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“This is my mother-in-love, Deb."
The young woman standing behind the counter in the green apron smiled at me and waved. She was Sarah’s Starbucks boss, and I was glad to meet her.
I was thrilled, however, with my daughter-in-law’s introduction of me. “Mother-in-love” was a sweet surprise, and I was once again reminded why this lovely girl had captured not only my son’s heart, but mine as well.
Sarah was the first of the young women to become my daughter through marriage. Our son Jordan met Sarah in the eighth grade, when they were 13. She was a cute little redhead who melted our hearts quickly. It wasn’t long before the two of them were in a full-on junior high school crush.
Jordan and Sarah married at 19. While his dad and I would have liked for them to be older, we supported their decision. They were quick to remind us that we, too, had married at 19—and look how well that turned out.
They had a plan, and when they requested our blessing, we gave it. Sarah lost her own dad when she was only 5. And though her mother would “give her away,” Sarah asked Jordan’s dad, Ron, to walk her down the aisle. He did so proudly, his eyes filled with tears.
"Mother-in-love" is what Sarah calls me when she introduces me to friends or coworkers. It touches my heart and makes me smile when she says it. It is a wonderful honor.
It also makes me think about the terms in-law and in love.
I was intrigued by the contrast of these two titles. Love versus law. The more I meditated on them, the more interested I became. Where did the term in-law originate?
The explanation is simple: We are in-laws because of the legal joining of the couple. We are related according to and through the law.
Next on my quest was to understand what the term law means. What are its attributes? How does it serve? Who does it protect?
The law has specific qualities and characteristics that distinctly define it:
The law limits and excludes.
The law is a finite thing—black and white, inflexible, focused on minute details.
The law is conditional—if you, then I.
The law is of the mind and intellect.
The law seeks to benefit itself; its only fulfillment is being obeyed.
The law is without emotion and without mercy, and it pronounces judgment.
The law demands a high price to be paid if it is not observed correctly.
The law is designed to rule by power; it enforces norms and standards of behavior.
The purpose of the law includes a coercive effect in regulating conduct.
If a personal or family relationship is ruled by law, it leaves a lot to be desired, doesn’t it?
The law is inflexible and coercive, enforcing standards established through harsh penalty. It is relationship based on the conditional proposition that if you do as I require, then I will not punish you, or I may even provide you with some benefit.
Sounds like some in-law relationships I know. Characterized by demand and obedience, inflexibility and personal preference, these relationships choke out the potential for family unity and harmony. Grudges are nursed like babies at the breast. Walls are erected, bridges are burned, and the structure of the family divides like the waters of the Red Sea.
But love is quite another matter. The characteristics of love are very different:
Love is a living thing.
Love overlooks, forgives and grants pardon.
Love includes and gathers in.
Love is easily satisfied and does not demand on behalf of itself.
Love is unconditional.
Love is from the heart and seeks to benefit others at the expense of itself.
Love is fulfilled when it’s invested and given away.
Love is full of mercy.
Love pays the price.
Now, that’s more like it. There’s an element of promise, hope and possibility in a relationship rooted and grounded in love. Look at these—law and love—side by side. The contrast is startling:
The law limits and excludes. The law is of the mind and intellect.
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