I thought I was fine when I hung up the phone. Sure, I was disappointed that our conversation got cut short. But I understood. It’s hard to talk when you are tired. And when you’re old, you sometimes get tired a lot. But it wasn’t just that. Sluggish speech, several slips of the tongue, and a bundle of zigzags left me wondering about the contents of the cup he said kept slipping out of his hands. We wanted to talk but soon both agreed that we could continue later.

A few moments later I was on the phone again. My aunt had tried to visit with him also, but it had not gone as well.  Untempered comments stung.  Tears flowed harder when I tried to encourage her. “He’s just sick. He’ll be better tomorrow. Remember he had such a good day yesterday.” My words plunked like rocks against a clay jar as they replayed in my mind all day. Wasn’t that the very thing she was told as a child when her daddy had been drinking? She would correct her elders saying, “No, he’s drunk.”  I felt angry that another loved one has generated similar pain in her. Edges of my naivety are being etched away.  What used to be foreign to me I now confront in my own family.  I am called to honor and to be honorable in a relationship colored by addiction.

Years ago I learned not to depend on this troubled loved one to meet my needs. But God didn’t let me write him off and move on. He wanted to develop something deeper in me. He knew that His love wasn’t making a clear connection so He asked if I would let Him direct his Love through me. Then God did the impossible. He poured on tenacious Love blended with generous portions of forgiveness. As a result, a strong relationship has formed between us and an awareness of a loving God has finally dawned.

Sharing the honor

When my aunt reconnected with us, we combined efforts. Consistently she spends time with him, relives the old days, and gathers newspaper clippings of his favorite puzzle for him. Most of the time she accepts the good with the bad just to keep in touch.   His health has been declining; alcoholism has accelerated the process. We know we must enjoy him while we can. Yet sometimes we forget why. Sometimes it’s still hard to pick up the phone. Painful memories surface and old wounds are often pricked. He admits other people haven’t stuck around. The power of God’s tenacious Love keeps me.  Recently he added, “Let’s not ever drift apart.” When he says “I love you” I know he means it.

How did this happen? Specific strategies have insulated me enough emotionally and yet sustained an honorable connection.

  • I believe God loves me.
  • I remember God has always taken care of me.
  • I expect nothing from the person.
  • I unload my feelings on God.
  • I have hope that God is using me.
  • I believe love and forgiveness are inexhaustible gifts from God. 
  • I can choose to limit my interactions with him.
    • I happen to live in a different state.
    • I can choose to make my phone calls shorter or less frequent, while still cheerful.
  • I am comforted knowing that his needs are being met.
    • I take time to thank those who are caring for him.
  • I act authentically regardless of expectations.
    • I can be myself and enjoy sharing about my life.
    • I can allow him to love me as best he can.
    • I can speak up for others.
    • I can let some things go.

What we are doing is as important as any spiritual discipline, for it is practical religion that God requires of us. Love and forgiveness cannot be contrived, no matter how earnestly one tries. But God has plenty. I like to picture accessing them in jars flowing from never empty storehouses in Heaven.

The holidays often increase contact with our loved ones. How can we carry God’s goodwill with us and remain intact? I am thankful to my aunt for being someone who shares my disappointments and tough feelings about living around alcoholism. We believers are part of a beautiful system of comfort. Paul writes about it in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

I do not know the trauma that brings you tears, but I am praying for you as I write. May you let God’s inexhautible Love infuse your relationships this holiday season.


For further encouragement:

Listen to audio presentations from Ohio Women’s Retreat.  “Love and Forgiveness” by Buffy Halvorsen.

Read One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian.  Disclaimer:  Found this resource while preparing this article.  It comes with high reviews from reputable sources, but have not read it for myself yet.

Music Keith & Kristyn Getty: Oh, How Good It Is – Live


Cover Photo Credit:  Thye Aun Ngo