Thursday, September 30, 2010

Trust Me to Carry it For You

Corrie Ten Boom had a very wise father. When she was 10 or 11, and she asked him a difficult question, he answered her with a question. Could she carry his heavy traveling case off the train? She told him that she couldn’t because it was too heavy for her.

“Yes,” he said, “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”
And I was satisfied. More than satisfied—wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and to all my hard questions—for now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping. (p. 31)

Many years later, Corrie was questioned by a Nazi officer who challenged how she could hold onto her faith after she had learned that her father died after being abandoned and left unidentified in a hospital corridor only ten days after arriving at the prison camp.

The officer asked her, “What kind of God would have let that old man die here at Sveneningen?”

I did not understand a great deal. And suddenly I was thinking of Father’s own answer to hard questions: “Some knowledge is too heavy for you…you cannot bear it …your Father will carry it until you are able.” (p. 150)

After being transferred to Ravensbruk concentration camp, Corrie and her sister Betsie had to live right next to the punishment barracks, where they had to endure the sounds of every torture and suffering cry of their fellow prisoners.

It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls, there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy.

Will you carry this too, Lord Jesus?” (p. 177)

My desire is to be satisfied and at peace in what I can’t understand or make sense of, like Corrie Ten Boom describes in The Hiding Place. I want to entrust those things that are too heavy for me to my Father who knows all the answers, and is more than willing and able to carry the burden for me.

The quotes here and from my last two posts: "More Than Conquerors" and "A Deeper Love" come from the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom (with John and Elizabeth Sherrill), published by Chosen Books, 1996.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More Than Conquerors

“…in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:37
I have continued to be inspired by The Hiding Place. (see posts “Mirrored Reflection” and “A Deeper Love”)

Corrie Ten Boom records how God’s Word came alive to her while she was in prison, in ways that she had never experienced before. Suffering from an illness at the time of her arrest for helping Jews during WWII, she was assigned to a solitary cell in the Sveneningen prison. Corrie’s extended days of silence and sickness were brightened by the small Bible that was smuggled in for her. As God spoke to her through His Word, she identified with Jesus’ suffering and came to a greater understanding of God’s higher purposes as He brought victory out of seeming defeat. This is what she wrote about her solitary confinement:

“Was it possible that this—all of this that seemed so wasteful and so needless—this war, Sveneningen prison, this very cell, none of it was unforeseen or accidental? Could it be part of the pattern first revealed in the Gospels? Hadn’t Jesus—and here my reading became intent indeed—hadn’t Jesus been defeated as utterly and unarguably as our little group and small plans had been? But…if the Gospels were truly the pattern of God’s activity, then defeat was only the beginning. I would look around at the bare little cell and wonder what conceivable victory could come from a place like this. (p. 139)
Later, Corrie became convinced that God’s purposes for her and her sister Betsie included the dreaded Ravensbruk concentration camp. At first, she could not even bear to look as they approached the horrible place that would become their home for an undetermined amount of time.

“Ravensbruk!” Like a whispered curse the word passed back through the lines. This was the notorious women’s extermination camp whose name we had heard even in Harlaam. That squat concrete building, that smoke disappearing in the bright sunlight—no! I would not look at it! As Betsie and I stumbled down the hill, I felt the Bible bumping between my shoulder blades. God’s good news. Was it to this world that He had spoken it? (p. 173)
In obedience to 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances,” Corrie and Betsie determined to thank God for the circumstances He had provided for them at Ravensbruk. They thanked Him that they could share the same bed, that the overcrowded conditions meant that more women could hear the Good News, and that God had allowed their smuggled Bible to pass though the guards’ rough inspection and body search. Betsie even thanked Him for the fleas in their beds, even though Corrie thought her sister was going a bit to far on that one!

“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.” (p. 180)

Later they discovered that because of the fleas in their barracks, the guards refused to step foot inside, which gave them the freedom to minister the Word of God without any restrictions. Corrie and Betsie grew more and more certain of God’s purpose for them in the dark place He had prepared for them, and they shone His light for all to see.

