In the Field of Grace

Free In the Field of Grace by Tessa Afshar

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Authors: Tessa Afshar
sewn up.”
    “And if you have no wish to die, don’t drink the water. Besides the salt, it has poison,” the other young man added.
    The first young man began to walk along the shore, head bent, examining the ground. “It offers up good things too.” He straightened, holding a shiny black rock. “Bitumen. Helps to waterproof baskets and can be used as a seal or even for fuel.” He handed theblock to Ruth. It reflected the light like a jewel and had sharp edges.
    Ruth smiled and pressed the bitumen into Naomi’s hand. “So, even a dead sea has good things to offer. Gifts that bring life and help others.”
    Naomi dropped the bitumen and turned her back.

     
    The rest of their journey to Bethlehem proved unremarkable, for which Ruth gave hourly thanks. There were only so many lions and bandits that she could stomach in a given week.
    They spent one night in Ain Boqeq and another in Engedi before pushing northwest to Bethlehem. Other than the sharp sting of mosquitos, they encountered no other instruments bent on piercing their flesh. They bore with the ignominies of travel: heat rash, insects, exhaustion, small rations, never-ending dust, the grumbling of other guests. But Ruth felt too grateful to complain. They had been spared a horrible death. Perhaps worse.
    When they arrived near Bethlehem, they parted ways with the caravan, which continued its travel north. Enough light lingered in the sky to see the fields belonging to Bethlehem, overflowing with wheat and barley. Row after row of healthy grain, grown tall and strong, appeared close to harvest. The fields were bursting with bounty.
    “When we left Judah, these fields were empty, but I was full,” Naomi said, dry-eyed. “I held two vigorous boys in my arms, and my husband bore my burdens.” She leaned against a palm tree that stood bent on the side of the road. “Now these farms are full to overflowing, but I return empty. So empty.”
    Ruth held the callused hand of her mother-in-law, withered before its time, withered with loss. “Let’s go home, Mother. Where your husband took you as a bride and you birthed your sons. You will feel better once we are settled there.”
    Naomi’s house sat just inside the southern gate of Bethlehem. Her lands stretched beyond the gate, but they had gone wild in theyears since the family left for Moab.
    Ruth’s first glimpse of the house came as a pleasant surprise. In the outdoor enclosure, where one day they would grow their garden and keep their livestock, God willing, a solitary almond tree survived, clinging to life with a tenacity that made Ruth smile. No sign of Naomi’s original garden remained except for a few clumps of mint and rosemary. But that was to be expected after so many years of neglect.
    Rough sandstones of varying sizes made up the walls of the house. As they pushed the door open, it became evident that this house was larger than their home in Moab, with two rooms on the ground floor, a small upper room, and a flat roof that would serve well during the sweltering nights of summer. Ruth imagined spreading their mattresses there, and sleeping under the stars, with the gentle night breeze fanning them into sleep.
    She fetched a lamp from their cart and grimaced when she lit it. Various critters had made a comfortable home for themselves in the rooms and would have to be expelled. In the roof she detected several substantial holes.
    When she attempted to climb the ladder to examine the damage up close, she found several rungs had rotted through, rendering the ladder useless. Carpentry was not one of her talents. She set the ladder aside. Fortunately, they had passed the rainy season, so the repairs to the roof could wait for a few weeks.
    Naomi gasped as she beheld the extent of the damage. Instead of feeling comforted by the sight of her old home, by the sight of Bethlehem, she seemed to sink more inward. With swift steps she walked out.
    Ruth sighed as she threw open the windows. They would probably

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