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Monthly Archives: September 2013

In-Law Week – Guest Post by Rachel Lonas

Today’s guest post is by Rachel Lonas, a friend from my time at Bryan College. Much like Kim’s post from Monday, Rachel describes a mother-in-law who loves her well with the love of Christ, even though she didn’t fit the picture of the wife she initially might have chosen for her son. Once again, a testimony to the power of grace in the lives of two very different people.

Rachel's mother-in-law and her oldest daughter

Rachel’s mother-in-law and her oldest daughter

There are so many reasons I could list my mother-in-law as wonderful. There are the packages she sends every holiday for our family, filled with funny handmade cards, family inside jokes, and small personalized trinkets. There is the transparency and humility she exudes that make her so relatable. As I said, I could go on for days, but as my husband and I approach our 7th wedding anniversary this year, I’ve been thinking about something more than just kindness and personal touch. I’ve been thinking about how thankful I am for her servant’s heart and ability to trust her son who chose me.

Though both from Christian homes, my husband and I came from very different backgrounds. Different schooling background, different family conflict management styles, different temperaments. It seemed like a reasonable case for “opposites attract”. We had become close friends in college, so we both wanted to date with the intention of getting married after graduation. Everyone on our small Christian college campus (professors included) were excited for us, which may be why my husband didn’t remember to communicate with his parents about how serious we were getting; we lived in a “bubble” and it seemed normal to us and everyone who interacted with us every day.

When my husband did tell his parents his intentions, they were taken aback, but I think his mom took it particularly hard. She still had two daughters (12 and 16 at the time) at home and her only son and oldest child just officially declared his intentions for complete independence and full responsibility for his life after college. He was adding another woman in his life that would be a role model for her girls. That’s a lot for a mom to take on all at once! I also think they thought (before I came into the picture) he’d find a homeschool girl from back home to marry and settle down and have kids to homeschool some day. And yet his prospect was a public schooled, strong personality who dyed her hair red and refused to even consider homeschooling! As I said, my husband and I probably seemed like an unlikely match if you just put us down on paper.

I know it wasn’t always easy for her to trust her son’s judgment (i.e. to see what he and others saw in me and know it was a part of God’s plan), but if there was distrust in her mind, it never showed up in her actions. Every time I visited with his family, she served me as the most honored guest and really tried to get to know me and love me well. I never once felt like I didn’t meet her expectations or that I was unwelcome, even when I know I exhibited immaturity. She gave me the benefit of the doubt and tried to encourage me spiritually through devotional books and personalized gifts. My mother-in-law showed Christ’s love and acceptance from the very start.

I believe her thoughtful pursuit of a strong relationship with her daughter-in-law, without trying to fashion me into someone I was not, was the biggest help to our relationship. Instead of constantly criticizing me (which I tend not to receive well) or giving my husband an earful (an inappropriate thing for any mom to do) when I needed work, she just loved me for me and trusted and prayed for the Lord to work in my heart. She saw me honestly striving to love her son well and how together we desired to serve the Lord. The more time I spent with my husband’s family, the more his mom took the time to see how to love me best (in the big and little ways) and I learned how to do the same for her. God has used our imperfections to teach each other much in these 7 years. We are so close now; it’s hard to imagine how different we seemed back then!

I look back and see how much I have learned from my mother-in-law and how she chooses to serve with the love of Christ. I have seen her serve her parents by taking them into her home and giving the most intimate care (even when it’s difficult, both physically and emotionally). I have seen her serve friends and children of friends. Her generous spirit, her sense of humor, and her desire to trust in the Lord when things seem very unclear are always an encouragement to me. God has already blessed me tremendously with my own mother who serves friends and family with open arms, but I am thankful for another “mom” who my daughters can also look up to as an example of Christ’s love.

rachel lonas

Rachel has been married for 7 years to her husband, Justin, and has two daughters. She is a homeschool mom and part-time insurance agent who lives in Chattanooga, TN. She blogs at One Room Schoolhouse.

In-Law Week: How Do We Go Wrong?

'Cat fight' photo (c) 2010, Tom Taker - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I asked my husband for a photo idea, and he suggested a literal “cat fight.” So here it is.

