Angrily flipping my phone shut, I seethe. That woman, my mother-in-law, Gloria! Ooh, I’ve just had it with her…she called to let me know that she doesn’t want me to cook this year’s Thanksgiving turkey. She said that she really thought my turkey last year was “too dry” and she’ll take care of preparing it this year. For thirteen years now I have put up with her snide and not-so-subtle put-downs and I’m finished -- I mean it. I hope she chokes on her turkey.
As I try to slow my breathing back to normal, the phone in my hand vibrates once again. It had better not be Gloria! Uh, oh -- it’s the school. This can’t be good, either. Nervously, I answer.
“Mrs. Brannigan? Jessie has been caught fighting and, as you know, we have a zero tolerance policy towards violence on school grounds. She’s suspended now for three days and you need to come get her immediately.”
I sigh with both embarrassment and defeat. Jessie is my fourteen year old daughter. Three years ago we adopted Jessie and her sister, Brianna, out of foster care. Everything was good for awhile. John and I were thrilled to finally be parents and equally happy to rescuing the girls out of the horror that had been their life. As we fostered and then adopted the girls, they really began to emerge from their self-protective shells and we just fell in love with them. We’ve been so thrilled to watch them grow. Jessie is the quieter one, but has made so many self-confident strides since the adoption. Brianna is just a bundle of sweetness, always quick with a hug or a smile.
But over the last year, Jessie has changed. An angry, rebellious spirit has begun to emerge and I’ve been driven to my knees so many times, searching for answers. I really am fearing that love just isn’t enough to make up for her early years of deprivation and abuse. We’ve started her in counseling and even began some family sessions last month. But I’m so fearful of things that Jessie’s rebellious and hurting heart may get her involved in. I know God is bigger than this, but I’m still so scared for my girl.
I just wish that others could see underneath Jessie’s anger -- see the hurt little girl that is still in there. But all they naturally see is her outward actions and it repulses them. My heart just breaks over this. John and Brianna are what are keeping me going right now. Otherwise, I might be tempted to succumb to the despair that overwhelms me. Well, those two and God - He’s definitely carrying me through these troubled waters, too.
I get in my van and start driving the route to school. As I do, I begin to pray for Jessie. Unbidden, an image of my mother-in-law pops into my head. I do not want to think of her right now - I have enough problems! But the Lord is persistent and the image remains.
“Lord, not now!” I say out loud. But, I hear God’s small, insistent voice.
And what about Gloria? You want others to see Jessie for who she really is, but do you look past Gloria’s outer person and see who she is on the inside?
“I know who she is, Lord,” I say out loud, “She’s a self-centered, seventy-something witch who has never accepted me.”
“Ok, ok. ‘Witch’ is probably not a nice word. But still…Right now my problem is Jessie. What are we going to do with her?”
Jenna…I know all about Jessie. Let’s talk about Gloria. She’s scared -- and lonely. You haven’t exactly been available to her since John’s dad died.”
“You know I’ve been busy, Lord - the girls and all? And besides, it’s kind of hard to get close to someone who has it out for you!”
Jenna… Gloria’s lonely and she’s scared. Have you ever considered that her animosity has more to do with herself and not you? Gloria’s trying to maintain control during a time in her life when everything seems out of her control.
“Sounds like a spiritual problem to me” I pronounce as I turn into the school parking lot.
I put the van in park and bow my head. “All right, Lord. I’ll try. I will try to look past Gloria’s prickliness and love her, just like I want others to love Jessie… just like you love me.”