At this point, Fernando made a very formal introduction, as if he were presenting a royal duchess to the King and Queen of England. Attilio and Yolanda, Fernando's parents, were as gracious as royalty as they nodded and smiled at me. Me? I felt like a tongue-tied peasant girl as I managed a weak "mucho gusto" (nice to meet you) in response. I finally gave up on speaking any Spanish, and let my handsome suitor translate for me. I was able to relax as we enjoyed a meal together.
I was captivated by this dear couple- a husband and wife who had shared a lifetime together and who had raised the man of my dreams. After just a few minutes in their presence, I knew they would occupy my heart forever.
Although it seems like yesterday, that first meeting was over eight years ago. My "boyfriend's parents" eventually became my in-laws...
The last time I saw my mother-in-law was August 31, 2010. I was due to have our second child on August 1st, so Yolanda came to stay with us for several weeks to help with the new baby. I'm so glad she was here when Gabriel came into the world, and I don't think I could've handled a busy 12-month old and a newborn without her help. I clearly remember hugging her tightly as we said goodbye. Tears filled my eyes knowing that she would be missed, but never imagining that I would never be able to hug her again.
Yolanda passed away in March of this year, after many long months of sickness and suffering. We are comforted knowing that pain is no longer a part of her daily routine, and we can't wait until we're reunited with her in heaven. But the truth is....it still hurts. Part of me will always wish I could dial her number and hear her voice, even if for a moment. Part of me will always wish I'd gotten more mouth-watering recipes out of her. Part of me will always imagine her sitting next to my father-in-law, laughing at the boys' antics, as we connect via Skype. And ALL of me will always be thankful for the wisdom I gleaned from her. The ways she impacted my life are countless, the memories many, but above all, the following five lessons stand out the most in my mind and have helped shape me into the person I am today:
(1) Faith in God
Yolanda was faithful to start her day with prayer and a time of devotion. It wasn't a rushed time, and what a blessing to know she was approaching the throne of God on our behalf. I don't think I will ever forget the image of her kneeling beside our guest bed and spending time with God. She challenged me to seek Him first thing in the morning, before the cares of the day have a chance to intrude.
(2) Family First, Career Second
Before she retired, Yolanda was a teacher for many years. Her role as madre, however, was much more important. Fernando has shared with me how she was faithful to prepare a delicious meal for her family, even after working long hours in the classroom. She knew how to juggle the demands of a job, while meeting the physical and emotional needs of her FIVE children. She definitely challenged me to work hard at my job, but to work even harder for my kids.
(3) Head Held High, Without Pride
Anyone who was blessed to have Yolanda in his life would quickly notice that she knew how to hold her head high without being proud. She was confident without being arrogant. Regal, but never rude. This, to me, is a real gift and a lost art. I think of her many times when I want to hang my head and cry. In spite of sadness, shame, regret, or self-doubt, it's important to keep your chin up.
(4) Always a Meal in the Pantry
My mother-in-law was an amazing cook. She could turn an ordinary chicken wing into a mini bite of heaven! One day during her last visit with us, she scoured the fridge for something to make for lunch. (One of the reasons I loved having her around: she cooked all the meals!) We desperately needed to get groceries, and in my mind, there was NOTHING to eat in the house. I rolled my eyes and turned up my nose when I saw her pull out a bag of fish fillets that had been in the freezer since...well, a VERY long time. Then when she grabbed a bag of celery out of the crisper, I began making plans to take an emergency trip to McDonald's! Yuck and yuck! I thought to myself. I took a quick shower while she prepared the meal, and by the time I returned to the kitchen, she'd served me a plate of seasoned fish with rice and vegetables. I smiled and thanked her, bracing myself for freezer-burnt flounder. I took a bite and had to smile. It was DELICIOUS! THE BEST FISH I'D EVER TASTED! I'd underestimated the abilities of a mother-in-law who'd spent decades cooking flavorful meals for her family. When my pantry is bare, I always think about her and try to consider what she would make.
Yolanda loved shoes. I loved going shopping with her while she was visiting. She had a knack for finding shoes that were both stylish and comfortable. And she was always happy to share her shoe stash with her daughters and granddaughters. I'm so glad I had Yolanda in my life to confirm that a woman can NEVER have too many shoes! :)
I've come to the end of my list, but the memories and thoughts of Yolanda are still flowing, along with a few tears. Reminders of her fill my house and heart... In our guest bathroom, a yellow hand towel that Yolanda stitched for us reminds me what a thoughtful and hard-working woman she was. In my kitchen, recipes written in her immaculate script remind me what a great cook she was. On our mantle, a photo of her at our wedding reminds me of what a beautiful woman she was, inside and out. And most of all, I see her alive once more in the dark brown eyes of my children. I pray that the admirable qualities that made Yolanda who she was will also be evident in their lives.
God puts people in our lives for a season... Some come, and some go, but there are those special souls who touch your lives so deeply and make you realize that one season is never long enough.
I love you, suegra bella. One season with you was not enough, but I'm thankful for ALL you taught me during our season together.