But as the rest of the world grew stranger, one thing became increasingly clear. And that was the reason the two of us were here. Why others should suffer we were never shown. As for us, from morning until lights out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call, our Bible was the center of an ever-widening circle of help and hope. Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire, we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the Word of God. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ..Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” (p. 177-178)
When Corrie, as one of the healthy prisoners, was later selected to be sent away for munitions work, she faked poor eyesight during the vision exam so she wouldn’t have to be separated from Betsie. The joyful result was that she could join Betsie’s knitting group.

And this began the closest, most joyous weeks of all the time at Ravensbruk. Side by side, in the sanctuary of God’s fleas, Betsie and I ministered the Word of God to all in the room. We sat by deathbeds that became doorways to heaven. We watched women who had lost everything grow rich in hope. The knitters of Barracks 28 became the praying heart of the vast diseased body that was Ravensbruk, interceding for all in the camp—guards, under Betsie’s prodding, as well as prisoners. We prayed beyond the concrete walls for the healing of Germany, of Europe, of the world—as Mama had once done from the prison of a crippled body.

And as we prayed, God spoke to us about the world after the war…We were to have a large house—to which people who had been damaged by concentration-camp life would come until they felt ready to live again in the normal world. (p. 192)

Through prayer, God gave Betsie a very clear picture of the house they were to offer for rehabilitation to the sufferers of the war. Because she died just before they were released from prison, Betsie never saw this house on earth. Corrie, however, returned home to Holland after her release and had opportunities to speak about God’s deeper love from their experiences in the concentration camps. A woman who heard Corrie speak decided to donate her house for the war rehabilitation project that Corrie spoke of (and the house was the exact description of the house in Betsie’s vision!)

Do I know God’s purpose for my life in this time and place?

Just as Esther believed that God had placed her in the position of Persian Queen “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14) to save her people from destruction, so Corrie and Betsie knew that God had carefully placed them to reach those in desperate need of God’s deeper love and life-giving hope, in the midst of the evil and hate that infected the concentration camps and the world surrouding them. They refused to lose hope in the face of darkness and apparent defeat, because just as Jesus went to the grave, He went on to rise again in unconquerable victory.

And in Him, we are more than conquerors!

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Deeper Love

“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:18-19
“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

Over the weekend, I read The Hiding Place for the second time and our family watched the movie together; and so, the incredible challenge and inspiration of the Ten Boom family has continued to fill my thoughts. I have found myself drawn into their story, marveling along with Corrie at her sister Betsie’s loving heart toward their persecutors during WWII, and learning along with Corrie about real forgiveness and sacrificial love from Betsie’s amazing example.

The Ten Booms were Christians who were imprisoned for hiding and helping Jews during Germany’s occupation of Holland. Corrie and Betsie, unmarried sisters in their 50’s, lived with their father and worked with him in his watch repair shop on the first floor. Together they had successfully hidden six Jews in a special hiding place in the top floor of their old house. They praised God from prison when they received news that these Jews had remained hidden and safe when the Ten Booms were arrested and the house was searched. Corrie and Betsie were grieved to learn that their father only survived ten days in the men’s concentration camp before he died, but they were also thankful that he was spared any further suffering.

Corrie and Betsie also came to thank God for the ministry that He opened for them among their fellow prisoners, as they read aloud words of hope from smuggled Bibles and boldly proclaimed the message that God’s love is deeper than any pit and stronger than the evil all around them. Corrie and Betsie endured three different concentration camps during that horror-filled year of 1944, and Betsie died just before their release. Corrie went on to live until she was 91, traveling the world and sharing the beautiful message of Christ’s deep love and forgiveness from their personal experiences.

Corrie, as a child and young woman, was greatly impacted by her parents’ faith and love. Her heart was broken in her early 20’s when her one and only boyfriend, Karel, who had led Corrie to believe that they would get married, then destroyed this dream one day by bringing his fiancée to meet Corrie and her family. (Corrie later discovered that Karel’s mother had not approved of his plan to marry Corrie, but he didn’t have the courage to tell her directly.) I love the way Corrie’s wise father counseled her after this terrible heartbreak.

