Jack Daniels “Medicine”

Through the years I noticed that Renee, my mother-in-law, would occasionally take a small nip of Jack Daniels.  She called it her medicine and would do it so infrequently that you wouldn’t even be able to call it a habit.  In 2017, she came to visit us in Alabama from Pennsylvania for Christmas and “Santa” gave her a couple small bottle samplers of Jack Daniels in her stocking.

However, there weren’t any shot glasses in the house for her to have her sip.  I teased her that she could just take her “medicine” with a tablespoon, since that’s about all she would drink.  I also told her that someday, I was going to write a blog about her nipping Jack.  She giggled and told me to write the blog…she went on to say, “if Iron Porch is for women to know other Christian women are real, then we should know about our favorite little nips & sips.”  

At that point we had a lengthy discussion about Christian women and drinking.  I had been “called out” by a church member for posting a photo of my wine glass on social media, so I was a tad gun-shy about allowing others to see the social-drinking side of my life.  

She reminded me that of all masks women wear, there isn’t a single one that hides us from Christ.

Jesus literally knows everything about us…our thoughts…our fears…our dreams…our disappointments…our excitement.  And He even knows when we want to have a little nip of Jack Daniels.  

I admired that she was comfortable with others knowing that she enjoyed a small sip every once in a while.  Her example and gentle reminder allowed me to assess the portions of my life that may be inadvertently or consciously hidden from others.  She told me to take the masks off. 

On a whim this last weekend, I opened a tiny-useless drawer to the left of my stovetop, which has never been used.  Inside, I found a wrapped-up package of “shot glasses” with a post-it note on top.  It was a message from my mother-in-law from Christmas 2017, about her next trip to Alabama.  

Just a few months after she wrote that note, she was diagnosed with cancer.  And just a couple weeks ago, we laid her to rest knowing that she was in heaven singing to Jesus.  She never made it back to Alabama for another visit to use her nipping glasses. 

While she no longer needs her Jack Daniels “medicine” or the Alabama shot glasses, she left me with a reminder to be true to myself…and not wear the masks for others.

~Emily

The Day Before Surgery

Last month my mother-in-law, Renee, earned herself a helicopter ride to the ER after having stroke-like symptoms.  Less than a week later, she was scheduled for surgery to remove a brain tumor that had metastasized from kidney cancer.  The day before her surgery, five days after her helicopter escort, she still hadn’t regained use of her right arm.

Through all the visitors who trickled in and out of Renee’s room the day before surgery, our little family was well aware that these may be our last moments with her.  We had spent much of the day laughing and storytelling.  Brittney, my sister-in-law, had the outstanding idea to pack a picnic lunch so that the grandkids could share “snacks” with Grandma one more time.

As the evening drew to a close, Brittney and I offered to wash Renee’s hair, which hadn’t been washed the entire time she’d been in the hospital.  We kicked the husbands and the kids out of the room (We weren’t sure how wet we would get, let alone how much skin would be revealed!).  We gathered towels, basins, warm water, and a little bottle of baby shampoo.  While Renee sat upright in bed with pillows propped up against her lower back and a slack right arm, Britt and I pour water and lathered suds.  We rinsed and rinsed.  We controlled drippy water like experts and Renee hummed in the satisfaction of having her hair washed.

A trio of women focused on a humanizing task…no one else in the room.  Two serving one.  Not just because Renee needed her hair washed (which she did), but because two daughters-in-law loved their mother-in-law enough to want her to feel special.

In the hallway, a nurse said, “She’s so lucky to have a family to care for her with servants’ hearts.”

That statement sat in my heart for several weeks. I wasn’t sure that “servant’s heart” was the correct phrase.  Perhaps it was; perhaps it wasn’t.  I didn’t feel like I had a servant’s heart at that moment.  I just knew that Renee had been subjected to humbling tests and treatments…ones that strip a person of their privacy.  I knew at that moment, I wanted to tag team with my sister-in-law to make Renee feel “human.”

Scripture tells us to regard our family members with acts of service.  “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” ~1 Timothy 5:8 (ESV).

Scripture also tells us how to regard our elders with acts of service.  “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” ~1 Peter 5:5 (ESV)

The act of washing hair may be worthy of saying “servant’s heart,” but it was definitely a moment where family was taking care of family. It was an act of love.  It was one where humility was exhibited by all three women.

God blessed that action; just as He has blessed every act of service done while modeling Christ’s love for one another. He’s blessed this family and He has wrapped His arms around Renee as she has faced the uncertainty of life and death this last year.  She survived brain surgery.  After a few complications, she is doing well in rehab and is starting to regain movement in her right arm.  God is good. All the time.

Cancer is a terrible road.  I wouldn’t want this reality for any family.  But I will freely admit that I wouldn’t change one moment of that “day before surgery.”  I wouldn’t change the picnic lunch or grandkids’ giggles.  I wouldn’t change the parade of visitors or watching my husband hold his mom’s hand.  I wouldn’t change the group prayer around her bed, as we left for the night.  And I certainly wouldn’t have changed any part of the hair washing.

~Emily