I still remember sitting at that outdoor café table across from my mama as a newly-minted widow. In those days, it was hard for us to find time away from my three young daughters to process together. We savored our sandwiches on freshly-baked bread and sipped cappuccino on that fall day. Our conversation wandered to the book of Ruth, which we were walking through at our church Bible study.
Was it any wonder that just a few months after my husband soared to heaven that God would have me circle back to study one of my favorite books in the Bible? The timing of it all was not lost on me.
This time, I was reading through the book with a new lens as a young widow myself. The details leaped off the pages of my Bible, and I saw His fingerprints all over the story.
The story begins with two women, Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth, in the midst of a crisis. Naomi’s husband Elimelech has died and her two sons, including Ruth’s husband, have also died in Moab where they had lived.
Naomi decides to return to her home town of Bethlehem where there is promise of provision and urges her two daughters-in-law to return to their Moabite families. She has nothing to offer them. But Ruth takes an unexpected stand.
Her words echo through the halls of history:
“Do not persuade me to leave you or go back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”Ruth 1:16 (HCSB)
Ruth chooses the road to Bethlehem. She walks away from her home in Moab, her family of origin, and her past.
On the road to Bethlehem, Ruth’s life is transformed. In Hebrew, Bethlehem means the “house of bread” — a symbol of provision. Ruth doesn’t know it at the time, but trusting in God means walking toward provision, freedom, and eventually unexpected redemption for both her and Naomi.
That day, sitting at the cafe, my mama said these words to me, “I just want to encourage you to open your heart. I believe God has someone else for you.”
My hands and heart trembled. How could she suggest that God might bring a new man to our family when I was still in the depths of my grief?
My marriage with my husband Ericlee had been strong. We were a team in parenting and ministry. But in losing him, I was down a teammate, and the wounds were still fresh. It was difficult to lift my head to imagine a hopeful future.
But I heard my mama’s words.
As crimson and gold leaves sashayed to the ground, and the sun warmed my cheeks, I felt a glimmer of hope.
In that same season, God brought Shawn into my life.
Shawn was a dear friend of our family – one of Ericlee’s best friends. We rekindled our friendship, and God began to unfold His wild plan for my future. Shawn spent time with the girls and me, and I began to look at him in a new way. My heart began to open.
Could this be God’s unexpected provision?
I expected pushback, but our friends and families gave us their blessing. Our Author-God handed us the next chapter of this life and invited my three young daughters and me into an unexpected redemption story only He could have written. Out of our brokenness, God brought abundance.
We wanted everyone who attended our wedding to know that God was the one who deserved all the glory for bringing us together. More than 700 people filled the church that day to celebrate with us. These were the people who had prayed for healing and grieved with us, the ones who had stood by my side on my hardest days and lifted me up.
When I look back over our wedding pictures, joy and wonder still bubble up in my spirit. We laughed, we cried, we feasted, we danced – all the while giving God glory for the surprising beauty He brought from our ashes.
God brings beauty from the ashes of Ruth’s life too. That single decision to follow Naomi to Bethlehem changes the trajectory of her life. She meets Boaz in Bethlehem, who later becomes her kinsman-redeemer and husband. More importantly, Ruth meets God, who is her ultimate Redeemer.
God includes her in His story – history – as the great-grandmother of King David and part of the bloodline of His Son Jesus. It’s no coincidence that Jesus is later born in Bethlehem, where Ruth discovered the kindness of God and true redemption.
Friend, if are feeling hopeless, remember Ruth. If you are wading through the mess of 2020 feeling like redemption is out of reach, remember how Yahweh met her on the road to Bethlehem. He met me there too.
As Christmas approaches, let’s all take a step toward Bethlehem. Our Redeemer awaits.
*I have written a free print & audio Advent devotional called “Under His Wings.” Sign up for my Glorygram here and a copy will be delivered to you ever Sunday during Advent 2020.
**Photo by Neal E. Johnson on Unsplash.