We just got home from a fairly massive road trip. Kentucky to Utah and back, via Frankfort, IL, in 9 days…with a baby in tow. The trip went really well and was an amazing blessing for our family and marriage. One of the things that came out of this trip was a promise, to ourselves and God, to work on improving our prayer life. We decided to make the commitment to praying together, as a family, once a day. We’ve been praying The Chaplet of Divine Mercy, daily at 3p.m., but we weren’t able to do that yesterday (Sunday). Husband’s band was playing a gig Sunday afternoon and he wasn’t available for prayer until after 5. We discussed our options and decided that we would pray a Rosary together, instead of the Chaplet. The Glorious mysteries (Resurrection, Ascension, Decent of the Holy Spirit, Assumption of Mary, and Coronation of Mary) are traditionally prayed on Sundays (and Wednesdays). I have never prayed the Rosary in any way similar to the way we prayed it yesterday. I am used to the mystery being named and then you either listen to a short reflection about the mystery & meditate on the mystery silently, OR you just meditate silently on the mystery. Then you pray the prayers. Well, last night, my husband kept wanting to have discussions about each mystery. We’d meditate silently for and little while and then he’d share some of his thoughts and ask me to share mine. I did not like this. It felt strange and weird. It felt disrespectful but husband is the head of our home and I was trying to submit to his guidance (it’s really difficult for me to submit, so I’m trying to make myself submit – especially when I really just want to roll my eyes at him). I share all of this with you because it all helped guide me to my epiphany…an epiphany that I’m still trying to work out and I’m not exactly thrilled about. At least not yet.
We’d gotten to the fourth mystery and it had been a bit of a rough night. I was feeling frustrated and a little annoyed with my husband. I’d tried to help him and love him through a minor issue. He didn’t appreciate it. It annoyed him. His annoyance, annoyed me. Vicious cycle. So, here I am, annoyed and meditating on the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. I was thinking how much Jesus loved His Mother to bring her to Heaven. Body and soul. Amazing. Then my husband started talking and I found my mind wandering. I started thinking about how much of a “mama’s boy” Jesus was. I once called my husband a “mama’s boy”, when we were dating. It was a negative thing and I made sure he knew that I saw it as a negative thing. After all, I bought into the idea that there was something fundamentally wrong with a man who had a deep love and respect for his mother. I feel like a stupid ass just typing that sentence and I’m sorry for the pain I know that judgement caused my husband. If Jesus had such amazing love and respect for His mother that he assumed her body & soul in Heaven, thus making him a “mama’s boy” then who am I (or any of of us) to judge a man for emulating that love and respect for his earthly mother?
I do not have a horrible relationship with my mother-in-law. At least, it’s nothing like the nightmare relationships you see depicted on t.v. (*cough* Everybody Loves Raymond) or on Lifetime (*cough* any lifetime movie that involves a mother-in-law). If I was really going to describe my relationship with my mother-in-law, honestly, I’d say “what relationship?”. We don’t really have much of one. We don’t talk, we don’t hang out, we don’t do anything together. We do live together. Do you know how trying it is to have NO relationship with someone you live with? Before you answer – think about the question. NO relationship. Not a good one or a bad one. Nothing. Null. Void. You don’t even really acknowledge each other’s presence in the small space you share. If I’m being really honest, then I’d tell you that the nothing relationship is probably more damaging than any bad relationship could ever be. At least with a bad relationship, you know where you stand and that the other one is always out to get you. With nothing…you’re never quite sure where you stand and everything seems like some kind of passive aggressive jab. Agh. My troubles with this (basically) non-existent relationship cause distress for my husband. He’s never sure what is going to hurt my feelings or set me off. His mother and I are very different and it’s a delicate balancing act on his part. He wants to do for his mother. He wants to love her. He wants to take care of her. He also wants to make me happy. He wants me to understand that he does put me & our family first. He wants to love us both & I don’t always make that easy for him to do. I think I project more insidious intentions onto my mother in law’s actions that are actually there. She, too, just wants to be able to express her love for her son. I think she wants to express it for me, too, although I’m not entirely convinced of that. The only way she knows of expressing love is taking care of someone. I’ve stepped in as my husband’s wife and our daughter’s mother & there is nobody left for her to care for, except herself. She’s lived her life caring for everyone around her & them caring for her. It boggles my mind that she will wait for my husband to get home from a road trip to change a light bulb in her room. She’ll go without light for DAYS, instead of changing a light bulb herself. She won’t take the garbage out to the can when it’s full or take the can down to the street on garbage day. It will just sit there, full & stinky, until either my husband or I get home and take it out. This same woman has her concealed carry permit, carries a loaded gun everywhere, and knows how to shoot. She was in the military. She worked on massive machinery at a light bulb plant. She survived TWO brain surgeries, defied doctors’ predictions that she’d always be a veggie, and learned to walk, talk, cook, eat, bathe, etc all over again! She lost her sense of taste and smell but she is alive. She cooked a full meal for her son (my hubs) on her first night home, propped up on a stool & suffering from double vision. Why? Because she loves him & knew he’d survived on ramen noodles and hot dogs for MONTHS, while she was in surgery, in a coma, and then in a nursing home for rehab. He missed his mother & she wanted to give him what she could. (He did help her cook, since she missed the pan 2 out 3 times on her own.) She holds down a full time job at a truck stop, working on the fuel desk. This means she’s dealing with the public, money, electronic machines, making sure regs are followed, etc. She even gets her hands dirty in the truck stop’s restaurant, helping serve & clean as needed. Then, she’ll bring free food home from that same truck stop, even after I tell her that we won’t eat it, and will leave it in the fridge (not eating it, either) until it goes bad & then I have to clean it out. She claims that her background and growing up in the country left her uneducated and uncomfortable around people…and then she goes right back to that truck stop where she is confident, popular, and a complete alpha. She followed her son and converted to Catholicism and remains faithful to the Church, even when she doesn’t understand something. I don’t share all of this with you to garner sympathy for her or myself. I really just wanted to provide an illustration of the woman who raised my husband. The woman who is grandmother to our children, mother to my husband, and in law to me.
