I first met my father-in-law forty years ago. While I had been very close to my own father who had passed away two years earlier, I knew that the relationship between my husband-to-be and his father was rather strained to say the least and for good reason.
My husband had not been raised in a Christian home. He came to know Christ because one of his friends invited him to church when he was 13 years old. There, my husband who even at that young age was an agnostic who was moving toward atheism, heard the Gospel and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.
While his parents never prevented him from attending church, they never encouraged him to do so either. He took some ribbing from his dad about "getting religion" but eventually as he observed the change in his son, my father-in-law decided it "wasn't hurtin' the boy none" either.
When my husband was 17 years old, his dad didn't come home one night. The next thing he and his mother knew was that his dad had filed for divorce (Indiana is a no-fault divorce state) and was getting married to his mom's best friend. This left my husband, at 17 years of age, caring for his legally blind mother who was in poor health with only her social security disability check to support them.
My husband remembers the day he had to go and see his father. His dad fixed him steak and eggs for breakfast. Furious at his dad, he lashed out at him for not only abandoning his wife but him, his own son. That's when my father-in-law dropped the bombshell. He was not his biological son. He had married my husband's mother when when my husband was two years old and later adopted him.
My father-in-law is a blunt man who has a poor way with words. He started out by saying, "You're not my son." He went onto explain why and ended by saying, "You are my son". Any parent who has adopted a child understands that your child is your child whether biological or not but at 17 my husband did not understand that. He only heard the words, "You're not my son" and when you coupled that with what was going on, it is easy to understand why my husband felt not only abandoned but rejected by his father. He in essence, became "fatherless" that day.
Within a few short weeks, his mother suffered a stroke in her sleep from which she never awakened. With no mother or siblings and a father who had said "You're not my son", it is not surprising that he felt so alone and unwanted.
A glimmer of hope shone on the horizon. His dad's brother and his wife invited him to come and live with them in Illinois. My husband loved them and eagerly accepted their kind offer only to have it dashed by his father. "He's my son and he is coming to live with me!"
Now in addition to being hurt, my husband was angry. He did not want to live with his dad and his new wife and anyone reading this can probably understand why. His dad had said, "You're not my son." so why didn't he simply just let him go? It was a stormy eight months until my husband turned 18 and could leave.
He wanted to go to a Christian college but his dad said he could stay right where he was and go to a state university. He wouldn't help him with tuition but he could offer him room and board. My husband was adamant. He felt a call to the ministry and wanted to go to the out-of-state Christian college. "Then you're on your own!" declared his father.
So, one morning in late August, with enough money in his pocket for the first semester and a social security survivor award letter, my husband climbed into the ten year old Chevy pick-up truck he had inherited in the divorce settlement. He drove 400 miles, got enrolled, threw himself into his studies and uh... met a brunette from Minnesota who had the uncanny ability to tear him away from his beloved books from time to time.
Through the years, the relationship between my husband and his father has been strained at best. My own father had not known the whereabouts of his only sibling, his older brother, for 17 years and I knew the pain it brought. I was a firm believer in keeping the light on in hopes of reconciliation. If my father-in-law wasn't going to come see us (he hadn't come to our wedding or my husband's college graduation and he had only visited us five times in 38 years); we were going to go see him. So, every couple of years I would convince my husband that we should make the 600 mile trek to his house and spend Christmas with his dad.
In 2008, while I was going through chemotherapy, my father-in-law's wife of nearly 31 years passed away. Unable to travel myself, I encouraged my husband to go to the funeral. He probably would have except for the fact that his dad told him he needed to stay with me under the circumstances and it was okay.
In the years that followed, we sensed that a change was taking place. He came and spent a week at our house. He called us occasionally rather than it being us just calling him. He didn't talk about us having "religion" and we heard through the grapevine that he wasn't drinking as heavily as he had done before.
One day, I got a call from his wife. He was battling prostate cancer once again and refused to call my husband. One day, she went on a hunt and found my cell phone number and called me. She didn't want us to let him know we knew but she believed we needed to know and could we... could we pray?
Eventually, my father-in-law did reach the point that he told my husband about the cancer. I'm glad he did. This past summer we learned things weren't going too well. They changed his treatment and things got better but at 81 years of age, he was starting to have trouble walking and he tired quite easily. I had urged my husband to go see him but it seemed like my words fell on deaf ears. Then one day my husband surprised me by saying, "I think we need to go see my dad."
It was a good visit. It was a very good visit. Despite his health issues, my father-in-law seemed like a changed man. On the last day of our visit, my husband spoke up suddenly and told his father he needed to apologize to him. Tears rose up in my father-in-law's eyes and he put up his hand, "No, no. You have nothing to apologize to me for. You're a good boy. You always have been." Both myself and my father-in-law's wife stopped him. "No," we said in unison. "You need to let your son say what he has to say."
We watched a son carrying over 40 years of hurt and rejection, cry in his father's arms and we saw a father weep as he clutched his son. We heard a father speak of how despite the fact that he had "abandoned" his son, God had cared for him and he was proud of the man his son had become.
He then reached for me and said how thankful he was that God had given me to my husband and that I was standing by his side.
We all stood together for a little bit, crying and then my husband began to pray for his dad and his wife. When he ceased, I began to pray likewise. Standing in that living room praying for my father-in-law was in itself a miracle but I was not prepared for what happened next.
At the end of the prayer, my father-in-law began to pray for us! He thanked God that he and his son had come together once again. He thanked God for the man his son had become despite everything. He thanked God for me and then he began, like a patriarch of old, to pray blessing upon us and prayed for our wayward son.
On the long drive back to Minnesota, my husband and I could not stop talking about what we had just experienced. We never would have believed it except we were there and witnessed this transformation of my father-in-law. We realized that a "family tree" that was broken, had been made whole again as a father and son prayed for one another and then moved on to pray for the third and fourth generation of Reynolds' men.
With God, all things are possible and He is the God who not only saves and heals; He is the God who restores.