There are few things that can make us feel as helpless as living with a story we don’t like. Life is rarely fair, and things happen beyond our control that impact our lives in negative ways. Maybe our story involves the loss of a loved one, an unwanted transition, a difficult diagnosis, or a dream that fell through. At one time or another, we all deal with disappointments and feel that we are being punished. For women searching for a glimmer of hope, Heather M. Dixon has written Renewed: Finding Hope When You Don’t Like Your Story (Abingdon Press), a four-week study diving into the life of Naomi from the Book of Ruth.
Dixon wrote Renewed for any woman that is carrying a difficult and life-altering story they did not choose and cannot change. She 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. She believes that trusting God and grieving your story are not mutually exclusive. Dixon herself lives with incurable and terminal genetic disorder, so understands what it means to live a story that is not easy. With insight from her own journey, she teaches women to flourish even as they live hard stories through a willingness to trust that God can transform them and trade their heartache for hope. They will learn to rely on God’s movement in the details of their story, even when it can’t be seen, gain confidence to act in the part of their stories that they can change, and watch expectantly for God to redeem the parts they can’t.
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’s 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: 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: 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: You share a suggestion for overcoming stress and anxiety that readers might not expect. What has helped you that you encourage others to try?
On nights when I am particularly anxious and have trouble going to sleep, a prayer that utilizes God’s gift of imagination often helps to settle my thoughts. I close my eyes and imagine a large field in front of me. Standing in the field are all the things bringing me anxiety, like current stressors in my life, confrontational moments, tensions with loved ones, worry about the unknown ahead, or health concerns. Whatever is renting negative space in my head at the moment, I imagine those things standing in my field.
Then, I imagine a giant hand and forearm lowering down to the field from the sky. Slowly, but steadily, the forearm wipes all my worries on the field away. The field empties and the hand gently opens, revealing soft and gentle wings. I climb into them, curling up to rest in their protection as they fold over me. In my imagination, the forearm, hand, and wings belong to God. I take several deep breaths and begin to meditate on verses about God’s kindness and refuge. This simple prayer exercise helps me to remember that God’s refuge and kindness are more powerful than my anxiety.
Q: What are some creative ways the study can be done in groups since we’re still supposed to be social distancing? Can a participant get just as much out of the study if doing it alone?
There are a handful of technological helps that will assist in group study during social distancing requirements. A few suggestions are:
- Meet with your group virtually via Zoom, Facebook meeting rooms, or Google Meets.
- Stay connected with each other, sharing prayer requests and thoughts throughout the week via a private Facebook group or text/email thread.
- Take advantage of the resources available from Amplify Media, where you can access Renewed teaching videos, Abingdon Women and other Bible study video sessions, inspirational short videos, and children’s content available anywhere from any device. Amplify Media is a streaming service allowing churches large and small unlimited video access in order to discover, customize, and share diverse resources that encourage deeper discipleship and equip churches to pursue their mission with greater impact.
- If you are fortunate enough to live in an area with pleasant weather, meet outside!