As we all know, there are times in our lives when, well, “life” happens. For most of us, “life” could be as simple as breaking the heel of our shoe on the way to work; or something more serious, such as losing a well-paying job that supported an entire household. I know I have seen my share of “life” in the past, such as the death of my mother after a bout with cancer, or when I went through a heartbreaking divorce.
There was one very dark instance of “life” that happened to me almost four years ago. It was actually something quite unimaginable, involving myself, my husband, his sister and her husband. Without going into sordid detail, I will tell you that boundaries were crossed, feelings were crushed, and an unhealthy hatred took over our souls like parasites eating through a corpse—and as a result, we were left completely empty, both emotionally and spiritually. My husband’s family fell apart at the seams, as all trusts were broken.
One of the lowest points of this painful situation took place on the floor of my bedroom, where I sat and distraughtly sobbed to my husband that if no one believed my side of the story, if his family truly believed I was a vicious liar, or worse, that I was crazy—then I just didn’t want to live anymore. I didn’t know how to go on in life with a burden of guilt the size of the planet on my shoulders; guilt I had never asked for, guilt I did not personally cause.
During this time, my brother-in-law went to prison for something unrelated. He was not a low-life sort of criminal; this man was high-end, unscrupulous, and very wealthy from done deeds that finally caught up with him. He had an unhealthy desire for money, and would find any corrupt way to support his lifestyle, even at the expense of others. Since he also lacked empathy and had a very narcissistic view of the world around him, it never mattered to him who he hurt to get what he wanted. To him, people were merely stepping stones to get him to his next level of self-serving satisfaction.
While he was in jail, he wrote a scathing letter to my husband and I. He then made copies of it and sent it to the rest of the family. His words were evil, erroneous, and downright untrue; the hatred in his soul for us and his desire to never see us ever again were overwhelmingly apparent. I feared my husband’s family would believe these lies, so I wrote my own letter dispelling them and trying to bring truth to the table. I soon realized that all I was really doing was spinning my sullied wheels in viscous, wretched, rancorous mud.
I had no idea where to turn. Emotionally, I was crippled. I went through each day like a zombie; staring into space, going through the motions, and looking forward to nothing but sleep, where I would be numb to the world around me until the nightmare began all over again the next day.
At my most desperate point, and through some bizarre twists of fate, I was led to a book by a pastor who was relatively unknown three years ago on the East Coast. Although I was brought up Catholic and believed in Jesus Christ, religion was nothing more to me than habitual and rote. However, I began to find comfort in the words of this pastor; his view of God was unfamiliar to me, but it was also something wonderful, loving, and best of all, hopeful. My depression began to lift as my faith seemed to increase every day. I felt that every word I read was directly meant for me and my situation, and for the first time in months, I eased up on myself—I began to see that beating myself up for past scenarios and actions that I could never change was pointless. I had to look forward, and most of all, I had to look “up.” If anyone was going to get me and my husband through this, it was going to be God. But of course, in his own timing…
Toward the end of my brother-in-law’s term, we sent him a letter asking for peace. We encouraged him join us in letting the situation go, and for the sake of the family, to learn how to tolerate each other in a kinder way. He ripped it up and did not respond.
About a year ago, he came out of prison and threw my sister-in-law a 40th birthday bash, which we, of course, were not invited to. I was told by my stepson, who attended, that my sister-in-law became very upset as she made her “speech”, and stated that she was sad because there were people missing from the party that were important in her life.
As 2008 went on, we heard various stories about ongoing problems in their marriage. At my stepdaughter’s birthday party in April, my sister-in-law (who attended alone) and I got into a horrible fight outside my home that ended in a whack to my face and a great, big “F*** YOU!” to both me and my own daughter, who was upset that she saw me get hit. I was too shocked to fight back, and merely stood there with my jaw opened as she screamed to my family and my husband’s family that I was crazy and I needed mental help.
Two years before, that situation would have pushed me so far into a depression; I might not have come out. But this time it was different. I kept repeating to myself, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper” and “With God, all things are possible.” I knew who was holding me up that night, and I knew who kept my tongue in check and my heart full of compassion, even when others were surprised that I didn’t lunge right back at her. My husband’s ex-mother-in-law, who’s a Christian, came outside and told me I behaved like a lady and that she was very proud of me. I knew in my heart I handled the situation in the best way possible with nothing else but the help of the Lord.
As the holidays approached, my mother-in-law told my husband that he had to make things better; that she was tired of the family always being apart, and she was heartbroken that it was Thanksgiving and she was alone with my father-in-law. My husband approached me about making peace with his sister. He wanted to call her and her husband, and ask them to meet up with us to discuss our options for reconciliation. At first I was reluctant; after a while, my husband wore me down with quotes from Christian books and even the bible. You see, my husband was raised Jewish. Over the course of the last year, he began to set his faith with Jesus fully and completely, and has been an amazing source of strength, truth and honesty to me. His faith inspired me; it made me believe once again that all things were possible with God.