 In the midst of hearing some really great stories about in-law relationships, there are also so many that just aren’t good. Reasons run the spectrum, and I’ve seen many truly difficult in-law experiences play out with close friends. It’s not helpful to dwell on those situations that are bad, but there is wisdom in learning from the mistakes of others. So today we’ll just look at a few things that can cause this relationship to get off to a rocky start.

Expectations

Mother-in-law – Maybe you’ve always wanted a daughter. Maybe you see a lot of things you’re excited to help your daughter-in-law with. Maybe you expect things to stay mostly the same with your son, just adding a new person to the mix. Maybe you’re dreading the whole thing because of your friends’ experiences.

Daughter-in-law – Maybe you’re scared to death because you’ve heard horrible tales.  Maybe you’re excited to have a mom who will be more involved in your life. Maybe you’re afraid your mother-in-law will pop in uninvited and tell you how to do things. Maybe you feel like you’ll never measure up.

As with most life experiences, our expectations can kill a great thing before it even starts. If you’ve ever felt the weight of someone’s expectations for you and thought you could never live up to them, then you will know how important it is to give those expectations up to the Lord before you get any further into this relationship. Take time to pray and examine what is really going on in your heart–are you judging the other person harshly? Are you expecting something bad to happen, even though it hasn’t?

Ultimately, we have to remember Who is sovereign over this relationship. God is bringing two families together, and even the most difficult situation is not out of His hands. Rather than expecting something amazing, or something terrible, from the other person, we can just expect grace and love from our Father. We will make mistakes, we will not measure up, we will hold one another to impossible standards. And His grace is sufficient, even then.

Interpretation

One friend wrote this about her initial relationship with her mother-in-law (which has since improved dramatically), and I think it really illustrates the idea that we easily misinterpret others’ motives:

Once the vows were made, it was hard for me to get used to the idea of ANOTHER mother. I already had my own mother and a step-mom (who is really great). I am incredibly (and often sinfully) independent and self-assured, and I want to do things MY way, fail or not. It was not helpful when she would offer suggestions around our first little-bitty condo about where to put things, how to decorate, how I should do the laundry, etc. I already knew what I wanted to do, how I wanted to do it. The main problem, looking back, was that her advice, however good or even appropriate, was thrust upon me, instead of her waiting for me to ASK. It came across to this 21-year old bride as criticism, each piece of advice felt like a jab saying I was not taking care of her son as well as I should or could. Back then (14 years ago) I could not see that she was trying to love me, trying to help.  

What the mother-in-law thought was loving, the daughter-in-law saw as criticism. I know I was insecure as a new wife and wanted to do everything perfectly, so I can see how it would be so easy to feel that way (although I didn’t, Carol Parks…don’t worry!).

Our interpretations of others’ actions are almost always going to err on the side of us perceiving we’ve been wronged. I can have a whole conversation with another person in my head and then feel very hurt or bitter toward them, even though they weren’t even around for the argument. My friend once had a dream where I betrayed her and the next day she could hardly speak to me. We are really great at playing the victim–my imagination is amazing, I assure you.

But what if we were so secure in our identity in Christ that we didn’t have to play the victim? What if we knew we were loved so perfectly by our Father that we didn’t have to obsess over the actions and words of others? What if we reminded ourselves that Christ gets it–He suffered greater pain and sorrow than we ever could, for the sake of those at whose hands He experienced such pain.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, when I’m able to forget myself for just a minute and remember that I am in Christ–adopted, betrothed, and so greatly loved–then I experience amazing freedom to let my interpretations of the motives of others go. I can just give it up and run to Christ. I can choose to believe the best, because God has freed me from worrying about myself all the time. He’s got it. I can rest.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

Mother-in-law – It’s hard to let go. When my son was two days old, I sat in the hospital bed holding him, in a room by myself, sobbing (people, don’t leave a hormonal mom alone for long periods of time…not much clear thinking comes out of this scenario). I just kept saying, “Don’t leave me. Don’t go off and marry some girl and leave me. Stay with me.” Not my best moment. But I get it just a little bit now that I have a son. Of course he’s just three and still thinks I hung the moon, so I don’t really get it. Anyway, your relationship has already changed, but it’s going to change even more. And that is super hard. I can’t even think about it yet.

