My mother in law was a wonderful woman, a genuine friend who shared my gallows humor, and really held her family together. She worked in the shipyards during the war, and later ran a few restaurants. She was always working, while also having 15 kids, kids she somehow managed to feed homemade meals to. What my husband remembers the most is how breakfast was always waiting for him on the stove and lunch was on the counter, and dinner would be in a big pot. Even when she wasn’t there, she was “there.”
I really miss her. She was a woman who did the impossible with a great deal of grace. I think her family just sees her as “Mom,” like families often do, and so she does not seem quite as extraordinary to them as she does to me. I was really blessed, we got to take a lot of walks together and have coffee, and simply talk.
She used to cook up great feasts and pull the family together, bring them all together in one place in spite of squabbles and life, and all the things that try to separate and divide us. If you look at my own family of origin, one thing that really marks us is chronic estrangement, unforgiveness, feuds and fear on both sides of the family. “Estrange,” it means “to alienate, disaffect, to turn away from a previously held state of affection, or allegiance.” It is brutal, it has taken a tremendous toll on me, and it isn’t even about me at all. I have been orphaned and cast out, and truly in my family, maybe that’s actually a blessing in disguise.
I drove past some orphans the other day, bedraggled, alone, that haunted look in their eyes, and it just broke my heart. I know what it is like to be cast aside and rejected by those who are supposed to be looking out for you. I want to pull them in, as my Mother in law would have done, and to tell them I know a Great Friend of orphans, a Father to the fatherless. You are not estranged, rejected, cast out. You have a heavenly Father who wants nothing more than to have a relationship with you. But I have tried to pull them in a few times, and they cannot really hear me, they just do not understand.
I so want those lost boys to not be lost anymore. I pray for Christian teamwork, for that invisible thread that binds us all together, for the people around the bend to water the seeds, and the next group to sprinkle the fertilizer, and on down the path until one day something begins to sprout and grow.
I have too much grief on my plate right now, too much powerlessness, too much despair. If my Mother in law was still here, she would be heaping things on my plate, telling me I must eat more of the good stuff. She would tell me a story about a guy who once filled his plate with nothing but pickled herring and fried okra, and she would shudder, as if those were the worst things ever. She would say you could tell too, that he ate nothing but pickled herring and okra, you could see it on his face, he was lean and hungry and sour.