When I shyly passed through the metal service porch screen door.
When I moved my way across the linoleumed-kitchen floor to the vinyl-padded seats surrounding the table which would occupy future hours of conversation, stories, hamburgers, chips, and birthday cakes.
When I came to meet you, a 20-year-old not even divorced yet woman-child, a walking mess of un-forgiveness towards myself for the mistake of not knowing my own value. Branded not by the fists and words of abuse from the man-child I had said yes to the year before. Branded by my expectations to live pure and perfect before the Lord. You knew my scarlet brand before you even met me, your tallest son who had cradled my possessions and then my heart, your baby had called to tell you he had met the woman he planned to spend the rest of his life with. I could barely swallow my heart down from my throat and held such hope for love from you in my eyes they almost leaked right there in front of you.
He filled all my achingly empty hopes and dreams, a man with strong hands and the promise to protect me. How could I have known then you had been dreaming for him for 21 years? How could I have known just how much you would sacrifice to let me become the one who knew him best, the one who picked up the dream strings and smiled goodbye to you. Just like that. You who had nursed all his illnesses, kissed all his broken places, and still melted inside when remembering his toddler belly-laughs all those years past?
You were a hard, neurotic, and often times selfish woman. Those hours sitting in the same place at the table drove me right out to the pasture to shoot with the men. But so many more hours did I sit after meals, your children and grandchildren gathered around that same table telling “mom” stories and you NEVER.ONCE.BRISTLED laughing all jolly and wiping the tear-wet cheeks as we all gasped for air.
There was the five-year stretch when you sent a new robe for Christmas, every single daughter and daughter-in-law had matching fuzzy cats and jingle bells. One year I tried to be sneaky and told you I couldn’t wear the size you had given me. You had ordered two other sizes to guarantee a fit. I learned to enjoy my little tinkling-bell entrance to the room.
You had favorite grandchildren. I understand. Babies make more babies, and somehow the little ones who grew up and left our arms can still be held close, necks nuzzled just a moment longer as we remember being the very center of a child’s heart. Breathe in that warmth. Breathe in the sweetness. Breathe in arms full and years unfolding.
And when we visited from across an ocean, a grandson held for the first time, and you surrounded by every child, in-law, grandchild and 50 years of marriage to your one and only, there at the end of your long hallway your baby son all-grown-up told you not to force him to choose between you and his new family. Specifically me.
Dear Mother-In-Law, now I know.
Through all your faults and hard places, narrow thinking and disappointments, you never wrestled to maintain your son’s heart. You let him go. You let me have him. I know who you were, a woman of constant fear and anxiety. Did you close the doors tight to stand behind as you longed for more of him in your life? Did you close your mouth to things you knew better than me so as not to push him further down the road and away?
I was young and lived so far away, and that table was so confining, hour after hour of our visits. Dear Lois, now I know better what it takes for a mother to release her heart’s grip on the child she shared a beat with, month upon month, year upon year. Now I know. And I wish you were here so I could tell you thank you.
She was 13 when she sang your favorite hymns at your grave-side. You would have loved seeing her all-grown up. Next July he will give her his name, Kohler already scrawled across her heart. He is a fine, fine man, Lois. Maybe it would have been easier, spending these last three weeks together had it not been our first three weeks together, those two already tied as one and maybe leaving me feeling a little knotted inside. Easier for me to keep on breathing through the delivery, what a mama’s to do for the rest of her life? Me standing in a hall again, barely able to swallow my heart down from my throat and holding such hope for love in my eyes they almost leaked right there.
Dear Mother-In-Law. Now I know. Sometimes you swallow down the lumps that burn and open up your mouth to grace alone. Grace, your first name. Thank you, Grace.
Dear Favored One. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. 2 Thess 2:16-17 Grace and Peace to you.