Life Builders: Michelle Ortega

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This is one of my favorite pictures of Michelle and I together. This was taken in Vermont in 1975. Aaron on the left, Michelle in the middle and me on the right.

Michelle Ortega – My Sister

Today for my Life Builders Series I want to spend some time writing about my sister, Michelle. The Life Builders Series is a collection of articles through which I acknowledge those people who have contributed to my successes in life. If you haven’t been keeping up with my posts for this series, I strongly encourage you to read more about it at the Life Builders Series page.

Loyalty and Bravery

When I think about my sister, Michelle, I see a woman who is loyal and dedicated to her family. The story that kept coming back to me as I thought about what I would write about Michelle dates back to when we were in high school (Andress High School in northeast El Paso). I used to dress like the guys who hung out on Mackinaw street, with the tight bell bottom jeans, a printed t-shirt, an unbuttoned flannel shirt and hiking boots. Yes, I looked like a pot head (that’s how they looked in the early 80’s).

I think I liked that look because it was great for hiking and camping. Well, it really wasn’t a look. It was a way of dressing that made practical sense to me. But most people who didn’t know me would have first assumed I was a pot head.

One day when someone told my sister I was a pot head, she stood up for me. I wasn’t there, so I can’t provide details about what happened. But the idea of my sister defending me like that is consistent with how I see her as a person. She will fight anyone who has an unkind thing to say or in some way threatens her family. She gets this from my father. He was never afraid to fight for his family or his friends, or just fight for what was right. I think all of us kids inherited that from my father, but Michelle ended up with a double dose.

I remember the thing that meant so much to me when I heard that story was that it was during a time when Michelle and I were fighting a lot amongst ourselves. You know, typical family bickering and such. When I look back at those days, I see most of it as being my fault. I see how unreasonable I was and really….how ignorant I was about things. But I thought I knew everything there was to know and I wasn’t very kind to my sister sometimes. But the abuse she received from me didn’t stop her from defending me when someone accused me of being a pot head.

Everyone’s Champion

So that’s how I see her today. She is the true definition of a champion (one who does battle for another’s rights or honor).

Of course, life doesn’t end in high school. Michelle was the first of us four kids to “grow up.” Even though I am the oldest, a little over one year older than her, Michelle became more responsible and more mature far sooner than I did. In that respect, I think I have always seen her as being a step ahead of me in life. Because of her maturity, she was always more like my “older” sister after we graduated from high school. In just about every young adult event, she was a step ahead of me.

So I have learned a lot from watching her live her life. Today she is some sort of regional manager for Super Cuts after having been with that company for well over twenty years. It appears she is as loyal to her company as she is to her family. This is impressive in an age when people don’t tend to be loyal at all. Not to their families and certainly never loyal to the companies that employ them. In that way, Michelle stands out as one of the most successful people I know and I admire her tremendously for it. She is a great model for the people in her life to follow. I count myself blessed to have her as my sister.


When my ex had just left me and my father was in the hospital, Alex and I went to Phoenix to see him. While I was there, Michelle asked me if I wanted to go to Starbucks. Well, officially I wasn’t a coffee drinker (I will tell you my coffee story later sometime – this is actually part of that story), but Michelle was convinced that if I had a Caramel Maschiato that it would convert me to the other side of the force. She was right. I have been drinking coffee and other late drinks ever since.

Now I think of my sister almost every time I go to Starbucks. I’ve had coffee at different Starbucks all over the world since that day and in that way I continue to feel connected to Michelle. This Life Builders Series isn’t just about career stuff. I don’t want to ever give that impression. When Michelle introduced me to Starbucks, she brought a little joy into my life when I needed it most. How could I not thank her for that?

Thank You Michelle

You mean the world to me. I admire you. I respect you. I love you. Thank you for being who you are and for loving all of us the way you do.

On a Side Note:

A friend of mine recently argued that the best way to motivate people to live better lives is by setting an example. If I haven’t misunderstood his position, I think he’s saying that “preaching” is completely ineffective. While I agree that setting an example is crucial, I also believe that “preaching” is only unpopular because it makes people uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean it is ineffective. What makes preaching ineffective is when it is NOT supported by setting an example. Words without actions are completely ineffective. Yes, I can agree with that.

The problem with not preaching is that it leaves the interpretation of good behavior up to the person observing that good behavior. I have seen myself the damage this sort of thing causes. What we are talking about here is a breakdown of communication. If I do the right thing but never explain to anyone why I did what I did, how does this set an example? It doesn’t! Anyone who takes that behavior and imitates it will only be doing so on a superficial level. If you do not understand the meaning and the substance behind the decision, you will never be able to emulate that behavior appropriately in your own life.

Why am I writing about this now?

Because the entire reason for writing this Life Builders Series is to set an example. It is my hope that you, and everyone else who reads these posts, will take my example and do the same thing for the people who contributed to your life. Acknowledge those who lifted you up and supported you. Acknowledge those who you learned from. This is part of what it means to say you love someone. The Bible says “love is not proud.” If you read the Life Builders page you will see that the word “pride” in the Bible means taking credit for things you didn’t do. What this means to me is that, when you fail to acknowledge the people who contributed to your well being and your success, you are then walking in pride.

That is not love. If you say you love someone (and yes, I’m preaching now) but you never acknowledge how they have contributed to your life, then you are not being honest about that love. Nor are you being honest about your own abilities and success.

On the opposite end of acknowledging the people in our lives is the act of criticizing and complaining about them instead. I know it’s a common thing to want to complain, even about the people we love most. But like I said, when we do that, we are acting out of pride which is NOT love.

So please take these Life Builders Series posts as the example that supports my preaching. Acknowledge the people in your life and how they contribute to your success and well being, and strengthen this aspect of your “Biblical love life” (ha! Did I just coin a new term?).

  1. JC Adicks

    Mr. Lewis, you are right on with series, thank you. Missed opportunities are regrets that may haunt us for life. Wishing we had told someone what they meant to us is not to be put off until another day. We do not know the hour when we or they may be called ‘home’.

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