Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Valley

I feel like I have been here forever, in the valley of my desolation. Every hope has turned to dust and ashes, every gain has turned to loss. This is not the Valley of Death, for this aging, aching body of mine still lives and breathes and goes through the motions of daily life, but it is surely the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for Death has touched me and mine so very closely, that now I live forever shrouded in its gloom – a woman without a hope or a future, and a past that is woven from tears and futility. What right has the sun to shine so brightly, or the rain to fall so softly, or the wind to blow with the fragrance of spring flowers, when all my heart and my hope has become sightless unfeeling stone?

It was different once. I loved my husband, Elimelech, and there was joy in our going forth together. When he suggested that we leave famine-stricken Bethlehem, with the two fine sons who were our blessing from the Almighty, and settle for a while in Moab, where there was no shortage of food, it seemed like high wisdom to my ears. I was tired of scraping and struggling and making do, and have never doubted that the same Lord who brought our people to this land meant us also to use our intelligence, and when there was trouble and disorder in the land, it was prudence to remove ourselvesfor a time to a safer and more plenteous place.

For a while all seemed richness, but then my beloved took sick and died, leaving me a widow with two sons. But even while I grieved, I rejoiced in these fine young men. I thought of returning to my own people, but the boys were young men by then, and both were courting local girls, and where should I be but with my own. And they were fine girls too, heathen Moabites they may have been, but they were willing to learn of our God and His ways, and real love grew between us. Not every woman is so blessed in her daughters-in-law, and, recalling the story of our foremother Rebekah, and how grieved she was by Esau’s wives, I gave thanks for Ruth and Orpah, and waited for the grandchildren they would bring me.

But they never quickened, and the childless years passed by while I watched and wondered. Then the blow fell: both my sons dead in the prime of their youth. There was nothing left for me here, it was time to go home, back to my own people, and conclude my empty days in Bethlehem. I thought I would go alone; the girls were young, and lovely still, they would find other husbands among their own kind. After a little while Orpah was persuaded to do just that. But Ruth is of another kind, and nothing I could say would dissuade her. She insists on coming with me, no matter what, and truly, I am glad of her patient love and steadfast faith. It is odd that this Moabite girl now clings to the God of my fathers more closely than I do, for grief and bitterness have loosened my hold.

For she is steadfast, and as we walk this weary journey, she gives me the courage to continue. She tells me that God hasn’t finished with us yet, that though the way seems hard He can lift up every valley and lower every mountain till we walk in a straight path. And as we rest in the night she looks up at the everlasting stars and tells me that even in this valley, shadowed by death, God is still with us, watching over us, and like all true shepherds He will lead us home to Himself.

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