Today I helped my husband bathe his 95 year old mother. Yes, my mother-in-law.
That may not sound like much unless you understood a bit of our shared history.
Once upon a time, 30 plus years ago when we first met, the woman took an instant disliking to me. And that is putting it mildly.
Throughout my better half and my courtship, she did her best to make life difficult. At our wedding reception, she loudly proclaimed the marriage wouldn't last a year. And her yearly visits - for two to three months a shot - was my personal inferno.
Although I am certainly not perfect, it was challenging for me to understand why this woman took such an intense dislike to me. She criticized my looks, my education, my youth, my family. The way I dressed, talked, walked and mothered. I could do nothing right in her eyes.
But like I said, that was in the past.
The marriage (28 years and counting) endures, and this once tall, strong, opinionated, bossy and intimidating woman is no more.
Her Alzheimer's disease began about 10 years ago and slowly her essence departed, leaving behind a frail, sing-songy, uncomprehending being. She likes to play with small windup toys and can be entertained by looking at magazines without having any clue what it all means. She's confused easily by photographs and only recognizes my father-in-law and my husband. She sometimes calls me her caregiver, sometimes her daughter - even though she never had one. But every time she sees me, she hugs me, kisses me and is genuinely delighted to see me.
As a rinsed the shampoo off her thinning gray hair, I marveled at the ability God has to transform our brokeness into tenderness. This woman who had wounded me so deeply by refusing to accept me - much less love me- now surrenders her body to me so I can gently bathe her. The hardness of my heart, the wall I erected years ago to keep her out, has come down - brick by brick - with the toweling off of her body, the brushing of her hair, the cajoling to take her meds. I have been made tender once again through her vulnerability.
I have had moments of bitterness - why couldn't she have been this kind years ago when my daughters were young? And then I consider... perhaps it would require my steely resolve, hardened by her fire, to endure and understand her today.
She's 95. But she's really not. She's my mother-in-law. But not really. But then, I'm not who I was 30 years ago either...