Posted by: ritagone | July 22, 2010

Everything Relative

Two weeks ago we were visited by a relative who is the nastiest, most evil person Michael or I know. (And this is not hyperbole on my part, trust me.)  Fortunately she is a relative by marriage and not by blood.  I say “fortunately” because it would frighten me to think that I had any blood ties to this woman, because of her personality and her behavior.  Writer Joyce Lansdorf refers to these kinds of people as “irregular people,” and this woman is as irregular as they come.  Michael and I have managed successfully to avoid being around her for many years, but an announced “road trip” to California made it impossible to avoid this time around, so for four days we hosted her, Michael’s brother, and three of their grandsons.

Now I admit, this is a woman who has had a difficult life.  Abused by her father, a cancer survivor who had a double mastectomy in her mid-20’s back in the day when reconstructive surgery was unheard of, she brought these and other issues into her later years that caused a huge weight problem (300+ pounds) and all the inherent physical ailments that go along with obesity: knee joint failures, high blood pressure, and such.  As a result of her past, she is not a happy person, so she strikes out whenever and wherever she can.

On top of these physical maladies, she struggled for years with questions about Christianity.  Thinking herself more intelligent than most (she’s not), she questioned everything, because (I think) it made her feel superior, that she could ask what she thought of as such intellectual and searching quandries.  Now she fashions herself the keeper of the great truths of Scripture, the legal guardian of how-to’s, especially where three burgeoning teenaged boys are concerned.  But what comes out of her mouth is legalism and cruelty of the harshest order: “Chris, you have 20 minutes on the computer for Facebook, although why anyone would want to waste time on that piece of trash, I don’t know, when you should be reading your Bible!  Those people aren’t your friends!  And don’t you dare lie to me about how many minutes you’ve spent on the computer, or you will be punished.  I’m watching the clock.”  This is an actual diatribe which I listened to from the safe confines of my office across the hall and captured with trembling hand on my computer while I could still remember it.  It is worth remembering.  On another tirade she went on with us as silent listeners, she had recently read a book about Muslims and Islam and she is now convinced that the world is about to be taken over by forces beyond her control, so we’d better get on the defense and strike before we are struck.  This was about an hour-long rant in the cool of a Southern California evening on my patio.  You just sit there and listen because…well, because trying to say anything corrective to her is absolutely pointless.

This woman is so outspoken and rude that it borders on the ludicrous.  Around the dinner table one night, my husband, my son and daughter and her husband and I were talking to her and her husband.  We were discussing films, as we often do.  It’s one of our favorite topics.  And since we were forewarned not to discuss politics, religion, or money with her, perhaps we were foolishly thinking this was a relatively safe topic.  We were wrong.  Michael happened to mention that “Lawrence of Arabia” was his favorite movie, a fact which almost everyone who knows Michael knows about him and recognizes as fact.  Immediately the comment from her was, “Oh, that’s an awful movie!  I hated that movie!”  Now, my first thought was that even if you felt that way, why would you be so socially inept as to say it?  Why immediately drench someone else’s favorite movie with your downpour?  I saw out of the corner of my eye that my son had put his hand over his eyes in dismay.  Then my husband ventured another comment, which is always dangerous with this woman: “Well, most filmmakers have considered ‘Lawrence’ a classic film.”  To which she responded: “Aw, filmmakers don’t know squat about making movies.”  We were all rendered speechless.  What, after all, can you say to a comment like that?

And so it went.

This is a woman who is so mean-spirited to her husband and grandchildren and so critical of the people around her and of whom she’s speaking that it rips your heart out.  And yet she speaks of being a Christian as easily as being alive.  It made my heart and my blood freeze.

The lesson I learned from having her around is that I am very much unable to deal with people like this.  I was an abject failure at loving her.  Instead, to control my own feelings of anger, I retreated to my office where I could prevent myself from punching her lights out.  Not exactly the Jesus way to deal with people.  I am convicted of my failure in this regard.

The other lesson I learned is that I hope and pray that there are people in my life who love me enough to come to me and say, “You are being a jerk” or “You are being mean” or “You are being” whatever and need to change quickly because you are damaging people around you.  Please, God, never let me refuse to listen to those people.  Never let me refuse to have those people present and around me.  Long ago the people around my sister in law made a decision to just acquiesce to her demands and bullying and tirades, and she has grown into the worst kind of human being possible, and now they must all live with the consequences of their inaction.  Fortunately, because she lives in Austin, Texas, I don’t have to do so.  But I sure want to be working on this in my life, because, as Donald Miller says, I don’t want to get stuck in the “incredible selfishness from which I navigate my existence.”

So, in the spirit of trying to learn something positive from every encounter, however awful it is (and this one was indeed awful), I am pressing on, forgetting what lies behind, with the knowledge that God can use this in my life in new and wonderful ways that will make me a better person.  I only wish that my sister in law were thinking the same thing as she spews her venom in Austin, Texas, but I doubt that is happening, which is the most unfortunate thing of all.


Warm regards,  Rita

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