"May I take your order, please?" The voice broke into my thoughts, above the din of the busy Portland, Oregon restaurant. December is always such a hectic time of the year. I was relieved that a waitress had finally come. As I turned to face her, I froze. Could it really be my sister Jiji--who lives in the Philippines--taking my order?
"Jiji!" I cried. I stood up and hugged her. "Happy birthday, Jen," my younger sister answered, flashing a big smile. A few steps behind Jiji came my mother. Another surprise. What were Mom and Jiji doing here? My husband, two daughters and some close friends had invited me out for dinner. As my Mom embraced me, and I heard my friends chuckling and conversing in the background, I realized they had just pulled a big surprise on me. I honestly had no idea about Mom's and Jiji's plans to be here for my thirty-first birthday!
An atmosphere of joy and merriment pervaded that evening. Later, however, as the party wound down, a barrage of confusing thoughts filled my mind. Why hadn't my husband been considerate enough to let me know they were coming? How long were they staying? Michael should have known my Mom and I had a very strained relationship! Outwardly I smiled, but inside resentment began to fester.
A busy and somewhat turbulent three week visit followed, as Mom and Jiji stayed for Christmas, and into the new year. We all shopped, baked, planned Christmas day, and went to church together. Achieving harmony in our daily schedules soon became a challenge. My slow-paced lifestyle clashed with Mom's tireless energy. Tension was mounting.
Finally, an angry confrontation erupted between Mom and me. Past hurts were dug up and spewed out. It became so bad that Mom said, "I will move in with Michael's mother for the remainder of my stay."
The next morning, following my husband's advice, I forced myself to do something I found very difficult. I walked into my Mom's bedroom and said, "Mom, despite our differences, I still love you. I don't want you to leave. I want you to stay."
Tears filled our eyes. Mom looked at me, and said, "I am not going to move out, Jennifer. I will stay." Then she walked over and gave me a tight hug. "I do care for you," she added, "though you may not think so. I care for you very much."
That single incident tore down walls of bitterness and pride between us. My anger and bitterness toward my mother had always prevented me from seeing her good qualities. The forgiveness and unconditional love we extended to each other at this time paved
the way for the Lord to do a deeper, purifying work in my heart. He opened my eyes to see many positive qualities about her that had always been there but which I had never appreciated before--her deep love for God and His people, for instance, as well as her generosity. The Lord softened my heart towards my Mom, softened a part that had grown cold and crusty with the years.
On her last day in Portland, Mom treated me to lunch. Guiding my 3-year-old daughter through a chaotic buffet line was challenging and tiresome. Then we finally settled down. "Jen," my Mom said, "I just wanted to take you out to lunch to tell you I love you, and I am proud of you. I am thrilled to see what God is doing in your life. You are a very good wife, and a caring mother. I see God using you mightily in the worship leading ministry, and now also more and more in the area of Christian writing. You have matured in the Lord."
My heart warmed as I drank in these affirming words. They were unexpected, yet the Lord only knows how deeply and how long I had yearned to hear them!
Later, when I dropped Mom off at the airport, I cried. This was the first time in my life that I wept when we parted. Wistful regret filled my heart for the years we had lost in our relationship, but I looked forward to a richer and more loving bond between us in the future.
What a wonderful birthday surprise God had prepared for me--a work of healing in my heart which He accomplished. "He will turn the hearts of the [parents] to their children, and the hearts of the children to their [parents]. . . ."Malachi 4:6(NIV) Whether you're 31, or older, it's never too late for God to restore a wounded family relationship. Perhaps God wants to do a new work in your family. Are you ready?