Receiving My In-laws from God

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But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” – Ruth 1:16-17

My husband is the only son born to his parents in midlife. His parents were born and raised in China. His elder sister is thirteen years older than him. In the traditional Chinese culture, a son is important to carry on the family name. A daughter given away in marriage belongs to another family. 传子传媳不传女. One bequeaths family trade secrets to the son and the daughter-in-law but not the daughter. This is an important context to know as you read my story.

The Bible teaches “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife…” (Gen. 2:24). “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife…” (Matt 19:5, Mark 10:7, Eph 5:31). As I read these verses again, I searched for the reason: why does a man leave his father and mother? Is it really about leaving them physically behind? Is it not so against the Chinese culture God has put me in? How come Andrew and I cannot leave his parents and live on our own?

In my mind, I just accepted the fact that Andrew being an only son has the sole duty and responsibility to take care of his parents. And that means his parents live with him wherever he goes. And I being his wife, accept this reality – no choice.

Through 33 years of marriage, I went through so many lessons to be a wife, mother and daughter-in-law. I failed miserably many times if it were not for God’s grace and mercy, I don’t know what would become of our marriage amidst these challenges.

Perhaps in my mother-in-law’s mind, my most important failure was not giving her a grandson. Whereas Hannah endured the ridicule of Penninah not having children of her own, I often had to ignore ‘expectations’ (uttered or not, subtle or not) to ‘produce’ a son. I gave birth to Michelle, my youngest when I was already forty years old. Even when Mimi was already going to kinder school, my mother-in-law would still tell her in my hearing: “Jio sioti-ah.” (Bring along a younger brother). This is a very Chinese (Hokkien) phrase – to invite a younger brother – as if calling out for a younger brother – will make the dream come true! It made me sad (and mad) when I hear her praising another lady for having many children even though she also had caesarian sections. It was as if bearing children (many) were the ‘valued’ skill of a daughter-in-law.

When I first got married, my mother-in-law complained to my godmother how I could not cook because I could not even hold the cooking utensils properly. My father-in-law told me: “Cooking is the most important task.” (for a lady of the house) Before I got married, except for cooking classes in high school, I never cooked a meal in my life. For many years, I was grateful that my mother-in-law cooked our meals and dinner was ready when we came home from work. As the years passed, I learned many dishes from her. While many people believed cooking de-stress them, for me cooking is stressful. Through the years, I learned to appreciate the task of cooking with joy for my family. I learned this from my mother-in-law. It was never too late in the night for her to cook for her son.

Having in-laws living with us has its ups and downs. Even as there were unavoidable conflicts and differences in opinions, I must be thankful how my in-laws helped me take care of my children especially Hannah, my eldest. In her days, we did not even have a helper at home. Hubby and I both worked and came home at night to a well-prepared meal. We were quite assured that Hannah was in good hands all through the day. When Hannah was just a few months old, grandpa went around the house rocking her to sleep and gently putting her in the crib. Even in his 90’s, he went to pick up Mimi, my youngest from school. How blessed it is to have such a strong healthy and loving grandpa.

At 94, my mom-in-law had vascular dementia. Each day as I saw her eating 3 meals a day, taking snacks in between, I thanked God for giving her appetite and ability to eat (not by peg or thru the nose). When I see her napping on the sofa, or the couch in her bedroom, I am thankful for the privilege of taking care of her in her old age. It is easier said than done. There were difficult times when she was violent and moody. Anger and violent behaviors would come anytime without provocation. We had to seek medical help. God is good. He led us to a psychiatrist who prescribed a medication that helped resolve this symptom of vascular dementia.

It was during these challenging episodes that I realized what it means when Jesus said: ‘Father, forgive them for they know now what they do.’ Indeed, for the words she said to me and the things she did when she was sick, I had to look beyond the past, and beyond the hurts and wounds inside and outside of me, I learn to forgive but not forget. I remember how God forgave me. I forget not the good things she did for our family.

So let me return to my question – for what reason should a man leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife? What does it mean to leave his father and his mother? Let me say what it does not mean. Leaving his father and his mother does not mean living far away from each other. It does not mean that we leave them to take care of themselves. It does not even mean to leave them to their daughter, my sis-in-law, for her to take care of them. It means that leaving his parents, hubby becomes one flesh with me. I become united with him and together, we take care of his parents.

I am not better than Ruth. I could not say to my mother-in-law the things Ruth said to Naomi. Unlike Ruth, no one said to my mother-in-law that I am better to her than 7 sons (Ruth 4:15). She would not believe it. I would not either. I am not Ruth. I am more blessed than Ruth. I was never a widow. I have a husband who loves me and my children. I have a husband who loved his parents and my parents. Andrew leaves his father and his mother and is united to me, his wife and we become one flesh. Because what is his is mine and what is mine is his, his parents became mine and my parents became his. For this reason, I receive my in-laws with thanksgiving and praise for my God of mercy and grace.

Thank you, Lord for giving Andrew a father and a mother who loved him very much. Thank you for your gift of in-laws in my life. Praise you, Father for their lives and the many lessons I learned as a daughter-in-law. Amen.

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