Do you have a difficult person in your life that you'll be seeing over the Thanksgiving holiday or the upcoming Christmas holiday season? Here's a story for you.
My mother-in-law, Ruth, and I had a complicated relationship. Said simpler, we didn't much like each other. I quit taking it personally when I realized she didn't exactly gush about anyone.
She and her husband Russell lived in Indiana, and our family typically alternated holidays between Indiana and Texas, where Sara and I live. As the in-laws grew older, we would go north each year to visit them.
Over time, Ruth got to a point where she wanted to give me a slice of Texas in Indiana. So, she started making pecan pies for me. Now, I'm the only one in the family who will eat pecan pie, so the annual pies were made especially for me.
Her first try was, frankly, the worst pecan pie I've ever had. There were several things wrong, but the most memorable was the presence of some pecan shells in the pie! A little crunchier than I wanted.
I gently tried to pass along via Sara that the pecans needed to be better shelled. I thought that might be the first and last pecan pie, because I knew the family history. As newlyweds, Ruth had baked a cherry pie for Russell. When he pointed out that the cherries hadn't been pitted, Ruth tossed the pie in the trash and never fixed him another cherry pie in seventy years of marriage.
To her credit, Ruth kept trying to bake me a better pecan pie. Now, you must understand that a pecan pie has three states: underdone, perfect, and burned. There is a very small window of time between these three states, which I personally have never gotten right, so I don't bake pecan pies. Ruth kept earnestly trying to get it right.
Most years, the pie was burned. I would load on whipped topping to mask the taste and add moisture as I ate a slice of pie - at every meal. There were other luscious options of pie and cake, but because the pecan pie was strictly for me, I saddled up and ate it throughout the holiday until it was gone.
On occasion, the pie was underdone, a gooey but tasty mess. One time, Ruth achieved perfection, which I welcomed and praised and never received again, despite her best efforts.
I came to see the annual pecan pie ritual not as torture, but as a truly touching reciprocal gesture. The most loving thing Ruth ever did for me was to bake that pecan pie. And the most loving thing I did for her was to eat it.
Think about this story as you're dealing with that difficult person this holiday season. Look for and appreciate even the smallest signs of love, and respond with the most love you can muster. Maybe you're the one who needs to reach out and make the pie, so to speak.