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!!