Archives for March 2012
Here is Corrie Ten Boom’s famous flea story from The Hiding Place.
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!’
“‘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.”
“Back at the barracks we formed yet another line–would there never be an end to columns and waits?–to receive our ladle of turnip soup in the center room. Then, as quickly as we could for the press of people, Betsie and I made our way to the rear of the dormitory room where we held our worship “service.” Around our own platform area there was not enough light to read the Bible, but back here a small light bulb cast a wan yellow circle on the wall, and here an ever larger group of women gathered.
“They were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28.
“At first Betsie and I called these meetings with great timidity. But as night after night went by and no guard ever came near us, we grew bolder. So many now wanted to join us that we held a second service after evening roll call.
There on the Lagerstrasse we were under rigid surveillance, guards in their warm wool capes marching constantly up and down. It was the same in the center room of the barracks: half a dozen guards or camp police always present. Yet in the large dormitory room there was almost no supervision at all. We did not understand it.
“One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling.
“‘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.”
* * *
More and more, I have been struck by how the very worst thing that happens in people’s lives sort of morphs into the very best thing. Yes, it makes sense to live in gratitude, praising the Lord anyway.
We don’t have a flea story, but we do have a lice story. When one of my daughters got into a selective private school in Oxford when she was 5. She was a chess and math prodigy, with a whole lot of chess prizes, so was selected by a very ambitious mother as a suitable friend for her hot-housed only child I’ll call Amelie.
Now Amelie had long blonde hair (and this mother would stand the two girls together, back to back, and then tell my girl, “Well, your hair’s long, but not as long as Amelie’s.”) Amelie’s hair was also crawling with lice, and in the break, she’d chase the others tossing her long hair, saying, “Lice, lice.” (A story I never shared with her mother, who’d never have believed it.)
So “lice letters” went home regularly, and every time, this other mother, an ambitious South African who came here, married her professor, breaking up his marriage, phoned or emailed me, telling me of the 45 minute trauma she went through delousing Amelie, and insisting I did the same.
The two girls were best friends, and genuinely fond of each other, but Amelie, who was a little politician was always grieving my daughter. “No, you sat with me last time, it’s X’s turn. I’ve invited X for a play date. Invited Y for a sleepover. No, you are now not my best friend.” My daughter is the faithful sort who has just a few deep friends, and this was throwing her into turmoil.
Finally, I had enough of the lice emails, since I was pretty sure that my daughter was getting them from Amelie, and told the other mother that if Amelie dealt with her lice, the problem would be solved. She was furious, told the teachers that Amelie wasn’t to sit near my daughter, and retaliated by having a party, and inviting the whole class except my daughter (Amelie’s supposed “best friend.”). Yeah, that’s what we are coming too–grownups behaving like children. I have no idea if this is a recent development or was always the case!
Well, much heartbreak. But that definitively ended the very competitive and fraught “best friendship” which had caused so much heartbreak, grief and volatility for 3 years.
My daughter formed other friends. She is a straight arrow with a warm, loving loyal heart. She’s had the same group of friends for the last 4 years, who are devoted to her and vice-versa, and is now very happy. She loves school, loves her friends, and is excelling academically and is very happy socially. She’s also very popular in her gang of seven girls, in which she a leader.
And what’s more, as I suspected, once the mother broke off her friendship with the other girl, she’s never had lice again. We had struggled with it for 3 years, and now, she’s foot-lose, lice-free and happy.
It took those pesky little creatures to break off a frenemy relationship which would have marred her school-life.
Yeah, praise the Lord even for fleas and lice!!
|Matthew Frost, CEO of Tearfund|
|Simon Jenkins, Dave Walker, Pete Phillips, Anita|
|I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real,
Yeah, failing feels like hell; well, your first big failure, and your second… After your third, you shrug. Failure is now an option. Not so bad, not so unthinkable. You are released into creativity.
* * *
That idea set me free. Who am I that I shouldn’t make mistakes? All human beings are limited. All human being make mistakes! Who am I that I should never get things wrong?
The Plagues of Egypt are darkly spectacular, aren’t they? Locusts, darkness, hail, gnats, flies, boils, darkness…. It certainly seemed that someone was trying to get the Egyptians’ attention.
And so it goes, through the decades, as recorded in Johnson’s journals: going to bed at 2, or 3 or 4 a.m. after nights at clubs, smoking and drinking, waking up in the afternoon, excoriating himself, resolutions, failure.