Daughter-in-law – It’s hard to see your husband’s mom holding on when he’s supposed to be leaving and cleaving to you. She’s telling you how to fold his underwear and you’re thinking, “Oh my sweet goodness, please let me be his wife, Lady.” You have waited so long to be in this role–a wife and helper for your husband–but his mom just won’t give it up.

So just take a minute and consider what it’s like in her shoes. Mom, what was it like to be a new wife? How was your mother-in-law? Daughter, how do you think you would feel if your son had just grown up and walked out the door with his new wife? She still remembers his first steps like they were yesterday!

And then PRAY. There is something so incredible about praying for someone. Not praying that God will change her, but praying FOR her. When I pray for people (normally people I’m mad at and don’t want to pray for), something amazing happens. I start to really love them. I start to care about their needs. And my little Grinch heart grows and grows. Try it. It really works.

So what are other ways we get off track in this relationship? Have you seen any of the above in your own heart? (I know I have…)

In-Law Week: What’s the Goal?

In preparing for this series on mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships, I asked several women what they thought was the ultimate goal of their relationships with their in-laws. I loved the responses and wanted to share a couple here today:

To bond together by means of our families, through the eyes of Christ. To see one another as equals, knowing that grace levels the playing field. To care for one another, showing support and interest in one another’s lives. Building one another up, for the sake of the Gospel. Being her Ruth, and her being my Naomi. Together, worshiping Christ at the foot of the Cross. – Lauren

To enjoy and love each other. When you are both believers, to enjoy fellowship with each other in Christ. Visits with my in-laws were a tear-bringing, anxiety and anger-inducing event when we were first married. It was taxing and stressful on me and my husband, and even within my relationship with my husband. Now, as we’ve both grown in our relationship, it is fun, pleasant, a blessing, and enjoyable for everyone involved. – Melissa

I think, particularly in difficult situations, it’s easy to have a “grin and bear it” mentality about in-laws. Yes, we’ve heard the idea that you’re not just marrying the man, you’re marrying his family. But you probably didn’t know his family when you first decided you might want to marry him.
What I love about the two quotes above is their focus on the ultimate purpose– redeemed relationship, bonding, blessing worshiping.

You may have a great relationship with your in-laws, or it may be just horrible. You may be misunderstood or falsely accused. But as my friend Lauren said, grace levels the playing field. When we see ourselves as sinners, undeserving of love and grace, it becomes easier to love others. We love God because He first loved us. And we love and forgive others through the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, empowering us to take the love we’ve been given and give it out as well.

As we continue in this series, we’ll look at the hard stuff as well as the good stuff. We’ll see more examples of what Christ has done in these relationships. Hopefully we’ll all be encouraged to give out the grace with which we’ve been so richly blessed.

She Chose Grace – Guest Post by Kim Shay

Below is the first in a series of guest posts and thoughts on the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. This post, written by Kim Shay, was such a blessing to me and I pray it is to you as well. So many good things to take from this. Be sure to skip over to the links at the bottom of the post to check out some of Kim’s other writing.

I began dating my husband in 1984. I liked him because there was something very different about him. When I found out he was a Christian, I was even more interested, because I wanted to know who Jesus was.

After a few months, I wanted to meet his family. He had met mine, and I could not understand why he was so hesitant to introduce me to his. I know now that it was because he knew his parents would not approve of him dating an unconverted girl. When it became an issue of  “you either introduce me or we’re through,” he took me to meet them.

As a mother myself now, I can only imagine what it was like  for her to meet me. Her son, who should have known better, had brought home an unbelieving girl. This is the not the ideal situation.  What she thought, I don’t know, but not once did she give a hint of the angst she must have felt.

When she discovered that I had an interest in spiritual things, she was happy to answer my questions. She purchased a bible for me; a burgundy, leather, King James Bible. As I opened it, I saw the notation she had made directing me to a verse. At that verse, there was a note to go to another verse; and so on. She had basically given me the gospel message. She gave me that bible at the end of March of 1985. I was converted in May 1985.

