Sunday I had the opportunity to deliver the message to our congregation during morning worship with our pastor out of town on vacation. I don’t always write sermons in such detail, but thought I’d share this one here:
I’m in an extremely stressful stretch of life.
This will go down as one of the most challenging weeks I’ve ever gone through. I have to pause and remind myself, however, that most of my headaches are “first-world” problems, things that not everyone has the privilege of even struggling against.
It started last Sunday when I learned that my trunk had been seriously leaking for weeks and as the weather was warming, began to stink with rot that had soaked into my backseat floor boards. Major airing out and cleaning ensued.
My dad had surgery on Monday, and I wasn’t able to be there with him and the rest of my family. The normally outpatient surgery required him to stay until Wednesday. The recovery process has been extremely hard on him, and hard on me as I was still so far away.
There is, of course, the everyday stress that comes with attending graduate school.
I’m buying a house. We’ve been negotiating for a week now after the inspection came back. Something I thought would be a relatively cheap fix instead wound up costing about three times what I thought it would. At one point, I thought I was going to have to walk away from the house, even though I truly believed God has big plans for it.
I’ve had to invest time into navigating my health insurance coverage after a medication I’ve been prescribed isn’t covered by insurance and is too pricey for me to afford.
I had to drive an hour away to attempt to resolve my speeding ticket I had received traveling back from seminary a month ago. A court appearance allowed my ticket to be waived…for the cost of court fees and a fee to attend traffic school in a month. Of course, traffic school will be held in the city where I received the speeding ticket.
My car needs some fairly minor work. But since the part isn’t just a standard part, I’ll pay a large chunk to keep my vessel sea worthy.
The news I kept receiving was so bad, I had a friend say he didn’t want to stand by me in case my bad luck rubbed off on him.
Never mind that through it all, when you’re down, you remember all the other times you were down and remember everything that’s ever taken you down.
It was a sick spiral of a week.
But on the way back from South Fulton after dealing with my speeding ticket, I decided to turn on my audiobook — The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.
A few weeks before, I taught a lesson on Corrie ten Boom for Sunday School. I so throughly enjoyed the lesson (for great Christian youth curriculum see Faith Out Loud’s Extraordinary Christian Series found here) that when the audio book for ten Boom’s autobiography came through check-in at the library where I work part time, I snatched it up.
Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who, along with her father and sister and various other family members, helped save Jews from death during WWII. Holland was under German control, and ten Boom helped come up with an elaborate underground system to save hundreds of Jews, often by hiding them in a tiny secret room in the ten Boom home.
Corrie, her sister Betsie (who were both in their 50s), and her father all were arrested for this act eventually. Her father died in prison 10 days after his arrest. After being sent from a Holland prison to a Polish concentration camp and then to the German concentration camp of Ravensbruck, Corrie’s sister also eventually died after several months in incarceration.
I’ve been spellbound by this audiobook. I’ve wept several times while driving, listening to ten Boom’s beautiful revelations on a God who had never forsaken her, her sister or her father.
While driving Friday, God gave me the perfect ten Boom revelation at the perfect time.
At Ravensbruck, quarters were cramped, and Betsie and Corrie were assigned to Barracks 28. Each particular barracks had been designed to hold 400 prisoners. At the time of the war, this barracks held 1,400 women. The windows were broken, the toilets all backed up and the bedding on top of straw mattresses was disgusting.
More of the account from Corrie’s point of view, taken from The Hiding Place:
The deck above us was too close to let us sit up. We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw…Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.
“Fleas!” I cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them!”
We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle and hedged our way to a patch of light.
“Here! And here another one!” I wailed. “Betsie, how can we live in such a place!”
“Show us. Show us how.” It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.
“Corrie!” she said excitedly. “He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!”
I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. “It was in First Thessalonians,” I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.
In the feeble light I turned the pages. “Here it is: ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…’” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.
“Go on,” said Betsie. “That wasn’t all.”
“Oh yes:…’Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’”
“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!” I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.
“Such as?” I said.
“Such as being assigned here together.”
I bit my lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”
“”Such as what you’re holding in your hands.” I looked down at the Bible.
“Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.”
“Yes,” said Betsie, “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at me expectantly. “Corrie!” she prodded.
“Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.”
“Thank You,” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for—“
The fleas! This was too much. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
“Give thanks in all circumstances,” she quoted. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.
Hearing these words on the speakers of my car radio, I felt my whole attitude about the week change. So what I had just shelled out a hefty amount to take care of a speeding ticket. It wasn’t going on my record, and I would be saving money longterm with my car insurance because of it.
The problems with my health, my dad’s health, my hoped-for home, all seemed to become more distant after hearing that two Christian women were praising God for their circumstances in a concentration camp 70 years before I was complaining that a wheel bearing was going out on my car.
God has heard quite often from me this week. I’ve done my best to try and hear back from him, too. Through it all, my many weeping sessions, sobbing sessions, really, God gave me a peace and a strength I know I couldn’t muster on my own.
I’m right at the point in my Old Testament studies where we’re digging into the literature that deals with the Exile of the Israelites at the hand of the Babylonians and later, the Persians. So we’re looking at Ezekiel, Jeremiah and a few others.
My textbook, A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament by Bruce C. Birch, Walter Brueggemann, Terence E. Fretheim and David L. Peterson, points out that some of the most honest and hope-filled literature that comprises the Old Testament comes out of the time of exile — the most hostile time of history for the Hebrew people. The lament, the complaint, the distress was all so real, but so was the hope the Israelites had in their God.
If the Israelites could still have this hope in God during this contentious time (things were so bad, women actually ate their own offspring – see Lamentations 2:20, 4:10), then what was wrong with me?
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” Lamentations 3:21-24
The Lord is my portion, therefore I will hope in him. He is all I need, and when he’s all I have, as it was this week, he is enough.
Over and over again, Corrie and Betsie, through their journey growing up, then as young adults, and then harboring Jews in their home, in prison and in concentration camps, learned to trust completely in God. To follow God’s perfect will meant to have perfect hope that his plans would not only succeed but be blessed.
When the women were forced to parade naked through the hospital quarters weekly for medical inspections, Corrie recalled the Easter story. She took courage knowing that Jesus hung naked on the cross at the time of his crucifixion.
Corrie and Betsie, through a Bible that was miraculously smuggled into prison and the camps, ministered over and over again to the hope-starved women incarcerated unjustly with them. Their God-given and God-blessed purpose was found in giving hope to others.
In Barracks 28, they were given mostly free reign and found their worship services, which were translated from Dutch into German into Polish into French and into Russian, to be well attended.
But they couldn’t understand why there wasn’t more official oversight. Everywhere in the concentration camp were barking guards and surveillance, and a worship service was not a permitted activity in the camp.
The ten Boom ladies found out exactly why God permitted these worship services to thrive.
We again meet Corrie as she came back to the barracks to an energized Betsie after a work-detail that evening:
“You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” I told her.
“You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” she said. “Well–I’ve found out.”
That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.
“But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”
Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’”
My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.
Oh, to be thankful for fleas. To have the faith to be thankful for fleas. To have the trust to be thankful for fleas.
I’m thankful to report that by midday Friday, my bad luck began to change. God’s steadfast mercies began to surface, and things started turning around. My problems, one by one, began to be resolved.
It’s his promise:
“For he has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you. So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 5b-6
What has you down this morning? What situation are you struggling with giving God control of? What matter are you having a hard time trusting that God will resolve?
Remember that the God who listens to your prayers is big enough to not only respond to them, but to resolve them.
In his perfect timing, his perfect will, fleas and all, God will resolve our burdens into blessings.