Here’s the short version of Post I:  Ruth got overwhelmed the week of January 10th  (the time leading into the anniversary of her father’s death) and left–left Naomi and left home. The situation is related to a previous post, https://ruthsgleanings.wordpress.com/2009/10/15/naomi-sweet-to-bitter-and-back-again/.  Everyone on board? Yes?  Great.  Here’s the second part of the story, which is the most important:

After I left, I spent that Sunday night in a strange (well, not-so-strange–rather comfy) home belonging to extended family.  They were very kind from the moment I walked in the door carrying a bag.  And thankfully, my sister-in-law had prepared them for the eventuality that I would freak out, panic, get depressed, or otherwise need to escape my environs and head to their house for awhile. So when I walked in, they asked no questions. They handed me a box of tissues and let me have the still, spare room for the night.

I spent the night crying, making calls for advice to friends and grief counselors and my brother, who all told me I should come up to my brother’s apartment in another town and try to start over there.

And, as the night got cold and the strange house got quiet, I prayed.

I remember talking to God about the times when I knew I’d failed my mom and she’d failed me.  I told Him about how I was scared of how angry and depressed I’d gotten.  I told Him it was so hard, now that Dad wasn’t with us any longer, for me to know what to do, where to go, and how to start out on my own.  I told Him I felt like I’d failed my father because I couldn’t be strong enough to help dig my mom and me out of our depression–and I told Him I felt guilty that I’d hurt my mother in the process of trying to shovel my own way out of the grief in our home.

Most of all–and it didn’t help that she called me to wish me a tearful goodnight–I felt guilty about leaving my mom as abruptly and as bitterly as I had.

My friends and counselors had told me that leaving was the right thing to do, that I needed the perspective shift of an emotionally healthier environment, and that I needed to go somewhere where people were striking out on their own and doing brave things in order for me to find the encouragement to do the same.  I needed to be shocked out of my little shell; I needed to get moving again.

But a part of me wondered about home, family, and my duty to my mother.  After all, hadn’t she raised me?  And who was I to throw her away like she didn’t matter, even if she had dragged me down with her in grief?  Shouldn’t I be helping her, not making things worse by abandoning her, like my father (symbolically) had?

And then I told God the truth–the bottom line–the simple motive under it all: that I’d decided to change my lot because I was tired of hoping that things would get better where I was. That I was exhausted with faithfully waiting for a spirit of joy to come back to the house and to my life.  That I was tired of being disappointed, and that, ultimately, I didn’t trust Him.

I think you can tell,  I dominated the conversation for a long while, and He listened.  But when I told Him I didn’t trust Him, that’s when He made a suggestion.  As is His usual manner when dealing with me, God decided to send a message through the only medium that I, in my anger and pain, would not shut my door against.

He sent me a warm, fuzzy critter.

Bell, a basset hound and the patroller of the household, nosed open the bedroom door and struggled up onto the bed, wheezing and panting from the effort of getting her stubby legs that far off the ground. Her nose was cold where she snuffled it against my leg. Her ears were floppy and moist–she’d gotten them wet in her night-time bowl of water–and she wanted to be petted, now. She smelled like wet fur, more specifically, like wet dog fur, and I struggled to put aside my cat-fancier’s disgust at her scent and slovenly ways as I patted her and assured her that I wasn’t a threat, even if I was a stranger.  In a few minutes, she relaxed. Then I relaxed, and that’s when God finally spoke.

Test me in this.¹

What?  I knew the scripture reference, and it seemed oddly out of context. So for the present, I ignored it, reasoning that I’d just let something random enter my mind. Also, Bell was being distracting; she groaned and rolled over on her back on top of the bed, and her floppy, dewy ears made smear marks on the coverlet as she stretched, spread-eagle, inviting a belly rub.  As I scratched her tummy, all I could smell, and all I could think about, was the doggy stink of wet animal fur.

Wet. Animal. Fur.  It got me thinking…

There you go.

. . . about a story . . .

. . . a story from the time of Israel’s Judges. . .

. . . about a guy named Gideon who, like Ruth, spent a lot of time threshing grain and worrying about his uncertain circumstances instead of trusting God.²  In an act of theophany, the Lord appeared to Gideon in flesh and told him to do something very difficult. Gideon asked God-in-Flesh for several signs of reassurance along the way.  His most famous sign involved a wet, and then conversely dry, hide of smelly sheep’s skin.  The elegantly simple test became known as “Gideon’s Fleece,” and God didn’t seem to mind fulfilling it.

Here’s how it went:  God listened to Gideon’s request to do impossible things to the sheep skin during the normal nocturnal pattern of condensation.  One night, God drenched the fleeece and left the around it ground dusty; the next night, he soaked the ground on which the fleece rested but left the fleece itself perfectly dry.  These were little signs of fulfillment, little miracles of reassurance.  Baby steps toward’s Gideon’s trust, and in the end, huge leaps and bounds for the nation of Israel’s independence from the Midianites, whom Gideon rose up and destroyed.

