I found out that a friend – a 43-year-old friend – got pregnant (on her own).

As I cried my way through two days and a box of kleenex, something nibbled at my mind, something I read a few years back, something about what God is doing at times like this. I asked God to remind me or show me something to help me get out from under my bitterness, and the next morning, He did.

My favorite book of the Bible has always been Ruth. It’s a story with a beginning, middle and end. It’s got these plucky, independent gals, Naomi and Ruth, who go on a roadtrip from Moab to Bethlehem. And Ruth ultimately gets rescued by Boaz, even though she’s a social outcast, because she is devoted to her mother-in-law and works hard (and yes, because she’s pretty). She gets to have a baby and they live happily ever after. It’s a perfect short story with a few twists and lots of agriculture.

So we know that Naomi was Ruth’s mother-in-law, and that Naomi’s husband and two sons had died, so that Naomi and Ruth were both widowed. We know that they lived in Moab, a foreign country often at war with Israel, during a brief time of peace, and that Ruth was a Moabite (a pagan) and Naomi was an Israelite (a Jew). Ruth chose to stay with Naomi after her husband’s death, which she was obligated to do according to the custom of the time. But Naomi released Ruth and her sister-in-law Orpah, saying that they should stay, and let her leave; they could marry again in their own country and would have a better future. Ruth chose to stay with Naomi because she wanted to become one of God’s people and she was willing to leave her pagan religion and her home behind.

So Ruth and Naomi travel back to Bethlehem, where Ruth is shunned as a foreigner and they have no home and no one will take them in. It is at the moment of their arrival in Bethlehem that the most important sentence in this book occurs, and it was this sentence that popped into my head as I prayed for God to show me some hope in the midst of my 44-year old, bitter, selfish infertility grief: "And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest."

The barley harvest comes early in the spring, before the wheat harvest; the barley is easier to grow but harder to thresh and to sell. Ruth is not hip to the local customs but she figures out that she can help support Naomi and herself by gleaning in the barley fields. Gleaning was a way that the law provided for the poorest of the poor; the reapers, established folk with a regular job, were required to leave bits of grain behind and the gleaners, destitute scavengers, could pick them up.

Ruth probably never had to do something like that before to survive, but at this point she embraces the opportunity, even asks Naomi for permission. Is Ruth a saint, or is she so broken by her reduced circumstances that she’s grateful for the opportunity to pick up broken sheaves of grain in the hot sun all day?

I don’t know, but her hard work and devotion to her mother-in-law are noticed by Boaz, the owner of the field, who happens to be a good guy, and – hello – single.

So we know the rest of the story. Boaz marries Ruth, takes her and Naomi away from all that, and gives her at least one son. Ruth is transformed from a destitute, untouchable foreign widow to the wife of a wealthy man, the grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus.

What does all that have to do with me? It’s all about the barley.

When I think about Ruth’s trip from comfortable wife at home in Moab to hungry migrant worker in Bethlehem, I can relate. I never thought I’d be one of those pathetic women sitting in the fertility clinic, going through procedures with 6% chance of success, spending money we don’t have to try to make something happen that my body apparently does not want to do. But here I am, and if there is a crumb of hope for me in the corner of some barley field, I’ll take it.

We all want wheat. It has more than twice the protein of barley, it sells at the market for a better price, it makes a nicer bread and a finer cake than barley ever could. But at some point in every life – well, at least in mine – we don’t get what we want, we get what we need. I have given up on the miracle natural pregnancy, the "honey, I’m pregnant", the kids who look like me. I’ll take what I can get and I don’t know when or how, but when I read the book of Ruth, I remember God has a plan for our family. Just because I can’t imagine what it is doesn’t mean it is less.

Nevertheless, God is sovereign over my life and right now I am not enjoying it. Ruth and Naomi are helping me cope, because they weren’t enjoying it either. But when I see the movie of the story in my mind, Ruth and Naomi are walking down the road, dusty, desperate and abandoned. They can’t see what we see, which is the barley behind them: green and strong and full of promise.

This perspective on Ruth comes from Larry Crabb’s book "Shattered Dreams." Difficult book but really worth it.

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