They carried her to the altar, their mother. They carried her, all ash in a small wooden box. They covered her with a white cloth, embroidered with a cross.
Where Christ paid for our ultimate reconciliation—restored relation between holy God and sinner. Between sinners and sinners . . .
All watched as the two brothers carried her, their mother, the one who once carried them in her womb, knit together by God, sixty-plus years ago. After ninety-two years, the body that birthed four, had returned to dust. They placed her before the altar, where we all need to be placed.
For dust you are and to dust you will return. Genesis 3:19
We gathered to memorialize, to praise Jesus for eternal life beyond the grave, beyond the dust, when all who place faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross for our sins will rise to never die again and live forever with God.
There were photographs. Memorabilia. Friends. Family. Stories. Hugs.
And I remembered the letter I once wrote to my mother-in-law, when I called her my Naomi. Back then, I felt like I was her Ruth. That was a long time ago.
On February 25, I sat by her head, stroking her thin, gray hair. I swabbed saliva from her mouth she could no longer close. She couldn’t speak. Not with her voice. But she spoke with her eyes that gazed into mine and my husband’s, her son. She spoke with her groans. Her breathing was labored. The hospice nurse said it wouldn’t be long. A couple hours, at most.
My husband, her third of four children, read Psalms. I prayed. She squeezed our hands, ever so weakly but enough to let us know she could hear us. And then came the morphine.
I’ve never seen someone die before. I didn’t know what to expect. All I wanted was for her to be at peace, to have no pain, to slip easily into the arms of Jesus. Up until a couple minutes before she passed, she looked at my husband and me.
All is well, I whispered to her. All is well, I repeated.
And then her breath just stopped. Her eyes remained open but vacant. She was with Jesus, the line between temporal and eternal crossed in a moment. The mix of grateful and sorrowful trickled down my husband’s and my cheeks. We held each other. I stroked his thinning, silver hair, knowing the next might be him—or me.
Now, we must wait for reunion with this woman I once called my Naomi. What a reunion we will have because of Christ!
Naomi and Ruth. Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Those two women of ages past, so different from each other, loved each other well, even during geographic distance. As for me and my mother-in-law?
We had a few strong disagreements over the years, a few lines dug deep in the sand. Painful for us both, I suspect. She had her convictions. I had mine. Enough said. Because speculations and accusations aren’t helpful now or ever. And memory can be oh, so faulty. So I choose to dwell on positive memories . . .
Truth is, I have always loved my mother-in-law, who once felt as close to me as my own mother, even in conflict. We traveled coast-to-coast and border-to-border with each other on four travel trailer trips with our kids, she and I playing Scrabble all the way. Once, she won with the word “ZIT” placed on a triple letter square. I argued, saying “ZIT” wasn’t in the dictionary. It is. She won. With “ZIT”. That’s it. We laughed about that winning “ZIT” for years.
Sadly, relationships can change. Because we sinners can’t seem to find a way back to each other, especially when others get involved and rally. Sometimes, more than geography can distance people and, for the sake of peace, it’s best to love from a distance when reconciliation doesn’t seem possible in the present. Thankfully, Love won’t stand for forever separation. There will be a day . . .
I believe with all my heart I’ll see my mother-in-law again. And once again, we will embrace as we did in our best of times, just as Naomi and Ruth. All because of Christ. All because of the One who has promised to make all things new. All because we believers will be in Paradise with Christ as our center and there will be no more sin that will cause us to take stands—that cause lines in the sand—that form oppositional teams. What has not happened here on earth will happen in Heaven. I’m certain. There will be reconciliation.
And as for those temporal stands—those eternal Biblical stands—those lines we’ve drawn in the sand—those grains only God has numbered? And as for those who draw lines and stay on their side? There’s still possibility of reconciliation here on earth. Because it’s possible to stand for our convictions while honoring the freedom of others to choose their own. Still, when distance is chosen to keep peace, peace comes at great cost. I have no idea how others feel, but I still feel the ripple effect of loss. But even in great loss, there’s always grace because of our perfectly loving God . . .
Sometimes, God gives His grace in final, face-to-face moments, in the dying process, moments before one steps over the threshold of heaven, where we witness only a whispered release of all that might still bind—a wish for nothing but peace—a genuine reconciliation that doesn’t require words. Because peace is the gift of those who hold faith in, hope for and love of Christ. Faith and hope remained with my mother-in-law and me, I’m sure. The greatest of the three, our Lord says, is love. I never lost love for her. I doubt she lost hers for me. But as for me, I never felt love for her as greatly as in her final hours when there were no more words left in her—no more ability to argue or blame—when her eyes seemed to plead—when her lungs filled—when her heart failed. Sometimes, it seems God must close our mouths to open our hearts. Sometimes, when our hearts fail, they swell with God Himself.
All is well, I whispered to her. All is well.
And all will be well. Here or there.
And we will see each other again, my Naomi, my dear mother-in-law . . .
It is well with my soul. And it is well with yours also. And someday, we will be all well together, forever.
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
“All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall but the word of the Lord stands forever.”
1 Peter 1:22-25