What Does It Mean to Be Blessed? Reflections on a Life

My mother-in-law, Kathryn Trautwein, with my mother, Ruth Gold. Picture taken at Easter 3 years ago. Today they are 96 and 91 years old. 

She was sleeping today.
She sleeps a lot.
When she’s awake, she is often unhappy,
confused, disoriented.
But once in a while, when I stare into her hazel eyes,
I see her in there.
I see the Mama I’ve known for nearly 50 years,
the woman who bore my husband,
who welcomed me into her family,
who blessed my children with her loving care.

I see brief glimpses of the 
quiet feistiness that empowered her
to stand against the strict requirements of her
family’s faith.
She kept her hair short.
It was easier, she liked it and she didn’t 
want to deal with the prayer coverings 
that all the women in her family wore. 
She shared their faith – she lived that faith
every single day of her long life.
But she did not share their restrictive way of
expressing that faith.
So she went her own way,
without angry words,
without an ‘I’m-right-you’re-wrong’ attitude,
without open rebellion.
She simply made quiet, thoughtful shifts on the inside
that began to show on the outside.

She took me clothes shopping before we left for Africa, 
so many years ago. 
We were going there to live and work for two years,  
teaching school in a small Zambian town. 
She very carefully and gently advised me on 
skirt length, sleeve length, 
the best kind of shoes (closed toes), 
the simplest kinds of fabrics.
She knew.

She knew that I would feel woefully out of place
 and would wonder why on earth 
I had come to serve with people 
who looked and lived so dramatically differently 
from anyone  I had ever before encountered 
in my Christian life. 

She did not advise me to change who I was – 
she was far too wise for that.
But she did advise me to be more aware,
to honor those with different lifestyle values
while still being true to my own.

Mama was not one to offer advice very often,
preferring to keep most of her opinions to herself.
But she found us our first house to buy.
And she outright put her foot down when we got ready to
move from that house to another, 
 one where the entire backyard was a swimming pool.
She never learned to swim, you see.
And we had two toddler girls and a baby on the way.
No way, José. No way.

Even when we moved here to Santa Barbara,
our kids all grown and married,
she carefully let us know that she preferred  
one house we were looking at over another.
Always subtle, gentle, non-intrusive.
But there was steel there.
The good kind of steel.
The kind that holds things together.
The kind that adds form and shape to life.
The kind that stands firm when the ground shakes,
or the wind blows,
or the fires rage.

She is 96 now and suffers from dementia.
She’s fallen twice in the last four days,
her speech is suddenly very slurred,
her appetite way down.
Maybe the end is beginning.
I don’t know.
I just know that today,
as I stood in front of her recliner chair,
watching her sleep and dream,
I thanked God for her.
I prayed the blessing of Aaron over her.
And I wept at the memory of her laughter,
her generosity,
her kindness,
her lifelong faithfulness.

You ask me what it means to be blessed?
I’ll tell you this:
to be blessed is to have a second mother
who loves you no matter what;
who doesn’t always understand you, 
but who always, ALWAYS supports you;
who lives Jesus day in and day out,
mentors younger women,
leads Bible studies,
keeps your little kids at a moment’s notice,
adores her children and their children, 
understands why her husband reacts to life the way he does
and loves him like crazy anyhow.

This is blessing to me today.

This woman of God,
this mother to my husband.
This woman who came to tea one day long ago,
driving 40 miles across town, 
sitting in the living room of the house where
I lived while attending UCLA,
and letting me know that if I was serious
about her boy, then I was welcome to his whole family.
And I was.
Other than the family I was born to,
this has been the greatest of God’s gifts to me.
I am blessed.
And I am grateful.

Joining with Em’s synchro-blog today. You can find other entries here:
Also with Ann and her gratitude linky:

and with Jen and the sisterhood.

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  1. smoothstones says

    Beautiful. Thank you for this precious glimpse into your family. I am blessed, too, with a wonderful mother-in-law, also with a mother who makes a wonderful mother-in-law. I hope I’ll be a good in-law, someday, and not the stereotypical outlaw – haha.

