As children of God, we share the same eternal destiny, but did you know that on earth, we all have a common destiny too? In Romans 8:29 we learn that we are “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.” Regardless of where we start and how far we get in the game of life, we’re all moving in the same direction – toward being more like Christ. Does that ring true to you? Can you look back over two, five, ten or more years and say, “yes, I am more like Christ than I used to be,”?
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I saw evidence of progress in my life and in that of my family – and it was nothing short of (you guessed it!) miraculous.
There’s no sugar-coating it: My family has issues. I won’t even try to go into them; suffice to say we meet a textbook criterion of “dysfunctional.” And so when it seemed probable that 22 of my family members would be together in one place – my house – for the long Thanksgiving weekend, there was widespread trepidation: Can we pull this off? Can we have a happy holiday without inadvertently pushing a combination of buttons that results in an atomic explosion? As some mapped escape routes and others looked for fallout shelters, I decided to proactively pray: Dear Father, prepare the hearts of the people who will be at my house during this holiday. Help us to reflect your love – and especially to Anita, the one adult in our family who does not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Widespread trepidation escalated to near panic when on the Saturday before the holiday, I got a call from my sister Evelyn asking if it would be OK if they came up on Friday after Thanksgiving. “They” are my dad, his wife Nora, and their three children, my siblings Billy, Evelyn and John. But this was not just five more places to set at the already overcrowded table. This visit would end a seven-year silence between my family and my dad’s. (What! I told you we were dysfunctional!)
Again, without going into issues, about seven years ago, my stepmother and I decided to stop pretending we like each other. And then the silence – which I felt most acutely in not being able to see my brothers and sister grow up.
I had actually come to terms with having no relationship with my dad and I had made peace with him through a letter. But Nora was a harder case.
One day a mutual friend called and gave me a good report about Nora. She told me things she had done that just didn’t compute. That was not the Nora I knew. God began to work on me to apologize to Nora.
I am slowly working on memorizing the Sermon on the Mount and one of the scriptures I’m given to meditate on is Matthew 5:23-24: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” One day God stopped me in my tracks to tell me that my gift – my daily sacrifice – is out of order while my brother (stepmother) has something against me. I thank God for such revelations, and simultaneously dread such revelations. My first inclination is, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” This followed quickly by a realization that now that God has put this blip on my radar, to ignore it is willful sin against Him. It so irks to be hemmed in like that!
So within a day or two, I sat down, prayed, and wrote a letter with the express purpose of being reconciled to my stepmother. Thank God I cannot remember anything the letter said, though I feel certain it must have contained an apology.
The letter went unanswered, as I suspected it would. Until now: the rubber was about to hit the road and I was about to find out if I had really forgiven her and wanted to be forgiven. Could I really love her like Christ commands us to? My proactive prayers took on new fervor: Dear Father, help me to open my home to my dad and Nora and to extend to them the same hospitality I would to anyone I’ve invited into my home. Help me to forget the past, ignore the future and just focus on being like Christ in the present.
God gave me a triple miracle answer to prayer. First of all, throughout the four-day weekend, my family got along so well! There were no “explosions,” no casualties and we even had an extended time of thanksgiving between dinner and dessert on Thursday that not only honored God but demonstrated that we, as individuals and a family, had moved more toward the likeness of Christ. Secondly, God’s grace was sufficient for me. Although I was nervous when my dad and his family first arrived and I stood off, busying myself with dinner and other “Martha” activities, as the first night of their visit drew to a close, the walls came down and they were welcome guests in my home. For these two things I had prayed and my prayers were answered.
The third miracle was a surprise. On Sunday afternoon, as everyone was about to go their separate ways, my dad said, “Let’s have a word of prayer.” He said, “It’s really good to see you all together. It’s…” He got choked up and could only give us a thumbs-up as tears filled his eyes and blood rushed to his face. Then Nora, who was standing beside him, broke the silence. I wish I could quote what she said, but the truth is that I was in such awe to hear what she was saying that I’m left with only a general impression of what she said. In one surreal moment, time stood still and I was able to take in the expression on my husband’s face, appreciate the significance of our family circle gathered under the deer-horn chandelier that I had made from Grandpa’s hunting trophies, and look around the room full of my father’s offspring, frozen in reverence – even the babies! Maybe some of my family who read this can add in the comments a quote from what Nora said, but I do know that she apologized to all of us, to me specifically, and for hurting my dad. In sum, these were words that the Nora of seven years ago would not have been able to say. It was a testimony of the transformative power of the Holy Spirit and proof that she and I share the same predestination.
Dad prayed. Everyone exchanged hugs and then loaded up in their cars and took off. In 15 minutes the house was empty, and yet still full with the warmth of Christian and family love.