I didn’t know why I couldn’t call her mom; she gave me a choice, so I called her by her name, Ruth. It was 1984 and truth be told, I hadn’t even thought about what I would call my mother-in-law. She was gracious and kind to me, but I hardly knew her. It also felt like I would infringe on my own mother’s high ground, and I wasn’t emotionally ready to do that. If this offended her, I would never know because she continues to be gracious and kind.
For most of us the word “Mom” is considered an endearment, more than it is a noun, and by the world’s standard it would appear that not calling her so would mean that I have less feelings for her. As I settle into this thought I can see how traces of regret could build momentum and create guilt, but honestly after all these years, I feel I have gained something even more special.
I have a “Ruth” in my life and like the Biblical character that chose to follow her mother-in-law, I too have been inspired by mine. More than a proper noun, the word ruth is an adjective that means compassionate (ex: ruthful as opposed to ruthless). Ruth lives up to her name and is so much more than an endearment to me. For over 30 years her love has kept company with godly virtues and is rendered as grace and kindness. She is also a prayer warrior like no other, and I do not discount the decades of her prayers that have covered me: The prayer of a righteous person are powerful and effective. (James 5:16)
All the more credit goes to her during times when I said stupid things that have insulted her; like suggesting the clock she bought my husband hang in the garage. Yes I really did that! Or the many times she covered my mother-melt downs with grace and a patient, “She’s just a little stressed” remark. You can’t know how humbled I am by how well she has loved me in the face of my flaws, and I certainly can’t dismiss the incredible self-control it took for her to do it so well.
Early on in my marriage I would only see Ruth on holidays. When I had my first son, I decided that I wanted him to know his other grandma better, so I began to visit her every Monday. One Monday, in her gracious way, she asked if I had any errands to run, and offered to watch the baby. I took her up on that and eventually this turned into their day together, and this stay-at-home mom’s day off! I cannot tell you what kind of medicine this was for my soul!
Ruth is a simple, low-maintenance woman who lives for Jesus, and that’s that. Everyone in her life gets the benefit of that faith and moral compass. As much as I try to plumb the depths of her spirit, I find that her deep waters are the same as her shallow shores; it is all about Jesus. Whether or not she was cut from the cloth that makes great servants, or if her heart commands her will to be a great servant, I don’t know, but that is what you get from Ruth. She is a hands and feet gal. Quick with help, followed by encouragement. She will get it done, and it will be for God’s glory.
As a mother-in-law she was silent in our family affairs (a wisdom not to be understated), but there was a time she had a parenting suggestion. One day when I dropped my 2 year old off by her for their weekly visit, she had 3 items laying on the couch; a thin tree branch, a narrow, white, plastic, women’s belt, and a wooden spoon. She told me to choose one to use when my son got out of hand. Unprepared, and quite a bit shocked by her proposition, I just stood there. She encouraged me again to pick one and when I used it, not to hit his diapered backside, but to whack the back of his legs so he would feel it! I was speechless – there was no way I would ever do that, but instead of telling her that, I respectfully chose the spoon.
Through the years the “Grandma Ruth” spoon became ridiculously notorious. It was used as a threat by everyone, even the other Grandma, but was never deployed by anyone. This may sound shocking to you, using a spoon to discipline a toddler, but this was Ruth helping and encouraging in her most simple, albeit generationally different, way. Going along and choosing the spoon may not have been the right decision in some eyes, but honest to goodness, having someone else validate me and my motherhood struggles was soooo encouraging. She affirmed me without belittling me and she equipped me! I felt loved beyond words when I walked out that door. In her good nature, Ruth will chuckle about the Grandma Ruth spoon along with the rest of us, but I doubt she will ever fully know how much she saved me that day.
Ruth turns 90 years old this week. I think of nearly a century’s worth of people that she has touched and has blessed… and let me tell you they all would say they were blessed! I am reminded that a life lived for Christ can actually be lived out quite simply. Ruth has showed me this. Ruth has given me gifts beyond measure, but she has given me an even greater lesson of simple, consistent faith expressing itself in love. Simple. Faith. Love. Grace. Kindness. Compassion. Ruth!
Recently at a family gathering I was complimented by my sister about what a good mother-in-law I was, (or appeared to be in her eyes). I told her I have the greatest role model, Ruth. When friends complain with dominating or stingy stories of their mother-in-law’s, I have a different story. I have a ruthful story. A story of a woman who stands apart from everyone else in my life because of her love for Christ and the enduring, simple life of love she chooses to live because of him. I have been indelibly changed because of that love, and can’t help but witness about this woman; who some call mom, some call grandma, and some call friend. I call her Ruth, and for the record, I am extremely honored to do so!