Are you missing Bible Study nights with your girls? I know I am. Covid-19 has messed up more than the way we shop. It has interfered with Church life as we know it. Though it may take awhile before in-house small groups are back in full swing, I am however thankful for online Bible teachers who continue to pour the Word of God into us.
One such person is Heather M Dixon. I first met Heather in 2016 at a writing/speaking conference in North Carolina. Little did I know the beautiful smiling face looking back at me would soon be the author of not one, but two published Bible studies.
In her latest Bible Study, Renewed: Finding Hope When You Don’t Like Your Story, Heather walks us through the book of Ruth. Better than me trying to explain the study let’s hear Heather’s heart from a recent interview.
Heather M Dixon
Q: Most studies on the book or Ruth focus on Ruth and Boaz but Renewed looks at Naomi’s story. Why do you think Naomi’ story is such an important part of the book?
I’ve always read and taught Ruth from Naomi’s perspective because ultimately, I think it’s her story. However, there are three main reasons why hers should be explored:
One, for all believers, a transformed heart is one of the key identifiers of life with Christ and as readers, we get to experience that journey with Naomi—from bitterness to renewed joy. Ruth and Boaz are beautiful characters, but they are rather stagnant. It’s Naomi that changes, and her transformation echoes that of anyone who has struggled with a hard story and found Jesus to be faithful along the way.
Two, from a literary perspective, there are a number of devices the author uses to indicate that Naomi’s story is the important one.
And three, it’s my personal belief that Naomi’s response to grief has often been judged too harshly. I wanted to give my readers a safe place to explore feelings of bitterness as they learned to look for God’s movement in their own story.
Q: Did you write Renewed for a specific audience of women?
Yes, absolutely. I wrote Renewed for any woman that is carrying a difficult and life-altering story. I wrote it for the woman who is not just walking through a season of hardship, but who has experienced a story that they did not choose and cannot change.
I also wrote it for the woman who yearns to trust God’s sovereignty and His plan for her life even as she grieves and is angered by her circumstances. Trusting God and grieving your story are not mutually exclusive. Renewed is for the woman who needs an honest space to do both as God fills them with hope.
Q: Can you share more about your own story, specifically the part of your story you don’t like?
There are several pieces of my story that I could share with you that I don’t like, but the milestones would be when I lost my mother at the age of eleven, when my father died twenty years later, and when I was diagnosed with an incurable, connective tissue disorder that I inherited from my mother. We know now that this disorder is what took her life at thirty-seven. Doctors have told me that my own life expectancy is forty-eight.
I understand grief, loss, and life changes where you just have to close the door, determine not to look back, pick your head up, and keep going. But I also know the sweet and life-giving love of a Heavenly Father who fills our story with comfort, hope, and purpose, even when we feel that all is lost. God breathes renewed life into our weary souls, and that truth keeps me putting two feet on the floor in the morning, even when I still don’t like my story.
Q: How did your diagnosis change how you look at life? What does “living your life well” look like to you?
The answer is always evolving. At its core, it looks like waking up and knowing the next twenty-four hours might be my last. So, living my life well means pursuing ways that I can honor God, love my family, and serve my community until I lay my head to rest for the night. I fail at this everyday! But it gives me a sense of focus that I didn’t have before.
My diagnosis also changed my perspective on hardship. Anyone who has walked through any measure of suffering can quickly tell you what matters and what doesn’t. Things that might have seemed like a major problem before are now minor inconveniences that I know will pass. That’s a blessing.
Finally, my diagnosis has taught me to pursue bucket-list living. I’m much more spontaneous and carefree than I used to be, and I seek activities that will make lasting memories, big and small. A scoop of mint chocolate chip from the local ice cream shop is just as precious as a spur of the moment family vacation. I am thankful for each moment I have, which is something most people search for their entire lives.
Q: Is it OK to grieve the parts of our stories that we don’t like or is that self-pity? What can we learn from Naomi’s bitterness about her situation?
You have permission to grieve! Naomi was bitter because of her circumstances (and who wouldn’t be?), but she still remembered God’s sovereignty. Did He punish her for her bitterness? No, He was always working for her good as He brought renewed hope to her life. Her story reminds us that it’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to say this is not what we wanted. It’s okay to acknowledge this isn’t how things should be. We don’t have to be afraid of expressing our honest feelings to God because he understands. Jesus wept for His friend Lazarus, even when He knew He was about to raise him to life.