So I thought awhile about what fleece I could put out while Bell grunted and snored. I thought about the events I already had in motion–like leaving home–and I wondered how, as emotionally drained and unsure as I was, I could ever know if I should go back. I thought about how God could communicate that to me through a supernatural reversal (wet to dry, dry to wet), and, if He was willing to kill two birds with one stone, maybe even  provide for my eventual independence in the same step.  I figured that would be the best thing God could do to restore trust, and to restore my sanity. So I aimed to strike a bargain; call it a truce.

“God?”

Hmm?” grunted Bell, and maybe God.

“You know, before Christmas, that I was taking aggressive steps back home to get a new job so I could work my way to independence.  If you really want me to go home, then have one of those potential jobs offered to me before I commit to anything in my brother’s town.  Then, have all the counselors in my life–friends, family, therapist–who have told me that I should leave home, tell me to go back and take the job.”

Silence.

“. . . And, if it’s not too much to ask, help me to restore my relationship with my mom over the coming days. She’s hurt, I’m hurt, and we have a lot to forgive if we’re going to ever live peacefully together again.”

Bell yawned.  More silence.  Then, as if she’d heard her name being called, Bell pricked up an ear and rolled off the bed, trotting out the door.

I guessed her work there was done.

The next day, I went up to my brother and his wife’s apartment, some forty miles away.  And I applied for every job listing I could find that seemed even remotely within my capabilities.  I reconnected with some mutual friends in that town. They were all very encouraging; my sister-in-law even took me grocery shopping and asked about my favorite foods, as if to say, “See, we can live together for as long as you need to.”  I slept on the couch with their cats, and started to hear a trickle of interest from potential employers. I kept applying, hoping to hook an interview or two within the week.  I kept hoping to find a job quickly, so I could move into a different apartment with a roommate, and give my brother and his wife back their privacy.

I called my mom nightly, trying to gauge her emotional state, looking for signs of resentment or, miraculously, progress.  I saw some of the latter—saw that she’d seen what I saw, and that she wanted change as much as I did. It seemed like we were healing the breach by building bridges on both sides of it.  But that meant that only a part of my fleece was being fulfilled, but not all.  I stayed where I was.

Surrounded in my newly-laid plans, my siblings, and their clean cats with their silky fur, I almost forgot about my fleece.

Until Thursday came, and I got a call out of the blue–offering me a marketing/PR internship I’d applied for during the first week of December, a position that was at the same hospital where my mom works.  The HR representative  told me that, at the marketing team’s sit-down departmental discussion, I was decidedly their strongest candidate.

Okay, God.  There’s fulfillment number two.

I told the HR recruiter that I was thrilled, and I would make one phone call and call her right back with a definite answer. On instinct, I called my sister-in-law, who pretty much said, “What the heck are you waiting for?  Call back! Call back! Take the job!”

So I did, with very little hesitation.  The internship starts next week.

My brother, when he came home a little later, supported my decision, and my grief counselor was thrilled when she got my text (at only 27, she’s within her rights to be a high-tech Christian grief counselor).  Fleece fulfillment number three fell into place.

So I did what I told God I’d do: I went home.

Naomi and I are patching things up and trying really, really hard not to fall into old patterns of depression, discouragement, and disparaging talk when we fail each other.  And God and I?  Well, we’re working on that trust thing.  He’s made the biggest step.  The rest, as C.S. Lewis would say, is up to me– to give up, and to try harder:

“[H]anding everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus, if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way . . . because He has begun to save you already.”³

Me, try not to worry?  Sounds impossible without a lot of medication.   But at the same time, I know we’re commanded by God not to worry (Matthew 6:25ff, Phillipians 4:6), and so I really need to work on that aspect of obedience.

The rest of the work ahead will involve learning to really and truly love my mom, in spite of our failures, and without fear of either of us getting hurt, lost, or abandoned the way we were when Dad died.  And that means trying not to worry about any of the above.  It also means adhering to Cassandra’s mantra at the end of the film discussed in the previous post, Capturing Castles— “I love. I have lov’d. I will love.”

 “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”-Isaiah 41:13

 

Notes:

1.  The quote is from Malachi 3:10, which is actually about tithing and trusting God with your money. See what I mean about it being kinda out of context?

2.  The Book of Judges chs. 6 and 7 have Gideon’s story in full, including the bit with the fleece, as well as Gideon’s many other tests for God’s guidance.

3. Lewis, Clive Staples.  Mere Christianity. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: Harper Collins, 2002. p. 81.

Photo credits:

*Basset hound from http://Kendisian.files.wordpress.com,  an eclectic blog by a struggling writer.  Check it out!

 

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