“The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.”
That statement was in the flyleaf of my mother-in-law’s Bible. Many years ago I read it as I sat by her hospital bed in her den where Mom, at the age of 85, was dying. It was evident by numerous signs that the end was near. It was also the end of an era. Mom had been matriarch of the family, keeping track of relatives and friends scattered all over the world. She sent them cards to mark special occasions and included every new addition by birth or marriage on her lengthy prayer list. When she became incapacitated to the point that she could no longer pray for the names on her list, many felt the loss.
Mom knew the genealogies of the living and the dead. Conversations around a table laden with her wonderful cooking often included laughter, sometimes brought on by her observations such as, “Uncle John would be 120 today—if he were still alive.” It reminded us that the archives of a family existed in the mind of one woman.
Someone said that love is what you go through with someone. There was a lot of love between Mom and me. Our relationship belied the mother-in-law jokes. It was more like the biblical account of Ruth who left her homeland and her gods behind in Moab and adopted her mother-in-law Naomi’s homeland, Israel. I was married while living in my mother-in-law’s home, and she was the mother who always came to help me in times of childbirth or sickness.
What Ruth said to Naomi is often taken out of context and used for weddings. But it was the pledge a daughter-in-law made to the mother-in-law she loved: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16 NIV).
While preachers sometimes wax eloquent about the love of Ruth, they forget that Naomi must have been a special woman to inspire such devotion. My mother-in-law was such a woman. She used to say that what you put into the lives of others comes back to you. The crowds who filled the funeral home for two days and made the funeral service standing-room only demonstrated it. People of all ages told us what she meant to them.
Maybe it was because she would be so sorely missed that God gave the family time to get used to the idea. As she was in the dying process for 17 months, we sometimes thought He gave us too much time. We didn’t want to lose the woman we had known, but we asked Him repeatedly to take the woman whose suffering increased daily. There were times when her mind became childlike from strokes and she talked of the pain of her cancer. But when her mind was in its normal state, Mom never complained. She reminded us that we all have to suffer, but that God will never put on us more than He gives us strength to bear.
Twenty-six years before her death, my mother-in-law had introduced me to Bible study and to the God who could be trusted to keep all His promises. She conducted me to the starting gate of eternal life and saw me safely in. As with Naomi and Ruth, her God became my God. I was glad that I could hold her hand as she passed through life’s final gateway.
Mom had worn out several Bibles over the years and loved many verses. But this one, also written in the flyleaf, was a favorite: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27).
When I heard the breath that wasn’t followed by another, I knew she was safe in those arms.
Vicki Huffman is the author of three Christian books available in print and e-book on amazon.com. A Secret Hope is a novel about the relationships between mothers and daughters.
5/11/13: 2 Samuel 19-21, Psalm 5, Psalm 38, Psalm 42.
05/12/13: 2 Samuel 22-23, Psalm 57.
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