I never knew Ruth as a child, but I’ve heard all the stories. Today she would probably be labeled as having Attention Deficit Disorder, but back in the 1940s, her first-grade teacher simply tied her in her chair. Even as an adult, Ruth never seemed to be still. I often thought she packed more into a day than I could comfortably fit into a week.
Ruth was short and fair, “almost scrawny as a child,” her mother would say. Maybe that’s why the big laugh that exploded from Ruth at unpredictable intervals always came as such a surprise.
It is her laugh I remember most. Ruth laughed with all of her being, exuding huge waves of joy that rippled across a room. The sound was so big that it often embarrassed her husband and always embarrassed her children; yet it never embarrassed Ruth. “I miss her laugh,” Owen said to me one day. I understood his pain. There was no quietness about Ruth, and the silence echoed our loss.
Ruth loved people, and they quite naturally loved her back. She was as comfortable with the elderly as with her kindergarten students. She accepted everyone as a special gift from God. Hugs and Ruth were synonymous. In her classroom, there was no “naughty” children—only children who needed a little more help from her and the Lord.
Ruth was a diamond in a gray-pebble world. With her sparkle and glow, her love for God touched lives. The world glittered with her laughter. Then one day, Ruth was gone.
The accident happened quickly. Her little car skidded sideways across the icy highways, right into the path of an oncoming pickup truck. She died instantly, the same way she had rushed through life.
It seemed fitting that Ruth should die at Christmastime. It seemed fitting that snow fell softly while Christmas carols played at her funeral. More than 1,000 people came, a testimony to her unselfish love and caring. In a moment, death had taken away “a song of praise,” words her pastor used to eulogize her life. Owen and their four sons would miss her. I would miss her.
I couldn’t seem to get through the long December days following the funeral. All the holiday preparations and frantic shopping were hollow and empty. With Ruth gone, Christmas was wrong somehow, and I didn’t know how to make it right. What had happened to my joy in Christ’s birth? Where could I go to find the Child? How could I reclaim the celebration of what had been my favorite holiday?
I didn’t expect to find my Christmas in the discount store where I was shopping with my teenage daughter Kristie. She was looking for something special and inexpensive for her dad, a challenge with so few days remaining until the holiday. I sighed as we looked through hardware and software, up one aisle and down another. We were both becoming discouraged.
I saw the handwritten sign before Kristie did: “Christmas Ornaments, Half-Price.” We hurried over and scanned the few ornaments remaining on the shelf. Nothing seemed to be left but elves and smiling Santas. Kristie had already turned away when I spotted one lone ornament pushed back into a corner. It looked different from the rest, and I picked it up.
“Look how dark blue the sky is!” Kristie exclaimed when I showed it to her. “And the shepherds and sheep look so real. I know Dad will like it.”
Holding the ornament in my hand, I read the words circling its top: “And man shall live forevermore because of Christmas Day.” Reading them stirred something inside me. It was the answer I was seeking.
Suddenly I began to understand about Baby Jesus and Ruth, life and death, sadness and joy. They were all part of the same thing. Christmas was not just a celebration of Jesus’ birth; it was also a celebration of His death. That death would bring eternal life to all who believed in Him. Somehow I had missed the Cross, so obviously shadowed in the manger.
I hummed quietly as I walked beside Kristie to the checkout. Inside I sang, putting new words to the phrase on the ornament: “And Ruth shall live forevermore because of Christmas Day.”
Eternal life! What a Christmas gift! Of course, I would miss Ruth. I needed to cry over a friend who left so quickly. However, the wrong kind of sadness was gone, and the joy of Christmas was seeping through me as I stood there in the store.
I wished Ruth would come back for just a moment and see me. She would understand. She would laugh her big laugh and give me a quick hug. “Some people,” Ruth would say, “just need a little extra help from the Lord.”