Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Come to Me, and I will Give you Rest

The first lesson I learned as a Christian was to give it all to God--and not to take on for myself those things that only God has the power to determine. I can only think of two times since then that I have been unable due to my own stubbornness to let my worries rest with Him; other than that they have been His--what a blessing! "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Matthew 11:28-29

One of the first amazing answers to prayer I received once I came to know Christ had to do with my crippled relationship with my husband Gary's mother. (For the purpose of privacy I'll give her a fictitious name; let's call her "Midge.") I don't mean any disrespect to her personally--at the end of my story you'll understand what I mean, and I understand if you disagree at this point.
For me, Midge was in so many ways at the time the classic movie mother-in-law, and I thought at the time that I could write a book on the oh-so-many stories I had to tell. Not a thin book. An authoritative tome! I had kept a stack of letters from her at the time, with which I could document much of what I said if I perceived the need. (Yes, I was bitter--to put it mildly.)
I tried to get along with Midge. How to gain her favor just eluded me. I do believe to this day that I was polite, tried to be pleasant, and managed to hold my tongue quite well. (However I know I also did many things that messed it up, mostly through no intentions of my own.) Midge had known her first daughter-in-law Janet and her parents for so many years, and had accepted her quite well into the family. But my family of origin didn't want anything to do with Midge, and perhaps that insult was one cause.
Looking back, I think Midge also expected that when we married we'd suddenly be financially set--maybe that we'd have some sort of inheritance or huge financial gift given us. I think so because she gave us a subscription to Money magazine one Christmas, and she constantly stressed the importance of a 401(k) (which I know is wise enough but we couldn't consider it at the time); there were other reasons as well. Maybe the fact that we were poor was attributed to me somehow. Whatever.
At any rate, hurt feelings were piling up, and it got so that if we anticipated a visit with them, I would have an anxious stomach-ache that would last until the event was over.
As I related in my last blog, I would bring the latest story to work, and I'd get sympathetic laughs from the hearers. There was huge pent-up hurt, and it was messing up my life and our marriage. Though we'd moved from Portland to Everett basically to create distance in that relationship, Midge was at the core of every meaningful discussion (read, "argument") that we had.
I remember at one point, while running errands, thinking that God was working so slowly on this problem, I suppose because I'd been dealing with it for 9 years. By now I'd barely come to Christ, but it seemed like my prayers weren't getting answered. It seemed to me as if God would answer other people's prayers but not my own. I dared become somewhat indignant in my prayer that day, which I don't recommend. God was gracious not to show me at that moment what He was capable of!
We were attending our first church, and though it wasn't a great church, there was for a short season a wonderful Christian woman, Judy, attending who was in charge of women's ministries. I attended a women's retreat there; remember I had lots of pent-up emotion and by this point I was a brand-new Christian. I sat down in the main room with all the other women; center seat on a couch between two others. All avenues out of the room were packed with women seated two or three deep.
We were handed song sheets as the first activity of the day. I read the title of the first song. "God will make a way." My eyes welled up. I read the words of the song: "God will make a way, when there seems to be no way. He works in ways we cannot see; He will make a way for me. He will be my guide; Hold me closely to His side; With love and strength for each new day; He will make a way; God will make a way." I couldn't hold it in any longer. Even now I have tears in my eyes remembering how directly the message of the song spoke to me. I had to leave the room; flustered, I got up from the couch. Of course my anxiety mounted because I had to disturb various women on the way out!
Well, suffice it to say that they didn't get to singing the song. Women crowded around me and tried to comfort and assure me. I so wished to be alone and was so mortified--yet it was so sweet at the same time; a new experience to be sure. I finally went upstairs and had my good cry, and regained my composure. A long while later I went down with the remnants of a strongly puffy face and sat on the steps listening, keeping what distance I could for the time being.
Judy spoke to the group; she was telling how when we give a burden to the Lord, we so often want to continue carrying it for ourselves anyway. The best way, she said, was to give it all to Him; don't hold back anything, don't carry it yourself. He will carry it for you. She asked us to take some time, then, for prayer, to give our concerns all to Him. That was so perfectly timed for my need. I had been carrying this problem with Midge (and no doubt making it worse by all my dwelling on it), and it was like I'd given Him three pieces of a 300-piece puzzle, and expected Him to work it out.
I went outside and sat in a solitary spot. It was such a relief to pray giving Him the whole thing. I told Him, "I don't understand anything about Midge; I don't know why she hates me so much. I don't know why I can't please her. I can't fix it. Please help me!"
Without my knowing it, Gary was that same day calling his parents to come up to Everett and work it out between them and me. He too was exasperated with the problems we had. So when I returned home, it was only a few hours before they were to arrive.
When they came we sat in the living room and discussed how we weren't getting along. Nothing was working: I asked Midge if we could go to counseling, and she flatly refused. I asked her why she hated me so much, and she stood up and yelled, with fists clenched, "Because you married my son!" Boy. I could only mutter that he married me, too.
I told her that the letters she wrote were hurtful and asked why she would write some of the things she did. She got angry and denied that she had written them. I brought them out. She went out the front door and I could hear her comforting Gary for the lousy wife he had.
Inside, Gary's dad was addressing me. "She's sick," he said. I thought to myself that even the last stages of cancer wouldn't justify the things she said and did. "She's got Alzheimer's. She's been diagnosed for two years." He'd kept it a secret for two years from anyone. I was the first person he told, because it affected me the most, apart from himself. Even their own three sons had not been told. Suddenly everything she had ever said or done to me was like various writings on a chalkboard, and it was all suddenly washed away.
In spite of the huge issue that I made of each thing that she ever said or did at the time, I hardly remember any specifics any more. I used to think that our forgiveness of others had to be in spite of remembering the offense; that God had an advantage in being able to forget our sins. Now I realize that over time, when we forgive others, the forgetfulness of the details comes as a blessing. That day, God enabled me to forgive Midge. I'm thankful that He gave me such a clear explanation; I hope I could have eventually grown to forgive her without it.
Imagine--she'd been diagnosed two years (and perhaps been dealing with it before I met her, 9 years before)! And yet, God chose the day after that prayer to reveal the problem to me. From that point on, she seemed to be aware that her influence had come to an end. She honestly was much easier and sweeter-natured any time I saw her from then on, though the trappings of Alzheimers gave her a whole realm of other problems. She lived about 4 more years. Though most of their friends were quite old, and she had been so unpleasantly sick for so long, she still had about 100 people at her funeral. This convinced me that they had known a Midge that I had never met--that once she had been a sweet, kind, loving and beloved friend to many.

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