Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Beloved Mother-In-Law

A mother-in-law is a powerful person. She (hopefully) is not the one calling the shots in a marriage, but it is within her power to bless it or to burden it. She can bless it by being supportive, loving, discrete, and wise. She can also burden it by being a source of contention between husband and wife.
“You hate my mother!”
“Only because she’s detestable!”
The above exchange never took place in my home. My mother-in-law was a jewel, a rarity in the species. The biblical book of Proverbs says of a godly woman, “her children rise up and bless her.” I think her children-in-law rise up to bless her as well!
I remember Jan sitting with me and teaching me to sew on her old sewing machine. In one whirlwind weekend session she taught me how to read a pattern, to mark it, to cut it, to piece and pin and sew, to stay-stitch and insert zippers. I was a newly-wed. It was only my third time to see her. I was a bit nervous, but Jan was very talented at putting people at ease, even brand-new daughters-in-law. Neither of us realized that weekend that another lesson was taking place – a course in how to be a mother-in-law. Jan may have been picking it up on the fly, but over the years she taught me by example how to be a good mother-in-law.
Only weeks into our marriage, Nate and I had a disagreement over ground beef. I had a five pound package of it that I believed was spoiled. I was going to throw it out, but the frugal Scottish part of Nate’s being was appalled. We argued. Since it was our first argument, my emotions were running high – way too high. It wasn’t about the meat for me, it was about how Nate saw me. Did he think I was wasteful or unintelligent? Incapable of managing a home? Unknowing of my thoughts, Nate committed one of the biggest no-no’s a husband can do in a fight. He called his mom. A rookie mistake!
He described the meat to his mom and asked her opinion. As he talked, Jan gathered that we had different opinions, and Nate was hoping for her to settle it. She asked to talk to me. I went to the phone with a faint heart. Was this going to be a pattern in my life now? Would Nate call his mom every time we disagreed? Would the two of them always be a team against me? I will never forget what Jan said to me, and the sweet tones she said it in. “I’m sure you know best, dear.” With that she both graciously bowed out of the situation, and cemented my affection for her. She later told Nate he wasn’t to call her in such situations, but we needed to work it out ourselves. It was a lesson we both took to heart. Now, no matter what silly disagreements we have, we are a team. Even if it’s the two of us against the world!
Jan took that occasion to be a blessing to me personally, and to us as a couple. She could have, if she was a bad mother-in-law, sowed seeds of further discord. She could have taken a trivial disagreement and made it into a traumatic incident. She could have berated me or have spoken of me to Nate in a disparaging way. She could have swam right in and taken charge, barking orders like a marine. Any of those would have had a negative impact on my relationship with Nate, and with my relationship with Jan, which would then have further negative impact on my relationship with Nate! She was very wise. Proverbs 31:26 “She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”
It’s a silly little thing to make a big deal over– a blob of greenish ground beef in a tiny apartment sink. But think of the damage that would have occurred if Jan had been of the bad variety of mother-in-law who immediately sided with her son over the interloper who married her darling. No doubt (since I wasn’t any wiser or more mature than Nate) I’d have called my mom (probably crying) to even up the sides. And that, my friends, would have resulted in a war of attrition, with me and my mom against him and his mom, lasting for years. Such a situation would have seriously impaired Nate and me from “leaving and cleaving.” I can’t say if Jan knew all this at the moment, but her simple affirmation meant the world to me.
I lost this precious mother-in-law on July 18, 2010. It was a deep loss for our family. Since then, Nate and I have busied ourselves with raising her legacy. Suzy will surely carry Jan into the next generation. She has her big luminous eyes, and like her grandmother she is quick to tears and laughter - the result of a tender heart, close to the surface. They lack a shell, both of shyness and cynicism. We are diligent to tell Suzy stories of Jan, to show her pictures, to talk about her memories of her Mimi. We've noticed Suzy has a much better memory than we supposed. It's so sweet when she shares a memory of her Mimi, and so sad when her grief wells up.
Jan blessed Suzy for four and a half years. Many of these blessings Suzy is aware of right now. She remembers well how Mimi showered her with love and joy, how Mimi delighted to see her, and the many giddy phone conversations they shared (though I know Jan didn't always understand what baby Suzy was talking about, she never let on.) Jan blessed Suzy in many of the characteristics she has passed on to her - her joie de vivre, her intelligence, her affinity for books, her sociability, her compassionate nature.
One blessing Suzy is too young to appreciate now, but will value in it's time, is that Mimi modeled how to be a godly mother-in-law to me. Her lessons have not been forgotten. I hope to put this knowledge into use one day when a newly-wed Suzannah calls me after (or during!) her first marital argument. Jan, I rise and call you blessed!


  1. That was beautiful Lori, where's my kleenex???

  2. What a legacy!

    Thanks for sharing, Lori!