Updated: Oct 31, 2019
Melissa leaned against the rear passenger door as I slammed the trunk shut.
“You're seriously leaving,” she said, crossing her arms.
I sighed. I had tried to explain to my sister why I had to do this, but she couldn't – or wouldn't – understand.
“This isn't like you.” she frowned. I shrugged. That was true. “Is this your way of . . . moving on? Like, literally or something?”
I shook my head. “This isn't a stage of grief. I need to do this. I'm all the family Marah has left.” The accident had left us both widows, bonded in shared sorrow.
We both looked over as Marah came out of her house with the Realtor. She had let the dye fade out of her hair; it was glistening with silver. As she handed over the keys, a finality settled in my gut. This was it. No turning back.
“Move in with me,” Melissa said. “It'll be fun.”
I raised an eyebrow and grinned. “I think we may have different definitions of fun.”
“What happened to you?” she pouted. “The sister I knew wouldn't want to live with an old woman in a tiny town a million miles from here.” As I stepped to the driver's door of my rusty Honda, Melissa leaned her elbows on the silver roof. “Besides, isn't Marah, like, super religious?”
I laughed. “She has a strong faith, yes.”
Melissa wrinkled her nose. “That's not what I mean. She wears funny clothes – ”
“For modesty,” I interjected.
“She doesn't watch modern TV, or listen to any decent music – ”
“'Cause most of it's trash.”
“That's what I mean,” my big sis' jabbed a finger at me. “She's got so many rules. It's like a cult or something. How are you going to live if you go with her? She's gonna turn you into one of them.”
I glanced back to my mother-in-law, if I could still call her that. She was the strangest, most special woman I knew. “There are worse things,” I murmured. My sister would never understand, but I actually hoped Marah would change me. If I had faith like her . . . I let the thought trail off with a wistful sigh.
Marah came up, her lined eyes red. She glanced between my sister and me, feeling the tension. She took my hand and whispered, “You don't need to do this.”
Melissa shot me a glance, but I squeezed Marah's hand back as I said, “Yes, I do.”
Melissa stepped back as Marah climbed in the car. My sister came around the front and stood in front of me with her arms crossed and her head tilted. “You're crazy, you know. Where are you going to work? Do you have an apartment waiting for you? Seriously, do you even have any money saved?”
Worry niggled. I had two bags in the back of my trunk, a box of memories in the back seat, and a map to a different country. That was it. We had no idea what we would find when we returned to Marah's rural hometown.
“I'll be fine,” I said, lifting my chin. "God will see us through."
Melissa sighed and pulled me into a tight hug. She whispered, emotion pulling on her voice, “Call me when you get there. If they have phones, that is.”
I chuckled, “Of course they do,” But then, I wasn't so sure. Maybe this new country would be completely different. I swallowed my doubts.
I opened the driver's door and slid behind the wheel. The faded air freshener smelled faintly of vanilla--like the ghost of a home. I glanced around to make sure I had everything. The cup holders each held a travel mug of coffee. A small bag was packed with apples and peanut butter sandwiches. Two sleeping bags were tucked behind the passenger seat. I hid a sigh. I didn't look forward to using them, but we were on a tight budget; there would be no drive-thrus or hotels. I had a couple of hundred dollars in my wallet, just enough for gas. This trip was reckless. Definitely not me. Yet, here I was.
I took a deep breath and started the Honda. It coughed to life.
“Please, get us there safe,” I whispered, but I wasn't speaking to the car.
I shifted into gear, took a deep breath, and drove away with my sister in my rear-view mirror. I straightened my shoulders and took a deep breath through my nose. Though I was determined, it didn't mean fear wasn't pecking in the corner of my brain. How would a big-city girl like me fit into a tight-knit community? Would I be able to find work? Would Marah's old house still be decent for habitation? The worries began to swirl like a dust devil, and I took a deep breath to blow them away. 'Have faith,' I told myself. Marah believes God wants her to go home. He'll see us through.
Marah leaned her head against the window and stared through the glass as we drove out of the city and onto the freeway. I merged into traffic nervously, going too slow, and then having to gun it to make it into the right lane. Alex had done all the highway driving. I swallowed hard. It had been a year, but it still hurt to think of him.
Marah continued to gaze silently out the window. I glanced at her from time to time, worried at her lingering depression. I had lost my husband. She had lost her husband and son in one, heartbreaking day. It was more than any woman should have to bear.
I fumbled with my right hand and found a CD in the console. Her favorite. I slid it into the stereo, and a worship song came on. I smiled as I remember the first time I heard it:
I had bounced into her kitchen to borrow a dish, and Marah had been swaying back and forth, singing her heart out. I had flushed, embarrassed at interrupting her. When she saw me, she didn't stop singing. She smiled through the words, reaching out a hand to me. Stunned, I stepped forward and she took my hand and spun me in a slow circle, still crooning away. Inviting me to worship a God I didn't know.
It awakened something in me. I began to notice the books she left draped on the arm of her favorite chair. I became aware of how she quietly bowed her head to pray before she ate at family meals, even though no one waited for her.
She was always so peaceful. I envied her self-control. When Alex and I would get into screaming matches over money or sex, I would wish that I knew how to speak with grace as she did. I began to question her, probing for reasons that she could live in a city she didn't like, with a husband and son who scoffed at her morals, and a daughter-in-law who was no better.
“I struggle,” she had admitted. “God sees me through.”
“Which god?” I asked. Anywhere I walked in town, I could stumble into one center or another that rallied around a shared belief.
“The only One,” she had said, her eyes deep with meaning.
From that moment on, she took me under her wing. She taught me and guided me. It improved my marriage, my friendships, and even my work relationships. I began to find peace.
Then there was the accident.