She had no idea that this unbelieving girl who had been brought into her life longed to understand who God was, who Jesus Christ was.  All she knew was that here was a young woman in need of a Savior.  Despite the fact that she was probably not entirely happy with her son, she treated me with love and grace. I was always treated with kindness every time I saw her from the very first occasion meeting her. She could have been cold toward me, mistrustful, wondering what kind of awful influence I was going to be, but she did not do that. She chose grace.

Later, I was a young woman redeemed, but still with many rough edges:  I didn’t always say the right thing, I didn’t always dress with the most modest of attire, and I talked too much. But she never lost patience with me. Her desire for me was to grow in the things of God.

She has continued to show grace with my children. Teenagers often make bad decisions, and my kids were no different. She never criticized or rejected them, but loved them as a grandmother, showing an interest in their lives. Even when I am quite certain she didn’t like what they were doing, she loved them, and let them know it. It’s not always easy loving a teenager, but she always managed to look past whatever immaturity was there.

My mother-in-law has loved me well because above all, she loves the Lord. There is not a doubt in my mind that her source of life and breath is in the relationship she has with Christ. The reason why she has been so patient with me is because she loves me as Christ loves her. A lot of mothers, when their kids bring home unbelieving friends, want to chase them away. I have known some who threaten to cut off contact unless the unsaved friend goes. I’m so thankful my mother-in-law did not hesitate to embrace me, even when I know it was hard to accept me initially.

My mother-in-law continues to overlook my faults, my outspoken nature, my lingering tendency to talk too much. She continues to be a loving woman to the girl who still has a lot of rough edges.  She has been my example in so many ways. I have one of the very best pieces of her: her son, who is so much like her. I guess I’m doubly blessed.

In my room, I have a cedar chest that belonged to my grandmother. Inside, I have a collection of precious items: things like the kids’ favourite stuffed toys, a blanket that was mine as a baby, my wedding shoes. Also among this collection is a very battered King James bible that was used to guide me to Christ, her gift to me. It was a gift of grace that continues. I’m so thankful for my mother-in-law.

Moi

Kim has been married for 26 years to her husband, Neil, and has three young adult children. She is a bible teacher and blogger, and lives in southern Ontario, Canada. She blogs regularly at The Upward CallOut of the Ordinary, and is a contributor at  Karis.

In-Law Week

I’m deeming this “In-Law Week,” but it may turn into “Weeks” because I have several great guest posts and comments lined up to share with you. There is so much negativity out there regarding this relationship, so I hope we can redeem it somewhat in this space.

What we won’t do, however, is give a check-list of “How to Be a Great Mother-in-Law” or “Daughter-in-Law.” It’s not that simple, or rather it’s actually much simpler. When the love of Christ invades our hearts, all relationships are radically changed. No check-list will produce heart change, but being adopted by our Father and loved by Christ so dearly can change even the hardest heart.

So this week the posts you’ll read here are not about women we should all try to emulate. Rather, they are examples of what the love of Christ can do. He’s done it in other hearts and relationships, and hopefully reading these accounts will give hope that He can do it in your situation as well.

The guest posts will start tomorrow, but first I want to invite you to participate by writing a post about your own mother-in-law or daughter-in-law and sharing the link in the comments this week. Or, feel free to just leave a comment telling us about what God has done in your life through your in-laws. I think it would be so encouraging to read these things, even if they are in difficult circumstances. He works through those too. Thanks for joining us and I pray you’ll be encouraged!

An Open Letter to an Older Woman

Dear Friend,

I saw you at our ladies’ Bible study the other day and wanted to let you know how much it meant to me that you were there. I know you have family members to care for and it isn’t always easy to come, so it really encouraged me that you made the effort and considered gathering with the women in our church a priority for your life.

I’m beginning to see just a glimpse of how hard it is to grow older in the church. Everywhere you look, younger people are taking on leadership positions. The music is changing, the Bible studies are taught by younger women, and even the books and articles you see online or in magazines are by younger people. You see words like “fresh,” “new,” and “young.” Maybe you wonder if there’s even still a place for you in all of this.

