Shortly after becoming a Christian I moved to Texas to study under a well-known pastor. His Bible teaching has forever blessed me, but he wasn’t the only person God used to teach me about Jesus during that season.
In my first few months at the church I started ministering at a local nursing home. Preaching there was good training, because no one remembered my name, most slept through my messages, and I was asked to come back if I simply projected my voice loudly enough. Many of those saints encouraged me, but one showed me the beauty of Jesus in a way I’ve never forgotten.
Mama Ruth was small in stature, but her presence was larger than life. Though her 99-year-old body was confined to a wheelchair, she didn’t let that slow her down. One of her mottoes was “Fun greases the wheels of life, and I keep mine well greased!”
Mama Ruth was full of wit and wisdom. She had walked with Jesus for 92 years, and his radiance shined in her. She was comfortable with silence, but she also had no problem breaking it to share a nugget of heavenly wisdom. I’d like to share a few with you.
Bloom Where God Plants You
My first encounter with Mama Ruth followed a worship service. Her wheelchair was parked by a window, and her eyes seemed mesmerized by something outside. As I knelt beside her, her wrinkled face turned toward mine; without any introduction, she said:
When I first came to this place I was very sad. I thought God couldn’t use me any more. But one day while I was sitting right here feeling sorry for myself, the Lord reminded me that we should not worry because if God feeds the birds, he will take care of us. So I thought to myself, Maybe I can help God feed the birds.
And that she did. After every mealtime, Mama Ruth wheeled around and collected leftover bread from the residents’ plates. When people asked what she was doing, she invited them to join her at the window to see. She would wheel over to the door and have someone throw the bread into the courtyard. She then parked her chair to see the birds receive their promised bread. As they did, she would tell anyone in earshot that this is exactly how God treats his children. He always cares for them, just like he promised he would.
Mama Ruth didn’t want to be in a wheelchair or in that nursing home. But it was where God put her, and she made the best of it. She taught me to “bloom wherever God plants you” and to know that since God provides our most basic needs, he will certainly provide a way to serve him.
Treasure God’s Faithfulness
A framed copy of “How Great Thou Art” and a few faded photographs decorated the walls of Mama Ruth’s one-room apartment. The hymn was her favorite, and God’s faithfulness to her could be seen in the stories told by those photos.
The most prominent picture was of a handsome man she affectionately introduced as Fred. They had been married for decades, but his untimely death had left her a widow. I was unmarried at the time and often received counsel about what sort of husband I ought be.
“The Bible tells us that words can be like a sword that cuts deeply,” she once said after staring at Fred’s picture for a while. “Garrett, if God gives you a wife, be careful with your words. Words can hurt. Or words can heal.” Then after a long pause she said, “Fred never hurt me with his words.” She went on to explain: “Fred knew he was supposed to show me the love of Jesus, and he always tried his best. I knew Jesus better because of how Fred loved me.”
Mama Ruth beamed as she spoke of Fred, but she always made it clear that every good thing, including Fred, was a gift to her from God. His faithfulness was her treasure. You could hear it in her stories, in her feeble singing, in her praying. She made me want to trust God more so that I could know his faithfulness just like she did. After 20 years of walking with Jesus, I look back at Mama Ruth as one of God’s great gifts to me. She helped me treasure the faithfulness of Jesus.
Remain Amazed at God’s Love
On one occasion my roommate Scott was sitting with Mama Ruth, watching the birds eat. They had been silent for a while when she suddenly said, “I couldn’t have done it.” He asked her, “Done what?” She replied, “I have one son. I couldn’t have given him away for anyone.” They watched the birds for a few more minutes, and then she retired to her room.
That was Mama Ruth. As she got closer to seeing her God, she couldn’t help but grow in amazement of how God could love her so much. She knew that God giving his Son for her was something she didn’t deserve, which made it her most treasured gift.
Mama Ruth showed me the beauty of Jesus so powerfully because Jesus was beautiful to her. After 90 years of knowing him, she never got over how much her Lord loved her. In fact, her delight in this truth seemed to deepen until the day she died.
Her funeral was small and mostly attended by family. She was not famous in this world, but I trust things will be different in the world to come. Mama Ruth showed me the beauty of Jesus, and I hope that in some small way this reflection can help you to glimpse it too.
You can read previous installments in this series.