The Diving Board, Part 2.

When your Daughter-in-Law Starts to Date: Reflections of a M.I.L.
by Jill Neff

Jump inIt was not what I expected to hear standing in line, balancing my items and waiting my turn to pay. Absorbed with the myriad of games and candy bars, I didn’t pay much attention to the two women in front of me until these words registered in my distracted brain, “Well you know, a daughter-in-law isn’t really family or blood…”

Wait….WHAT?

I wanted to drop my items, hurry after her, and try to dispel the ridiculous notion I had just heard from her lips. For several hours, those words bounced around in my head, and I tried to imagine what the whole conversation might have been. And what would make a person say those words out loud?

From the first moment they called me “mom,” my two daughters-in-law have been special parts of our family. Two sons and their wives, supporting, encouraging one another, and forging a bond that swept beyond the biological definition of a family. Two sons and two daughters-in-law planning for a lifetime.

And then there were three.

Losing our son suddenly and without warning was a roller coaster of emotions, pain, grief, and, grace. So much grace. We shared the pain and grief with our daughter-in-law, Ami, and we grieved our loss individually as well. And God began to “heal the brokenhearted” (Psalm 147:3) and bind our wounds with cords of unending grace and love. Because if there was ever someone who understands brokenhearted, it’s God.  He gave HIS son in my place, willingly sending Christ to die on the cross for me.  Talk about brokenhearted.  He is intimately acquainted with shattered hearts, and He knew just what we needed to heal, giving His abundant grace and wrapping us in His love.

Now things are changing. Our sweet Ami has met someone special, someone who is willing to know her and understand the journey she has experienced. It’s a day I’ve prayed for and always believed in my heart would come.

And I feel like I’m standing right beside her on that diving board, sharing her anxiety, fearful of another loss. Feeling fragile. But I also hear the soft whisper from God’s word, encouraging me to think on honest, pure, lovely truth because this sweet, special daughter-in-law is completely in God’s hands, and His plans are perfect.

No fear allowed!

But if I’m honest, standing on that diving board holds another fear for me–the fear of a different form of loss. It’s a silly irrational fear, yes!  Because unlike the woman at the store, I believe that daughters-in-law are part of the family. Not born in by blood, but bonded in with love, each one is like a quilt piece woven into the fabric of our lives by a gracious God.

I don’t want to lose her. 

So here we are, poised at the beginning of a new part of this journey. Sitting across from her, I see it in her eyes. I hear it in her voice. She’s ready, brought to this moment by the grace and marvelous workings of a great God. And I realize I won’t lose her, I’ll do this journey with her.

So jump in Ami! The water’s fine. And I’m right behind you!


You might also like:

Here’s to the Diving Board.

I won’t shut them out.

Adoption and the County Fair. 

 

Advertisements

I won’t shut them out.

Okay, let me be real with you. I am well. Life and ministry thrive. God has provided a sustainable, flexible career. I get to disciple others, be involved in Kingdom work, and I have deep friendships. My daily needs are met, and my emotions feel stable. I laugh often.

There is much beauty.

But there are moments when still his “absence is like the sky spread over everything,” and missing him is a little more poignant. Certain occasions still create the now familiar heaviness. It’s not debilitating pain of the early days, but rather a slow, dull ache. It’s an undercurrent of longing that shifts the tide and returns my heart to a place of introspection.

absence

Let me set the scene.

“The past tense of three!”

Laughter erupts at the ridiculous clue. Past tense of three? A shouted answer, a round disc passed, voices intense, and an intermittent beeping creates a fever pitch as it hurtles toward the timer’s end. Groans mix with whoops, and the guys leap from their seats. High fives all around, one would think they won the Super Bowl rather than a round of Catch Phrase.

Laughter comes in rolling wave upon wave. It’s a perfect moment frozen in time. But Jon’s not there, and it feels like he should be.

I’m one of the “lucky ones” (though luck is truly a myth) who has always adored her in-laws. I fell in love with Jon’s family immediately. And in death they have still counted me their own. I am so very thankful.

But this time it was hard to be with them. To me his absence was a startling contrast to the laughing family around me. Lies crept in.

They’re done missing him.” 

I guess we’ve exhausted the storehouse of shared memories.”

He’s being replaced.”

Without realizing it, I retreated to the safety of my thoughts.

