Wednesday, June 7, 2023

"My Name Is Naomi" 

"Hello, my name is Naomi.  You have found me  in the pages of your Bible, though I am not the main character in the story - my daughter-in-law Ruth is. But I have some thoughts I so desire to share with you, if you have the heart and time to hear them. 
 Hindsight is very wise, but it comes a little late - we have already reaped the 'fruit' of our choices, actions and decisions.  They say the best way to learn is through others' mistakes, so you don't have to make them yourself !  So let me share what I learned and I pray that my experiences might be of help to you. 
I, like every other young woman, had my dreams and expectations..  I would marry and have children and live my life, happy and content to run my happy household.  My name , Naomi ,means 'pleasant' and that is how I expected my life to be. 
And that is how ,at first, it began to unfold.  I married and was excited to find I was soon pregnant with my first child.  It was a son - but he was not strong.  I feared for his well-being and afraid I was going to lose him so I named him "Mahlon"  (meaning sickly) maybe to remind myself that he might not live to adulthood.  Shortly after, I became pregnant again - another son, but to my sorrow he too was born sickly, so I named him Chilion (meaning pining or wasting away) 
But, I was so thankful that as I cared lovingly for my boys they did become stronger and to my relief and joy grew to be  men. 
But then a famine swept our land and it became difficult to get enough food.  Not that anyone was starving 'yet' , but we did not know for how long this famine would go on. We knew God had always cared for His people, and I believed that He would see us through this famine.  
Then one day, my husband, Elimelech came to me and said he had decided that we would move to Moab, where there was plenty of food .  I couldn't believe my ears!  Moab was cursed by God because the Moabites refused to give food to the Israelites, and these were the very people Elimelech was choosing to trust?   The very thought of leaving my home, my family, my friends - everything I had ever known was heart wrenching and filled me with anxiety.  But what could I do ?  My husband was determined and I had no choice but to obey him. 

Lesson  1 --  Sometimes life throws the unexpected in our life-path, upsetting our security, our comfort, wrecking havoc with the very things we thought were solid in our life. 
Or someone makes a major decision that affects us, yet we are not considered or given any voice or control.  Because we feel the rug is pulled out from under us,  we  cry out to God  but feel left adrift,  because surely He could have prevented this life-changing, devastating circumstance.  
  But God does not abandon us in the wilderness or when we are forced to go to Moab . He  quietly guides and watches over us, even when we do not see Him, and are unaware of His Presence!  He is never troubled or at a loss, He knows the way we will go, knows what we will encounter, and all He asks is that we trust Him to guide us through, because He knows the way! 
So we moved to Moab where everything was new and strange. Yes, we had food, but at what price ?   
And then, my husband died, leaving me grief-stricken!   Now, I was really alone, responsible for my two sons.  And I worried about them.  They were young enough that they embraced their new country and felt quite at home.  My heart plummeted when I realized that they were interested in the Moab girls, thinking of taking them as wives.  I had never considered that I would have pagan grandchildren !   I had already lost everything. Was I to lose my family line of descendants  as well?
 But when my sons brought the girls home  that they had chosen to marry, I had to admit that they had chosen well.  I grew to love both girls, Ruth especially bonded to me and was eager to hear about my God, so different from the gods of Moab.  Orpha clung to her own gods, but we did have a good relationship and loved each other. 
It was another sorrow and hardship when we realized that my sons could not father children .  Ten years went by but I have to credit my daughters-in-law for their faithfulness.  They could have left but they didn't, and I did not experience any blame or resentment from them. 

