I have never actually spoken to my mother-in-law. You see, she does not speak English and I do not speak Romanian. So we have only conversed through translators, my husband or his siblings. And that is not quite the same. But when I am with her I know I am loved. Her smile beams. Her hugs are almost suffocating. Her kisses on my cheek are warm and comforting. This is Mama.
For all the gush that she bestows on me, you might almost miss the rock-solid, powerful strength that lingers underneath. This is a woman who has seen and experienced much. This is a woman of great faith. This is a woman to be admired. This is Venera Dima.
After finishing high school, Venera took her books to study for the college entrance exams and visited her grandmother in a village outside of Bucharest, Romania. There she met a young man named Radu. The two became friends. Radu was headed to engineering school. Venera to nursing school. So they exchanged letters and met during the summers and their relationship blossomed. They agreed not to get married until they had both finished school, so their summer, letter-writing relationship went on for three and a half years.
They were in love, and in 1967 they were married. And then came the children. Doru first, and a year later, Florin.
But then life became hard. Radu started drinking, and drinking, and drinking. His actions became irrational and abusive.
A short time before all of this started, Venera’s mother became a Christian. Not a small thing in Communist Romania. Venera’s mom kept after her and after her to become a Christian also, but Venera refused. Only fools believe in God. But Venera’s mom prayed and remained faithful to God and to her family.
For 5 years Venera’s mom fasted every Wednesday and Friday, praying that her daughter would come to believe in Christ. Life became so hard for Venera, and the only light she saw was from her mother. The hardships pushed her to God. And she was going to need Him. And so in the middle of her pain, she cried out to the only One who could help her. And she believed and put her faith in the Living God. And then things got really bad…she got pregnant again.
Radu had decided that two children was all he wanted, so at the news of Venera’s pregnancy, he pressured her to get an abortion. He pressured and pressed and threatened, and finally she agreed. She carried the papers around in her purse for two months, torn about this decision. Finally, she could do it no longer. She tore up the papers and broke the news to Radu that she would never have an abortion. His anger flared. Fight after fight. But she prayed and she remained faithful to God and to her family.
Catalin Radu Dima was born. A beautiful baby boy who would grow up to be the most amazing man I have ever known. My husband. Radu refused to see his namesake, refused to even look at him until he was more than three months old. There was a law at that time that in order for a baby to leave the hospital both parents needed to register the child with the government. Radu refused. So Venera’s mother stole Radu’s ID card and brought it to the hospital. They told the hospital that Radu was detained because of work. And they let Venera bring her baby home. Radu did not want Catalin, but Venera saw the child as a blessing. And anyone who knows Catalin now knows she was right.
I did not know before starting this article, that Catalin was almost aborted. What would my life be like if I never had the opportunity to meet him? My heart threatens to cave inside my chest just thinking about it. My world would be incomplete if Venera had bowed to the pressure. It would have been reasonable, acceptable, even understandable, for her to go through with it. But thank God she did not! And I want to say to my sweet mother-in-law, with tears in my eyes and deep, deep gratitude in my heart, “Multumesc, multumesc. Domnul sa te binecuvanteze. Te iubesc.” (Thank you, thank you. God bless you. I love you.)
I stop for a moment to address those who may have found themselves in a similarly difficult situation and may not have made the same choice as Venera. Please understand that I do not wish to bring grief or condemnation to your heart. I cannot know what you have gone through, what you have faced. What I do know is that in our darkest and most difficult times, God’s grace is sufficient and His mercy is enough to comfort and heal and restore our hearts. Turn to Him. He will not turn His face away.
Venera’s situation did not improve after Catalin was born. She became pregnant again. This time, Radu did not control his rage. He beat Venera with the intention of killing the baby within her. He beat her so badly that she was hospitalized for 25 days. But the baby was saved. Little Magdalena was born. My sweet sister-in-law Maggie, who just recently passed her nursing exams in Quebec, Canada. A nurse like her mom. She completed her exams in French, I might add, her third language. Multumesc, Venera. Domnul sa te binecuvanteze. Te iubesc. You are a strong and amazing woman, who has raised strong and amazing children.
Each child a blessing. And there were more to come – Razvan and Bogdan and Luiza and Anca. Eight children in all. Venera’s cup was full, and so was her house. Life did not get easier. But she prayed and she remained faithful to God and to her family.
This Must End
Eight children. Little money, little food. And what they did have Radu would come and steal and squander on gambling and alcohol. She carried the burden of her children, she carried the burden of the finances, she carried the burden of abuse.
Even in such a horrible situation she did not want to divorce her husband. The faith tradition she had become a part of held divorce as a sin, no matter the circumstances, and especially if initiated by the woman. But when her alcoholic husband started threatening her teenage sons with a knife, she decided, “Sin or no sin, this must end.” One day her oldest son had to physically remove his father from the house so that he did not harm Venera or the children. He told his father never to return, and his father threatened to kill him. And for the sake of her children, she divorced him. But she prayed and she remained faithful to God and to her family.
Many years later Venera’s daughter came across a man living on the streets of Bucharest. She barely recognized him. He was her father. He later died of cirrhosis from his years of alcoholism. He had Venera’s number in his pocket, so the medical examiner contacted her. And she was left with the burden of paying for a funeral and the heartache of a wasted life. We are given a choice between life and death. Venera chose life, but she could not make the choice for her husband.
A Troubled Child
Growing up in such turmoil can wreak havoc on a child. I owe the quality of my husband to his mother’s strength, sacrifice and prayers in the midst of such difficulty. He was not an easy child. Fighting was his way of medicating the pain of having an abusive, alcoholic dad. Her husband fought with her at home, and her son fought with classmates at school. But she prayed and she remained faithful to God and to her family.
God is faithful. The troublemaker grew into a man of wisdom and strength. And now the whole family comes to him for advice or help. He loves his mother, and would sacrifice much for her. She could have kept him in Romania to be close to her, but trusting God’s plan, she pushed her son to apply for a visitor visa to the United States to visit an awkward girl (me!) and her family in Minnesota. I am so glad she did! You will undoubtedly hear the rest of that story in another article.
Blessing the World
When I think of Venera and of her children now, I am reminded of Abraham in the book of Genesis. God gave Abraham a promise. When he was old and his wife was barren, God promised that his children would be as numerous as the stars. And through him, the whole world would be blessed. In bleak circumstances, God is faithful. Venera’s children are not as numerous as the stars. Only eight children and 13 grandchildren. Number 13 arrived earlier this month! But her offspring are blessing the world. Two are in Canada. Three are in England. One in the United States, and two remain in Romania. When I asked Mama how she felt about having her children across the world, she replied (my husband translated), “It is hard to not have them around me. But because I know it is God’s will, I have peace and strength. But I miss them.” And she prays and she is faithful to God and to her family.
We have a plan. If all goes well, we will be able to welcome Venera for a visit this summer. She has never traveled to the United States before. She was not even able to come for our wedding. It is difficult to get a visitor visa from Romania to the United States. But we are praying and completing the paperwork. We are excited to welcome her into our little world here in Minnesota so that she can smother her grandchildren in warm kisses. I am hoping she reserves a few of those kisses for me, too. And maybe I could learn a little Romanian so that I could express my appreciation to her directly. But until then I say, Multumesc, multumesc, Mama. Domnul sa te binecuvanteze. Te iubesc. (Thank you, thank you, Mama. God bless you. I love you.)