She speaks grace, she breathes patience, she lives goodness – my mother by law. Ours isn’t the stereotypical relationship that the media cashes in on and society expects – full of friction and passive aggressiveness. No, ours is a story of kindness, a story of gentleness.
My husband’s mother has been a beacon of womanly valor in my life. She has spent nearly half her existence living in a place where most are unwilling to go. She has given birth and raised children in the strain and harshness that only west Africa can provide. She has gone without convenience, without electricity, without family. She has battled knee surgery, blood clots, and men with automatic weapons all with the same countenance of faithfulness and peace.
But even more than all of this – she has loved me.
It’s been more than 12 years since her son and I entangled ourselves together in a fit of loneliness and raging hormones. Twelve years since her beloved firstborn shamefully and fearfully pulled into her driveway with his 17 year old girlfriend, and their unborn child.
And in those dozen years I have never – not once – felt looked down upon. I’ve never felt judged, never felt condescended to, never felt like less than one of her children.
She has portioned out calm parenting advice as I bumbled my way through being an independent teenage mother. She has unbiasedly supported our marriage in the hard places. She has never criticized, never scolded, never thrown her hands up in exasperation at our immaturity or ignorance.
I have always, always felt appreciated, validated, and loved by this sweet and patient woman. And only in hindsight do I recognize this as the incredible spiritual feat that it is.
Only as my own sons get older do I realize the fierce protectiveness I feel for them. Even now, in their childhood, I ponder and sometimes worry about the future of hurts that lay before them. I feel preemptive pangs for the pain that will journey with them into adulthood. I feel personal responsibility for the men they will grow up to be, for the husbands and fathers they will become – for the harshness or gentleness they will speak to their wives and children.
And I worry that when the time comes I won’t have the grace to share them with another woman – that I won’t have enough love in my heart to love their wives to the same degree that I love them. That I will be fault-finding and prejudiced against these imperfect women that yearn for the spark in my boys that I’ve spent so long putting there.
Yet my mother-in-law has done all this and more. And now as she battles blood clots so many miles away in Africa I pray –selfishly – that she will be around for a long time still. That God will bless her with many more years so that her example and open heart remains there to guide me through raising these boys into men and welcoming their wives into my life as true daughters.
And I pray that no matter what the future holds, I will one day achieve at least a shadow of the valor that I’ve known in her.
*This was originally written for Rachel Held Evans “Woman Of Valor” series.