Corrie ten Boom tells the story of her life in Ravensbruck, a Nazi concentration camp, during World War II. At one point, she and her sister, Betsie, were moved into new barracks into conditions that nauseate me to even think about. When they were assigned their bunks, they found the pallets not only filled with the the stench of bodily fluids, but they lay down into a bed covered in fleas. Corrie asked her sister how they were to live in such conditions, and Betsie turned her to the Word. In I Thessalonians, Paul writes, “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. Rejoice always, praying constantly, giving thanks in all circumstances…” In all circumstances, not just the pleasant ones… not just the ones we want. So Betsie and Corrie stood in the middle of a concentration camp–the foulest conditions, most horrendous torture and executions imaginable–and they thanked God for fleas. Fleas! Fleas that they knew would make their lives miserable. Fleas that would bite and sting and itch and make sleep impossible. They thanked God for fleas.
Last night I couldn’t sleep, so I prayed. I thought about so many people in my life who are struggling. I prayed for my grandfather recovering from triple bypass, for my grandmother’s loneliness while he is in the hospital. I prayed for friends who long to get married and start losing hope as each year passes by. I prayed for people in my life and in the lives of my friends who struggle with physical ailments–too many to name. I thought of those who will hurt through the holidays because of loss in their lives–whether a week ago, a year ago, 10 or 50 years ago. How their ache doesn’t go away. I thought of those struggling in their marriages or going through divorce. Loneliness, pain, conflict, fear… I’ve said it before–we all have our pain. Our lives are full of fleas… pain that bites and nags and makes us feel miserable.
This morning Audrey woke at 6:00. Ow! Flea bite! Then Asher got up at 6:30. Another bite! My kids are never up before 7:00! But wait, I got to spend more time in the Word and prayer this morning because of it… because my mom said, “I’ll get the kids, you go back to bed.” Thank you, Lord, for fleas.
Today I have my fifth chemo treatment. I’m so nervous. I’m nervous about starting a new drug. It’s unknown. I’m nervous about a possible allergic reaction or nasty side effects. I’m nervous about spending 5 1/2 hours in “the chair”. I get 3 needle sticks today, plus an IV (which they sometimes miss the veins), and I have a horrendous fear of needles. It feels like a lot of fleas are biting this morning. And the one thing I hadn’t done is thank God for the fleas.
So I did, and He brought so much awareness of His hand. I’m thankful for a new drug that is one more way that they can hopefully prevent recurrence and give me time here to live with my family and serve the Lord. I’m thankful for 5 1/2 hours in the chair because I get to spend that time with Barb, my chemo buddy, who is an amazing woman of God, and I will learn so much from her today. I’m thankful for the needles (it’s hard to say that one!), because without them they wouldn’t be able to check my blood counts or give me the treatments which will hopefully heal my body. I’m thankful for cancer because it has driven me closer to Jesus, deepened my love for Brian and intensified my delight in my children. Thank you, Lord, for fleas. You are faithful.
And He was faithful to Corrie and Betsie, too. Weeks after they prayed and thanked God for their fleas, Betsie came to Corrie, excited. They had been given incredible freedom in the big room where they worked, knitting socks for the German soldiers. When asked to come in and sort out some confusion about those socks, the supervisor refused to set foot in the room. “That place is crawling with fleas!” she said. Corrie and Betsie were overwhelmed… they were faithful to thank God for things which they didn’t understand.
I think my struggle with being thankful has come from a misunderstanding of what thanksgiving really is. Being thankful doesn’t minimize the pain. It doesn’t take what I’m going through and throw it all away or make it meaningless. In fact, being thankful deepens the meaning, because it helps me to see my Savior and it drives me to focus on Him in the midst of pain. The reality is we live in a fallen world, and I hate the fleas. I hate cancer. I hate my treatments. I hate, as Bri put it in his last entry, the dull routine of surviving chemotherapy. But I love my Savior and I am thankful that I can see His hand in the midst of all of this. I hate that acquaintances, friends and loved ones have to struggle and suffer, but I am thankful that I have friends to pray for, and I am thankful they are in His hand, too.
Neither go back in fear and misgiving to the past, nor in anxiety and forecasting to the future, but lie quiet under His hand, having no will but His.
(H. E. Manning)
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