We met up with his sister alone, as her husband was now selling Christmas trees every night until 11pm. According to her, he would not be able to meet with us because of this. I didn’t believe her story and was choosing to remember that evil man who didn’t want to have anything to do with us ever again. Something inside of me, however, began to soften. This was not a man who would sell Christmas trees four years ago; as a matter of fact, he most likely would have laughed his fool head off at anyone in the family who would even try to attempt it. I began to wonder if humility had started to creep into his soul; it must have been very humbling for him to stand in a cold lot and sell Christmas trees in order to make an honest living, something he was unfamiliar with. I gave her the benefit of the doubt.
Our meeting with her was long, at some points dramatic, but all in all, effective. She called my daughter a few days later to apologize to her for the way she spoke to her and all seemed well for the time being. My husband, not one to let anyone off the hook, decided to call our brother-in-law. To his surprise, he sounded friendlier than he expected, and seemed to genuinely express that he would like to meet with us to move toward reconciliation. He told my husband that since he was very busy, he would call him before Christmas to set up a time and a place to meet. By five o’clock in the afternoon Christmas Eve, we still hadn’t heard from him.
I looked at my husband and took a deep breath. I told him that perhaps it was up to me to call our brother-in-law, since most of this nightmarish situation concerned the two of us to begin with. I asked him to be in the room with me while I made the call, and I also set up a recorder so as not to have my words misconstrued or twisted in any way. I dialed the numbers of his cell phone, turned on the recorder and took another deep breath. I whispered, “Dear Jesus, help me” and silently prayed that he would guide my tongue in a manner that would make him happy. With relief, I got my brother-in-law’s voicemail. I left a simple, kind message stating that for the last three-and-a-half years, we’ve all been looking for answers that we’re just not going to find, and therefore we felt it was time to bury the hatchet. I said that we all had beautiful children that deserved parents who could show them an example of forgiveness within a family. I asked him to be with us on Christmas Day in the true spirit of Christmas; in a reflection of the birth of Jesus who came down here to offer us all forgiveness of our sins and to bring us hope and peace. I ended the message with a request that he take care of himself, and that we hoped to see him the next day. I hung up the phone, and my husband gave me a hug. We knew we had done all that we could do, and the ball was in his court.
We arrived at my in-laws house about 7:00pm on Christmas Day. My husband’s brother and his wife were already there, but not his sister and her family. We were all skeptical; every so often, as another ten minutes went by, someone would say, “Well, he was supposed to come…” or, “Well, we heard he was coming…they should be here any minute.” I decided to pour myself a glass of wine and pray for strength in my soul.
At 8:00, the doorbell rang. My mother-in-law went to the door, which I could not see from where I was sitting in the living room. I heard bags rustling, kisses hello, and happy, greeting voices—there didn’t seem to be stress coming from the foyer. My sister-in-law bounded into the living room with a smile on her face, and wished everyone a merry Christmas. I got up to kiss her hello, and as I did, my brother-in-law walked into the room.
After I hugged my sister-in-law, I looked at my brother-in-law, who seemed unsure of where to look. I walked toward him and said, “It’s good to see you.” He looked at me and said, “Li! Merry Christmas.” We gave each other a kiss on the cheek and a big hug. In that instant, I knew it was over. Every bad feeling was washed away, and I realized that he wanted peace with us as much as we wanted it with him. It was done.
The rest of the evening was peaceful—joyful, even. My husband and my brother-in-law joked and laughed together as if there was never an evil spirit dancing between them over the past few years. After discussing how funny we thought the old Dean Martin “Roasts” were, my brother-in-law and I sat on the couch with a laptop to look up YouTube videos of my uncle, who appeared on a “roast” for Ronald Reagan. When my two kids came in after being at their dad’s, their jaws fell open upon seeing us all together. He was happy to see my children, and couldn’t get over how big they had gotten since he last saw them. Proudly, my kids were the epitome of polite, accepting human beings. They smiled, gave him a hug, and never once made him feel as though he was a pariah to them. This was truly a family that was healing, and heading for a full recovery. And we owed all our thanks to God.
If anyone had said to me even three weeks ago that I would experience what I did on Christmas, I would have told them they were out of their minds. Even though I knew things would be alright eventually—I really had faith that they would—I didn’t believe it would happen this fast. We prayed hard and our many, many prayers were answered more swiftly and thoroughly than we ever expected. The bad feelings are gone, completely wiped out. They no longer exist. They no longer matter. The healing power of Jesus Christ came into our lives and we are ever so grateful. Because of the Lord, our lives will never be the same. And that’s a really, really, good thing.