Saturday, November 21, 2015

Brave in November

My boys and I are standing and sitting around the dining room table. It's a wonderful, lazy Saturday morning.  Scraps of construction paper cover the table and the floor.  Red, orange, and yellow.  We are crumpling up the brown paper, then unrolling it and constructing a tree on the wall.  The boys begin tearing out paper leaves, and writing what they are thankful for.  Micah is taking it quite seriously, Mathias is copying everything Micah does, and Max doesn't have pants on.

When the word "Hawkeyes" is etched on the second leaf I begin to wonder if there's too much football fever in this house. I quickly dismiss the fear as I step in spilled leftover yogurt. I pull the marker out of Maxwell's mouth, and respond to Mathias' question of how to spell "Daddy"--"M-O-M...."

We have been making these 'thankful trees' for a couple years, and I enjoy watching them *eh-hem branch out each year in their understanding of what a grateful heart looks like. But this year, the thought of cataloguing all my many blessings up on this crafted tree doesn't feel quite sufficient. 

By no means is it wrong to be thankful. It's a must. It's been one tool in my box that has pulled me through these last few years. It helps me see the grace in each gift, and it rushes in joy.

But sitting at that sticky lovely table with my sticky lovely little minions, I hear the Giver of all good things leading me deeper. Taking me past simple gratitudes and towards November-esque words like pilgrims, harvest, and gleaning...

My mind goes to Ruth (Yes, again.) A Biblical pilgrim. A non-Jewish, barren, widow. She left her pagan land and journeyed out to where she knew God was, in Bethlehem. She travelled away from her home, and out into the unknown frontier of the promising God of the Jews.  Her story empowered me a year and a half ago, when I had recently experienced loss and pain.  Ruth is a beautiful story of an involved God inviting his daughter to limp away from her pain and towards goodness, into His plan for her.

It's a brave, brave road that leads you forth from hurt and near to hope.

And I have always loved the end of her story, too, her harvest. For six months she worked in the fields of a man named Boaz. Through his protection and provision, she gathered grains after the reapers, and at the climax of harvest, she approaches him, to marry her. (I know, might sound weird. Read the story.) What a beautiful, climactic ending to Ruth's adventure! This ushers in a fruitful, abundant season for Ruth.  She reaps what she sows, as her faithfulness and courage bud into marriage and children.  As is often the case, harvest produced far more than she could have imagined.  Who she was before-her status as a foreigner, her poverty, her barren womb-all redeemed as she became the wife of Boaz, and eventually the grandmother of King David.

It is a sweet sweet time of thanks when we have just brought in a bounty from God. (And mercy, this is me, right now.)

It's a brave, more-thank-thankful woman who looks at the spread on her table and humbly sees it all as a gift. 

This time, I am moved by Ruth's story, but not by either the opening or the closing scene. It's not the drama-filled aspects of her story that are making me come alive.

As I studied Ruth's adventure again this month, preparing for our women's Bible Study (I still can't believe this is my job now.)  I found myself sitting on the last verse of chapter 2, on a most unassuming verse.

"So she (Ruth) stayed close by the maids of Boaz in order to glean until the end of the barley harvest and the wheat harvest."

Ruth gleaned behind the reapers until the end of barley and wheat season.

It stopped me. I've read the story before, I could sit forever on the courage and faith she showed walking through a death, braving the unknown of a new land, all Christopher Columbus style.  And then I would read as fast as I could until I got to the glorious ending where Ruth's future is secured.

But what about between these scenes?

The intervals bereft of drama-in the seams of good and bad, need and abundance?

Most of our lives are spent in the days in between, right?  Not days of severe loss or change, nor weeks of climactic, bountiful harvests?

Most of our days, God asks us to simply glean.

To glean. To work slowly, laboriously, bit by bit.

I picture Ruth, gleaning.  Her back hunched over, soil pressed under her fingernails.

Day after day, picking up what was directly in front of her.  What was left purposely for her, from her Redeemer. 

Bit by bit.

What does it mean to be brave then? "In the mundane days of faithfulness," as Luther says.

Most of our days, this is where we fit, so how do we do it well? In between the losses and the rewards, there is this time to glean. Adrenaline may be scarce in this season, but purpose and strength don't have to be. It's not always glorious, the rewards might appear meager on days, but it will always be enough. Your skin may become tough as you show some grit,  and your back may ache. Right now, you may not look like the pioneer blazing an adventurous trail, and you may not look like a victor gathering his reward.

But it's here, where God lays out a bounty of goodness for you. You are right where you need to be.

Brave Friend, you are in a good place, laboring, faithfully, each day, bit by bit. Protected by your God, seen by your Creator, as Ruth was by Boaz.

You are the gracious recipient of a seemingly mundane invitation to keep your head down, and doing what needs to be done. Perhaps these are days where you are quietly mending from your brokeness, or being filled from your emptiness.  These are the days where you may be on the brink of richness, where a copious provision from God is just around the next field's corner. 

Let's be brave in the days of gleaning. Let's be more than thankful that hope has pulled us out into the harvest fields. Let's trust our God that these are rich days.

Let's be content with what is directly in front of us, filled by the daily provisions of our God. Let's be grateful that an abundant harvest season could begin any day.

Let's be so very brave today.  Let's believe in what we are doing, knowing that it is growing us and growing God's kingdom, just like Ruth. Let's remain in grace, as Ruth remained in the fields of her Redeemer.

Because bit by bit, we are becoming more of what we were made to be. Bit by bit, as we learn from the Lord of the Harvest,  grace will unfold our brave stories of abundance.

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