doing here?” Dad asked in amazement.

“Eating a popsicle,” Lyle casually responded, TV remote in hand.

“Why aren’t you in school?”

“You left me.”

Neither Lee nor I would have had the courage to confront the truth of that circumstance or sit by so calmly when an obvious catastrophe befell us. Lyle took it all in stride.

I also admire Lyle’s pursuit of education and adventure. After high school, he took a year to work and study at Word of Life Bible Institute in Schroon Lake, N.Y. Born in Texas but Central Florida-bred, Lyle had barely seen snow in his life. Word of Life afforded him the opportunity to run games at “Snow Camp” for churches and youth groups. Lyle confessed it was the coldest year of his life, but I respected the boldness required to immerse himself in such a contrasting climate to his upbringing.

He went on to complete his undergraduate degree at Arlington Baptist College and started working in churches immediately, starting with the church I grew up in, First Baptist Church of Richland Hills, Texas. When he finished college, he married and took on the pastorate of a small church in Junction, Texas. A couple of years later, he was back in the Metroplex getting his master of divinity from Southwestern Theological Seminary. When that project was completed, he started his Ph.D. studies and accepted the call to pastor Talty Baptist Church southeast of Dallas.

Talking with him now, I get the clear sense that he’s a deep thinker. He’s open to new ideas but understands what he believes and why. He doesn’t pick fights over theology or politics, but always seeks to learn and teach. I don’t think it’s just his type “B” personality. He’s driven to know more and comprehend better, a trait we could use more of in today’s polarized world.

Lyle isn’t just a career student, though. Like Lee, he, too, learned — eventually — the value of hard work. To support his family and pay for graduate school, he worked nights as a janitor at the Birdville School District. Humbling and grueling, Lyle listened to class notes on his headphones while scrubbing toilets, sweeping gyms, and polishing floors. He no longer believed he was immune to dirty work. He stuck it out when many people would have given up. When the boy commits to a goal, he sees it through.

In ministry, many of the pastors I’ve known were always looking for the next, bigger church that could pay them more. When opportunities arose, they followed their ego and blamed the “call to a new ministry.” Lyle sticks to his word. He stayed at the small church in the middle of the Hill Country of Texas much longer than anyone else would have, making way less than anyone else would have, to make an impact no one else could have. Now, he’s building a church at Talty, patiently helping his congregation to grow in faithfulness and in size. Now that the world has emerged from the lockdown phases of the pandemic, Talty Baptist is poised for explosive growth. I believe God is blessing that church through and because of Lyle’s dedication to them.

Always able to express himself through photography, music, drawing, graphic art, and well-constructed sermons, Lyle is excellent at gift giving. I love to see the joy on my boys’ faces when they open a special graduation, Christmas or birthday gift that is obviously a hand-crafted item that speaks to their interests and passions. I am grateful Lyle cares enough to create gifts that connect with people, and I envy his creativity and craftyness.

Lyle Wallace holds a sand bass
Lyle with a sand bass on Cedar Creek Reservoir.

As the years and miles between us pile up, I find I am drawn to reconnect with my brothers and rediscover the bonds we forged growing up as preacher’s kids. I look forward to creating new memories and taking the opportunity to let them know just how special they are. Happy birthday, Lyle!

Playing catch up

I’ve spent the better part of the last week in Fort Worth, Texas, working long hours, enduring incredible heat and spending time with my youngest brother and his family.

The 8-day odyssey to the place of my birth felt more like two trips in one.  The first four days I was engaged in the annual meeting of the organization for which I work. The second four days, I was treated to a laid back schedule and the rare gift of time with my brother, whom I had not laid eyes on in two and a half years.

Lyle and his bass
See the family resemblance? With the guy in the hat, not the bass.

The oldest of three boys, I have found it difficult to keep in touch with my brothers as our lives have gone in divergent directions. My family and I ended up in Atlanta, my middle brother and his family live in Lake Wales, Fla., and my youngest brother and his family are back in Fort Worth after a two-year stint in Junction, Texas. I do okay keeping in touch with my parents, who serve as connectors for the three of us, but there is no substitute for spending time one-on-one.

Lyle is 10-and-a-half years my junior. He was entering second grade when I went off to college, and for the next 24 years, we’ve only had stolen moments to spend together: spring breaks, Christmas holidays, occasional shared family vacations and rare business trips that took me to his neck of the woods. And because of his family’s transitions the last few years, we haven’t even been able to get together at Christmas.

This lack of a relationship with my brother affects me in ways I don’t like to think about. While Lee – the middle brother – and I catch up at Christmas as the grounding point for our relationship, Lyle and I have missed out on that altogether. And unlike my weekly routine of calling my parents, with Lyle there is no consistent time that our schedules converge to allow meaningful conversation.

So we rely on Facebook to keep up with the daily events of each other’s lives, a weak substitute for an actual relationship.

This week went a long way toward helping to bridge the gap between us. As we toured the Fort Worth Stockyards, worshipped together, visited the national scouting museum, took in the giant Cabela’s store, swam with our kids and beat the 100-plus-degree heat with a dollar movie, our conversation was easy, genuine and full of the respect and affection brothers often feel but rarely express.

Typically, brothers express their emotions with a slug and an insult. Lyle and I simply don’t have time for that. When we’re together, we have to connect in meaningful ways or else we could completely lose touch.

Lyle and Haydn at Cabela's
Lyle and his 7-year-old son, Haydn, try out reels at Cabela’s on Tuesday.

That’s what struck me so much about our time together this past week. I was able to relate to Lyle, not as my little brother, but as a minister-in-training, parent, tour guide and friend. Yes, we spent some time around the table telling stories on each other, and on Uncle Lee, much to our children’s delight, but the inadvertently weakened bonds of our brotherhood were strengthened just at the time they needed it most.

I can’t remember a time that Lyle and I have been at odds, but that’s because we’ve been so distant we haven’t had a chance. I don’t want to pick fights with anyone, least of all my brothers, but I would trade a few disagreements for a closer relationship.

So as my summer heads into a middle stretch between trips, I’m back in my comfortable routine. I’m just going to commit one more time to find a way to not lose touch with both my brothers as life unfolds.

There’s simply too much to be gained to let go.

How do you keep up with your siblings? Have you recently been able to share in some quality time with your brother or sister? Leave a comment below and share your secret to staying connected to your siblings.