He said, “Corrie, do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel. God loves Karel—even more than you do—and if you ask Him, He will give you His love for this man, a love nothing can prevent, nothing destroy. Whatever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way.”

I did not know, as I listened to Father’s footsteps winding back down the stairs, that he had given me more than the key to this hard moment. I did not know that he had put into my hands the secret that would open far darker rooms than this—places where there was not, on a human level, anything to love at all.(p. 47)

Corrie’s mother had always suffered from poor health, and after a cerebral hemorrhage, she was paralyzed for the last three years of her life. She did not live to see the devastation of the Second World War, but Corrie carried into the war the lessons that she learned about love from her mother.

She wrote: “Mama’s love had always been the kind that acted itself out with a soup pot and a sewing basket. But now that these things were taken away, the love seemed as whole as before. She sat in her chair in the window and loved us. She loved the people she saw in the street—and beyond: her love took in the city, the land of Holland, the world. And so I learned that love is larger than the walls which shut it in.” (p. 50)

Betsie, like their mother, also suffered from poor health, and because of her illness, was told that she could never have children; so she decided not to marry. Also like their mother, Betsie was full of compassion for people in need, and was constantly serving and giving to others. She had an amazing ability to see their lives from God’s perspective and to completely trust God’s hand of sovereignty over all of their circumstances.

When Corrie and Betsie were transferred from the Scheveningen prison to the Vught prison, whispers of hope reached them, that maybe they were being released. But when it became clear that freedom was not in their immediate future, Corrie was devastated and cried out to her sister.

“Betsie!” I wailed, “how long will it take?”
“Perhaps a long, long time. Perhaps many years. But what better way could there be to spend our lives?”
I turned to stare at her.
“Whatever are you talking about?”
“These young women. That girl back at the bunkers. Corrie, if people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love! We must find a way, you and I, no matter how long it takes…”
She went on, almost forgetting in her excitement to keep her voice to a whisper, while I slowly took in the fact that she was talking about our guards. I glanced at the matron seated at the desk ahead of us. I saw a gray uniform and a visored hat; Betsie saw a wounded human being.
And I wondered, not for the first time, what sort of person she was, this sister of mine…what kind of road she followed while I trudged beside her on an all-too-solid earth.” (p. 161)

After arriving at the Vught prison, Corrie and Betsie learned the name of the man who had betrayed their family. Jan Vogel had pretended to be a Jew who needed money, and when the Ten Booms generously gave him what he asked for, the police had sufficient evidence to arrest their family for being involved in the underground movement. Once she learned his name, Corrie was instantly filled with hatred for this man, and was sick in her body and spirit for a week.

What puzzled me all this time was Betsie. She had suffered everything I had and yet seemed to carry no burden of rage.
“Betsie, don’t you feel anything for Jan Vogel? Doesn’t it bother you?”
“Oh yes, Corrie! Terribly! I’ve felt for him ever since I knew—and pray for him whenever his name comes to mind. How dreadfully he must be suffering!”

Once again I had this feeling that this sister with whom I had spent all my life belonged somehow to another order of beings. Wasn’t she telling me in her gentle way that I was as guilty as Jan Vogel? Didn’t he and I stand together before an all-seeing God convicted of the same sin of murder? For I had murdered him in my heart and with my tongue.”

“Lord Jesus,” I whispered. “I forgive Jan Vogel as I pray that you will forgive me. I have done him great damage. Bless him now and his family…” (p. 165)

And then, at the third and worst prison of all, Ravensbruk, Corrie was greatly tempted to think just of herself and of Betsie. She maneuvered the two of them into the middle of the roll call formation to seek some protection from the bitter cold. She tried to hoard the precious vitamins for only Betsie, as her health was getting worse. And, she discovered, there were many ways that she could justify her actions. The Ten Boom sisters had an amazing ministry to the women in the camp, and wouldn’t God want them to be able to continue it?

