Forgiving Her Brother-in-Law
Prayer helps a woman come to terms with a difficult situation.
The wild blackberry patch was so overgrown it had taken over the back corner of our pasture, vines in a massive snarl. They’d defied my feeble efforts to cut them back.
With our fertile California soil they had even spread into the pear tree. Where to start? I grabbed another tendril. A thorn sliced through my leather glove and into my hand. “Ouch!” I cried. “Darn you, Steve! Darn you!”
I was so angry I could just spit. Steve, my brother-in-law, had promised he’d take care of this. One more bald-faced lie. One more betrayal. I couldn’t pretend otherwise.
It had happened too many times. Steve was my husband John’s youngest brother. We had taken him in when he needed a home. We’d followed the Lord’s bidding. Now I felt used and betrayed, by Steve, but maybe even more by God. I looked down at the rip in my sleeve, my arm covered with deep scratches crusted over with blood and dirt. I’d tried my best to help Steve. And this was what I had to show for it?
I’d actually been excited six months earlier when John had asked about 19-year-old Steve coming to live with us. They’d had a turbulent childhood—alcoholic father, divorced parents, abusive stepfather—and both left home as soon as they could. John went into the Marines. Steve, nine years younger, ended up dropping out of high school and joining a traveling circus. We took our three young children to see him when the troupe came through the area. But every time he looked more haggard. I worried about him and kept him in my prayers. When he called John, tired of sharing his sleeping quarters with elephants, it seemed like an answer from God.
Two horses were trapped on an icy mountain. Would help arrive in time?
“He can stay in the basement studio,” I said. “It’ll be great to have an extra pair of hands around the house.”
“Just until he gets on his feet,” John said. “He can help me at work.” That too was music to my ears. John had been putting in a lot of extra hours in our construction business.
The afternoon of his arrival I made Steve’s bed with fresh sheets, filled his dresser with new T-shirts, shorts and socks, then hung a “Welcome Home” sign on the door of the studio. For dinner I made a huge pan of lasagna.
Steve shoveled the food in his mouth like he hadn’t eaten in days. The kids, Nathan, four, Emma, three, and even baby Mark, looked on in amazement. It felt wonderful knowing the difference I could make in Steve’s life. I was sure with the love and structure of a stable family he’d be able get his life on track.
After dessert I asked, “Steve, would you like to help me clean up?”
“Uh, sure,” he said.
I rinsed the dishes while Steve loaded the dishwasher. “I want you to feel like you’re one of us,” I told him. “That means pitching in with the chores. And we have a few rules, like no drinking.”
“Okay, whatever I need to do.”
At first everything went well. Mornings, Steve went to work with John. He quickly learned how to run the concrete line pump. I greeted them in the evenings with home-cooked meals. But little things began to niggle at me. On the weekends Steve would watch TV for hours while John and I vacuumed, did laundry, scrubbed the bathrooms and changed one diaper after the next. Unless I asked, Steve never lifted a finger to help. Couldn’t he see how much work there was to do?
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I kept telling myself that Steve had been through a lot and hadn’t had the best male role models growing up. I just needed to give him time.
One afternoon I was rummaging through Nathan’s closet for a lost tennis shoe when I found an empty beer can. Odd. Where could he have picked that up? I looked out the bedroom window. I could see the driveway, secluded by pine trees. The perfect place to sneak a beer.
A few days later I was in the kitchen when I saw a flash of color behind those pines. Steve’s head came poking out. I ran outside to confront him.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he replied. “Just exploring.” But his sly smile needled me, and I could smell his breath.
“Steve, have you been drinking?” I demanded.