"Would you like some of Nonna's soup sweetie?" I asked. His big brown eyes seemed a little larger than usual due to two days of not eating. A high fever yesterday with almost no appetite, and an upset tummy today had left him feeling pretty peaked.
Now at the thought of the salty chicken broth, his eyes brightened and he nodded.
Our freezer is usually laden with plastic tubs filled with chicken broth, minestrone and various types of pasta sauces. Every time we visit Frank's Mom (Ma, as we call her) we come home with bags of these frozen love offerings, along with the miscellaneous fruits, juices, cookies and fruilano cheese bricks. Essentially, we are spoiled rotten. But it's on these days when I'm taking out chicken and go to separate one thigh from the others in order to make broth for Mikey, that I see the tubs and audibly sigh "Thanks Ma, that was good timing". Now I don't have to make the broth, and there will be extra chicken for dinner.
There was a day, years ago when I spurned these gifts. I didn't understand, and much hurt occurred in our relationship. I felt invaded by my matriarchal, Italian mother in law who was determined to love me and mine as her mother had loved her. But coming from a strongly independent English family I was overwhelmed and offended at her intrusive ways.
Friends would often look at me when I shared my struggle and ask what was wrong with me. "Your mother in law wants to make food for you and clean your house, what's your problem? Send her to me...I'll take the help". But for me the help felt pushy and judgmental.
Now, years later God has worked deeply in both of us. I've even come to the place of humbling where I've let her know that she is one of my mentors. She is strong, willful and opinionated. But she is also fiercely committed to loving Jesus and her family and for that matter, everyone she meets. She has gentled over the years and learned how to manage her headstrong, opinionated daughter in law.
At 70 years, she isn't as strong as she used to be, but there's still a fire in those dark eyes and a determination to give and serve whatever the circumstances. Now, as she walks through cancer with her husband, helps him however she can, diligently reads God's Word to him, encourages him, looks after him, I can hear her saying on the phone "God knows. I hope for the best for him, but God knows what will happen". Her faith is in God's goodness. She is willing to walk through the valley of the shadow of death if that is where they must go, to embrace suffering as Jesus did, not to spurn it.
I love this woman and all she has come to mean to me over the last 20 years. Today it's all about the chicken soup, but there's so much more.
"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 anything but death separates you and me." Ruth 1:16-18
Thank you Father for my mother in law who is family to me. Though there have been times of separation, I know that this is a life long relationship to celebrate and treasure.