Every Ruth should find her Naomi
“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried’” (Ruth 1:16-17).
My mother-in-law was born in a bomb shelter on a tiny speck of an island in 1945, at the unfortunate time that the United States was attacking Japanese occupations in the Pacific. I was born in a nondescript hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois in 1981.
Growing up, she climbed trees to fetch coconuts, fished from the island’s shore, and cooked meals for her family over an outdoor oven made of stones. Her childhood was cut short when household chores trumped her education, when the lines of femininity were drawn in the sand before the eighth grade. My responsibilities as a young girl solely revolved around school. I enjoyed the kind of idyllic childhood that most American girls do: riding bikes with friends, playing with dolls, and making craft projects with my mom.
Maybe it’s partly because of our differences that I’ve been in awe of my mother-in-law from the start. Our first meeting is forever etched in my memory. It was the day I said goodbye to my second home in Micronesia, where I taught English at a severely under-resourced high school for a year and a half. I had the uncanny luck of falling in love with someone from the other side of the world, and as we contemplated our future, he brought me to meet his mother in her home shortly before I boarded my plane back to the mainland.
I can still see her wistful smile as she stood on the porch bearing gifts, with tears perched in her eyes and arms outstretched. I knew without words that she loved me—a foreigner with pale skin, blonde hair, and a vastly different culture—before even knowing me.
You see, there is something remarkably special about my mother-in-law. She loves people because she loves God from the depths of her soul. She reads her Bible, translated into her native language, voraciously every day. She prays unceasingly and lives selflessly. She reminds all of us to remain in faith in the most heart-wrenching of times.
Like Naomi, she has lived through the kind of searing pain that most of us can’t even imagine. She recalls the night that her 16-year-old son, Braden, was murdered as if it were yesterday and those numb moments cradling his lifeless body in her arms. The wound to her heart penetrated so unbearably deep that she remembers feeling nothing but hatred toward the young man who attacked him. Clouded by the darkness of her loss, she cried out to God for answers that did not come. She prayed relentlessly for comfort, for understanding, and most of all, for forgiveness. Although forgiveness did not come easily, she knew that the only way out of this tragedy was to surrender her heart fully to God. Without forgiveness, she says, she would have been trapped in misery for the rest of her days. The peace she found is rooted firmly in Jesus.
She has overcome every mother’s nightmare and through it all, clung tightly to Him. In my mind and heart, she is Naomi. She bears witness to the light of Christ for so many people, and especially for me. Because of my Naomi, I have grown from what I can only call a “Sunday faith”—going through the motions of church as a young woman while lacking a real relationship with Jesus—to a consuming faith that serves as my guiding compass for life. We don’t even speak the same language, but sometimes words are unnecessary. Her example has spoken volumes into my life.
Ruth, who did not know God in her homeland of Moab, said to Naomi, “Your people will be my people, and your God my God.” As someone who walks the path between two cultures every day in my marriage, I know that Ruth is not making a light statement here. She is agreeing to cross the divide into an unfamiliar culture, to sacrifice her own customs and ways of life, to take the more difficult path, and most importantly, to embrace the God that she has come to know because of Naomi.
My prayer is that every Ruth finds her Naomi. If you are a Ruth, navigating the beginning of your spiritual journey with doubts and questions and lack of commitment, I pray that you will intentionally seek a mentor who encourages you to take the road less traveled, whose example you can emulate. If you are a Naomi, a mature Christian with a wealth of experience and a beautiful testimony to share, I pray that you will be the wise counsel for a young person floundering in the early stages of faith. You see, Ruth and Naomi needed each other to fulfill God’s amazing plan. Whatever God’s plan has in store for you, you can’t do it alone. Seek your Naomi, seek your Ruth, and let God take care of the rest.