by Rhonda D. Loucks

Almost seems terrifying doesn’t it? Almost seems as if we should run. And, some of us do…at least part of the time. But, what we are missing out on, because of the running, is what the Lord wants me to address today. He wants me to address the opportunities that we encounter each day to influence the lives of the people around us. He wants me to talk about strength and stamina and determination. He wants me to tell you that He still needs us to take risks for Him…even with our own families.

opportunityNow, I know I have declared this before to you, but it still intrigues me, so I am going to say it again. Sometimes…most of the times…when I am in the middle of my devotions with Him…He slips me a thought or two. These thoughts seem to latch on to me with the same intensity and attention grabbing energy as losing your keys when it is time to pick up the kids from school. It becomes urgent…the thing that takes over everything else. Sometimes he only reveals a title. And then He waits for obedience.

So, I sit to write…never knowing where He is going to lead. Half excited about where the next paragraph may take my mind and my spirit, half afraid of what He might ask me to disclose about my life in the middle of a sentence. But always, very interested in what the Lord will teach me by the end of the article. It is so strange and ironic that for more than 15 years I told students that an outline is absolutely essential to writing a reasonably organized, thoughtful and meaningful composition. Well, I guess the Lord has that covered, regarding these pieces, because they always seem to come full-circle, and I feel that I am just along for the exhilarating ride.

Today He took me to the Book of Ruth and wants to talk about “IT.”

Now most of us think about Ruth when we talk about studying the Book of Ruth. And, why not? She certainly has helped shape some of my thinking. That whole thing about “you are not marrying his family” is sure thrown out the window in this story. Because when Ruth married Naomi’s son…she also involved herself with the woman who would influence her to change her life forever. God sees us all as connected…and His desire is that we connect to each other in the same way that Ruth connected to Naomi.

Wow! Is there anything in this whole story about Ruth that you could argue with regarding her character? Loving…way beyond the expected, trustworthy…almost to a fault, obedience…to the point that she seems invisible and others are brought to light. Oh wait, am I talking about Ruth or Christ? I got lost there for a second. Yes, yes indeed, we are still talking about Ruth: A woman not raised in a family or in the tradition of fearing God, a woman new to the whole concept of her husband’s and her mother-in-law’s values and principles, a woman with an open and obedient heart, and a desire to learn the ways of the righteous…and to live like them.

Wow! I say again, Ruth was an amazing woman and is an amazing example to all of us who are striving for something more. But, we are not here to talk about Ruth in the Book of Ruth today. God wants us to look at “IT.”

“IT” is the gift that you give others that then gives back to you. I am talking about Naomi and the way she leads her family. The tragedy of Naomi’s life was more than most of us could bear. Where would you be emotionally…spiritually after such unexpected and tragic deaths of your husband and sons? I’m pretty sure I know where I would be…and the rest of you would need a pass to get in to see me. I doubt very seriously that I would be in a position to calmly and clearly and thoughtfully give advice.

But that is where Naomi was. She had lost her home and community position by following her husband to a foreign land. She had spent countless back-aching hours breaking in a new homestead, only to lose her husband. And though for a short while she could cling to the social knowledge that she still had two…count them…two, male offspring to give her some legal rights to her own property, they soon were taken from her as well. Now her situation became desperate. But Naomi never really acted desperate. How? How is that possible? If each of us could figure out this much of the story, then maybe we could take on some “ITing.”

“Okay”, Naomi said, “Now here’s what we do.” Do you have any idea how many times I have wished for that kind of clarity. And, I’m talking about a small problem on a clear day. Naomi pulled out that kind of response when her world was crashing in around her…she could hardly bear the grief of her boys (yes I know I didn’t mention her husband again…but come on…we are talking about the sadness of losing your child)…she literally had no place to go or live, and…we are not even discussing things like clothes…money…or food. However, in the midst of disaster, Naomi was clear and certain regarding the logical actions she should take and was willing to risk that certainty by allowing her daughter-in-law to be involved.

Now I have to take an aside here. I don’t want anyone thinking that I am saying Naomi was perfect. I wonder how much time there was between the deaths and her clarity? We know it wasn’t long enough to starve to death, but how long? Did she go through the little savings they had first? Did she ask for some public assistance? Did she have to sell a family heirloom or two to keep the three mouths fed? Did the neighbors jump in and help? Was the whole thing overnight and she had to be out in the morning? Sometimes I think we look at the stories in the Bible as if one main fact jumped to the next by the next morning and we forget about possible time lapses in untold measure.

