I have been reading the book of Ruth lately, digging into the story of two women who united under extreme circumstances. I find myself coming back to this story often, I know the deeper meaning of the players and God’s call for us. Still, I just really like Naomi and Ruth, I understand them beyond the surface level of the story. The funky boundaries of their relationship, the strength of their characters, the hardships that they faced together, these women were rock stars. I want them at my dinner parties, I know women like them. In fact, I surround myself with Naomi and Ruth in friendships, in classes I attend, in groups I am drawn to. I love these women. They show up, they ache, they are loud and are shy, they just keep doing the next right thing even though they carry a history that hurts and a fear for what their children are doing right now. They pull me aside and share their brokenness because I tell mine here, they know we will recognize each other. Still, the story or Ruth and Naomi is about more to me, a guidebook of how to love in the midst of hardship and the world questioning your right to, a society that says go back to your own people, a story that tells of a love that goes beyond blood and into the souls of women.
My own relationship with Mama defies explanation, is one of the purest examples of the power of prayer and a view of real redemption. We have struggled together to find our way in the wilderness, she was left “widowed” almost as soon as she discovered our Plum was growing within her womb. Chef and I offered safe haven about 7 1/2 years ago now, we have been offering the same ever since. She and I are our own Naomi and Ruth, gleaning what is good from the fields of our history, a bond that is so strong and fragile on any given day, yet forged by God thus unbreakable. Mama and I met when she was at her lowest, we have found ways to take each other even lower. We have hurt and healed each other in ways that only women can. Words that wound and leave scars have been flung out in anger and fear. We also have spoken sweetly and at the most tender times, messages that bore truth so fiercely the walls melted away. This bond is what happens when God gets involved, when God says I will not allow you two to break what I have chosen to stand. Despite all of our best efforts to destroy our relationship on any given day, any given year, we have survived and are bound together not just in our love for Plum but the underlying love for each other.
Now that she has married this wonderful new man with a full family in tow, has a new baby, Sweetness, my place in her life is once again a battlefield. Blessedly, this time it is not us warring. Who wouldn’t, if you have not journeyed with us all these years, wonder why in the world she calls me instead of a different grandma or brand new sisters? Why does she allow me into her heart when others are kept at bay? I won’t share Mama’s story here, what I can say is that building and destroying trust and trying to rebuild it is not for the impatient, results are not immediate. Isn’t this true of all parenting? The seeds we sow at the earliest ages are what we find sprouting in adolescence, rarely do we get the behavior turn around from a time-out in the blink of an eye. We stay with it, we keep trying. We do the next right thing and own when we did all the wrong things and admit we were just too tired and hungry and lonely to even have a conversation so please don’t talk to us when we look like that again. We admit our humanity and we show humility. Because those characteristics are what we want to see in our children. Mama and I have learned each other’s hungry faces, too tired to talk voices, we have learned the silent signals and where all the land mines are. We have found that hurting each other is so horrible we can no longer bear to do that, loving each other is too dear, we must continue. Doing so is work, I know I drive her crazy and there is a really big obstacle called my son in the way many days. Still she knows that more than anyone on this earth, I want her to succeed. I am invested in her being the best mama ever. She knows that I don’t visit her to judge her progress but to delight in her love for her family. She trusts that I never carry a scorecard to document her wrongs but rather a camera to catch her family loving laughing snuggling. She wants me to see her doing this, my soul aches to see her see me seeing it. Together we know how critical it is that she be affirmed as mama, that she not be undermined at this important time in her daughter’s life. We have journeyed here before. Traveling together on this road is much much sweeter while she holds and loves and coos at her baby, I take the pictures. My need is not to hold Sweetness, my soul yearns to see her do so with this confidence. Thus, she allows me in, a spectator a witness someone to document this time around because I was there before. Naomi and Ruth bound together searching for scraps of nourishment, feeding each other’s souls. I get it.
Mama doesn’t let others in so readily, she carries many wounds. She doesn’t broadcast them for all, she is protective of her story and her family. Oh Lord loving our children is hard, isn’t it? We just want in, they want boundaries and schedules and to be seen as adults with the ability to make choices that are respected. We see children playing house until we are forced into acknowledging our baby has grown, our work there is done, we no longer can give a time out. Forging a new relationship with an adult child requires respecting limits we don’t like, we may be put in the thinking chair, our desire to speak may be rejected. No longer in control, we find ourselves suddenly wondering what happened, where did we go wrong, even try to affix blame on the interloper, the new spouse. We lose sight of the fact that we have actually succeeded in launching our child into the world, we can now sit back and drink wine on the porch and do hardly any laundry and the house stays neater. We find our own women friends again. Just as we do, the phone will ring and a question is asked. Do you think she may have a fever? What would you do about this stain? You find you are invited to step in just a bit, you must control the desire to rush forward and do the laundry and make the dinner and hold the baby. Go drink your wine and just listen. I imagine Ruth and Naomi spent many hours talking to each other, more was spent listening. Those silent places are where holiness happens.
When Ruth went out into the fields, when she later married Boaz, she didn’t leave Naomi behind. Their relationship was cemented in the journey of hardship and loss and pain and tears, all those long talks and shared worries about where the next meal may come from and how much they ached over the Ruth’s husband no longer being around, Naomi’s son gone from them. These two women were bound together thus when Ruth began her new life, she took her “mother” with her. During a time when bloodlines really mattered, this is an incredible story. The graciousness of Boaz is remarkable. Today, families are scattered like those barley seeds that Ruth labored to harvest, bloodlines are even more messy. Today to have two women like Mama and I bound together after so many fractures and obstacles is surely the work of God. We are blessed that our real life Boaz accepts our relationship. We are blessed to have each other. Just this Sunday as we sat in church together, I gloried in how ridiculous our family tree at that moment was and how amazing God is at sticking folks together. Later as Mama sat outside the sanctuary and sobbed because her gift to me on Mother’s Day was not good enough, sobbed because my children were not seeing in me what she does, I could only remember those two women long long ago who found a way through famine and loss and hardship with only their faith to carry them. Mama’s gift to me is more pure than a bouquet or a bottle of perfume, it is the inclusion into her journey. It is the gift of trust that comes only through fire that has singed us all but left nonsense in the ashes and what matters most stronger and standing.
Isn’t it amazing that the story of Ruth and Naomi is what is shared at weddings? The story of love that is selfless and outside of convention, the story of women who understand that listening is every bit as important as talking and honoring looks different than showing up on one day each year with a card or flowers. Time to build trust and following each other along the path of God is surely the only way in to lasting relationship. Mama and I have journeyed long to get to Bethlehem and I know there is room in the city for others to join us. May they come and sit patiently, may they wait for their invitation to dine on the barley seeds, may they accept the gifts of love that come from the deepest parts of a young mother’s soul. It is worth the journey, I promise.