Lesson 2 -  Sometimes what seems to be a 'blessing withheld' is really God withholding what would hinder Him from giving us His best!  And in hindsight, I am grateful that my sons were not able to father children, because the beautiful story you all know would not have happened !  
But again,  my life was shattered  - this time completely , when both of my sons died.  I was overcome  with grief and anxiety and also a very real fear!   Now what was I going to do?   My daughters-in-law were still young - they would surely remarry and join their husbands' families - leaving me completely alone with no one to care for me, and certainly no means of support.   
Where was God?  
How could He have dealt so harshly with me?  It was not my fault that we moved to Moab.  It was not my fault my husband died and it was not my fault that my sons were born sickly, never strong even as men, and it was not my fault they were unable to have children.  My bitterness overshadowed even my grief , and life became unbearable.  The pleasure in life was gone, 'Naomi' was no more - henceforth I would be called "Mara" , meaning bitter, and how bitter I was!  

Lesson 3 -  Nothing is so dark as when there is no light.  I could not see any possible way out of the deep pit I found myself in. There was nothing I could cling to, no possible way to rebuild my life.  But oh... how wrong I was.   God always has a way.  There is no night so dark that God cannot bring light in the morning.  Our despair comes when we no longer believe that 'light' will come and the night seems endless.  Ohh..  dear friend, the night will pass, because God is waiting in the morning light and will reveal what He could see all along, even when you felt only despair. 
Then one day I heard the famine back home was over and I made a decision. I would return  to Bethlehem - at least then I would be with my own people, even though I dreaded facing them. How would they react when they heard my story? When they heard how harshly God had dwelt with me.  Would they blame me for having left to dwell in Moab?  Would they say, I deserved all of God's punishment? I wouldn't blame them, since I knew God so clearly had turned against me and punished me severely.  If they looked at me with scorn and disgust, it was nothing new. It was what I accused myself of every day. 
So, you know the story - how I encouraged Ruth and Orpha to return to their homes, their mothers, and their gods, and how Orpah reluctantly returned, but Ruth insisted on coming with me.  She had more faith than I had, the dear girl !  What a God-gift she was to me, but I didn't even realize that at the time !   All I could focus on was myself and the reasons for my bitterness. 

Lesson 4 - No matter how dark and hopeless a place we find ourselves in, no matter how alone we believe we are, if we are willing to open our eyes to see beyond our own pain, we will see the  hand of God reaching out to give us hope. Whether it is through another person, or some written word, or an unexpected blessing, God will find a way to encourage us, to stir up our  trust in Him and cling to the hope that we have in Him.  And even when there is no relief in sight, no answers, no way of escape,  God has a way. 
Why do we lose our trust in Him so quickly?  Why do we judge by what we see rather than in what we know God has promised?   There is nothing that can upset God's gentle and wise planning of our life -- ALL things working out for good  because He is Good! 
On that long journey home, I indulged my bitterness,  falling deeper and deeper into despair.  My life was over , and now not only was I coming home with empty hands and a bitter heart, but I had with me, a heathen daughter-in-law. - a cursed Moabite.   I could not think of any way I was going to provide for myself, let alone a young woman who would surely not be accepted by my people!   
With each step I felt the pain of despair, of hopelessness, of fear and worry. The darkness of my soul made every breath an exercise in futility.  Why was I even alive? Just so God could watch me suffer? 
Ohhh ... if only I had known what God had planned !  I thought my life was over, full of dark despair, but God was planning the most beautiful story about to unfold. 
Lesson 5 - Ohh.. my friends, NEVER despair, NEVER give up !  When it is darkest, God's light is about to shine on His unfolding story!  God will never take you along a lonely path or bring you into a desperate situation to leave you there !  No, no, He is planning to take you through because sometimes the only way to get to the 'joy' is to go through the 'sorrow'.  
I praised God for the rest of my life - how He so gloriously provided for me in ways beyond my comprehension. Even doing what I thought was impossible - laying a grandson into my arms.  A grandson that would be the grandfather of Israel's beloved King David.  Oh... my ...  my heart could hardly hold my joy  and my face wore a 24/7 smile!  
  If you are going through a dark season of life, please know that as God did for me, He will do for you !  The best is yet to come - wait for it !! " 
"Ascribe greatness to our God, He is the Rock, 
His work is perfect for all His ways are justice, 
A God of truth and without injustice, 
Righteous and upright is He !!":  
Deut. 32:3b,4

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