Jesus is a mama’s boy. He loves and respects His mother so much that He brought Her home, to His Kingdom, and made Her Queen. He loves us so much that He shared Her with us. We, the church, are His bride. He is our bridegroom. Mary is His mother. This was my epiphany. Mary is my mother in law! (Wha!?!?!?!?!?! Mind BLOWN.)
Now, obviously (at least I hope it’s obvious), Our Blessed Mother is not my mother in law like my husband’s mother is. However, this got me thinking about my relationship with my earthly mother in law (the mother of my earthly bridegroom) and my relationship with my Blessed Mother (the mother of my spiritual & supernatural bridegroom). I do not have a strong Marian devotion but I desire to. I desire to have a strong devotion to and relationship with Mary for many reasons. She is the mother of God. She is the picture of ultimate humanity, femininity, womanhood, and motherhood. Jesus chose her as His Mother and chose to save her before she was even conceived (thus she was immaculately conceived and did not suffer the stains of original sin). I mean, if this isn’t a woman to have a close relationship with, then who is? Mary is the jewel in the crown of God’s creation. She is a role model to me – as a person, a woman, mother, & spouse. Amazing, Blessed Mother, whom I do not know as well or as deeply as I desire. Who’s at fault for this lacking relationship? Me. It’s all on me. I can choose to work on my relationship with Mary. I can choose to talk to her, to spend time with her, to pray the Rosary, to thank her for giving her son to me, or not to.
In this way, my relationship with Mary and my relationship with my earthly mother in law are inhibited by the exact same thing. My lack of effort. My mother in law gave her son to me. (Maybe not as graciously or willingly as Mary gave Jesus…she did cry “who’s gonna take care of my baby??” at our wedding reception but still…) If I want to have a better relationship with her, then it is up to me. Why wouldn’t I want a better & closer relationship with her? After all, my husband is a good man. As much as I don’t think parents are to blame for their adult children’s mistakes or that they should be credited with their adult children’s successes (after all many people turn out well in spite of their parents), we are all effected by the choices our parents make as we are growing up. My mother in law (and father in law) chose to show their son absolute, unwavering, and unconditional love and support. He may not have had much but he never doubted how much he was loved, knew his parents would offer anything & do everything they could for him, they shared everything, and he was happy. He grew up secure in the love of his mother and father. For that, I am forever grateful. It helped make him the man he is.
As I lament on my lack of relationship with my mother in law, I am reminded of what my husband has been telling me for well over a year. If I want this to change, then I’m going to have to be the one to do something. I will have to grow in patience. I will have to choose to overlook some of her quirks that I don’t understand. I will have to let go of my need to control and allow her the freedom to love us as she knows how to. I will need to seek her out and help her become comfortable having a relationship with me. She is here and she is willing. I just have to reach out.
Mary is my mother in law. They both deserve nothing but love and respect from me. If I want better and closer relationships with either of them, then I need to choose that. I need to step out, reach out, and act on that desire. I love Mary. She is my Blessed Mother. It would be nice if one day I no longer felt the need to call out the “in law” in my relationship with my mother in law.
I was reminded today why it is so important that we remember who we are and what we have been made for. I find that it’s really easy to love someone you don’t know. I find it’s also really easy to have empathy or sympathy (depending on the situation) for someone you don’t know. I find it extremely easy to give someone I don’t know the benefit of the doubt – sometimes to the extreme. Why are all of these things so difficult with someone that I know?!? It seems that, if I know your background, your story, it would be EASIER to understand, empathize, sympathize, give benefit to, and love. It’s not. It’s so much harder…at least I find it to be. I find it easy to avoid passing judgement on the words or actions of someone I don’t know and even easier to cast blame and judgement upon those I do know. So, what is a girl to do?
The answer is easy and hard all at the same time. I am called to love everyone at all times, like Christ loves. No conditions, no qualifications, no expectations. I love them for who they are, where they are. (Aside…loving someone does not mean tolerating or condoning choices/actions that we know to be wrong/bad/sinful. Loving them means that; in an appropriate time, place, and manner; I should correct them with great charity.) Loving someone like Christ loves us takes great humility. I struggle with that. Christian humility flys in the face of everything we are told to believe in our society. We are told that we must look out for number one but humility says we should have no worries for ourselves. We should not desire to be loved, wanted, praised, or looked upon with high esteem. We should not be afraid of being forgotten, left behind, wrongfully accused, or despised. When we are humble, we know our place. When we are humble, we REMEMBER exactly who we are, who created us, and who is really in charge. When we are humble, we don’t worry about today or tomorrow and we don’t stress over yesterday, because we remember what is important.
God, please create in me a spirit of authentic humility & help me love everyone, strangers and non-strangers, like Christ loves me. Amen.