My weekend was filled with faces I hadn’t seen in a while.

Wednesday night was coffee with my good friend Nick. Thursday night Theresa and I had dinner with my son Scott and his wife Shelbi. Friday morning was coffee with my dad. Saturday evening found me at The Rusty Bucket having dinner with two of my brothers and my sister.

Unfortunately, one of my brothers couldn’t be at dinner Saturday night. Instead, he’s in prison.

My visit with him rounded out the weekend as we drove to Columbus on Saturday morning.

The first few times I saw him, it was unsettling.

He’s there because of a drug offense. He was a functioning drug addict. When I first visited him, he was depressed, dark. He readily admitted he’ll use again when he gets out.

Each month I show up with no preconceived plan. No goal. I just want to see him. I just want to hear him. I just want to be his big brother.

When he comes out of his cell, I’m always there waiting in the visitor area at the table. The chess board pieces are in place, along with a few of his favorite snacks including a tall, cold, Mountain Dew.

Our meetings lately are noticeably different.

Saturday, over a year later, his chess game has dramatically improved, he’s lost at least 30 pounds and he’s bench pressing over 400 pounds. What’s most remarkable is the change in his mindset. No longer does he talk about doing drugs.

Instead, he’s talking about starting his own business, buying a plot of land, and building his own house.

I see hope in his eyes.

In his body language.

In his voice.

For over two hours we laughed, and laughed, and laughed. So much so, the other visitors must have thought we were crazy.

When I got into my truck to head back to Mason, Theresa asked “how’d it go?”

“We laughed and laughed and laughed!” I replied.

Looking back on the week, I’m struck by how much I learned from each of those visits. Not just from my brother in Columbus but from my coffee with Nick and Dad. Dinners with my son and my brothers and sisters.

Conversation, laughter, and precious time spent together.

I learned more about them. Insights. Each conversation drew us closer.

All of those relationships grew.

I grew.

More and more I’m convinced, there’s no substitution for the physical presence of a loved one.

Now, I’ve got to get to Texas and see my baby girl.