Four PM rolled around and I clocked out, but stayed there in the office.
What transpired in the next couple of hours I have thought of a thousand times it would seem. Although it took several months before I could bring myself to look directly at those hours again. At first it all felt like the biggest deception, the cruelest trick one could ever devise. It was only in hindsight that I began to understand that those hours were the single most holy moments of my life up to that point in time. It took a lot of wrestling and unearthing the hidden treasures there to get me to look back at this moment I am about to share with you, to grieve over it, rejoice in it, and be stunned to a holy silence in the magnitude of what the LORD was doing and speaking, not just in me, but in Ethan too, especially in Ethan.
I was meeting with the girls in my bible study group that night in a little coffee shop just a few blocks away. It was my turn to facilitate the lesson and I decided to stay at the office to prepare. There were four of us women who made up the group, a group brought into my life through Ethan, consisting of one of his best friend’s wife, his cousin’s wife, her sister and myself. The four of us would take turns leading. It was my turn and we were in the second chapter of Ruth.
As I sat there at my desk, researching and praying, the Holy Spirit began to weave meaning and direction for me that was beyond an earthly scope of understanding. That is not an exaggeration, if anything its an understatement.
It began in the pages of Ruth, a book of Scripture which opens on a particularly dark time. Almost immediately the reader is thrown into desperate, bleak circumstances and introduced to a rightfully bitter women. It would seem that God had dealt Naomi a cruel hand, taken away all hope, all purpose, all love. For research I had turned to an old John Piper sermon from the 80s. I remember the distinct sound of his passionate preaching coming through an old scratchy recording on my computer speakers as he pointed out all the ways God was plotting for Naomi and her daughter-in-law’s glory from the beginning of the book.
“It was He who broke the famine,” the old preacher voice rang out, “it was He who preserved a kinsman, it was He who constrained Ruth to stay with Naomi and follow her into the foreign land of Israel.”
And yet, Naomi could only see the bitter pieces in front of her, no husband, no sons, no future, no purpose, no hope. And I thought with an earnestness that came from somewhere deeper than me, when I go through dark times, may I never become so bitter that I cannot see God at work. Hope. Always hope, even when you don’t see any hope. Hope.
Just at that moment, I felt like dark times were the farthest thing from me. Wasn’t it just less than 24 hours earlier that I had told Ethan, I cannot get over how deliriously happy I am. And yet, I knew, in a fearless way that dark times were coming and to lose hope in God would be an abyss that would hurt worse then the darkness that first tempted me to doubt His love. I just had no idea that the dark times were so close at hand. Yes, the darkness would come careening around a corner within that very hour.
But bitterness and darkness were not the only things we first encounter in the opening lines of Ruth, we also meet the character and person of Ruth. In Piper’s words, Ruth is God’s ideal woman because “she has faith in God that sees beyond present bitter setbacks. She is free from the securities and comforts of the world. She has the courage to venture into the unknown and the strange. And she is radically committed to the relationships appointed by God.”
I paused the sermon there and jotted all of that down in the margin of my Bible and prayed that God could make me into such a woman.
As I continued my way through the study of Ruth, I began searching for the particular angle that the LORD would have me approach the whole thing from to give the lesson a theme and a focus, He continued to walk me through a character study of both Ruth and Boaz. Those two individuals provide a feast of attention for studying God’s masterful design of masculinity and femininity.
Ruth is so brave, but never from the insecure place we often see females wielding bravery in so many novels and movies these days. She did not pull on some trousers and with self-generated strength pick herself up by her bootstraps and march her way into self-declared autonomy in her current state of widowhood. Rather, she remained soft, valiant in her vulnerability. She never once slipped into the insecure place of controlling her own circumstances, she never concluded that she had been utterly abandoned and it was up to her to survive. She never demanded God nor Boaz nor anyone else come through for her on her terms. But at the same time, she wasn’t passive, she didn’t play the victim, she never took a desolate, damsel in distress stance, rather, she boldly took initiative, remaining incredibly humble in her boldness. Bravely risking her need with no assurance that it would all go well. I can only assume her courage and lack of panic in her circumstances came from a radical trust that God would provide what she needed.
And Boaz. That guy! He is so kind in his strength, protective of Ruth before it was his job to do so. And generous, lavishly providing for Ruth with a plan and foresight.