So I wanted to take this chance to let you know how much I love you and how much the church needs you. Maybe you think we younger women are not teachable. Maybe you’ve tried to be a Titus 2 woman and have just been ignored. Maybe you feel you’ve been burnt by women who, even unintentionally, refused your wisdom or help.

Please don’t give up on us. We may not always realize it, but we do need you. I can only speak for myself here, so that’s what I’ll do.

At the ripe old age of 30, I look back on my twenties and see how far I’ve come. It’s hard to believe how foolish I used to be. I see now how faithful God has been and how He’s carried me through trials. When I spend time with college students or first-time moms, I want to spare them the pain I experienced. I want to protect them from repeating my mistakes. And yet, I know God graciously used these things to grow me.

Maybe you look at me and see the same thing. But you don’t say it, and that means a lot to me. I want you to know how it encourages me to hear you talk of God’s faithfulness. You have experienced pain and suffering I cannot comprehend, and yet you walk in peace and reliance on Him. You have a perspective I need to hear, but you give it with such grace and love, never judgment or condescension, which I know is hard when you’re seeing right through my over-confident exterior.

Maybe it’s hard to hear a 30-year-old teaching you or leading your small group. Or perhaps you’re frustrated when you see yet another article about being a young mother, written by a young mother. You were told to be a “Titus 2 Woman,” but no one seems to want your wisdom or training.

But I want you to know, you are training me, even if you don’t see it. Here’s what I’ve noticed about you:

  1. You Are a Teacher—You may not be teaching me practical ways to raise my kids or cook for my husband, but you’re teaching me what is far more important. You’ve realized the joy in being Mary, rather than Martha. You don’t have to tell me to study the Word, because your example says it all. You know the Word not because you want to rattle off Scripture to impress people, but because you have to know it. God’s Word has carried you through unspeakable pain. You have drunk of its refreshing truth, and now it just spills out of you with joy.
  1. You Are a Leader—You may not be on the women’s committee and you may not have time to be a small group leader, but you are most definitely leading. I look to you frequently, waiting to hear what you’ll say before I speak. I admit I don’t do this often enough. I’ve noticed how you quickly remind me of the main thing. You point to God’s love for me in Christ, bringing me back to fundamental truth when I so easily get sidetracked by secondary issues. You have the wisdom of seeing things from a bird’s eye view, while I zero in on one thing and obsess over it. You lead me by your example.

So if it’s not too much to ask, please keep coming. Maybe sometime we can get coffee and I can find out more about your life and God’s work in your heart. I can be honest with you, because you’ve showed me by your gracious example that I shouldn’t be enslaved to your opinion of me. So I know you won’t place requirements on me in order to spend time with you. Your love for me flows out of God’s love for you in Christ. Your acceptance of me flows out of God’s acceptance of you because of Christ’s righteousness. You know these things motivate me far more than any checklist or schedule ever could.

Your example is that of the apostles in I Thessalonians 2:6-8:

Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.  So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

So finally, please pray for me. I’m frequently brash and headstrong and far too focused on myself. I may not value you as I should. But I and so many other younger people in the church look up to and have learned so much from you. It would mean so much to know you’re praying for me. And please give me opportunities to pray for you as well. I love you, my sister and my friend. I want to serve you. Please forgive me for overlooking you in the past.

I look forward to seeing you next week.

-Catherine

A Wedding List

Occasionally I receive emails from brides or couples with wedding-related questions. I LOVE these interactions and am so encouraged to know this blog is even the slightest bit helpful for people in the midst of wedding planning.

When I receive a note from a bride, I try to pray for her and her fiance, for their wedding, for Christ to be honored as they plan and prepare. So I thought, I wonder who else is reading this blog? Maybe we could be praying for other people and sharing in their joy as they are married!

With that in mind, here’s a simple request for you:

If you are a bride or groom, or anyone else in the midst of planning a wedding, please leave me a comment below with this info: 1) Name(s), 2) Location (general, not specific), 3) Wedding date, and 4) Any specific prayer request for your wedding.

(If you’d rather not comment on the blog, you can always shoot me an email at: catherinestrodeparks(at)gmail(dot)com)

Thanks for reading and giving me honor of sharing in your joy!