“Ames, are you okay? It seems like this trip has been especially difficult. Sometimes it seems like you hurt more when you’re with us.”

“I do hurt more.”

And given the opportunity to process aloud, my words came in a flood. “It feels like he should be here. When I look at Ben with Holden, I see what Jon would have been like with a son.”

“I’m so excited for another brother to come into the family. (My youngest sister-in-law is headed toward marrying a fantastic guy) “But sometimes I think–‘a new adopted son to replace the old.‘”

“We’re not done missing him. You know there are lies among those thoughts, right?

“Yes.”

“We’re your family. You don’t have to put the walls up.” And then I understood she was right. I had begun to shut them out.

But I need them. And I have a sneaky suspicion that they need me too.

The heaviness lifted. I don’t have deep theological truth to share this time, just simple thoughts. An emotional wall is the opposite of grace.

  • Grace gives permission to handle things differently.
  • Grace remembers the dull aches of others.
  • Grace does not steel itself against hurt.
  • Grace loves and cherishes.
  • Grace does not believe lies.
  • Grace laughs.
  • And grace arrives with open arms.

So as long as they’ll have me, I’ll have them. I’ll keep my heart open. When the missing is more poignant, I won’t shoulder it alone. For grace recalls its family.

“I hold you in my heart.”thank


“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace”

Philippians 1:3-7a 

For more about adoption, in laws, and grace check out these posts:

Delight to Gaze upon Him

everythingI love when people feel at home in my home. I really do.

“Grab a blanket if you’re cold.

You know where the coffee mugs are.

Come on in without knocking.

Feel free to go in the fridge.

You’re a welcome guest. Moreover, I want you to know I consider you family.

Such delight it brings when friends know what they are to me- family, beloved!

I hope my home is lovely, and I hope folks feel loved there. But I know of a far more precious dwelling place.

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. (Psalm 84:1-2 )

Now, there are some things you must know.

  1. In the Old Testament, God chose to dwell in a tent made by hands, first the Tabernacle, and later the Temple in Jerusalem. Israel could meet with Him there.
  2. The journey to God’s dwelling place was a long, arduous, and often treacherous pilgrimage.
  3. For many, it may have been merely obligation. (Deuteronomy 16:16)
  4. Common Israelites were permitted to enter only the outer court of the Tabernacle. Even more restrictive was the Holy of Holies, the very seat of God. Solely the high priest, ONE man, ONE time a year could enter it.
  5. The sons of Korah, the authors of this Psalm, rejoice even in their lowly positions as doorkeepers. (Psalm 84:10)

Now, keep all that in mind for a minute.

To be welcome in the house of the Lord, the God who created everything, the God who is majestic and transcendent is in a word, astonishing.

So, the psalmists long for God’s dwelling place, yearning for it with a sense of urgency. They understand that meeting with God offers true delight, true satisfaction, and true fulfillment.

Therefore, to dwell with God is their chief desire.

David reiterates the theme.

“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.” (Psalm 27: 4)

Wow. I want God to be my chief desire, the captor of my affections. I want to sing and shout for joy, knowing He far surpasses all my hopes and dreams. I know He is the fulness.

But I’ll be honest, I don’t always want God the most.

Sometimes, other things vie for my attention. The hazards of the journey ensnare me. Sometimes, weeds and thorns threaten to choke out the truth, and other pastures seem greener.

But there are things I must recall.

God no longer dwells in a tent made by hands, but in hearts made of flesh. Through the completed work of Christ, God dwells within His church. He ALWAYS dwells with me.

I get to meet with the living God. Daily. Hourly. Minute by minute. In a word, that’s astonishing.

I’m not restricted to the outer court. The veil was torn, the Holy of Holies opened. Rather than ONE man, ONE time of year, I’ve been given constant, total access to God, Himself. Jesus pleads for me. And I can expect grace. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Furthermore, God calls me not a doorkeeper, but FAMILY. (Romans 8:14-15)

How then can I not delight to gaze upon Him, singing and shouting for joy?

How then can I not recall what am to Him?

Beloved. Called. Chosen. Redeemed. Purchased. Family


This post by Ami appeared first at aNew Season Ministries

 

Adoption and the County Fair

fair 2My in-laws love the county fair. It’s one of their FAVORITE family traditions. Did I emphasize favorite?

