Pretty much every time my husband’s mom lays eyes on us, she cries. She also regularly laughs until she cries. She’s the Queen of Happy Tears.
I remember the first time I ever met her. Chad and I were just buddies in college, and I won tickets to a concert, so my friend and I invited Chad and his roommate to go with us. We stayed at his parents’ house, and the next morning Bettye got up while it was still dark outside so that she could cook us all a huge breakfast–I’m talking a Velveeta in the scrambled eggs kind of breakfast. Of course I had a bit of a crush on Chad, and I got all dolled up to come to breakfast while everyone else just came to the table in their pjs. I had packed some kind of awful perfum-y lotion that I had recently acquired, and I slathered it on my arms and legs before descending on the table of sleepy college kids and Chad’s precious mother.
The perfume was so strong and so noxious that even I was having a hard time eating. I didn’t know what to do–Should I admit that I reek and go wash it off? I wondered. Should I sit here and nonchalantly choke down my breakfast while my odor repeatedly slaps everyone at the table in the face? In the end, I did nothing. I just sat and ate and tried to make conversation, while Bettye completely ignored the stench. She offered me more bacon, and I took it, and before we left she gave me a huge hug like we were old friends. She told me to come back sometime soon. Neither of us had any way of knowing that in a couple more years I would spend days at a time at that kitchen table, that we would laugh until we cried about nothing in particular, that we would share an earth-shattering love for three little children that look an awful lot like her first-born son.
Today I watched as friends and co-workers honored her. She is retiring after 44 years of teaching and helping teachers teach in her school district. I wonder how many students have wandered in and out of her classrooms through the years? I wonder how often she was so much more than the excellent, gifted teacher that we know she is? How many times was she a lifeline for some struggling high schooler or a source of encouragement for a young teacher who was overwhelmed? Today I feel like I saw a small glimpse of what she means to all those who know her. And, I felt proud and honored to be part of her family.
I could write all night long about what Bettye means to me and how much I love her. I could write pages and pages about funny things she’s said and done, stories that would make you roar with laughter. I could tell you some of the family favorites, like about how she almost drowned in a foot of water when she went snorkeling. About the day we were having lunch and she very seriously responded to something I said with the affirmation: “True dat.” I could tell you about how she once stood up in a crowded writing conference while everyone was silently working and let out a blood-curdling scream so she would have something interesting to write about. I could tell you about her 80s rapping skills. She is a constant source of laughter and fun.
But, more than anything, what I’d want you to know about my mother-in-law, a woman I’ve loved for twenty years, is that God blessed her with a tender heart and an optimistic spirit. Where do you think her joy comes from? What causes her to cry happy tears? What is it, really, about Bettye that lights up every room she goes into? It’s not just her quick wit or her sense of humor. It’s not just her kind ways or her giftedness. Bettye shines so bright because the spirit of God lives inside of her. And, you can see evidence of that everywhere you look in her life. In the way she literally forgets wrongs that people have committed against her. In the way that she never takes herself too seriously. In the way that she tries to feed everyone too much, like her mama before her. Bettye is the epitome of the woman of noble character that the Bible speaks of. She laughs at the days to come. She has done so much good work and has blessed so many people, and at the end of this amazing 44-year-long road, I hope she will take a moment to stop at the fork that leads to retirement, just to turn around and look at the amazing, godly work that she has done in the lives of so many people.
And, I don’t expect that kind of God-blessed work to end anytime soon, whether she’s retired or not. It isn’t something she does. It’s who she is.
Chad tells a story about when he was a little boy. His mom decided she was going to take him and his brother to a restaurant they had always wanted to go to, Casa Bonita. Chad was so excited that he told a neighbor kid about their plans for the evening, but the kid proceeded to tell Chad that the place was stupid. Chad was crushed. He trudged inside the house with tears to tell Bettye what the little boy had said. Bettye dried the tears on little Chad’s face and gave him this sage advice: “You go tell that kid that I said he’s a little twerp.” Chad was about halfway across the street on his way to deliver the message before Bettye stopped him.
I’ve always loved that Bettye tale, because her love for people is demonstrated so clearly. She felt compassion for her crushed little boy, and in the end, she also felt compassion for the little twerp across the street. I’ve been on the receiving end of the same compassion.
I love her.
I didn’t want this wonderful day to pass without thanking God for a mother-in-law like Bettye. I pray that her kindness and optimism are passed down to my own kids. And, if they happen to also be hilarious and fun and a joy to be around like their Mimi, I’ll gladly take that, too. Happy retirement to a woman who took me in some seventeen years ago. You deserve to see the world. And also to have lots of dance parties with my kids. We love you!