There is nothing quite as tidy as a balanced pros and cons list, six items for the positive side and half a dozen jottings for the negative half. But when my husband brings home his fifty year- old homeless, underweight, and very sick cousin to live with us for an “indefinite” period of time, I cannot find one reason to write on the “pro side”. I have heard rumors that Dale wants to come live with us and work for my husband and my immediate response is something to the effect that it will not happen in my lifetime.
But Dale (the alcoholic-cousin) does come, and I accept him and cook a little more and watch mostly from the sidelines. It is my husband who measures out the teaspoons of liquor for two weeks to make sure Dale doesn’t go into delirium tremens; it is he who talks and listens and then when healing takes place offers Dale a job. After a friendly “Good morning” to start the day, I mostly ignore this cousin of my husband’s.
One day as I walk past Dale’s open bedroom door, I notice one more reason I can add to my growing list on the “con” side under the question Should Dale stay in our home? On the light grey carpet I see a smattering of body excrement, the results of gastro-enteritis. Our guest is in the kitchen washing the breakfast dishes. Two thoughts came to my mind. The first, “This is my husband’s idea and his relative, so he can clean it up.” The second thought is that I can give the cleaning materials to the one who made the offending spot and use the opportunity to teach a little responsibility.
I choose neither of these options, but instead touch my knees to the floor and start scrubbing. Another unholy thought comes to my mind. “If this doesn’t come clean, the church’s assistance committee will get the opportunity to bless me with a new carpet.”
I keep scrubbing. Unexpectedly, I find tears wetting my cheeks, and I feel an overwhelming love for my Jesus and for the cousin in the kitchen. The Lord seems to say, “My child, your stiff-necked, stiff-armed welcome policy to this man isn’t love. It’s wood. (I Corinthians 3:12). All the meals you have cooked, the extra desserts you have fixed, and the special ice cream you have purchased isn’t love. It is hay. Your willing payment of an increased grocery and water bill isn’t love. It’s stubble. “
The guilt I feel from that verse is quickly changed by a touch of God’s mercy as I am also reminded that “if any man’s work abides…he shall receive a reward.” (I Corinthians 3:14). I now can scrawl in big letters on my list my first “pro” entry: heavenly rewards. At least the bigger letters fill the empty space on the pro side.
I wish I could say that Dale turns to Christ and gives up alcohol and goes on to live a productive life. He doesn’t. He goes back to the streets with the approach of summer, and he dies of alcoholic poisoning three years later.
This case is closed or so I think. The lessons learned are good if it ends right here. But it doesn’t. The Lord has more for our family.
Dale’s son and wife fly to Iowa from New York for their father’s funeral, and they thank my husband for what he’s tried to do for their incorrigible father.
Six more years have passed and we learn that Dale’s son and family are moving back to Iowa. I run into Dale’s daughter-in-law at a bridal shower and she asks how my husband is doing. She’s heard that he’s been battling cancer. I tell her that we’re doing OK with the cancer stuff, but what he needs is a good business manager. His current bookkeeper is leaving and the books and business records are in shambles.
“Seriously? Your husband is hiring?”
Dale’s daughter-in-law rights the books for my husband’s business, and Dale’s debt is more than paid. It takes twelve years, but the pros list is now longer by far than the con side.
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