I think our society has much to learn from an example that values a natural and healthy grief process over stoicism. What’s more, the expression of grief is an acknowledgement that this broken world needs Jesus. When we let it, grief can be a vehicle for deep intimacy with Jesus.
Q: You write, “God doesn’t call plays out of a playbook from the clouds in the sky. He wants to walk with us along every step of our story, holding our hand when we are unsure of the plan.” What are some things we need to remember about God’s sovereignty when it comes to our story?
This is one of the deepest blessings I have discovered walking through my hard story. God is a relational God—He seeks to walk every step with us. And we can trust Him with that path because in His sovereignty, He is also compassionate, merciful, and loving. We aren’t puppets in His playroom; we are His beloved daughters, whom He values and cherishes. Walking in intimacy with Him blesses us with peace, comfort, and joy. Another important truth about God’s sovereignty is that He has a master plan—for us and for His creation. We are a part of that plan, treasured pieces in a divine puzzle that will be complete when all things are renewed. He won’t let us stray off course, nor will He leave our lives to chance. Every moment matters to Him and He has a plan to renew every piece of our hard story.
Q: Have you always seen God working in the details of your story? Should we be looking for how God is moving or simply trust that he is?
No, yes, and yes. I wish I could tell you that I have always been aware of God moving in my story. There were seasons in my life, particularly the season after my father died, that I could not sense His presence. Was He moving in the details of my story then? Absolutely. My regret is that I allowed my earthly then vision to cloud my heavenly perspective. Which is why I am always in favor of looking for how God is moving.
I am emotional and fickle—prone to wander if I don’t see results. God knows this about me. It’s always in my best interest to keep my eyes open for God’s fingerprint. But the moments that I can’t see it are faith-builders; those are equally as valuable and help to build our trust in Him. So, yes we should always be looking for God’s movement and yes, we should always simply trust that He is.
Q: How was Naomi reminded that God would always provide?
I adore that one of the motifs from the book of Ruth is the empty-to-full motif. Naomi was empty in every way at the beginning of her story, but it ends with her being full—full with food, family, happiness, offspring. God provided for her every need. God provided companionship for Naomi through Ruth’s determination to stay with her. God provided food for Naomi and Ruth in what would have appeared to be a stranger’s field, but it wasn’t. God provided family through Ruth’s marriage to Boaz. He provided happiness through the birth of her grandson, Obed. And He provided offspring and blessing and security through Obed’s family line, which was the human ancestral family line for Jesus.
Q: What does Naomi’s story teach us about hope for our own situations?
I remember watching my elementary school friends on the playground, climbing up the tall ladder to mount the slide and zooming down it without fear. Hands up and laughing all the way down, they were free and joyful. I didn’t think I could do it myself, but watching them gave me hope. If they could do it, maybe I could too. I sense the same feelings rising when I read Naomi’s story.
She was a woman who walked through what many of us fear the most: the death of precious loved ones and life-altering change. And yet, if God could renew her story, why couldn’t He do it for mine as well? Naomi’s story teaches us that God is sovereign, loving, strategic, and compassionate. Her story prompts us to courageously lift our chins and say “He did it for Naomi, He can do it for me too.” There is hope in that. As a second-grader, I raised my hands as I slid down the slide. As a woman who has experienced much grief and change, I now place my story in God’s capable hands, knowing that God is always working for my good, even when I can’t see it. And that renewed joy is always just around the corner when I am walking with Jesus.
Q: Tell us about the format of the study. How long does each lesson take and how many weeks are in the study?
Because we lead busy lives, this study is designed with just four weeks of study, and three days of lessons each week. Each day’s lesson will guide you through personal study of a passage from Ruth as well as application of what you’ve learned. This study is intentionally designed to offer a flexible but thorough plan to walk through the entire book of Ruth. You may find that setting time aside on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to go through each lesson works best for your schedule. Or perhaps it may be better to work through them on the weekends. Depending on your learning and study style, I would expect to spend 20-30 minutes on each lesson.
Q: What other Renewed resources are available to go along with the study?
The study itself includes a participant workbook with leader helps, but a DVD with four 20 to 25-minute segments (with closed captioning) is available for separate purchase also. The teaching videos are also available via Amplify Media streaming service.
Thank you Heather for sharing your heart with us. Heather can also be found at the following online sites.
Visit Heather M. Dixon online at therescuedletters.com. She can also be found on Facebook (Heather M. Dixon – The Rescued Letters), Twitter (@rescuedletters), and Instagram (@rescuedletters). More info on Renewed, including a free, downloadable leaders kit, can be found at therescuedletters.com/renewed.