The audience roared with laughter. I found it tragic. Miller concluded that that this cycle of resolution and failure was because Johnson, a Christian, did not know how to rely on the power of God.
Christ before me,
Christ within me,
Christ below me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right hand,
Christ on my left hand,
Christ in my sleeping,
Christ in my waking….
spinning, are not what keep the world spinning.
“Do I really want to?” I was mentored by a wonderful woman, Lolly,who had the age of 80 started asking herself this question.
She had been to Bible College, and became a minister’s wife at 22. So all her life, she would think, “Should I? Ought I? Is it my duty? Would God want me to? Would people expect me to? Would people be hurt if I didn’t? Would people be happy if I did? Can I encourage someone?”
When she was 80, she was invited to a big happening event in Williamsburg, Virginia. One of the richest families had adopted a child, and had a christening in the poshest hotel in town. It was going to be very posh, very exclusive, money was going to flow. The pastor of our church was invited, and was going happily. He was appalled when he found out that Lolly had been invited too, and declined, though she was also mentoring the adoptive mother.
“Why did you decline?” I asked. This was ten years ago, and I am ashamed to say I used to go to events like this, fund-raising dinners at $1000 a plate, if invited (and paid for!) for silly reasons like the prestige, the cachet, the name-dropping later, being “in.”
“Oh, I couldn’t be bothered,” she said. “I’d rather stay in and read. I am 80 years old. I have done what other people have wanted for most of my life. It’s high time I start asking myself what I really want to do.”
* * *
What do I really want to do? Well, what I really want to do most of the time is read and write and think and pray. I am turning down more and more social invitations, party invitations to do just this after slowing down and asking myself “What do I reallywant to do?”
Isn’t it surprising that so many of us live life on auto-pilot, do what’s expected, fall in with other people’s plans, desires and expectations without asking ourselves what we really want to do?
That’s not to say we shouldn’t do ministry. My first spiritual director suggested that I always have at least one person in my life to whom I give, spend time with, serve, without getting anything in return. He never said why, but I think it’s a good discipline if your work and ministry are visible, as mine are, and give you lots of feedback, attention, affirmation and praise! It keeps you real and humble. I have been given someone to whom I can be a blessing, and I am excited about it. (Of course, it’s someone who will be a blessing to me in turn….but God’s good like that!).
* * *
Where is my heart? What do I really want to do? What am I really excited about? Where are my passions?
Funny how people stop asking these questions.
To celebrate life together, to be together in community, to simply enjoy the beauty of creation, the love of people, and the goodness of God—these seem faraway ideals. There seem to be a mountain of obstacles preventing people from being where their hearts want to be. It is so painful to watch and experience. The astonishing thing is that the battle for survival has become so “normal” that few people really believe it can be different.”
Henri Nouwen, Seeds of Hope
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we constantly say No to our hearts, defer gratification? Why choose duty, and the unimportant shoulds over joy?
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart. W. B. Yeats
* * *
I am listening to The Sacred Romance by John Eldredge (which was recommended, incidentally by Lolly, who loved it) on my iPhone, in little scraps of time, here and there, as I do housework.
Somewhere along the way, we have lost heart. We do things without much enthusiasm, without much joy, in a half-souled way. We become dominated by Shoulds and Oughts, Eldredge said.
If I am doing things listlessly, mechanically, going through the motions, without much joy, I wonder if I am either not doing what God intended, or I am, but I have lost the way.
For instance, I am called to blog, but when blogging becomes a burden, a heaviness, it interesting to ask why. It’s almost always because I am not following my heart. My real interests may lie in little, short, not terribly significant posts like this one. But fear may say, “No. That’s boring!! Write something interesting, significant, ninja-like, meaty, on an important subject.” Say this too often, and you begin to develop blogger’s block, or blogger’s dreariness. Deny your impulses, the little 250 word posts you really want to write, and blogging becomes a burden, a duty, work, rather than joy.
It’s the same with anything. Our hearts give us a clue to who we really are, what we really enjoy doing, what makes us come alive. And yet how often people deny themselves their heart’s desire, stifle it, ignore it, until they get out of the habit of asking themselves what they really like doing, what really makes them come alive.
Two last thoughts, both true (up to a point).
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who are alive.” – Howard Thurman