Almost twenty-three years ago, my mom brought home a blonde, blueish / greenish eyed baby for me to play with. I’m not sure why but we had nicknamed him “Blue Blue” from the start. I think maybe we thought his favorite color would be blue? Either way, the nickname didn’t last long. Because Mike was born barely a year after I was, I have no memories of him coming home or adjusting to life with a baby brother. But Jon? Jon I absolutely do. Even though I wasn’t quite 5, I remember feeling like a big sister to that tiny little boy. There are numerous pictures of me grinning ear to ear as I carefully cradle my baby brother.
Jon was a feisty little kid. He was loud. He liked to play games and tell stories. He always wanted to do whatever Mike and I were doing, much to our dismay. He loved sports and facts and most family dinners would consist of Jon telling our dad “Dad! Ask me about sports!” He would then know the answer the every obscure question my dad could throw at him.
He was full of so much life and fight and love. I don’t think any of us knew how much he would need those three things when he got older.
Because there are three of us kids, it’s always been a bit weird in division of siblings. Mike and I are really close in age and stage of life but Mike and Jon share similar interests. Jon was about 10 when we moved to Colorado and started in the public school system in elementary school. Different than both Mike and I had experienced. But Jon was likable and made friends wherever he went. He played all sorts of sports and we joked that he had real potential as a football player due to his barrel chest. He excelled at school, taking honors classes and starting his freshman year in a math class higher than the one I took when I graduated.
But things in our family got tough when Jon was a freshman. I was gone off to Nashville, starting my second year in college, Mike began his senior year in high school, one of the most popular and well liked kids, my dad was in the throes of keeping his company going, and my mom was helping care for her ailing father. Our grandpa took a devastating turn for the worse in the spring of 2006. After a successful surgery that made him well, he developed complications that left him in a coma without hope of recovery. It was earth-shattering for us, none more than our mom who was incredibly close to her father. So while these things were going on and my mom was back and forth to Arizona and Mike was getting ready for college and I was away, Jon got lost in the shuffle.
Right after our grandpa passed away, I was diagnosed with Celiac disease. Our dad had gone to Arizona and I was home with Mike and Jon. Jon and I got into a fight one night because I couldn’t drive him somewhere so he ended up just leaving. I found out later that night was a trigger for his attempted suicides. Jon was young, only 14, and we all assumed his mood swings were typical for a teenager. But slowly it became more evident they weren’t.
After a series of circumstances, we found out that Jon had tried to kill himself and he was lost in an epic battle of depression. My broken hurting family shattered that summer and fall. Jon stopped eating, his anxiety got out of control, he couldn’t be alone, he was paranoid. He was spiraling out of control and we had no idea how to help him. That year I saw my parents stand up against the monster that is mental illness and refuse to surrender. They fought long and hard and with every last ounce of strength and then some.
The fall of Jon’s sophomore year there was an incident that resulted in my parents withdrawing him from our public high school. An incident that made me so mad I was about to fly myself home and kick some serious ass. But my parents decided to homeschool Jon and give him a chance to catch his breath and get well. We saw some people in the community pull away from our family and spread ridiculous gossip, and we saw other people in the community rally in front of our wounded family and protect us, protect Jon.
Slowly but surely Jon got better. One year later, he returned to the very school that had shunned him. One year after that the very school created a spirit award and named him the first recipient of it. To this day he’s remembered long after Mike and I ever have been by that community.
But what I’m most proud of? The reason why I’m writing this post? It’s because of the heart transformation Jesus did in him and the influence that has had on hundreds of lives.
Jon started getting involved with Wyldlife — the middle school branch of an organization called Young Life that we’re all part of — and he started mentoring junior high kids. Yes, he actually CHOSE to spend time with middle schoolers. As he got better he started realizing the power his story has. A story of darkness, despair, desperation all being triumphed by light, hope, grace, love. And because he’s the bravest person I know, he started to tell his story. Little by little, one by one, students who felt like they had no other option than to end their life, heard Jon’s story and chose to fight like he has.
When he went off to college he continued to work with Wyldlife. Giving his summers, after-school time, probably some study time, and everything else he had to the community in Boise. He went on student staff while finishing his degree and felt a very strong calling on his life to continue to work with middle school students.
We went to Idaho for his college graduation in December. I met dozens of people who know and love Jon. Over and over I heard them speak of the impact he had on their kids, their lives, their family, their walk with Christ and I was blown away by the force my baby brother is for the Kingdom. When I saw Jon walk across to get his diploma, I started crying. I was overwhelmed by God’s goodness and His faithfulness and how close we were to never having that moment. By God’s grace our family of 5 stayed a family of 5.
So, why am I posting all of this? Aside from the fact that I’ve always been insanely proud of BOTH my brothers, I decided to give Jon a little spotlight. When he graduated, he went to full time ministry with Young Life. This means he raises his own salary so he can hang out with and disciple middle school students. Like my little brother chooses to spend the majority of his week loving on the kids we all avoid. His area is doing a competition to get new donors and if they win they’ll get money for camp scholarships. Young Life spends the entire semester building up to camp so kids can have the best week of their life and meet Jesus while doing it. Donating to Jon is 100% tax deductible. If you’d like to donate to him, please shoot me an email Rachel.L.Mueller(at)gmail(dot)com and I’ll give you instructions on how to give.
And to Jon, this letter is to let you know how much I respect, admire, and love you. You are the bravest person I know. You are giving, gracious, humble, funny, talented, wise beyond your years, intuitive, caring, strong, and capable. I am so lucky to call you friend and family. I am so lucky to be your big sister, even if you outweigh and outheight me. You inspire me to love Jesus more. You challenge me to love sacrificially. You make me laugh. You bring so much joy to those around you. I couldn’t be more proud of you. I love you Little!