A year ago this week, my sister’s mother-in-law passed away suddenly from a heart attack. Jan was in her early 60s and had three toddler grandchildren and another one on the way. She was loved and admired by a slew of friends and family. She treated everybody like they were family. Everybody was invited in and accepted without judgment. Jan and her husband, Tom, included our small family in their gatherings–even though at the time, my sister and I were not getting along. Sadly, the idea of being accepted unconditionally was strange to me. In some circumstances, I even declined her hospitality.
Jan was kind, inclusive and treated every person like he or she was special. She made me feel special. She was interested in my life and she was generous with sincere praise. She was not judgmental and she was patient. If she gossiped or made judgments, I never heard them.
I did not know her very well and I’m sure she probably didn’t know the impact she had on me. But from Jan, I learned to be more open and to risk loving unconditionally. And sometimes to keep my natural critical nature in check.
Since her death, I have been trying to model some of things I admired about her. Often in situations I try to ask myself, “What Would Jan Do?” Usually these thoughts come up when I’m feeling insecure or impatient. Maybe my mother-in-law said yet another biting comment. Maybe a friend was insensitive. Maybe when somebody cuts me off in traffic, or somebody new comes into my social circle. What if I treated those people like Jan treated me–like family–no matter what?
“What Would Jan Do?” is my reminder for what God wants for me. I think Jan was a saint sent to teach us how to love others in real time, in real ways, as God loves us.
When holiday craziness happens or when the people we love the most hurt our feelings—how can we model ourselves after the saints in our lives? Is there somebody who models Christ’s love for you?
Elizabeth McBride is director for intergenerational programs and editor of Cafe.