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Sunday, December 25, 2011

To my big sister Charise

It has been a fun year to think of how to serve in the name of my eldest sister, Charise Kehaulani Gates Johnson. During the first half of the year, I struggled to think what I could do in the spirit of Char.

One of the first things I considered was losing weight, in honor of the way that Charise has lost so much in recent years. But, when I ruptured a disc in my lower back, my exercise plan went kaput.

In the late Spring, when Bill and Char started seriously discussing whether to move to the East Coast, I felt maybe my service would be to convince her of just how great life is in Virginia and North Carolina.

Then, in the summer, it became clear how the Lord wanted me to serve others who were going through a crazy time in their life, just how Charise was going through a crazy, hectic time in her life.

[Please note, the details of this story may not be 100% correct, but they are as I learned them, often second or third hand, and usually from across the country. Regardless, those who know Charise know that she feels that accuracy in storytelling is quite overrated.]

In July, Charise went for an annual checkup and when her doctor reviewed her mammogram, he saw something that caused him concern. He had her go back from a more detailed review and they scheduled a follow-up appointment. Charise never returned for the follow-up appointment, for various reasons that make sense to a super-optimist living in Chari-land, but drove her siblings to tears on a few occasions. I did not find out about these health concerns until many days afterwards.

When I finally found out from one of my other sisters, it was only three weeks after a dear co-worker, Jodie Evans, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Once diagnosed, Jo’s doctors moved quickly through treatment and she was about to start chemotherapy when I learned about Charise’s abnormal mammogram results and refusal to return to the doctor.

I didn’t talk to Charise a whole lot during those weeks, because I was afraid I would end up yelling at her, “Just go to the doctor, would ya!” When I talked to my other sisters, I expressed frustration and anger that Charise was not taking this more seriously. In truth, I was really just scared. Finally, I realized that if I served my friend Jodie, I could serve in honor of Charise and cope with my fears at the same time.

Jo is pulling her hair out

Like Charise, Jodie Evans is an optimist who always sees the best in people and assumes the best of every situation. As she received more details about her diagnosis and treatment plan, Jo was reliably happy. I was so pleased when she came to me and asked for my help with some graphic design as part of her plan to announce her treatment to the rest of the staff in a humorous and fun way. Jo told me she wanted to do a friendly pool where people would bet on when she would lose her hair after her first round of chemotherapy.

I told her that I would look into it and figure out an easy and great way to do it. I went online to the Susan G. Komen Foundation to find out where we would have people send donations, but I was so excited when I found an awesome feature… the ability to create a personalized website for your friends to donate online! So, after I created Jodie’s page, we set about creating the “Jo is pulling her hair out” pool.

First, we took a picture of Jo pulling on her still healthy hair. Then, I made a flyer to give to everybody on staff and a signup sheet to post on the staff refrigerator. In the end, the staff had donated $186 on behalf of Jodie!

At one time, after all of this work was nearly completed, Jodie apologized for asking me to do so much. I smiled and told her that I wish she would ask me to do more. I told her about Charise’s situation and our Gates Family Season of Service. Then, I explained how helping her have fun in the face of bad news and raise money to support breast cancer awareness was actually a wonderful way for me to deal with the uncertainty and worry I felt for Charise.

Char can update you more on her situation, but I can tell you that after lots and lots of nagging from me and our sisters, she has gone to the doctor here in North Carolina and she doesn’t have breast cancer (aka her tatas are saved)!

FYI, she forgot to tell me the good news and has left me worrying for two extra weeks about it. But I was not mad, because I chalked it up as patience in honor of the service in honor of Char!

Donating blood

The other way that I served in honor of Charise was to donate blood. We all know that Char and her family are frequent customers of hospitals. So, what better way to honor Char, than to give what her family needs so often?
Ashley and I donated blood three times in the past four months. For the past two, we called up Virginia Blood Services and scheduled our own appointments to come into their offices to give. Our last time was the morning we drove down to North Carolina on December 23.

At two of our donations, we got t-shirts. Of course, they don’t have XXL. (What is that… some kind of fat joke?) So, we will be giving Charise four t-shirts for her to remember our service.

Speak no evil

Another way I chose to honor Charise was to set the goal of not speaking negatively of her or my sisters. The first time I went to NC to visit after Charise arrived, I realized that I was awfully judgmental of decisions she was making, for which I had no business having an opinion.

At that time, I told my wife that I wanted to stop criticizing the choices of my sisters. It is egotistical to think that my limited knowledge of their lives leads me to make better decisions than they make every day. Charise is rarely critical of others, so I have tried to think of the positive aspects of my sisters, and have faith that they are always choosing the right each day.

While I have been far from perfect in this goal, I have noticed a big difference in my mindset when around them. This is a goal I hope to grow stronger in during the next year, but I know that it makes it much easier to feel the Holy Spirit when with them.

My wish as a father

With each of our children, Ashley and I have chosen not to find out the sex of the baby. One day before our first daughter was born, Ashley asked if I wanted a boy or a girl. I said, “I want a girl, because I want a spiritually strong spirit to lead our kids the way that Charise led me and my sisters.” I think of that often as Leland does things that show the growth of her testimony or when she acts as a wonderful big sister.

Two weeks ago, after we knew that our cousin David Kenney was going to return to live with our Heavenly Father, I called each of my sisters to tell them that I loved them. When I called Charise, I told her how grateful I was to have her as the oldest sibling in our family. I attribute much of my testimony to my sister. She showed us how to be a kind sibling, a righteous teenager, and a faithful missionary. I am glad Heavenly Father sent me to the house where Charise Kehaulani Gates was the big sister.


  1. Oh my darling little brother...
    Thank you for being so wonderful to all of us. And helping me to remember to take the time to take care of myself.

    I love you sweet brother. You are an amazing friend and sibling. I am so lucky that Heavenly Father sent us to be a part of a family forever.

  2. I loved being a part of this service with Chuck and going to donate blood. I have donated more blood in the last few months than I have in my entire life. I never realized how easy it is to do.

    Charise thank you for your wonderful example as the oldest sister of the Gates Family.