The Olive Branch

The last few nights I have been sleep deprived. I squirm under my cozy covers in an attempt to relax, but my chest feels tight, as if my breath is constricted. My body is weary. I attempt to ease my mind, as anxiety-filled scenarios swirl around my head like an annoying replay. After a long hour of tossing and turning, I finally decide to slip out of bed and head downstairs to get something done. In my thoughts, numerous characters choose how they will respond to an invitation for redemption that only God could dream up. The outcome, I cannot control.

The complexity of the situation resembles a gnarled pile of yarn, hundreds of knots and frayed pieces balled up into one. My stomach twists as I consider that the untangling will take years and perhaps a lifetime to accomplish.

I drift down the wooden stairs and glance at the tree, fully decorated with hand-crafted crocheted ornaments, each made generations ago by those who are no longer with us. Those ancestors never would have anticipated the relationship upheavals that would follow them. Tonight, the twinkling lights illicit numerous Christmas memories, and I remember the days before the devastation.

One was the waterpark Christmas, I was nine months pregnant as I sat by pool trying to avoid the splashes of the young ones.  They would howl with anticipation as they slipped down the enormous slides. The minute they would land in the wet, they would beg, “Can we do it again?”

Another was a December gathering at the family cottage on the bay. The nine young cousins, or “tousins” as they named themselves, spent hours crammed into a tiny closet “clubhouse” creating skits that caused us to roar with laughter. This property, where the sunsets light my heart on fire with hope and hunger for goodness, is a place where it feels like more harm was done than good.

One holiday we gathered in our home. The “tousins” assembled on our decorated staircase; they laughed as they wore Santa hats and posed for the camera. Some had lost teeth and were starting to grow up. I remember a picture of the young parents gathered as couples on the couch; they had no clue how to raise those wounded rascals.

A final memory emerges—the “gift card” Christmas when we had begun to drift. Not one of us anticipated the carnage that awaited many of our hopes and dreams. Soon every heart was shattered, and walls of mistrust and vows of unforgiveness were erected.

It’s been over a decade since then, and every year around this time I struggle. There is deep grief as I wish for my extended family to have a holiday or celebration where we might smile, laugh, and love again. I compare my story to others and feel the weight of abandonment. As I touch the brutal scar of betrayal, I envy others and battle to make the most of what I have.

I desire to run away from my past that carries so much pain. I bury the longing for love, forgiveness, and hope.

This year Thanksgiving came, and a reconciled handful gathered together. Some made awkward visits while others declined. My sadness again erupted. What could I expect after all these years?

A few days later the phone rang with details from my brother of an upcoming wedding. His son will be the first of the “tousins” to marry. His vows will be exchanged at the family cottage—the place of the sunsets. My heart braced for the pain and debris of our history as I anticipated our exclusion. Though I love my nephew, the barricades of brokenness will be too big to overcome for his special day. I will miss out on the honor of an invitation. I presume the usual: no gathering or joy, no dancing or laughter for me. Then, I was stopped in the midst of my anticipated loss. My brother’s solid voice interrupted like a glistening sword slicing between the fine line of doubt and hope.

“EVERYONE will be invited to the wedding.” he declared.

It seems like time stood still as I was overcome with emotion. I paused as confusion, gratitude, and hope were stirred.

My nephew has offered mercy and invited the whole family to a banquet of redemption. An olive branch has been extended; I wait to see who will pick it up.

Maryhelen Martens is a lover of whimsy and play, beauty and depth, all of which she experiences in her relationships. She finds life in authentic conversation, walking alongside others and ultimately Jesus – who has been so kind. Each day, she draws from a larger bowl of grace for herself and others. Maryhelen, a mom of three, currently lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with Keith, her husband and co-laborer of 29 years.