“What is this supposed to mean?”
Jessica’s mouth went dry. A few moments earlier she’d opened her front door expecting a quiet, sunlit morning. Now she felt the full force of a Category 5 hurricane ripping through her. Reeling backward against the furious gale, she caught sight of a small yellow rectangle whipping through the air. Tiny blue flowers danced above the letters T-h-a-n--. It was the thank you note she’d mailed her mother-in-law a few days ago.
Jessica’s tongue sought moisture, “I...uh...I...um...”
“What is this?” the wind roared, brandishing the card.
Her brain connected. “It’s a thank you card.”
“I know what it is,” howled the gale, “Do you send thank you cards to your mother?”
Of course I do, thought Jessica, I wouldn’t dream of not sending Mom a thank you for a gift. Besides she loves to get any mail that’s not a bill.
“We do not send thank you cards to family members in this family. Only to friends.”
Note to self Jessica’s inner scribe winced.
“You don’t treat us like family. We never feel welcome here.”
The storm raged, spinning off cyclones detailing Jessica’s latest misdeeds. Then, destruction complete, the whirlwind spun on her heels, slammed the door, and moved on.
Jessica stood speechless amid the swirling wreckage of her peaceful morning. Her hands, so steady before, began shaking. What did I do? It was only a note to say thank you for my birthday present. I thought she’d like it.
A knock on the door startled her. Surely lightning would not strike twice in one day. Jessica peeked through the window, then opened the door to the smiling face of her neighbor, Irene.
“Donna looked like she was on a tear. I thought you could use some help.”
“Irene, please come in.”
“So what’d you do wrong now?”
Jessica retrieved the discarded card.
“Hmmm,” Irene nodded, “You did do something wrong.”
Jessica’s eyes widened. “What?”
“You married her son.”
“Oh Irene, I don’t know what to do.”
Irene gently guided Jessica into the kitchen and settled her in a chair. The rains fell.
“Here’s a tissue, honey. I’ll get you something to drink. Iced tea OK or would you prefer something stronger?”
Jessica laughed, a bit of sunshine broke through the clouds. “Iced tea’s fine.”
While Irene poured the tea, Jessica recounted as much of the incident as she could remember. It had all happened so quickly.
“She said I don’t treat her like family.”
“Honey, that’s a compliment.”
“But I try. Mom made it so easy to obey the commandment to honor your father and mother. But I can’t seem to figure my in-laws out. The rules are different.”
“You’re right hon, their rules are different. They’re based on fear, not love.”
“She’s afraid of losing her son. He went to college, moved out, and got married. You’re just one more reminder that her son left home.”
“But we live in the same town.”
“Doesn’t matter. He makes his own decisions now and she can’t let go. Look at your sister-in-law. She doesn’t work or support herself. She runs errands for her mom. She’s given her life over to remaining a child at home forever. But to Donna, she’s the loyal one.”
“It seems so hopeless. How do I honor a mother-in-law like her?”
“By not following the rules of fear, but the rules of love. Be patient. Be kind.”
“First Corinthians 13 stuff?”
“Yes, and you’ll honor her by cherishing her son and your marriage. Focus on that. As much as it depends on you, try to keep peace, but don’t let her bully you. Stop beating yourself up when she gets angry. She’s trying to manipulate you.”
“But all this furor over a card. Why?”
“Maybe because it wasn’t her idea.”
Irene refilled their glasses, “Jess, this tea is delicious.”
Jessica closed her eyes and bathed in the soft zephyr of kind words.
“Irene, you’re such a cool mother-in-law. When I see you and Melinda together, you’re so happy. I wish...”
“Honey, I had difficult in-laws and I learned from them. Instead of fretting about what you don’t have, think of this as an opportunity to learn how not to act. Your future daughter-in-law will thank you. I’ll be praying.”
Calm once more, Jessica smiled. “Thanks, Irene.”
“Anytime...and one more thing.”
“I wouldn’t send Donna any more cards.”
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