We drove for three days. The terrain changed from brown to green, to autumn shades of gold and red, and then back to brown, but bare. We slept in the car at night. We were both stiff and sore from poor sleep and too much sitting, so I pulled over at a pit stop. We both groaned as we rose to stretch our legs.
“It's cold,” I said, tucking my hands under my armpits.
Marah titled her silver head back to the grey sky. “It's only going to get colder. We'll be driving into snow soon.”
“Snow,” I said the word flatly. I had never seen snow in person, and TV didn't make it look all that appealing. I tried to picture living in a snowy world for months at a time. It stretched the limits of my imagination.
Marah was right. As we pulled up to the border crossing, large flakes drifted from the sky. The ground was already coated with a sticky white sheen. As I fumbled for my passport, a wave of realization hit me. I was leaving my home and my very country, all because Marah believed she was called to go home. Could I do this? Could I surrender myself so completely in trust?
Marah must have seen my nervousness. “You can go back, you know. I can catch a bus. You don't have to do this.”
I imagined for a moment what it would be like to return home. My family didn't believe in God and didn't think any further than this all too brief existence. I glanced at the leather-bound book that sat on top of the box in the backseat. My eyes trailed over the weary face of my mother-in-law. She needed me, and it felt good to be needed.
I smiled crookedly. “We're family now. We'll stick together, right? Besides, you have more to teach me.” I nodded at the book.
Marah smiled, but tears watered her eyes, “You are too kind to this old bird, you know. I'm not good for anything, not anymore. A pretty young woman like you shouldn't be stuck taking care of someone like me.”
I chewed a jagged fingernail as she wiped her tears on her sleeve and slipped back into her dismal cloud. I hoped the sight of home would make her better, not worse. The crossing guard checked our paperwork and glanced at the state on my driver's license.
“Have you ever driven on winter roads?” he asked, looking askance at my tires.
“Uh, no,” I admitted.
He pursed his lips. “Drive slow and careful.”
I swallowed, nervous now, as I pulled back onto the highway.
The snow kept falling, coating the road. I gripped the wheel at ten and two, afraid to let go even scratch my nose. I prayed we wouldn't hit the ditch. There was no money for winter tires.
The last day of driving was the longest yet. I kept my eyes trained on the tail lights of the vehicle in front of me constantly, so I had no idea what sort of country we were driving in. Twice, the tires skidded on ice, but God kept us on the road. It felt odd when darkness fell long before supper.
An hour from our destination, the low fuel light came on. I sighed, stopped at the first opportunity and hopped out of the warm car into a freezing wind.
I yanked my second-hand winter coat out of the trunk and shivered into it. My hands were numb by the time the tank was full.
I waited in line at the cash register, my mouth watering at the scent of fresh coffee. I stared at the carafe. Maybe we could get a treat. Just this once. I pulled the bills out of my pocket, counting them carefully. Then I stopped, horrified. I had the wrong money! Panic rose up in my chest. I had just put fifty dollars in the tank!
'God, help me!'
The person in front of me stepped away, and there was nothing between me and the cashier but the counter. I stepped forward, my mouth dry.
“I-I-I don't have the right money,” I said, showing the bills in my hand.
The teenage cashier looked at me in surprise. “We don't exchange money here.”
We stared at each other, both uncertain what to do.
“How much is it?” a man's voice asked. I glanced back as the cashier rattled off the amount. The man smiled at me, showing the crow's feet in the corner of his bright blue eyes. He wore jeans and a hoodie under a leather coat with a company logo. He pulled out his wallet and handed her a debit card. “Put it with mine.”
The cashier shrugged and accepted the card. I was stunned.
“Here,” I said awkwardly, shoving my money towards him.
“No need,” he said. I flushed and held the money out again. He chuckled, shaking his head.
“Welcome to Canada,” he said.
I was so embarrassed that I ran out of the gas station without another word, and threw myself into the driver's seat.
“What's wrong?” Marah asked, looking at me with concern.
As I explained, someone tapped on my window. I jumped in alarm, snapping my head around. It was the same man, and he was holding two paper coffee cups. Tall ones.
I tentatively rolled the window down, cold air rushing in. I hoped the guy wasn't some sort of creep. “Yes?”
“I thought you could use a little something for the road?” he asked, grinning. I was flabbergasted. Marah leaned forward to see the man's face.
“Brandon?” she gasped.
His eyes widened. “Marah? What are you doing here?”
“I'm coming home,” she said, and her voice thickened. “My family, they, well –”
“I heard,” Brandon said lowly. His voice rang with authentic sadness. “I'm sorry I wasn't there for the funeral.”
Marah must have seen my face, because she explained, “Brandon is my cousin, twice removed or something. I can never keep it straight.”
He glanced at me again, question in his eyes now.
“This is my daughter-in-law,” Marah explained with a tearful sniff. “She's given up everything to move back with me.”
His eyes drifted over my face, and I could see his thoughts. Widow. And so young too. Poor thing. I swallowed hard.
Brandon smiled gently and held the coffee out. I had no choice but to take them, savoring the warmth beneath the paper on my cold hands.
“Thanks,” I said as I put them in the cup holders. “For the gas, and for the coffee.” I looked back and saw he held out a handful of sugar and cream packets. I chuckled, accepting them. “And again!”
He laughed too, a warm rumbling sound. I held out my free hand, and he shook it.
“It's nice to meet you, Brandon. I'm Ruth.”
For a creative change, I wrote this story in modern times. How long did it take for you to figure out this was a take on Ruth and Boaz?
I wanted to explore what it would feel like today to trust God and stay with Naomi (who changes her name to Marah in the Biblical story), leaving everything and everyone she knows. Boaz got a name change too, just in case you hadn't figured out the story before Ruth meets him. ;)
Have you ever felt scared as you obeyed a call to move from home, churches, ministry or work?