Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wife Rule #56: Thy People are My People

Some of the most beautiful verses in scripture are the words of Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi. Both recently widowed, Naomi had offered to let Ruth return to her former life and family and start over. But Ruth expressed her intent to stay with Naomi, revealing the true extent of the familial bonding Ruth felt to her:

And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. (Ruth 1:16-17)

I understand a little bit better now how Ruth felt--not that I have any desire to be parted from the family of my youth, but in the sense of belonging fully to my wife's family.

It wasn't always this way.

My in-laws are wonderful people. No really, they are. I have no schmoozing or brown-nosing agenda in saying this. But even so, when we first became family, I didn't immediately call my mother-in-law "Mom," or my father-in-law "Dad." There was a transition for me after our marriage: a transition from feeling like an outsider to feeling integrated; from being a guest at family gatherings to being part of the gathering. I wasn't surprised by this, nor was I disappointed. If it took a year-and-a-half of steady effort to get my wife to fall in love and marry me, I expected that it would take even longer for her family to accept me as one of them, and for me to feel the same way about them.

And then, after five years of being an in-law, we experienced the same type of event that culminated in Ruth expressing her devotion to Naomi: the death of my father-in-law. Going through this experience has served to seal my love and sense of belonging to my in-laws, like it did for Ruth.

Immediately after Dad died, I tried to help however I could. Even though he had been unconscious in the hospital since the accident, his death still caught us by surprise. Thus, when we realized that someone needed to drive back home and pack funeral clothes for my little family as well as my brother-in-law who lived near us, I volunteered to make the trip. I felt I should go, and let my wife and brother-in-law be together with their family.

A few days later, just minutes before Dad's funeral, I remember standing with my wife's family in the small room at the church where the viewing was held. I was honored to be part of that sacred family time and to be participating in the family prayer. I remember seeing my wife and members of her family weeping as they said their final earthly goodbyes to the father whose absence left such a huge hole in their lives. Knowing that their grief was far heavier than mine, I felt almost a little guilty to be witnessing such an intimate, personal time for them.

But as the casket lid was lowered for the final time, I felt something in fullness at that moment that I don't know that I had ever felt before--a compassion, a desire to comfort and console; but I also felt a sharp, deep sense of personal loss. I realized that I was not only mourning for them, I was mourning with them. Though I knew their losses were greater than mine, it was still true that we all had to let a family member go when the casket lid was shut. I was suddenly, and would be forever more, one of them.

Perhaps that was why I didn't feel like an uncomfortable outsider anymore when we proceeded into the chapel for the funeral services. When we walked through the chapel doors and the congregation stood, I felt that they stood for me too. My personal grief and the tears that flowed freely as we made the awful march to the reserved rows in the front of the chapel somehow made me worthy to sit there with them. I would not have been comfortable in the guest pews. I needed to be with my family. My family.

I have learned something interesting about familial love through all of this: it doesn't matter whether I, or any of my wife's family, occasionally use the term "in-law" when describing our relationship, because I now feel like a full family citizen. Through the refining fire of adversity, as well as the ongoing passage of time, many of the rough edges of our in-law relationships have been smoothed. I now consider myself one of them, just with a different last name. Like Ruth, I can now say with sincerity to my wife: thy people are my people.

I consider it a great honor both to love and to be loved by such fine people. Thank you for taking me in. I am now one of you, and not even death will change that.


Shell said...

I'll chalk it up to pregnancy hormones, but that made me cry. Your post was very touching. Thanks for making me feel part of your family :)

LuckyMatt said...

Rochelle, you are an essential part of our family. You have brought so much happiness to all of us, especially the brother that I love so much!

Brooke said...

I truly feel that I'm part of two beautiful families. I may have more history with one, but both will be with me for the rest of forever, and for this I count myself blessed.

Sylvia said...

What a wonderful discovery... Thank you for sharing these things.

May you find even greater peace as you remember all that happened with that event.

Glenda said...

Dear dear Matt,
We're so lucky to have you!

chelse said...

matt i just wanted you to know how much i love you! you are my brother ... none of this in-law junk! I hope it didn't take you 5 years to really feel included because honestly I've always felt like you fit in our family from the start! I miss you and brooke kinda a lot and can't wait to see you in a week!

LuckyMatt said...

It didn't take five years for me to feel included--not even close. The change that happened that day was mostly inside of me. I finally gave up my last pockets of hesitancy or holding back or whatever it was, and became one of you with my whole heart.