“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” Phil. 1:3 (KJV)
Mothers. There are so many wonderful mothers. I am sure you all have inspiring stories you could share. I have posted numerous stories about my own mother. This year for Mother’s Day, I would like to honor the other precious mother in my life--my incredible mother-in-law, Emily Lee, in the form of a letter.
To My Dearest Mother-in-Law,
It grieves me to hear that you are once again in the hospital. My mother-in-law with nine lives, or maybe more by now; we have all lost count. My heart is grieving for what you are going through, for what may lie ahead.
As I have told you thousands of times, I feel so blessed to have you for a mother-in-law, a mentor, a sister-in-the-Lord, and friend. When I think of your life, I think of love, blessings, and answered prayer.
From the beginning, you were filled with love in a practical way. I remember the bridal shower you had for me in your upstairs East Utica flat. Your apartment was overflowing with Alberico women -- sisters, cousins, aunts, and grandmas-- with their big eighty’s hair and high heels. Half the women in the city were there, I was sure. I admit that this suburban girl with long straight hair wearing a handsewn Laura Ashley skirt was a bit intimidated.
But you graciously introduced me to each, and you somehow managed to seat us all down at tables you had set up throughout the apartment. Then you blessed us with the labor of your love – a full course Italian meal with lasagna as the entree, a meal tastier than any found in the best restaurants. I went home that night feeling loved and accepted.
I remember a time early in my marriage when I was young, and we were still getting to know each other. You suffered great losses – your father, and then your mother in a short period, and a family crisis which is not my story to tell. I know you were hurting, grieving.
You would tell me that your heart was aching so much you couldn’t go to church. You didn’t want to cry through the sermon. You were feeling alone in your pain.
I was at a loss. What could this young daughter-in-law who had seen so little pain in her twenty-something years say to you? How could I turn you toward the arms of the True Comforter?
I remember giving you a book by a Christian counselor, sending you cards, and mostly praying. Praying, praying, praying, along with so many others.
Then God worked in an amazing way. He reached you in your isolation, in your feelings that no one could possibly understand your pain. God brought a pastor into your life who had gone through an even greater tragedy. Attending his Bible studies felt safe. Slowly and gently God used him to capture your heart. Soon you were sold out for Jesus, attending church, and immersing yourself in God’s Word.
The new fire kindling in your heart grew and spread, first to your husband, our beloved Pop, then to other family members.
It wasn’t long before your faith was tested, along with the rest of us, when you were diagnosed, still in your forties, with a heart condition. We were horrified when the doctors gave you five years to live. We prayed and pleaded with God.
God listened to our pleas. Then fifteen years later, you panicked because you identified so closely with the story of Hezekiah found in Isaiah 38. When Hezekiah was near death, he cried out to God, and God gave him fifteen more years. God has been so good; here we are 25 years later, and we are still blessed with your presence.
That was only the beginning of your challenges. Then came the cancer, chemo and surgeries, and more surgeries, and infections, and weeks in the hospital, and months in rehab. And prayers, prayers, prayers. God pulled you through each trial, each crisis that threatened your life on this earth.
Between all the trials, you kept loving, giving, serving, blessing. Your home was always opened to reach out to family and friends.
Every holiday you would put on an extraordinary spread for your family highlighting your best homemade Italian foods. My children grew up on your homemade lasagna, manicotti, cassata, and Italian pastries, instilling a pride in their heritage.
Your grandchildren adore you. You are their precious fun-loving Non. They love your style – your bright colored watches and matching crocs. You keep them and all of us laughing. Like the time we tried to dye your hair purple.
Your impact on your grandchildren is profound. You have been there for them for every birthday, every graduation, every celebration.
You have a way of lovingly and gently pointing them in the right direction without making them feel judged. I have told you this over and over again. I am so grateful for your influence in their lives.
Your outreach for Jesus goes far beyond your family.
I remember when we heard about a terrible accident in the news-- a street sweeper couldn’t stop when a young boy on a bicycle pulled out right in front of him. Through a surprising coincidence, God brought this stranger to your door, and he found comfort at your table.
I remember how you befriended your son’s friend and his live-in girlfriend. Through your influence, they were awakened to God in their lives and decided to get married.
And after my father died many years ago, you gave my mother a blank invitation. “Bring her over any time,” you said. She sat down as a guest at your table for many special occasions over the years.
And you always found time to volunteer, whether folding clothes or cooking a meal, you enriched lives at your church, at the Vet Center, at Care Net, or at the Abraham House.
Once again, I am rejoicing with you in answered prayer. Since I began writing this letter to you, your cancer diagnosis was downgraded to an operable benign tumor. Did the doctors make a mistake? Perhaps. But I tend to agree with you. We have again experienced a miracle in your life.
Yet, my dear mother-in-law, I continue to plead with the Lord on your behalf. At least fifteen more years, please? More years of loving, serving, giving, blessing.
*photo by Matt Johnson
For another Mother's Day story, click on the following link: “Celebrating Mother's Day: How Will You Honor Your Mother?”