Thursday, July 21, 2011

I set out to study the past, found comfort in the present

My column from today's Briefing:

I had an entirely selfish motive when I formed a summer Bible study group.

I wanted to learn more about the Old Testament Book of Ruth, and I wanted help. I found a study guide, chose six Thursday nights in June and July and invited friends to join me.

Ruth drew my interest because she was a widow, like me. Well, not exactly like me.

She and her husband never had children. After he died, she chose to follow her mother-in-law from her own country (Moab, in the modern state of Jordan) to a foreign land (Bethlehem, where Moabites weren’t exactly welcome). And she lived thousands of years ago.

Otherwise, she was kind of like me.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve satisfied my selfish motive. I’ve learned more about Ruth than any other Old Testament figure. In the process, I’ve filled other needs I didn’t even know existed.

When Steve was alive and healthy, in the blissful years of our marriage before his brain cancer, we loved to entertain. And I use “we” deliberately. We were a team.

Together we would plan and prepare menus and drinks. Clean the house. Maybe buy and install a new light fixture just hours before guests arrived.

In the moments before a dinner party would begin, Steve would force me to stop running around as if the queen herself were about to grace us with her presence. He’d pull me in to the family room or entryway, drape an arm around my shoulders and say, “I love our home.”

He loved the warm colors we’d painted and the art we’d carefully and frugally collected. He loved the lamps turned on and overhead lights turned off. He loved the sense of comfort and welcome that we’d cultivated.

I will never be able to re-create that feeling of standing next to my very best friend just moments before dear friends arrive. And I suspect that’s part of why entertaining has been a low priority since Steve died. (That and basic survival and lack of time.)

But I didn’t think of all that when I pulled a study group together. I just thought we’d sit in the family room and talk about the Bible.

Then I started to worry. I can’t have people over in the evening and not serve food and drinks. So I bought some wine and prepared a couple of simple snacks.

Which meant I needed to pull out platters and wine glasses. And pretty napkins. Before I realized it, I had prepped the house for a small-scale social affair.

Admittedly, it’s been a little rough around the edges. Some Thursday nights there are dirty dishes in the sink. Countertops aren’t spotless.

They’re my friends, though, and they’re not here for a House Beautiful photo shoot.

We eat, drink, pray, talk, debate, quote, cry and laugh. We veer off topic and back on again with ease.

As we’ve learned about Naomi’s journey from bitterness to gratitude and Ruth’s obedience to God and Boaz’s acts of kindness without expectation of reciprocation, we’ve also learned about one another.

Our own losses. Romances. Children. Expectations of ourselves and others. Struggles with following God. Celebration of answered prayer.

I’ve learned that I really needed these women in my family room on Thursday nights this summer. I needed their stories. I needed reasons to laugh until I wheeze.

And I needed a reminder that I can kind of re-create the sense of welcome that Steve and I created together. It will never be exactly the same. I’ll certainly never feel his arm draped around me again.

But when I stand on the front porch, waving goodbye to the last guests, I strongly sense his spirit and imagine him whispering, “I love our home.”

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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