I like to speculate what happened between the lines and between the times. Never do I speculate in opposition to the Bible’s telling…but in absence of the Bible’s telling. In those possible details, I find the faults and truths of my own life…which, in turn, fuel my travels in my own pursuit of holiness. What we do know is that whatever really happened in the details of those days brought Naomi to this traumatic statement …which she made very public …”The Almighty has dealt very harshly with me.”

Now that is not a statement that I would like to announce as I came back to my home town. So worn and haggard and tired was her old appearance that her friends and acquaintances from times past asked each other who she was. And then, she had to explain her comment and tell them the rest of her story. But somewhere at the beginning of all of that, she had found the clarity to make a decision to return to her people and to this place. And, she had allowed Ruth to come with her.

She took “IT” …the opportunity to live beyond her condition and situation… to pass on her thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in a clear and profound way that influenced the person closest to her…giving Ruth a possibility at a life she would have never had. Naomi spoke to Ruth with direction and motivation. She considered the law and promises of God. She did not spend a lot of time whining or wondering or hiding in the corner when she got to Bethlehem. She recognized her situation, professed it truthfully and publically (probably so that there was no room left for them to rumor), and then she propelled herself forward.

“Okay”, Naomi said, “Now here’s what we do.” Still…that phrase impresses me. She laid out a plan to Ruth for their future. She did not have all the answers, she had not recovered completely from the tragedies of her past, and she most certainly did not have a guarantee. She followed the law…both God’s law and the law of the community. She was not sly or deceitful. She maneuvered but did not manipulate. She advised Ruth on how she should not act and how she should. And, God changed her condition and her world.

Ready or not…it is the season for family. Some of your families might look a lot like the “Leave it to Beaver’s”. And some of your families look a lot more like the “Beverly Hillbillies’.” And then, some of your families are so worn and broken that there is not a chance in Hollywood that anyone would ever consider using your family for a show…too awful, too boring…too normal…too, well just too. Or worst of all…your family looks great on the outside, and others are jealous of your wonderful blessing… But you and God know just how really tragic your situation is. So ready or not…this season is especially hard for you.

The season of upcoming holidays, should be a season for unions and joyful reunions. But often times expectations, old memories, unforgiven actions and just plain unkindnesses overwhelm our possibilities and make it hard to enjoy most gatherings. But this year can be different. Every character in the story of Ruth and Naomi did not behave beautifully. It just takes one. It takes you. This year you can be the Naomi in your family and change the holidays…maybe the future for your family name.

Did you know that Naomi advised Ruth regarding Boaz? Did you know that Ruth married Boaz? Did you know that they had a son? Did you know that their son was named Obed, and that he was the grandfather of David? Yes! King David. The King that God’s heart was so fond of….the very King whose bloodline would bring about our Savior.

And…Naomi got to raise Obed in the house of Ruth and Boaz. When the Bible says that she took the child and laid him in her lap…do you understand what that means. Naomi was his nanny. She raised him and taught him and influenced his beliefs and thinking. Now we already saw Naomi in action when things were really tough and when she was given the chance to advise her “married-in…completely foreign blood-line”. We can only imagine how much influence she had over her grandson… I, for one, know that she did not hesitate to guide him.

What do you face this holiday season? Is there a new divorce in the family? Has there been an unexpected death? Is your uncle is in jail…again…and his daughter is seated next to you at the Thanksgiving table? Is that bitter cousin of yours going to be there with her bad attitude? You know the one; the one who is so upset with herself and her own life that she walks around in judgment and criticism of everything from how the food was prepared to the new color of paint on the walls. And, what position are you in to do something about overcoming the negative and influencing the positive?

Start now. Study up. Pray hard. Memorize scripture. Clear up your heart and your head of your own situations. Seek His guidance…and devise a plan. Prepare yourself…because ready or not “IT” is almost here…the opportunity to live beyond yourself and influence your family…and their future.

Rhonda D. Loucks is an author, wife, mother, Sunday School teacher and member of Wichita First Church of the Nazarene. More of her writings are available at uncutobedience.com.

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