Monday, December 2, 2013


Today I get the privilege of writing a birthday tribute to one of the women whom I love and admire most in this world: my mother-in-law, Sally.

From the first time I met Sally about nine years ago, I’ve been able to talk openly with her and share my heart with her.  It is not unusual for us to talk for hours, on the phone or in person.  Though our interests and hobbies aren’t really the same (she is a great tennis player and a brilliant homemaker, while I am neither athletic nor domestic), I feel like our hearts are very similar.  We both care deeply about our family and friends and would do anything for them; we both enjoy discussing life with kindred spirits; and we both want to be and do good above all else.  When I talk to Sally, I feel like she “gets” me, and I hope that feeling is mutual.

If I had to define Sally in one word, I would say that she is a nurturer.  She loves to take care of people.  Even though her children are grown and all but one are married, she still takes such good care of us and is infinitely thoughtful and encouraging.  She told me once that she often prays for each of her children and their spouses by name, going through the list and sharing with Heavenly Father her concerns for each of us.  I cannot express how much comfort it gives me to know that Sally is consistently praying for us individually.  I know this habit of prayer has lead her to be inspired in how to reach out and help us on more than one occasion.  She truly watches over our entire family, and I don’t know what we would do without her.

It is no surprise that she is also an amazing grandma who genuinely loves having the grandkids at her home making messes.  She plays with them and reads to them, and she can’t bear to hear the babies cry.  I have to turn off the baby monitor if I ever let Noah “cry it out” at her house because she just wants to go get him up—she would willingly rock him and read him stories until 2 a.m.  (And he knows it!) :)  Sally loves to love others, and she is so very good at it.

Though we’ve always been close, my relationship with Sally has become even deeper in recent years as I’ve become a mother myself, and I treasure many of the moments I’ve shared with her in this new “role” in my life.

The day after Noah was born, I was surprised when I suddenly became totally overwhelmed by a wave of conflicting emotions—elation that I was finally a mother, but also fear that I was not up to the task; indescribable gratitude for Katie and Drew’s sacrifice, and yet overwhelming guilt that I was so happy when they were hurting; all-consuming love for my little baby, and yet inadequacy at the thought of doing everything I could to provide for and teach him.  Though I am not usually a crier, I could not stop sobbing for over an hour, and quite frankly, it scared me.

Ryan, who I’m pretty sure was completely bewildered by this uncharacteristic outpouring from his wife, insisted that I talk to his mom about it.  I remember saying, “No, I can’t tell anyone that I am feeling this way!  No one will understand!  I am just supposed to be happy and grateful today.  What is wrong with me?”  But the more I cried, the more insistent Ryan became.

So, through my tears and in a shaky, breaking voice, I told Sally everything.  I remember that we were sitting in the parking lot at Costco (Ryan had run inside to print the photos of Noah’s birth), and Sally didn’t judge me—in fact, she comforted me by sharing a very personal story from her own life about a time when she felt  overwhelmed by motherhood and by the fear that she wouldn’t do it “right.”   I felt understood, and I felt hope—because if Sally Nielson, who is such an amazing mother and nurturer, had some of these fears in her early days as a mom, then I realized I would probably be okay!  I will be forever grateful that Sally was there for me during that life-changing time when I was a brand-new mom.

A few months later, I had another interaction with Sally that reinforced her loving nature.  Noah had colic, and he cried constantly, no matter what I tried to do to make him comfortable. I felt exhausted, overwhelmed, and extremely sad much of the time.  For all of those reasons, I was overly sensitive, and when Sally made suggestions about Noah’s care, it hurt my feelings.   I finally decided to tell her how I felt, so I wrote her an email expressing my thoughts and concerns (I was afraid that if I talked to her about it, I would just burst into tears).  In Ryan’s and my six years of marriage, Sally and I had never had any sort of conflict or reason to disagree, and after I sent the email, I felt so worried that she would be offended and that it would alter our relationship forever.  A few hours later, I got the most loving reply, apologizing for any suggestions that had “overstepped” or hurt my feelings and assuring me that I was doing a great job and was a wonderful mother.  I was so touched by her compassion and humility, when she easily could have gotten defensive or pointed out that I was being oversensitive.  What a blessing that the first time we ever had to talk about hurt feelings and a difference of opinion on childrearing, it was a good experience that brought us even closer.  These types of situations are bound to arise now and then within families, and I’m so glad that Sally made sure to set the precedent that we would always treat each other with respect and empathy.  This experience made me admire Sally even more and become even more convinced that I am so lucky to have her in my life—most of my girlfriends do not have this type of open and supportive relationship with their mothers-in-law.   I know how blessed I am.

Sally has been an immeasurable support these past six months as I’ve struggled with infertility-related illnesses and complications and as we’ve undergone the process of IVF—we really couldn’t have done it without her.  Again, I just have to marvel at what a gift she is in my life!

Happy birthday, Sally!  Thank you for showing me how to be a nurturing, loving, faithful, committed, and understanding mother—and mother-in-law.  Someday, I hope to be the type of mother-in-law to Noah’s wife that you are to me.  Thank you for being one of my closest friends and confidants and for always seeing the best in me.  You have always made me feel so loved and so welcome in the Nielson family.  I will never be able to thank you enough for it.  I love you!  xoxo


  1. Love this. Sally sounds like an amazing woman, mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother. Happy Birthday, Sally!

  2. Happy Birthday Sally! If it weren't for Sally's Christmas cards each year we wouldn't have this incredible relationship. You both are excellent mothers and remind me of another Stratford mother in law(Edna). Love your posts Rachel even though they always make my bawl. Love, Elizabeth


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