The camp was built for only 400 people, but 1400 women were squeezed into Ravensbruk, with more continuing to come in from other camps that had been shut down. One night, a new prisoner was assigned to their barracks who had no blanket.

Betsie insisted we give her one of ours. So that evening I “lent” her a blanket. But I didn’t “give” it to her. In my heart I held onto the right to that blanket.

Was it coincidence that joy and power imperceptibly drained from my ministry?

Then in the early morning, Corrie read in 2 Corinthians 12 about Paul’s weakness, and she understood.

The truth blazed like sunlight in the shadows of Barracks 28. The real sin I had been committing was not that of inching toward the center of a platoon because I was cold.
The real sin lay in thinking that any power to help and transform came from me. Of course, it was not my wholeness, but Christ’s that made the difference.
…to that group of women clustering close I told the truth about myself—my self-centeredness, my stinginess, my lack of love. That night real joy returned to my worship. (p. 193)

Corrie’s final challenge to love, before she was released from prison life, came in the hospital, as she was diagnosed with edema a few days after her beloved Betsie’s death.

The suffering was unimaginable. Around me were survivors of a prison train which had been bombed on its way here. The women were horribly mutilated and in terrible pain, but at each moan two of the nurses jeered and mimicked the sounds. Even in the other patients I saw that stony indifference to others that was the most fatal disease of the concentration camp. I felt it spread to myself: how could one survive if one kept on feeling! The paralyzed and the unconscious kept falling out of the crowded narrow cots; that first night four women fell from upper bunks and died on the floor. It was better to narrow the mind to one’s own need, not to see, not to think. (p. 202)
But Corrie did allow herself to see, to feel and to love those suffering women, even when they did not respond with love back to her. She chose not to narrow her mind to her own need in order to survive. Through all that she had experienced, God had shown her how to keep her heart open for His deep love to travel through her to others. It was not her own human love, which she knew was greatly limited, but the richness of Christ’s love in her that knew no end. God had built into her life the lesson her father had taught her when her heart was first broken:

Whatever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way.

How I too long to love others like the Ten Booms: with God’s deep and measureless love, in His perfect way, with His unlimited power, working through my imperfection and my weakness.

“My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ may work through me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mirrored Reflection

This fall, we have been reading through and discussing a book written by three siblings, called Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends. The great insights and examples in this book have helped us to evaluate what some of the root problems are in our family conflicts. I have been pretty quick to point out specific areas of sin and the lack of humility that I can clearly see in our children's lives. However, I have been greatly humbled this week to recognize that the exact same sins are in my own life as well. At the breakfast table yesterday, for example, the room suddenly grew quiet, and it seemed that a spotlight was shining on the bad attitude in my heart. I was exposed, with nothing to hide behind, and my selfishness was not a pretty sight.

The sad thing is that I had woken up early to finish reading The Hiding Place. As the time drew near for breakfast, I grudgingly moved from the couch to the kitchen, hoping that I could continue to read while I fixed pancakes (but that didn't work so well). I had been convicted on almost every page by Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie's selfless hearts while in concentration camps during WWII. And here I was, selfishly wanting to finish the book instead of fixing breakfast for my family (and our two little guests). In contrast to the two sisters' compassionate giving and ministry in the midst of their incredible suffering, my elevating my rights above others' made me realize that I have a long way to go in the area of humility!

Charly and I chose the passage on humility from Philippians 2 to be read at our wedding 16 years ago. And how I long for it to be true now, not just in the lives of my children, but in my own life as well:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,
but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Each of you should look not only to your own interests,
but also to the interests of others.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:3-8

May my reflection grow to be more and more like Christ, in His humility and obedience, as I put my own rights to death.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Compassion in the Heart of a Thief

We experienced a miracle last week!

