As I mentioned in the previous episode, this podcast is all about relationships. It’s the THIS you were made for. Fulfilling, life-giving relationships is what is what we are all made for. Relationships have the power to lift us, encourage us, and give significant meaning to our lives. At the same time, they can suck the life right out of us and make us want to spend summer afternoons on the couch binge watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island so we don’t have to deal with people. We want to change that by helping transform our relationships into the best they can be.
The goal of this show is that together, we will grow and learn how to make our relationships more satisfying and life-giving. So that we all become the best version of ourselves we can possibly be.
To that end, we will be drawing upon real-life stories of ordinary people just like you and me. We’ll be learning principles and best practices from them that we can put into action in our own relationships.
Today, for example, I’m going to share with you a story about a recent funk I was in about my relationships. I was feeling pretty disconnected from people and disappointed in some of them. But that all started to change in a most unusual way because of an unlikely relationship that lifted me out of the funk I was in.
My story starts when I first met her. I was 17. She was 43. Quite an age difference, I know. But what attracted me to her was that she was was one of the kindest people I had ever met. Both then and since. She would smile whenever she saw me. She would laugh at my adolescent humor. She always made me feel comfortable in her home. And she even made meals for me. Though I was not part of her family, she always made me feel like I was.
We both knew her daughter was the real reason I stopped over to her house so often, but she was icing on the cake. I later married her daughter, Janet. And then we officially became family.
My mother-in-law turned 95 a few months ago and is now in hospice care.
I’ve known her since I was in 11th grade. When Janet I married and then became parents, with way too little money, Elda’s kindness stepped into high gear. She had us over for dinner often. She bought our children clothes when we couldn’t afford to. She babysat our kids so we could do the things 20-something parents do. Many of our 20- and 30-something friends have no parents nearby to help out with their kids as we did. As I watch their lives, I appreciate Elda’s blessing more now than when we received it.
I don’t know how much longer Janet’s mom will be with us. She has heart disease on top of the Alzheimer’s that has taken much of her mind to another place. But it has not stolen her kindness.
She’s lives in a memory care unit of an assisted living facility, and we’ve seen her extend kindness to other residents and to the staff who work there. A lot of human dignity is lost in situations like this, and we’ve seen some of her fellow residents lash out at times because of it. But not Janet’s mom. In fact, they call her “Sweet Elda.” She can’t remember how to eat, or increasingly, who her daughter is. But she hasn’t forgotten how to smile, or how to be kind to people, all of whom are strangers to her.
On Mother’s Day this year Janet and I went to visit her mom. What I learned from my relationship with my mother-in-law that day may help you get out of the same kind of funk I was in. Let me tell you what happened.
Near the end of our Mothers’ Day visit, Janet tapped into a life-long pleasure of her mother’s: music. She said, “Hey mom, let’s sing.” So Janet started singing You Are My Sunshine, and her mother quickly joined in, accurately remembering the lyrics and melody.
All of this brought a smile to Elda’s face, and brought me back to memories of Elda when her mind was still with us, and the blessing she has been in my life.
- Memories like bringing her onion rings from the restaurant I worked at in high school, and how gracious and thankful she was.
- Memories like the time she let our beagle dog Barney out the door and the seat of my pants splitting as I reached to grab him.
- Memories like all the meals at her house, especially Thanksgiving dinner and the “hysterectomy story” that was retold each year.
- And the more recent memory of the first assisted living facility she was at that called us because of a “drinking problem” my mother-in-law developed because of hanging out too often with her friend across the hall.
Then after the first round of You Are My Sunshine, Janet got Elda started with doing motions to the song. Elda even added motions on her own to a second verse I didn’t know even existed. It reminded me of when I did motions to the same song with our daughter Jennifer when she was an infant. It was our favorite, at least for me.
There it was, Mother and daughter singing, and the memory of our own daughter, which for me painted a picture of 3 generations of the important women in my life.
Seeing the love, tenderness, and kindness Janet and her mother showed to each other lifted my spirts and out of the funk I was in. Like the hot summer sun evaporating the morning fog in our neighborhood.
Kindness begets kindness, and to see it on display as I did with Janet and her mom embedded a sweet memory in my soul I won’t soon forget.
What I learned that day from watching my wife and mother-in-law was that instead of dwelling on what I lacked in other relationships, to instead appreciate and be thankful for what I did have in this one very important relationship. It takes some of the sting out of what was missing.
It can work the same for you, too.
Which leads us to the Big Idea of today’s episode, our show summary in a sentence:
When some of our relationships are lacking and getting us down, it helps to remind ourselves of the ways OTHER relationships have enriched our lives,
Here’s a way you can respond to today’s show
One of the closing scenes of the documentary film about Mr. Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the narrator asks the people in the documentary who knew and worked with Mr. Rogers to take one minute to think of someone in their life who has encouraged them and believed in them. The scene then becomes silent, showing people thinking. As they begin telling who that person was for them, tears start to trickle down their faces. And down the faces of those of us in the theater, as well. It was quite moving.
I would like you to do the same thing. Right now. Take 60 seconds and think of a person who has deeply influenced you. Someone who has believed in you. Encouraged you and brought out the best in you. Think about that person and try to recall as much as you can about how they blessed your life. Then see if that doesn’t brighten your mood a little.
And if your up to it, send me an email to tell me who you thought of and what they meant to you. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I may share your response in future episodes. I hope to hear from you.
That’s about it for today. I’ve dedicated this episode of You Were Made for This to honor my mother-in-law on her recent 95th birthday, because she has been such an important relationship in my life. She may not have a 96th, we just never know.
In the next episode I’ll share the story of a most unusual way some people honored me, and how you can do what they did to have fun in honoring someone important in YOUR life.
For now, remember the big idea of today’s show, our show summary in a sentence: When some of our relationships are lacking and getting us down, it helps to remind ourselves of the ways OTHER relationships have enriched our lives.
Before we close with the quote of the week I want to thank you for listening in today. If you found this podcast helpful, please head over to iTunes and leave a review. If you want to get each new weekly episode sent to you automatically, just hit “Subscribe.”
When you do this, and tell others about the show, it helps us to serve more people by helping them transform their relationships into the best they can be. Now, to close today’s program here is our quote of the week, from Mr. Rogers himself:
Quote of the Week
Often when you think you're at the end of something, you're at the beginning of something else.
– Mr. Rogers
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, released June 2018. A documentary about Mr. Fred Rogers. Available on Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, and other media outlets.