Last september, late on a Sunday afternoon, a ladder slipped from under my husband and he crashed onto our asphalt driveway. Around midnight, he headed into emergency surgery to repair a fractured femur. I waited in his hospital room, surrounded by the constant hum of a medical/surgical unit, feeling very alone. The wall clock faithfully ticked off hour after hour, much too slowly for my anxious mind. So I wouldn't feel as though my world was spinning completely out of control, I assessed my options for the help we'd need during Tom's recovery.
Fortunately, my anxieties over how I'd manage our boys, my job and a post-surgical husband didn't run too deep. I knew of one immensely reliable person who would graciously offer her "911" services to a family in distress—my mother-in-law.
Agnes lives only a few hours away, and when she learned of Tom's accident she was ready for action. Four days after the accident, she pulled into our driveway a few hours before Tom and I arrived home from the hospital, and in her unassuming manner soon filled in wherever help was needed. I'm still not sure how she knows just what to do, but I did know that with her under our roof we'd eat normal meals. We wouldn't run out of milk and bread. Our third-grader wouldn't fall behind in his studies and would instead ace his spelling tests. Our three-year-old wouldn't lose out on a moment of cuddle time. For a while, life might be far from normal, but it wouldn't be impossible.
A few months later, retelling the events of our unforgettable September to an acquaintance, I mentioned that my mother-in-law lived with us for almost two weeks.
"That must have been hard," said the acquaintance.
Far from it, I explained. In fact, it was difficult to say goodbye. When Agnes loaded up her trusty Toyota and headed for home, I immediately missed her calming, gentle presence. I can't say for sure what started our relationship out on the right track, but it might go back to our first meeting. When Tom brought me to his home to meet his folks, I remember standing in Agnes's kitchen, tremendously relieved that the much anticipated first meeting with her wasn't one of airs but acceptance.
Through the 14 years she's been a part of my life, she's continually modeled patience and resilience despite the circumstances. She's shown me how a godly woman leads her life. Hundreds of times she has shown me what it means to serve with joy and not out of resentment or sheer obligation. Along the way, without belittling my efforts, she has gently reminded me of what brings out the best in my family. In short, she's the kind of mother-in-law I'd wish on anyone.
Sadly, as I listen to others, I sometimes think I'm in the minority when it comes to having a pleasant, joyful in-law relationship. Plenty of what's written and said about in-laws is negative. The assumption is that such a relationship will be adversarial from the start and maybe, if you're lucky, become tolerable at best. My experience is proof that the comedy writers who dream up joke after joke about in-laws aren't always right.
I now realize that God had no intention of leaving a void in my life when my own mother died a few years after Tom and I married. Instead, he sent a blessing in the form of another mother.
Copyright © 1997 by Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership Magazine.