By Rev. Ed Hird
How often do we celebrate the gift of our mothers-in-law? Marriage counselors tell us that there are three primary areas of stress in marriages: money, marital intimacy, and in-laws. Mother-in-law jokes tend to express the ambivalent nature of this most important relationship. I would like to state uncategorically that I have been blessed with the gift of the mother-in-law that God gave me. It has been eighteen years now since Vera went home to heaven in 2,000, but her impact is still deeply felt.
My mother-in-law found me before my wife did. By God-incidence, we met each other at a 1974 weekend conference. She was quite impressed with me, despite my 1970’s longish hair and embroidered overalls. My mother-in-law really enjoyed the movie ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, and could sing ‘Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match’ by heart. Unfortunately, when my future mother-law/matchmatcher commended me to my future wife, the assessment was not mutual. My wife and I had been in the same High School for Grade 12. We all know what familiarity can breed. My wife did remember however that even in Grade 12, I had nice eyes.
When I reconnected with my future wife at UBC in 1975, I also rediscovered my future mother-in-law. I was most impressed by the warm hospitality that I always felt in my future mother-in-law’s home. Some people make you feel stressed by how they fuss over you as a guest. With my mother-in-law, it all felt very natural and relaxed. She had that gift of making one feel right at home.
When I lost my voice for 18 months back in 1980, my mother-in-law was one of the people who stood with me in practical and prayerful ways. She introduced me to the Order of St. Luke the Physician where I learned how to combine the dual benefits of medicine and prayer. When I am tempted to be cynical about the power of prayer, I think of my mother-in-law who never gave up praying for seemingly hopeless situations. Once when my wife’s sister was running from the Lord, my mother-in-law recruited people from all around the world to pray without ceasing for her daughter. As a result of that passionate prayer, the prodigal daughter ‘returned home’ and became a Christ-like example to other seekers. My mother-in-law symbolizes the call to ‘never, never give up.’
“Like mother, like daughter” goes the familiar saying. Forty-one years into my marriage, I am now more aware than ever how much a mother influences her daughter. I have counseled various women whose experiences with their mothers have left them emotionally crippled and unable to share love. I give thanks to God that my mother-in-law raised my wife in an atmosphere of love and caring. I know that without that foundational nurturing, my last 41 years of marriage would have been a very different experience indeed. I am grateful to be married to a loving wife and mother who learned mother-love from someone who really cares.
My mother-in-law has had some real setbacks in her life over the years, but she never let it defeat her. She always bounced back. Family and faith mean the world to her. Day in and day out, she was always looking for ways to comfort and encourage other people, both young and old. Even on her hospital bed near the end of her life, she was still counselling people. Rather than moaning about her own problems, she was remarkably other-centered, truly loving her neighbours as herself in a very Christ-like way.
One of her greatest contributions in my life has been her encouraging my involvement in the Christian Ashram retreat movement. For 36 years now, I have attended the BC Christian Ashram each summer spending time learning how to be a healthier and more whole person. I can honestly say that the renewal that I have experienced in the 40 Christian Ashram retreats that I have attended have made me more peaceful, more forgiving, and more restful. I would commend this upcoming BC Christian Ashram Retreat to anyone who is really seeking.
What more can I say except ‘thank you’ for my irreplaceable mother-in-law? My prayer for those married couples reading this article is that we will take time to express our gratitude to our mothers-in-law. Life is shorter than we think.
The Reverend Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada
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