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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Last year, my husband of 36 years died. My pastor came over a few days later to help me clean up my yard because my husband was a pack rat. I did not realize that some of the items I thought were junk were valuable. My pastor took the items, sold them for scrap and kept the money for himself. He also took my husband's truck to his shop, stripped it and sold the parts.

I have tried calling him but he won't answer or return my calls. I tried talking to him after church only to have him shut the door in my face. I have written him a letter -- no response.

Abby, I don't want to take my pastor to court. I'm beginning to lose my faith. What should I do? -- LOSING MY FAITH IN KINSTON, N.C.

DEAR LOSING YOUR FAITH: My gut reaction is to scream, "Call the cops!" The man you have described is a wolf in shepherd's clothing and it could save other trusting widows from being fleeced as you have been. If you can't bring yourself to take that "pastard" to civil court, at least report these thefts to the judicatory or regional board of your denomination so they can deal with him.

DEAR ABBY: I have been married 30 years and have had issues with my mother-in-law since before the wedding. She didn't want me to marry her son and has criticized my hair, my weight, my child-rearing, etc., during my entire marriage. Of course, she never says these things when my husband is within earshot. I didn't discuss it with him because we don't see her often.

We're planning a one-week visit with them, and my 50th birthday will occur during the visit. My husband told me I could do whatever I wanted on my birthday and mentioned including his parents. I told him I didn't want to spend the day with them and now he's mad at me.

I realize this may seem petty to you, but this is a milestone birthday that I'm not really looking forward to. What do I do? Do I "suck it up" and deal with her presence on my birthday or stand my ground? -- DREADING IT IN ALAMOGORDO, N.M.

DEAR DREADING IT: Remind your spouse that he SAID you could do anything you wished on your birthday, and that you didn't realize that telling him you wanted to spend this milestone without his parents would upset him. Then tell him that because he feels obligated to include his parents, of course, you won't object -- as long as he's willing to celebrate the occasion the way YOU would like after you return from the visit.

P.S. It's too bad you didn't tell him his mother was "gunning for you" decades ago, because he might have been able to nip it in the bud.

DEAR ABBY: Many years ago my wife conceived a child with an old boyfriend who had been after her for quite a while without my knowledge. I adopted the child after he left her.

I have tried to convince my wife to tell our daughter the truth for medical reasons, but she refuses. She feels if she tells our daughter the truth, she will be disgraced forever. What is your opinion? -- LOVES MY DAUGHTER IN WASHINGTON STATE

DEAR LOVES YOUR DAUGHTER: Your daughter should have been told the truth years ago -- and it is still not too late to do so. My concern is that she may eventually hear it from some other relative or a close family friend who assumes she already knows. These kinds of family secrets invariably have a way of slipping out, and better that your daughter hear the story from her mother than someone else.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)