Irene was an evil person…. and she did not like me. She was devious, conniving, and clever. To her, a lie was just as good as the truth. I once admired some twice baked potatoes she made. She kept trying to explain how they were made. I innocently kept trying, but mine weren’t the same. She’d change an ingredient or two, then I’d scurry to replicate it. This went on for weeks…until her son found the box in the trash. They were frozen potatoes.
In 1971, I married her son, the love of my life. Irene found many things to criticize. She only liked petite people. I was overweight. She was an immaculate housecleaner. My housekeeping didn’t measure up. As children came along, Irene got even more troublesome. One child got sick. She called, asking, “How’s my baby?” I’d begin to tell her our child was better, but she’d say, “No, I mean MY baby. You know he can’t get sick because he’s the breadwinner.”
Once she babysat when we went to a restaurant. As we arrived home, she stuck the photos of an old girlfriend in his face and said, “Do you remember Patty? Isn’t she cute?” She also told our daughter, secretly, that, when she grew up, she hoped she didn’t look like me because I was ugly and had “boxcar feet.”
The first time our relationship broke off, it was over a Christmas gift. I’d given Irene a homemade fabric covered box with eyelet lace trim. Inside were many delightful things. One was a crystal jar filled with cashews. On the top was embroidered, “Nuts to You,” with a red heart inside the “o”. She called me Christmas morning to say it was out by the curb, in the trash, then hung up. We didn’t speak for two years.
The second time we separated was due to the fact that, at fourteen, our youngest son informed us that her brother, John, the best man in our wedding, had sexually abused him at age six. Choosing sides, Irene went with her brother. The result: eight more years of alienation. After much effort we’d managed to forgive John. We asked his pastor to take our card to him as he lay dying, but guess who the pastor left the card with? It was never received, so John died without receiving our forgiveness. We tried to reconcile with Irene: she told us never to call again.
It wasn’t until his father had a serious illness that Irene called her son to come to the hospital. When he did, she looked at him and said, “What are you doing here?” She denied she’d even called him.
After thirty-seven years, God has shown his hand. Irene has developed Alzheimer’s. “Nuts to You” became true. Irene hadn’t just denied she’d asked her son to his father’s bedside: she’d forgotten. God used her dementia to allow him one last year with his father, something that was sorely needed.
When my husband’s uncle had gone on trial for abusing our son, I’d told myself that we all sin (and some are whoppers) and that I had enough work sweeping up my own path to clean his. However, in order to forgive Irene’s many slights, I had to develop a different strategy. I’d imagine her in heaven, straining for my arrival, then running to me, crying and saying, “Can you ever forgive me?” at which time, of course, I would, and we’d embrace.
Today, Irene is confused and like a frightened little animal. The most wonderful miracle of all is that I love her! She can no longer remember that she hates me. I sit with her daily. I hold her hand. I fix her hair. I hug her, take her on my arm to play bingo, and wash her clothes so they can stay nice. Just imagine: God gave me the ability to love Irene here on earth! Although Irene has a daughter, she has been alienated from her for thirty-two years. As such, my husband and I are the sole heirs of all Irene owns….and all her brother, John, owned. If that doesn’t give you chills, nothing will.
I know how Joseph felt when his brothers betrayed him: thirty-seven years in the making, God gave me my own Joseph story. Trust Him. He’s writing yours.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28, New Standard Version.
(Although this story is true, the names have been changed to honor God’s amazing power to forgive.)
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