About a week ago, my husband and I moved our family back to Iowa City. The city we left seven years ago for Colorado. The city where we first flirted, fell in love, tried to hold off our first kiss way too long, became husband and wife, and began ministry.
The rain comes most days here, and I have been gone just long enough to claim it as magical and spiritual and all things wonderful. It pours and it comforts and it tells me that refreshment is coming, that healing is mine, that provision is from the rain-God.
As I unpack our little rental, and my babes shriek with Christmas-like joy from unpacking their long-lost toys, I think of Ruth. A quiet heroine of the Old Testament, a Moabite woman with a life's capacity of loss and hurt and only a ounce of hope.
An ounce ample enough to strengthen her for a journey to get to know the God of hope.
A journey that landed her smack dab in her unimaginable purpose from this God.
My fingers rest on the keys, my eyes on the therapeutic rain, my mind on Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, as they return to Naomi's homeland of Bethlehem. Bethlehem, where people were saying God was.
They are returning from Moab, where Naomi lost her husband and two sons, leaving Ruth a barren widow.
Although it was her home, pagan Moab had left Ruth empty. And limping
But it seems to have left her just lost enough that she was about to find her Way.
Ever been there?
So they return to Bethlehem, and it's during harvest season. I picture them walking into town, with the smell of now mature grain being heated by the sun, and chaff blowing through the air. And Ruth, with deaths and loss still fresh in her rear-view mirror, does all she knows to do--puts one hand on Naomi's and one foot in front of the other.
I wonder if the fullness of harvest slightly eased the pain of her emptiness?
Ruth was a childless widow and a foreigner. In her year, she was bound to destitution, or worse. She was returning to a land that hated Moabites and did not take care of poor widows.
She had every reason to be hopeless. Every reason to throw a pity party.
But over staying your welcome even at a justified pity party can cause us to miss the plans God has for us.
So she journeyed. She travelled away from Moab with it's smell of death and decay, and marched towards a new land and new-to-her-God that held out hope and newness as a reward for those who seek Him.
I wonder if she felt but a bit of hope that the God of Israel had something good for her in this new place.
As they walked by the sun-kissed fields and homes of people completely unaware of her losses, where did her mind rest?
Perhaps she was thinking back to the stories she heard from her husband’s father, of the Hebrew patriarchs - Sarah
and Abraham - who journeyed towards a land that they did not know.
Or possibly, was she thinking of the tales of another foreigner, Rahab? An outcast, like herself, deemed worthless by the world, looking for a fresh start from the God of the Hebrews.
Did she have a game plan? I doubt it.
Did she know that Boaz and Redemption and Wealth were just around the field’s next corner? No.
Was she filling the miles with dreams of being some famous Biblical woman? No.
She had no insight that her very losses were guiding her to the arms of her Redeemer.
She didn’t have a guess that this fresh start, sprouted first from tears and loss, would bring about the greatest and godliest king of Israel’s history, her grandson David.
Could it be that my changes-your loss-our confusion, could be tilling up the ground to plant a dream and a plan that far exceeds our eye sight and imaginations?
And could that dream-first and foremost-be that we would know and love and serve this God of Hope?
I doubt the miles between Moab and Bethlehem were filled with eager chats between the two ladies. Even the most gracious weepers don’t think that clearly, at least not at first. I think Ruth just kept it simple--she stayed with Naomi and kept moving.
And perhaps that is the first lesson we must glean from Ruth-to cling to those near to us. Ya know, the other hurting, limping, messed up humans we call family and friends? :)
And maybe we don't cling to them because they are beneficial to us, but more because faithfulness to someone is a quiet kind of courage that brings more courage.
Maybe Ruth just understood commitment, and so she stood by her mother-in-law, despaired and dramatic as Naomi was. And sometimes that commitment ends up being the vehicle that carries us towards fields of fullness.
And maybe, too, when loss is vast, you just gotta take off for a fresh start. With a humility and courage to face your heart’s giants and flesh’s weaknesses, you can discern whether you are running away from hardship or running towards hope. When loss and despair came after Ruth, she ran to the feet of God, where she knew God was, in Bethlehem. For my husband and I, when change graciously shocked us to our knees, we clung, we cried, and we claimed. We claimed that all losses are gain in Christ. When the breezes of change felt more like a 100-mile gust, we went with it and journeyed off for a fresh start. We took off running, across Nebraska and into the budding farmlands of Iowa.
Could a change-be it spiritual, emotional, or physical change-be just what you need to discover all that you could gain in Christ?
Loss should be felt, losses should be cried out. At times, cries should be real and ugly and honest. But at some point, between the nose-blows, (just trying to paint the picture, folks) if we could tune our ear to the Harvest God we will hear whispers of newness.
As we mourn and process (and some days shake our fists), we will smell the breezes of Harvest that promise that change is necessary, and good.
One of the greatest mysteries of God is when He turns our losses into gains, through Christ. When we lose certain positions or relationships or even, people, that make us us, we find ourselves in a perfect time to journey out in the Gospel of Redemption.
But most importantly, Ruth seemed to know that an ounce of courage - a mustard seed of faith -IS enough to move.
We must not worry about the result, but embrace the God of Hope in our journey. Sometimes, the journey provides the time and setting to wring out the rag of lessons from God. As miles pass, or quiet months conclude, it buys you time to glean sheaves that you would otherwise miss.
Could we ask God to keep wringing the rag of lessons and refinement during our journey? That it would rain down both refreshment and growth.
And as we move forward, over the gracious lens of time, our runny-mascara-crawl becomes baby steps, our baby steps lead to hope-strengthened posture, and a standing posture can lead to a hope-filled walk.
I don't think God is always looking for Joshua and the Wall of Jericho courage, sometimes a tear-stained walk into Bethlehem is enough courage for him to bring us to healing and newness.
It will come.
Our Redeemer does have great things for us, just around the corner.
So with each step of our life's journey, hold up that mustard seed of faith like it's a grand trophy and rejoice that it is yours.