Forgiveness if For Giving

After almost 25 years of being alone, my Mother got remarried. She is officially Alessandra Hever. It is certainly unusual to attend a parent's wedding (she was 70, he was 72), but she may as well have been 20. She was absolutely joyful. She was incredibly peaceful. She was remarkably youthful. And she was radiant. But this story is not so much about her second marriage as it is about her first. My parents’ marriage ended after 26 years. Mom was 46 years old. That’s the age I’ll be in a few months. She never worked. That’s if you don’t count the endless hours, tireless days and the non-wages of a dutiful wife and mother of five. Every Mother’s Day and every Christmas, we would ask her what she would like as a present. And every year, her response was the same; "Just your love."

Divorce not God’s idea. Neither is cancer or war or abuse of any sort. Who can know the private pain of broken dreams and unkept promises and public failure? I don’t think divorce is on the minds of couples that joins hands and hearts at the wedding altar. Unfortunately, it gradually becomes an option for many. And about half of those who say "I do," eventually decide that they don’t. It’s not that my parents had stopped loving each other, they simply stopped showing it. Somewhere along the line, neither was saying; "I’m sorry. It’s my fault. I’ll do better. I want to please you. I have been selfish. I was wrong." And never, never did we ever hear the question that sooths storms, melts icebergs, and beckons heaven; "Will you please forgive me?"

When Mom filed for divorce, she did so with fear and trepidation, and withered nerves. Dad was no ogre. He suffered from the same sin that Mom had. It’s the one that I have. Maybe you have it too. It’s pride and it causes more blindness and numbness than diabetes. It’s a killer and it’s hurting families in epidemic proportions. Pride is deadly.

The "No-Fault Divorce Laws" went into effect that year in the state of New York and twelve months after filing, my parents were officially unmarried. The letter came in plain white envelope. It was the end of a marriage and so much more. And it was also a beginning…

The entire life draining experience left Mom without too much of anything. As a matter of fact, it robbed her self worth and her joy and her sense of purpose. Just as Moses had come to a place called Rephidim, she too, had come to the end of her own strength—and that’s exactly where Jesus was waiting. Mom answered an altar call given by Muriel Sandbo. She attended a Bible study led by Herb and Evelyn Jacobsen. She got involved with a Care Group at the home of Joe and Celeste Avolese. Then, she started attending Smithtown Tabernacle, a church on Long Island where people speak lovingly of Jesus and carry their own Bibles to church. Quite an adjustment for my Italian born mama.

Mother entered the real estate field and within a year, she was earning accolades. Within five years, she had been inducted to The Five Million Dollar Club. That’s a lot of houses. And a lot of hard work. And a lot of dog tired weekends. Dad liquidated his insurance agency and eventually moved to Florida. Mom continued to be the glue that held us all together for holidays and special gatherings. Sunday pasta rituals ceased due to her long work hours.
Mom was devoted to the children and grandchildren. Mom was committed to her clients. Mom was a cheerleader for her colleagues. Mom was starting to accumulate some nice things with her own money—a huge accomplishment considering her formerly conventional lifestyle. Mom was dutiful and wonderful to her parents, Nona and Papa, who lived downstairs. Mom was enjoying meaningful friendships with women—a slice of life that was cut away in her child rearing years. Mom was learning the Bible and growing in her faith. And Mom was bitter.

If she contributed to the failure of her marriage in any way—that would have been new news to us. We knew too well, the ways in which she felt my Father had failed. She could easily recite that litany in her sleep. Mom spent the eighties achieving record sales at the office and believing the lies of the "It’s My Turn" chapter in the Women’s Movement. Her encounters with Christ in a Bible Study or during a sermon always brought her back to the truth: She needed to forgive my Dad and to seek his forgiveness.

Neither seemed imminent.

The nineties established Mom as a sharp businesswoman and homeowner. She turned sixty in the middle of that decade. The bride who arrived in Brooklyn forty years earlier with a suitcase full of dreams and a few English words, now had a computer and a cell phone and spread sheets not easily deciphered. She continued in her love for her children and grandchildren and buried her parents a year apart. Her distaste for the demands of selling real estate grew, as did her resentment about having to work so hard in a season of life that was supposed to be filled with family time and travel and walks on the beach. Mom continued to learn about the things of God and yet kept a calloused heart concerning Dad. She actually began to only refer to him by his last name. You don’t need Psychology 101 to figure that one out.

Mom remained hardened in that "compartment" of her heart. Along with the blessings and responsibilities came something new: pain. Physical, acute, crippling pain. Appointments with doctors and various tests and a couple of visits to emergency rooms all pointed to one thing---and that was no thing. Neither specialists, nor ER personnel, nor general practitioners, could ever find what was wrong. Once, while visiting me in Virginia, she woke up gasping from the pain and numbness in her legs. It was serious.

Fast forward to the spring of 2000. I was speaking on "Being A Peacemaker" at a wonderful Lutheran church in New York. I closed the day with a challenge to forgive. To my astonishment, Mom stood for prayer. I was so excited to meet her that night for dinner. Anticipation of real Italian food added to my enthusiasm.
"Mommy, I noticed you stood when I challenged the women to forgive someone." She answered in her lovely, melodic northern Italian accent.

"Yes."
"Would you like to tell me about it?"
"Yes."
"Well?"
"Well, I called your Father." (She hadn’t referred to him as "Mannarino!")
"You called Daddy?!"
"Yes."
I was so amazed that after twenty years of bitterness, she had finally come to a place of being able to forgive my Dad. I was moved by the goodness of the Holy Spirit.
"What did you say?"
"I asked him to forgive me."
My jaw literally fell.
"You asked Daddy to forgive you?"
"Yes."
"What did he say?"
"He said it’s about time."
"Then what did you say?"
"I told him I was sorry for the ways I failed him."

The rest of that conversation was mostly about God and about His promises and about never being disappointed when our hope and trust is in Jesus alone. I will never forget that night. I will never forget the sweetness on her face. I will never forget the childlike smile. Pride died and Mom was born on many levels. She checked on my Father time to time before he passed away and even addressed him as "Al." Her circulation problems disappeared and six months after she humbly buried her hard heart, she met a wonderful widower named Robert Hever. Did I mention they got married?

"See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." Hebrews 12:15