Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Bitter Sweet

These are the three grown up kids left in our family - Shelly, the youngest, Amy in the middle, and Christine now the oldest.

When I was a kid I spent many summers, Easter, and Christmas breaks from school with my Aunt Barbara. My mother worked full time to help keep up with the bills and there were no day cares in those days. My aunt lived about a quarter mile from a little corner convenience store. She was a smoker and liked chocolate. Many times she would send me down to the store (I was the oldest of all four kids, hers and my little sister) with a note and money. The note would give the store owner permission to sell me a pack or two of Salem cigarettes and usually a large milk chocolate Hershey bar. My favorite was the dark chocolate Hershey used to make, which back in the day, we called bitter sweet chocolate. Sometimes she'd let me get a small bitter sweet chocolate bar that I ate all by myself because no one else liked it.

Now that I am older (not old yet!) and have found other meanings to the phrase "bitter sweet" I am glad that the bitter sweet chocolate I still enjoy is now referred to as "dark chocolate". I think someone who likes dark chocolate and experienced bitter sweet experiences in their own life came to the conclusion that the chocolate had to be called something else because it is always a good experience. The bitter sweet of life is often times hard to swallow!

Yesterday I told you about Mikey. Today I'd like to tell you about her sister, Christine. (The photo on the left is Christine with Vinnie and me at Vinnie's Celebration of Life party.) She came to America one year after Mikey. She had become a hand full in Italy (what else can I say, here - she was 17) and she wanted to come live here with her brother. She didn't speak any English either but unlike Mikey who spoke English for 8 years of his life before he went back to Italy, Christine was barely talking when she left the USA as a little girl.

Christine is now married with a child from before this marriage, a child with her husband, and three step children from her husband's previous marriage. She loves the Lord and is struggling with the death of Dad, brother, and the usual struggles that come with raising a large family and walking with God is this difficult world we live in! Without telling too much detail about our lives together when she came to live with us, I'll just say that she sure has changed from when she came to America! I could see that God brought her and Mikey here for a purpose. I could see that there were difficult things they had to work through. I also knew that God used all kinds of tragedies in my childhood to shape me into a woman that I actually liked being most of the time. I wanted to pass that on to Mikey and Christine. I especially could see an awesome spirit in them. I believe God gave me a glimpse of who He created them to be. I wanted so much for them to know that part of themselves. Blended families are a challenge in any household and it's normal, under our circumstances, for step children to want to tear a new family apart, and Vinnie and I were hoping they would melt into our family. It sure has taken a long time to get us there!

Just before Vinnie died, Michael and Christine each came to me and asked me to forgive them for any of the ways they have hurt me over the years. They said that their lives really had been changing and that they appreciated everything I tried to do for them. They wanted to have a better relationship with me, especially now that their dad was going to die. Sadly, though I did forgive them, I wasn't sure I was ready to believe them that they were really changing. I'd heard this line before and wasn't ready to surrender my heart to another round of hopeful thinking. I told them that if they wanted to pursue a friendship with me, they would have to start by praying that God would soften my heart. I know they must have. I know others must have been praying for this too. My heart was beginning to change.

By the time Vinnie died, I was beginning to see that perhaps it was true that they were really making an honest effort to seek the Lord in their lives and to want to stay part of the family Vinnie and I wanted us to be so long ago. I could see this not so much in what they said to me at times, but mostly by the way they related to their spouse/future spouse. There was something different thanks to the love of a good church and good Biblical counsel! It's a miracle.

I was thinking about the bitter sweet this morning (that's Christine, her husband Craig and me below)
because I am once again realizing some good that
has come out of all this tragedy. Christine and I have had some wonderful conversations since her dad died and even more heart to heart conversation since Mikey died a few days ago. It's sad that tragedy can be such a major part of what brings us closer together but it does sometimes. It also gives us greater opportunity to draw close to the Lord. Jesus told us to remember him as bread and wine, when we eat and drink to remember him. I guess there was no such thing as bitter sweet chocolate then or it may have been included in the items Jesus would chose to have us remember him. After all, it's usually the bitter things in life that draw us to the sweetest aspects of our relationship with Him. It's probably why the bitter is such an important part of being a Christian. Without it would we really long to cling to Him like when we do when all we've known and loved is gone and we find we only want the love of the One who's love never fails us or leaves us? It is bitter sweet for sure!

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