On Friday afternoon, CJ accidentally left his shoulder bag on a bench during our home school fall kickoff at the Carlsons' house. When he discovered it was missing, everyone joined in the search (both inside and outside). But the bag was not to be found. Then we remembered that my cell phone was in the bag, so CJ tried to call that number. It had been turned off.

At home, CJ used Charly's phone to send a text message, in Chinese, to the missing phone, explaining that he was an American friend who really needed his passport (which was in the bag), so would this person please return it?

We don't know if the thief read CJ's message or not. We do know that God gave this thief a heart of compassion.

On Saturday afternoon, we received a call from a police station several miles away from the scene of the crime. The passport had been turned in by someone who said he found it across the street. The policeman had then been able to look up CJ's contact information in their computer system and find our home phone number.

We praised the Lord for giving this thief a heart of compassion! CJ had been carrying his passport because Charly and I traveled to Lanzhou last week while our kids stayed here with friends. And they took their passports with them in case of an emergency. To get him another passport and visa would have been a lot of ma fan (Chinese for major inconvenience!) So while the bag's other contents (my cell phone, $15, and CJ's MP4 player) were unfortunate to lose, we are incredibly grateful that the passport was returned. It could have so easily ended up in the trash.

This miracle has made me think about the criminal who died on a cross beside Jesus, the one who feared God and recognized that while he was getting what he deserved, Jesus had done nothing to deserve his death. He asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom, and Jesus told him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." ((Luke 23:43)

May God continue to soften the heart of "our thief" so that he comes to full repentance and recognizes Jesus as the Sinless One who bore the punishment that we all deserve.

We believe He can, because our God is a God who changes hearts.

Even the heart of a thief.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Experiencing God's Goodness

God changed me in an amazing way over the summer: by enabling me to open a door in my heart that I had closed to Him. My attitude toward God had been one of knowing in my head that He must be good, but not feeling His goodness in my heart.

Now I am experiencing His goodness, and nothing has changed about my circumstances!

It all started with a simple statement a friend spoke to me: "Jodie, you need to welcome unmet expectations in your life because they are going to come."
I can't tell you how revolutionary that idea was to me! I had never considered welcoming disappointments before. Was it even possible? Yet I knew that those words were exactly what God wanted me to hear; and as I wept, my hardened heart began to soften.

I realized that because my life didn't look the way that I thought it should (if God was indeed good to me), something must have gone wrong. I was fighting against what I couldn't understand (the mystery of God) and saying things like, "God can't work this way!" and "This can't be His best plan for me!" much like Naaman the leper's expressions of anger and stubborness toward Elisha's instructions for healing that didn't match his expectations.

Another friend, later in the summer, shared with Charly and me about his own struggles with God's goodness, and his words could have come straight out of my mouth: "I know that God could, but He probably won't." I had been feeling exactly that way, and it seemed that hope had become impossible for me. I didn't want to keep hoping for something that I didn't know if God was going to actually do (specifically, healing from my headaches and the completion of our adoption).

My cynical attitude toward God and believing that He could do these things (and they would be quite easy for Him!) but He probably wouldn't, had shut a door in my heart to Him. He wasn't working the way I wanted or expected Him to, so I decided it was easier to shut that door and stop hoping because trying to hope only seemed to offer more pain. This hardened (and confused) heart of mine said, "God must just want my life to be hard."

But, God graciously used this challenge of welcoming unmet expectations to open my eyes to see that while I had closed a door, I could also open it again. And what a wonderful thing to open this door to God's mystery! It is giving Him permission to work in His way, in His time, and to expect Him to do the unexpected. And it is trusting that His plan for me and for my family is the best. We haven't missed out on His best somehow. He hasn't forgotten about us. He hasn't made a mistake.

Of course, God doesn't need my permission to accomplish His purposes, but my submitting to His sovereignty allows me to experience His goodness, even when things don't go the way I want them to. I am able to hope again because I believe that He is good to me and that even those things that are difficult and still unknown can be used for good in my life.

Because God IS good.

"Taste and see that the LORD is good..." (Psalm 34:8)


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