Struggles of Joy #3

Chapter 4

The two women had entered Bethlehem’s perimeter when the sun began setting. Ruth looked at the beautiful colors and she decided it was a good omen from the gods...
            Stop it Ruth! You don’t believe in those gods anymore. You believe in the God of Jacob and Isaac. There is no such thing as omens and there are no other gods to give them. Thank you, God, for providing such a beautiful sky. Help Naomi settle in well and help the town to be accepting.
            She felt better after praying. Ruth wanted Naomi’s time here to be the quietest and happiest years of her life; Heaven only knew how much she deserved that.
            As the two entered into the busier part of Bethlehem, Ruth observed people’s stares and Naomi’s head slowly bending over and sinking lower and lower as if she was embarrassed. Ruth wanted to run up and comfort her, but she decided against it. Instead, Ruth bent her head as well, following Naomi’s example.
            “Naomi? Naomi! Naomi’s back, Marta! Bidigad, Naomi’s back!” Ruth looked up to see an elderly woman running towards them and gesturing to others as she called out her proclamation.
            Naomi must have been well known and loved when she lived here.
            Naomi kept walking and Ruth was puzzled. If she was coming back to her hometown and to her old friends, she would wildly be meeting them, but Naomi only seemed to lower her head farther and quicken her pace.
            The woman was getting closer and kept calling out Naomi’s name. As she reached her, she held out her hand to shake Naomi’s and welcome her, but Naomi ignored it and walked on. The woman looked slightly puzzled but then she grabbed hold of Naomi’s shawl and spun her around, a big smile ready for her friend.
            “Naomi! You’re back! We should celebr_” she began, searching Naomi’s face for even a slight trace of happiness.
            “Don’t call me Naomi. My name is Mara, for the Almighty has made my life very bitter for me,” snapped Naomi, but she wasn’t finished. “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why should you call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy? Now leave my daughter and me; go have your celebrations and let us mourn.” She abruptly turned away and beckoned Ruth to follow.
            Ruth was baffled. There was such bitterness in her mother-in-law’s words. She was confused and didn’t know what had happened to the loving woman she had known. Even when all of her family died, she still held on to her happiness and she never doubted that God would work things out. Now, as Ruth saw Naomi’s despair, she inwardly crumbled.
            She’s carrying such a burden. Oh, God Almighty! Help me bring back her happiness. Don’t let this kind woman live the rest of her life in sadness. She needs to be happy again!