They don’t just go one day, but every day. They love planning out their fair food- kabobs, corn on the cob, elephant ears, turkey legs, cherry limeade, tacos, donuts…

When I came into the family, I readily embraced this tradition. Bring on the fair food!

I remember my first time at the fair with the Neff clan. It was the Sandwich Fair, in Sandwich Illinois. I was a little disappointed there were no free sandwiches. But I digress.

Jon and I had been dating several months and it came time to bring me home to meet the family. I already loved him, but I quickly fell in love with them too.

I loved experiencing their joy over something so simple as the county fair.

Jon’s sister, Megan, was 14 at the time. Of course we had to ride the Zipper. I found out later that as soon as the ride started, Jon and his mom had a conversation…

“So? What do you think? Do you like her?”

“What’s not to like? She’s lovely.”

Then eyeing him with a look that only moms have, “You better not mess this up.”

How those words make me smile.

I think I got to have five county fairs with Jon and the whole family. Then Mom and Dad Neff moved away. And then Jon died. It was not the same. A place that had been fill only with joy, now met me with tears.

But this we year got to go to the fair again! How we laughed, and reminisced. It was just “right” to be there with them again. My mother-in-law even gave me a quarter to feed the animals. Happy. As we relished our fair food and took in the sights, my thoughts turned to adoption.

Adoption? Well there are some more things you need to know…

Jon understood the beauty of two sets of parents. His first mom was a type one diabetic to whom the doctors said, “If you have children, it will kill you.”

Yet she was a believer in Jesus. When she knew she was pregnant, to end a life was not an option.

She spent months of her pregnancy hospitalized. During that time she kept a journal for her unborn son, Jonathan. I have this journal, and it’s a touching link to a lady I never got to meet. Her love of Christ leapt from the page.

The doctors were right. Having a child debilitated her. When Jon was five, his mom had her first stroke. He quickly learned to dial 911.

Eventually, she died after multiple strokes and after having both legs amputated. Jon was 14.

In Jon’s words, he learned how to love by watching his dad lavish affection on a wife who was an invalid for years. Jon said his dad always adored her. I can’t wait to meet that man someday. and thank him! For I was the beneficiary of those lessons in love. Lavish, extravagant love.

I so wish I had gotten to meet Mom and Dad Atkins, to know the parents my husband cherished so dearly. Some day I will!

But, Jon’s dad also died. At 19, he was alone.

Astonishingly though, God was up to something new and marvelous: giving him another family. Before he died, Jim asked his pastor to watch over his son.

“Would you help him stay out of trouble? Will you see him through college?”

So the Neff family prayed. “Can we take on such a role?

By grace they said yes. They packed up a grieving, rebellious teenager and welcomed him home. My mother-in-law has said, “Even then I knew it would be more. I knew he wasn’t going to walk out of our lives after college.”

So they adopted a son. And Jon got another mom and dad, two brothers, a sister, a dog, and a cat. Another family to cherish. His brother Ben jokes that Jon held the world record for longest sleepover.

“I used to go over to Jon’s house, but the one time I asked him over to mine, he ended up staying for 12 years!”

They went through some crazy rough times together. At times he made them angry. At times he broke their hearts. But a miraculous, beautiful thing was forming. Another son. Part of the family.

They played such a huge, indispensable role in the man he became.

At our wedding, Jon couldn’t help but be choked up about the beauty of adoption. Through example, his second parents taught him the reality of an even greater adoption.

Jesus accomplished the greatest adoption. His death and resurrection brought His own into the family!

As Mom and Dad Neff chose Jon, so God adopts His chosen ones. He makes them part of His family, as sons and heirs. His love is lavish.

Ever since that first county fair, I have understood adoption too. I have a beautiful family, but I also have a second family.

“Ami you’re stuck with us. We’re not going anywhere. Jon may not be here with us anymore, but you are still ours. You are still family.”

Praise God for adoption. Praise God for an even greater adoption!

Adoption, one of the most tender facets of the gospel, causes me to marvel at the love of God.

I am a daughter of the King. I’m a child of the Most High. I’m an heir with the Son. My Father has every resource at His disposal. Because I’m in the family, I am never alone. My Father will only ever do good to me.

Who knew the county fair could produce such magnificent thoughts?

first fair10564483_10152315309713269_1566809494_o