Last fall I had a bit of an altercation with my sister-in-law, Penn's older and only sister.
The whole family was assembled at Penn's parents' house. We were just about ready to depart for home when the brouhaha went down.
I was standing on one end of the kitchen, with Penn and Nicknack. SIL was on the other side of the kitchen. About ten family members were between us.
I was just thinking, "I wonder where I put my shoes..." when I realized my SIL had sort of launched into a little tirade. About me! It was basically a series of critical observations about how I tell Penn every little thing to do or say or think, and how he does it.
This all stemming from the fact that she brought him some "Mickey's" beer (because it was his favorite twenty years ago, when he was 18) and he oh-so graciously (or not) refused her kind gesture by misquoting me. "No thanks, Kitty says Mickey's is ghetto." What I said was that Mickey's was "tacky." And I said this in passing, about five years ago, in the beer aisle of the grocery store. I had no idea that comment would come back to haunt me these many years later.
Here are a few things you should know about me. I cry at the drop of a hat. I have a short temper. I have a very thin skin. It's not a good combination and it's never pretty when the stars align and I feel a) angry and b) hurt... at the same time.
So I instantly felt egregiously misunderstood and publicly attacked. At first, I tried to defend myself. For about four seconds. Then I felt the waterworks starting. Then I flew off the handle. Then I said some rather harsh things to Penn about said SIL, within earshot of everyone in the kitchen. Then I stormed out of the house. I hate for people to see me cry, don't you?
I was so upset as I stood by the Jeep waiting for Penn to collect our things (and child), join me, and most importantly UNLOCK the vehicle. I was fuming. I was injured. I was indignant. And I was relieved that the deluge of rain hid my tears. At least those driving by wouldn't know what was up. I still had some semblance of dignity. Then I looked down and realized I was standing in a muddy puddle in my stocking feet. In my dramatic and hasty exit I had failed to remember to put on shoes. My MIL had to mail them to me.
I railed against my SIL most of the way home, declaring that I never wanted to see that horrible person again. I felt quite supported when Penn and his brother (who was riding with us) both took my side and agreed with me that SIL had a big jerk.
About a month passed and Thanksgiving approached. Hurray! I had already made special plans with my mother (my family always eats together on Friday) for Thursday and was able to bow out of the annual Penn Family Thanksgiving experience.
By this time I had gotten over being angry. I even thought about writing a note to SIL. You know, not exactly an over-the-top apology, but something to smooth things over. But every time I thought about how I might word this little note it came out very Anne of Green Gables: "What I said about you was true, too, only I shouldn't have said it!" Even though I wished I'd reacted differently I still felt that she was 90% in the wrong. When I shared with my mother the general gist of the note I was considering she quietly noted, "I'm not sure I hear an apology anywhere in what you plan to say." I decided I just wasn't that sorry.
I opted instead to send a case of Mickeys (with a bow) along with Penn and Nicknack. I thought he would come walking in and she would have to laugh and that would break the ice.
But what really happened was that she took one look at it and said, "That's NOT funny." She spent the rest of the day ignoring him, going so far as to remove herself from whatever room he entered.
Well, when he told me that I got all fired up again. "I certainly am glad I did NOT send her that note!" I huffed, eyebrows raised. I decided I would avoid all of Penn's family gatherings from now until eternity. Penn and Nicknack would still go. Everyone would be happy.
A few weeks ago I was thinking about the incident again. All of a sudden I realized that I had overreacted! Duh! Up until that point I was really just so focused on what my SIL had said and how incorrect her assessment was and all the little things I didn't like about her. Even though I knew I hadn't reacted well, I felt like my response was normal and justified. How almost any ordinary person would react. So this feeling of remorse took me by surprise, as God reminded me that I wasn't supposed to behave like any old ordinary person. Especially when I represent "a Christian" to my SIL, a nonbeliever.
Since that realization it seems as if almost every topic that has come up in my Bible study group has reminded me of how badly I acted and how I should have behaved. Every book I've picked up seems to directly address the subject. And each time I've thought about it I've said to myself, "I guess I'm going to have to send that note after all." Cringe!
Well. I guess today was the day.
Here are just a few of the verses I came across in the course of my reading this afternoon in ONE chapter of a book I am currently reading:
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14
In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. 1 Timothy 3:11
The heart of the righteous weighs its answer, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil. Proverbs 15:28
For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. Matthew 12:33-37
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14
Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18
That word "reckless" flashed up at me like a neon sign. Reckless! Reckless! Reckless! I was finally totally convicted and practically jumped up off the sofa to write my note that very instant.
As it so happens I wrote a few belated Christmas thank you notes just this morning, so my notecards, stamps, address book, and return address labels were still assembled on the table. Handy.
It took three attempts before I felt my note was contrite enough. As I proofread my final effort I was amazed to find that every word was sincere. It's probably a good thing I waited until I really felt sorry to say I was sorry. I think a half hearted attempt could have made things worse.
I have no idea if my SIL will accept my apology. And I still don't want to see her. Not because of pride. After all this, believe me, pride has left the building. But there is still a great deal of potential awkwardness. Now would be a great time for my husband to accept a job transfer to Zimbabwe.
I am going to drop the letter off at the post office when Penn gets home from work. I just want it to get there as soon as possible.
And from now on I'm going to clothe myself in gentleness before I leave the house so I don't have to suffer this humiliation ever again!