Chapter 5
            Ruth and Naomi had reached Bethlehem just when the barley harvest had begun. Naomi knew this, and she told Ruth this information. They needed to start gleaning as soon as they could so they would have food to eat when the season ended and the cold months arrived. Determined to help Naomi as best she could, Ruth decided that she was going to glean even though they had just arrived.             
            “Mother, where shall I go to glean? Was there a field you went to before that I can go to?”
            “No, my daughter. Just follow all the other gleaners and it will be okay. It doesn’t’ really matter where you glean as long as you get good heads of barley. You do need to be careful, because the landlords and other reapers are sometimes greedy. Do not let these people bother you or harm you in any way. Let them be and they will let you be. Now go,” Naomi went on as she gestured Ruth out the door. “Come back to me soon because I am lonely without you.”
            “Yes Mother, I shall not be gone long. I’ll be as fast as you can imagine. Have a wonderful morning!” She picked up her basket and stepped out the door.
            As she looked around, she saw people pointing and whispering and she couldn’t help wondering if they were talking about her. What bits of gossip had gotten out?
            Did you hear that Naomi brought a heathen into Bethlehem and she’s trying to convert her?
            Ruth is trying to get all our children to become heathens as she is!
            Poor Naomi, bringing back that heathen, it will only bring her trouble. That Moabite woman is probably mooching off Naomi.
            Ruth shivered as these ideas went through her mind. Who in her circle of acquaintances were already taking information and twisting it around? Of course those lies would spread like wild fire. Everyone was always ready to hear a bad word about a new comer. In fact, anyone was ready to hear something juicy about anyone.
Making a conscious effort to ignore the whisperings, she held her head high and walked towards the fields she saw in the distance. She felt a dark blush creeping up on her cheeks, but she could not stop it. She kept her nose in the air, hoping that her false confidence would not trick the others. She wanted anyone looking at her to think she was as secure as any other gleaner in Bethlehem.
            If this is how I am treated, how will I gain permission to glean in any fields. I shall only work behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor. I am a foreigner, and I don’t wish to offend anyone.
            She came across a field and saw others walking up to it with their homemade baskets. Ruth took a deep breath and walked over to one of the women who had begun to glean.
            “Excuse me, sister. Would it be okay if I gleaned behind you? I’m a foreigner and I don’t wish to offend anyone.” She thought her question sounded very professional and was surprised when the woman scowled at her.
            “Don’t you know that foreigners aren’t welcome here? You cannot be here, for you will be a shame to_”
            “Marta, let her be.” An elderly woman came over and scolded the woman Ruth had been talking with. “How is she responsible for being a foreigner? One of our own married her, and so therefore bringing her into our family.”
“You are Ruth, the Moabitess?” The woman didn’t even try to hide her shock. “The Moabite who married Mahlon! And the Lord, for Mahlon's disobedience in marrying a Moabitess took him away. You are the one who brought all the pain on Naomi? How dare you_”
“Please, I’m sorry.” Ruth backed up and quickly turned to leave. “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone or have anyone punished because of my actions. I will leave and I am sorry for_”
“Marta! Enough!!” Her voice was full of authority as she made her commands. “Ruth, stay and I’ll take care of you. Can’t you see Marta? She has left her own home to be with her husband’s mother. She has come willingly and you are mocking her for it. Be gone and let her do what she can to bring happiness back into Naomi’s face!”
            “You beware of what you do!” yelled the woman, as she turned around and resumed her gleaning. “The Lord is not partial to pagans! You will bring more pain on Naomi if you stay with her! Do us all a favor and leave while you still can!” She stomped off with her basket and shot Ruth withering glances that could kill a fly.
            “Don’t let Marta get to you my dear,” soothed the elderly woman. “She has a big mouth and sometimes doesn’t know when she should shut it up. Come, follow me and I will show you the best places to glean and where you should never go. Do not be afraid.”
            “Thank you so much, my friend.” Ruth’s smile held a great desire to be friends with this woman. “Now whom must I talk to if I wish to glean in this field?”
            “These are Boaz’s fields, but he is away at the moment, so the foreman, David, would be the one to ask. Don’t let him bully you either. You are allowed to be here, just lightly remind him, and he’ll let you glean.”
            “I wish not to cause any problems. Naomi has had too many, and I wish to be a help to her, not bring more sorrow. She has had a great deal of pain as it is.”
            “You are very sweet, my daughter. Naomi is blessed to have a daughter like you. May the God of Abraham and Isaac bless you richly for your sacrifice. When you go to the foreman, just tell him you wish to glean and, by law, he cannot deny you because you are a foreigner and a widow. If there are any problems, and you do not wish to fight, leave. I will be sad to see you go, but if that is what you wish, then I’ll not stop you.”
            “Thank you so much, dear friend. I will always remember your kindness. May your God_”
            Ruth caught herself. She thought back to the road outside of Bethlehem when she promised Naomi that the God of Israel would be her God. She took a deep breath and started again.
            “May our God bless you kindly for your generosity. I will never forget your kind eyes.” Ruth bent and kissed the older woman’s face and went on her way, holding her blessing deep inside for later encouragement.
 She was very grateful for the friendship that they already seemed to be cultivating. Maybe her time here would be a challenge, but if she could find a few friends, she’d be able to make it.
Walking towards the crude building she saw in the distance, she came across many other gleaners. Most of them stared at her and she quickly pushed on. The few that gave her a smile were enough to keep her going.
There are still a few kind people in this country. I could not survive without those smiles. Give me strength to keep going, God. I cannot do this without you. I made a promise that you would be my God, and I need your help to keep that vow.
She made it to the building and peeked inside a door, seeing if anyone was inside.
“Excuse me,” she began, as she saw a form sitting at a desk.
The tall, strongly built man looked up from his desk and smiled at her. “What can I do for you, child?”
“If it would please you, might I be able to glean in your fields? I am a foreigner and I would like to gather grain for my family.”
“Yes my child. The landlord, Boaz, is not here now, but I am sure he would approve of you gleaning. He is a very kind man. You are welcome to glean in our fields, but keep your distance from the other foremen, some of them might have ideas and you would not benefit from them.”
“Thank you so much sir.” She was so grateful for his encouragement and his warning. “I shall never forget your kindness!” She bowed her head as a thankful gesture and stepped out the door. That small kindness had brightened her day and she was ready to glean with a cheerful attitude.