I was thrilled by these character studies, but I was utterly stunned when I came to verse twelve. “The Lord repay you for what you have done,” Boaz said to Ruth, “and a full reward be given to you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
And just what had stunned me about this phrase, under whose wings you have come to take refuge? Well, I was familiar enough with the book of Ruth to know that in the next chapter there was a very strange scene where Ruth comes to Boaz at night on the threshing floor and she says something, that to me had always seemed so very strange. In verse 9 of chapter 3, Ruth then says to Boaz, “Spread your wing over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” Some translations use the word “garment” instead of “wing” but the original word is the same. It is a reference to Boaz’s earlier comment in verse 12 of chapter 2, about Ruth being under God’s protective covering or “wings”. Her words to Boaz on the threshing floor poetically imply the picture of marriage. As Ruth offers to submit, or in other words, get under the covering of Boaz, we see a picture of God’s relationship with all his people being played out.
What amazes me is that to do what Ruth did, to submit to both God and man the way that she did takes a rare combination of boldness and humility. She walked in the tension of taking initiative without being controlling. Her submission is not passive, it took guts to do what she did, in fact, every move we see her make throughout this story took incredible courage, and yet was incredibly humble. It is stunning.
I can’t say exactly how this all started to connect for me. I know Piper was still talking, but at this point his voice was beginning to fade to background noise as the voice of God began to take center stage.
Oh, His voice. The sweetest sound my soul has ever heard. It started as a whisper, calling to me, “Do you see it beginning, Makaila? Come. Follow Me. There is something I want to show you.”
And then it built, like a song, swelling, rising, filling the room until I all I could comprehend was His presence and His excitement.
I was transported to some heavenly place. No longer was I in the old office building of the old desert church. Suddenly I was caught up in some otherworldly place where God was a nearly tangible reality and His excitement for the words He was speaking and the places we were going was swelling, wave after wave. I was somehow aware of each person of the trinity in the room with me, and their collective thrill over the purpose declared in this moment was contagious. I could hear music from heaven and feel a love so sure, there was no room for any fear. The weight of this glory brought me to joyful tears that streamed down my face and everything within me wanted to jump up on my desk and dance before the LORD. I could not contain my joy at this clarity He was showing me for the purpose of my life. And there it was, tucked unassumingly into Ruth 2, and specifically in the imagery of the line, “under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
“This is it Makaila! This is what you were created to do! Get under the covering. Submit and show the world My heart.”
I was caught up in this symphony that no one could hear but me, and yet I knew I could never have made it up on my own. Heaven was reaching down and touching me. And the message was submit, submit to my God and to my man so that the world could see God’s heart. And it was clear that this, this is what I was created for.
Oh, I never wanted the moment to end, and yet I couldn’t wait to get to Bible study to communicate this glorious revelation to the girls, if I even could… how does one explain such an experience, how does one try to put the symphonies of heaven into mortal words? I thought I would try to explain it, but even if they didn’t understand, they would be the ones with the front row seat watching me attempt to live this commission out. I could hardly wait to see Ethan after the Bible study! Finally, I knew I need not be scared, nor hesitate to give my heart fully to him. God was in this. God was demonstrating His own love through this. I couldn’t wait to get started, to put this picture of submission into practice.
I glanced at the time and realized I was going to be late for our meeting. I quickly shut down my computer without looking at the messages Ethan’s sister had left me. And I jumped into my truck and drove the couple of blocks to the coffee shop without ever glancing at my phone to see the voicemails Ethan’s mom had left me. Little did I know, in that very same hour, Ethan had been in a head-on collision and was in critical condition.
I never got to share my heavenly moment with the girls that night. I never got to tell them that submitting to one’s husband is one of the greatest honors any of us could hope for. I never got to share how the marriage relationship is a passion play of a greater story and that by submitting in the small story, we show the world God’s heart.
We were still in the middle of the Ruth and Boaz’s character profiles, when my friend looked at her phone, “Shoot, 5 missed calls!” She said, “How did that happen?” the phone rang as she was saying this. She answered.
I’ll never forget the way I saw fear shoot into her eyes, her pupils expanding, the blackness invading in one horrifying instant. A hand reactively threw itself over her mouth. I don’t know how or why, but I knew whatever had happened, had happened to Ethan.
My friend hung up the phone and looked at me and said, “Makaila, you need to come with me, its about Ethan. He’s been in a car accident.”