What to give your mother-in-law for Mother’s Day

by Kari Patterson
The Sacred Mundane

Mother’s Day is this weekend. Looking for the perfect gift? A few years ago my mom modeled for me a beautiful gift for her MIL:

My grandma is an interesting lady.  She’s my dad’s mom which explains a lot.  She is a million years old (or 95-or-something), and stubborn as a mule.  She was orphaned as a young child, and sent on a train to cross the country when she was 5-years-old, with nothing but a sign tied around her neck indicating where she was supposed to end up, asking fellow passengers to help her along her way.  She’s had a hard life.

She raised two boys, my dad obviously being one of them (which is part of the hard life I referred to above), and was a no-nonsense, hard-headed woman. She helped my dad do crazy things like paint cars using a shop-vac and build additions onto their house. She married her high school basketball coach, devoted her life to caring for him and her two boys. Then, a year before my brother was born, my grandpa died and she was widowed.

My grandpa was her life, and shortly after his death, she was so overcome with grief she told my dad she wanted to crawl into the grave next to him.  She couldn’t imagine how she could possibly live without him.  And yet, that’s exactly what she’s been doing for more than 37 years.

She’s traveled the world, accumulated significant wealth, and could probably fill the Rose Garden with all the crocheted dolls she’s made for underprivileged children. The crocheted curtains, wall-hangings and Christmas ornaments we have all came from her arthritic hands. She’s done a lot.

But her heart is so hard.  I don’t know what all has happened to her, but somehow her heart has become hard.

We’ve never heard her say, “I love you.”

Never. She’s never said it.  Not to her grandkids. Not to her kids. Not to her great-grandkids.  We say it to her every time we see her, and now she’ll nod and say, “Uh huh.”  But that’s as close as we get.  She doesn’t say thank you, and she doesn’t smile much or give many compliments.

I’ve never seen her cry.

My dad has often talked to her about Christ. I’ve talked to her. We’ve given her sermons to listen to. Books to read. We’ve loved her, prayed for her. And honestly, I don’t know where she stands.  She seems like an impenetrable wall: hard and impossible to read.

But leave it to my mom to break through, with a simple gift of thanks.

This year, my mom couldn’t think of anything else to give her. She has a 10′x10′ room. That’s it. Her dresser is already covered with framed pictures and she already has  a robe and slippers. What else is there?

So she gave her the gift of thanks. My mom went through their house and wrote down every single thing that they had, that my grandma had crocheted or made. Then she sat down and wrote my grandma a letter, thanking her for the way that she’d filled their house, naming the items, thanking her for the years and years she’d spent curving her painfully arthritic fingers around those crochet hooks, to bless my parents with beautiful things for their home. Not knowing how grandma would respond, she dropped the letter in the mail.

Today we arrived and my grandma immediately pulled herself onto her walker, without a word, and shuffled to her room, where she retrieved an envelope with “Karen” scribbled in my grandma’s shaky handwriting. Inside was a hand-written letter.  It began like this:

Dear Karen,  thank you for your note.  You made me cry.

Please allow me to write my own list: …

Her writing has deteriorated and it was hard to read, but she went on to write out, in detail, things my mom had done for her in years passed. Giving up her bed and closet when grandma had cancer and had to stay with them. Administering medicine… the list went on. Things from years past. Things my mom had never even realized had touched her so. Her hand obviously tired and the note ended abruptly, of course without any flowery words or tender closing. But she made sure it found its way in mom’s hands.

I believe my mom was profoundly used by God in her simple gift of thanks. My grandma is such a hard woman I’m embarrassed to admit I sometimes forget she has a heart. But my mom’s gift of thanks trickled right through the unseen cracks in my grandma’s brittle front and touched the place I think we often miss.

I’m so thankful for my mom, who teaches me immeasurably through her quiet, humble, ways.  I have so much to learn from her, and her gentle gifts of thanks.

{I am so grateful to have a wonderful relationship with my mother-in-law, but no matter what yours is like, a gift of thanks might be perfect for the occasion this weekend. Be specific and lavish. And have a Happy Mother’s Day … thanks for reading.}

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