A few months ago, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. Recently, we were told that, in spite of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, the cancer had spread to the liver and bones. She lost her battle with this disease early this morning.
While contemplating my relationship with this special woman, my thoughts were drawn to another pair of women who shared a special bond, Naomi and Ruth. Their story is in the Book of Ruth in the Bible.
As the story opens, a man, Eliminech, takes his wife, Naomi, and two sons to a foreign country, Moab, to live when a severe famine strikes his homeland, Bethlehem in Judea. As time passes, Eliminech dies, and each of the sons marry women from Moab. After a few more years, both sons die, leaving the three women behind with no male family member to provide for them.
With no means of support, Naomi decides to go back home to Bethlehem to try to find refuge with her husband’s kin. Both daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, decide to go with her rather than be separated from her. Naomi pleads with them to stay and try to find new husbands and start new families. Orpah tearfully agrees to stay, but Ruth will not. Her passionate speech to Naomi as she pledges her love and allegiance is one of the most well known passages in the Bible. “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 will be my God.” The passage closes with, “When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.”
The story continues, they return to Bethlehem, and Ruth remarries—one of her husband’s relatives. She eventually has a son who becomes the grandfather of King David. But, what caught my attention is the “back story.”
Names in Biblical times were chosen carefully and were descriptive. Naomi’s name meant “pleasant; lovely.” Indeed, the story indicates that she was a beautiful woman, but the description must have been much deeper than looks. Physical beauty will attract men, but only a pleasant and lovely personality and countenance can account for the deep relationship between this mother-in-law and her daughters-in-law. Orpah left weeping. The love Ruth felt for Naomi was so deep that she left everything behind to go to a foreign country with the mother of her husband.
Naomi reminds me of my mother-in-law, Barbara. She was a beautiful woman outwardly, but even more so inwardly. She was pleasant and lovely. Happy. Fun-loving. Optimistic. Kind. Selfless. Giving. Warm. Open. Accepting. Loving. Brave.
Barbara’s name meant “different” and she was—different from other mothers-in-law. As Naomi was to Ruth, Barbara was to me. More than a mother-in-law, she was a second mother and friend. And I will miss her...
February 5, 2010