  2. What a wonderful tribute that speaks of both your hearts. 

  3. Linda Chontos says

    Joyous tears for a life so beautifully lived and for the way she has touched your life Diana. I think you are very much like her. A blessing indeed.

  4. Thanks, Brandee. And I’ve had great role models for doing the in-law thing. Not always successfully, I’m sure – but watching and experiencing how my mom and Dick’s mom have done it has helped enormously. Hope all is well at your house these days.

  5. Thanks so much, Susan.

  6. Thank you, Linda – I consider it a compliment to be anything like my mom-in-law. Or like my mom. Great ladies, both of them, and it’s tough to see them struggle so hard at this end of life’s journey.

  7. Wow, this makes me cry. How beautiful to have a second mamma like this. And Diana? How blessed it must be to be loved by you, my friend.

  8. She has been a rich gift in my own journey through life, that is for sure. And you know what? I love as imperfectly as anyone else – maybe even more so! As I age, I hope I’m able to love more selflessly – and somedays, I think maybe, maybe… but I have such a long ways to go. Believe me.

  9. You have really taken us into her life, and how she has blessed you. I especially like the part about her advice & packing up about your sojourn in Africa.

  10. Thank you, Megan. She was asleep again today, but roused after about 30 minutes, just in time for the walk down the hall to lunch. This is a long, slow process and we don’t know the twists it will take. All we know is that something feels different right now. So we watch and we wait and we pray – and we stop by a little more often just to see what’s up. We will miss her when she is gone – but we’ve been missing her for about five years now – a little bit more every few months.

  11. Jimhalvorsen says

    Tears as we think back on Mom Halvorsen (died of cancer in 1987) and Mom Riles as we head back to Missouri again the end of this month. Thank you for keeping us in touch with important, maybe essential, things through your writing. My Mom’s last words to Judy were, ‘I couldn’t have loved you more if you were my own daughter’. Blessing indeed!

  12. Thank you, Jim and Judy, for your faithful reading and encouragement. I so admire your commitment to your parents, as evidenced now by your regular trips across the country multiple times each year, to care for and encourage your last one. That day is coming for us, oh-so-soon. Traveling mercies on this next trip, friends.

  13. Kingfisher says

     You are blessed indeed, Diana, to have a mother in law such as you so tenderly describe.  I pray that you will sense the Lord’s presence with you, and when you can’t “feel him,” you will be able to rest in the assurance that he hasn’t left you alone for even a moment.  

    I, too, am an older woman than most of the bloggers.  I’m still trying to find my way.  Well past the regular retirement age, and still don’t know “what I want to be when I grow up.”  But I want to grow up, and in, and with, the Lord Jesus Christ, that’s for sure.


  14. Amen to all of this – thanks so much for stopping by and letting me know that you did. Many blessings of grace and peace as you keep growing up – it never stops, does it??

  15. Emily Wierenga says

    oh my dear diana. thank you for writing this. for reminding me how blessed i am to have my mother-in-law living down the road from me. and how beautiful these women are, in this picture… they glow with steadfast joy. 

  16. You are welcome, dear Emily. She didn’t live down the street from us, but right down the hill, about 5 minutes away for 27 years – and it was gift – for all of us. They are beautiful women – each of them. And I’m so grateful that we’ve had them in our lives for such a good, long time. You know I have a grandson who is 21 – and these women have been alive his whole life! The downside, of course, is watching the devastating decline of dementia in each of them. My mom is 5 years behind Mama T, in years and in loss – and I don’t like this part of life at all. But I am praying for grace and patience and for eyes to see the beauty that still remains. Writing this down helped me do that.

  17. Mary Ann Smiles says

    What a wonderful tribute. I always felt unconditional love from her even though my life style was so different. I never felt criticism, just love. She has always been someone I looked up to, and admired for the way she lived her faith. I always thought my dad was the rebellious one, so enjoyed reading about her short hair:)

  18. I love that SHE was rebellious, in her own quiet way. And yes, she always loved – even when she wasn’t sure she approved! Not sure she ever fully ‘got’ a woman in ministry, but she loved my anyhow.