When Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom were caught hiding Jews in their home in Holland during WWII, they were imprisoned, and eventually sent to Ravensbrook Concentration Camp. That first night in the dormitory together was especially hard on Corrie. The bedding was rotten, the prisoners were crowded close together, and the only light was one low-watt light bulb on the back wall of the room. The stench made it hard for her to breathe. And then something bit her on the back of the leg. “Betsie!” she said to her sister, “There are fleas in here!” (1)
Corrie sat up and saw another flea crawling on the bed, and wailed, “How can we live in a place like this?!”
Betsie responded, “Show us how,” and Corrie, confused at first about how to respond, realized her sister was praying.
After a moment, an excited Betsie explained that the Lord had already given them the answer, during their scripture study earlier that day. The answer was in the Bible, in 1st Thessalonians.
Corrie pulled out their Bible, and when she reached chapter 5, verse 18, which says , “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you,” Betsie stopped her.
“That’s it!” Betsie said. “That’s what we can do! Let’s give thanks about every single thing in this new dormitory!”
Corrie looked around at their squalid surroundings, sighed, and said, “Such as?”
Betsie grinned. “Such as being assigned here together!”
And Corrie agreed wholeheartedly.
“Such as what you’re holding in your hands!” Betsey went on.
Corrie said, “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!”
Grudgingly, at a nudge from Betsie, Corrie went on, “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!” Corrie couldn’t believe her ears. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
“Give thanks in all circumstances,” Betsie said. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
And so Corrie and Betsie thanked the Lord for the fleas.
Every night Corrie and Betsie would line up together and get whatever food was available and eat together, then go back to their dormitory. They would go to the back wall, where the dim light bulb was, and read their Bible. Other women began to join them, so they began to have what they called “services” for everyone who wanted to join. So many people wanted to participate that soon they had to add a second service after roll call.
The strange thing was, almost everywhere they went, they were under intense scrutiny. They were watched in the barracks, while they lined up to get their food, they were watched as they worked, as they walked through the yard—nearly everywhere in the prison they were under surveillance, but never in the dormitory. They wondered why they had so much privacy.
One day when Corrie came back from gathering wood for their little dormitory stove, Betsie was grinning like the cat that ate the canary.
Corrie said, “You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself.”
Betsie said, “You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room. Well, I’ve found out.” That day Betsie and some of the other women had been knitting socks, and a disagreement had arisen about sock sizes, and they’d asked the supervisor to settle it, but she wouldn’t set foot in the room, and neither would the guards.
“And you know why?” Betsie asked. “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’”
Betsie was proved right—we can give thanks in all circumstances.
Betsie reminds me of a friend of mine. She’s the most positive, enthusiastic person I’ve ever met, and her positivity comes from a grateful heart. She’s the kind of person you can go to with a problem that’s troubling you, and in ten minutes she can not only comfort you about your situation, but also leave you feeling so blessed and so grateful for the things that you do have that your problem seems small in comparison. She can give you the ability to think about your situation from an entirely new perspective. It’s like she has a superpower that she can transfer temporarily to other people! And because she loves people, and wants to talk with and listen to everyone she meets, her talent is seldom idle.
A couple years ago, my beautiful friend began having some odd neuromuscular and speech issues, and her doctors found a mass in her brain. They can’t figure out exactly what it is, whether it is benign or not, and it is located near the speech center of her brain, so they decided to monitor it rather than risk removing it. So far everything is stable, but of course they have to keep a close eye on it. That means my positive, cheerful friend makes regular trips to the oncology department, where she visits with patients and their families and chats with doctors and medical professionals.
Did you know research has determined that a positive attitude is the greatest determining factor of whether or not someone is going to survive a bout with cancer? Because of the person my friend is, because she has the ability to encourage and inspire and lift others into a positive mindset, can you imagine the good she has done in those cancer wards? The ray of hope she carries in her heart is so bright that it changes the people she interacts with. Her positive perspective urges people toward happiness and peace and helps them feel gratitude in every circumstance, which can not only improve their lives, but possibly even save them.
Learning there’s a mass in your brain hardly seems like a reason to give thanks, but how many suffering souls have been moved to give thanks after meeting my friend?
Another beautiful person I’ve had the privilege of meeting is Laura Story, a singer and songwriter who created a song called “Blessings.” She wrote it while passing through a difficult trial in her life. It’s written as a prayer, and it goes, “What if Your blessings come through raindrops? What if Your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near? What if trials in this life are Your mercies in disguise?” Click here if you’d like to listen to it, it’s beautiful.
We can give thanks in every circumstance, no matter how difficult our situation, like Corrie and Betsie did. We can also remember that sometimes our trials are not about us. Sometimes the Lord is trying to connect with us with someone else who needs us, or help someone through us, as seems to be the case with my amazing friend. The Lord is weaving an intricate tapestry with our lives and we can only see a tiny piece of it at a time. We can’t always see what’s going on or why things are happening, but we can have faith that he sees the entire pattern, and in the end it will be glorious.
- Ten Boom, Corrie et al. The Hiding Place. Chosen Books; 35th Anniversary edition (January 1, 2006).
- Story, Laura. “Blessings.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CSVqHcdhXQ