Tag Archive | Hope in hard places

Giving Thanks for Fleas?

It’s easy to rejoice and give thanks when we pray and God answers in the way we hoped He would. It’s also pretty easy to thank Him when we can look around and see many blessings in our lives.

But when our situation seems unpleasant and we’re struggling through tragedy or just plain hard times, it can be difficult to hold onto the truth that God is still in control and He is always loving and kind toward His children. Giving thanks in such circumstances is a step of faith in the character of our God.

In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom, imprisoned with her family for hiding and helping many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II, shares an incident that God used to teach her this important principle of giving thanks in all circumstances.

Corrie and her sister Betsie, had recently been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet, the all female camp Ravensbruck. As with all newcomers, they were placed in the quarantine compound, located next to the punishment barracks. From there, all day long and often into the night, Corrie says they heard “the sounds of hell itself” as the prisoners were cruelly beaten.

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.”

A short time later, they were moved to Barracks 28 and Corrie was horrified by their reeking, straw-bed platforms. But she soon learned things were even worse than she had realized.

“‘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?

Corrie wrote, “I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room…”

And Betsie said, “‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took Corrie a second to realize she was praying.

“‘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!

Corrie continues, “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.”

In verses 16 – 18, Betsie’s question concerning how they were to survive in this place was answered. “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.

They thanked God for the fact they were together. They thanked God they had a Bible. They even thanked God for the crowded conditions, making it so that more women would be able to hear God’s Word. And Corrie went along with what Betsie was saying… until Betsie thanked God for the fleas.

The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’“

“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.

Later they learned that Betsie was not wrong. Yes, the fleas were a nuisance, but they were also a blessing. Because of the fleas, the supervisors avoided Barracks 28, making a way for the women to have Bible studies in the barracks without harrassment. Dozens of desperate women were free to hear the comforting, hope-giving Word of God.

Barracks 28 at Ravensbruck became known as “the crazy place where women have hope… Hope in the midst of darkness. Hope in the midst of persecution. Hope in the midst of unimaginable evils.”

Many women in Barracks 28 came to know the hope that only can be found in a relationship with Jesus. They learned that (as Corrie put it), “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

I doubt any of us are facing a situation as devastating as this one Corrie and Betsie ten Boom faced. Are you willing to trust that God has a good purpose in your difficult circumstances, and thank God in the midst of them? We may not know why God has allowed the difficulties we face, but we can know that God is good and He will use the painful situations we walk through for our good and His glory.

Amazing Peace

Yesterday was the six-month anniversary of the day our precious son David graduated to his heavenly home.

The one thing that I dreaded above all others has been a lesson to me that with God peace is possible in even the most heartbreaking situations. If I had to choose one thing to characterize this difficult season of loss, it would definitely be God’s peace. Yes, I’ve grieved the loss of our son, and having him no longer in our lives has resulted in major changes for our family. But beyond all of that, this has been a season of experiencing God’s peace.

Today, Father, I want to thank You for the supernatural and unexplainable peace You have given me during this time I’ve dreaded from the time David was diagnosed with massive infantile spasms at three months of age and we entered the world of being parents of a special-needs child with a limited life expectancy.

I recall all the hospital visits when it didn’t appear David would survive to see another day. When we battled one life-threatening health issue after another, and You brought us through by Your grace. For over thirty-four years, David’s well-being was our primary focus. You provided for his needs miraculously time after time.

We saw David enter his teenage years, which the doctors most acquainted with his extensive medical needs didn’t expect. Then he was approaching age twenty-one and we faced a legal battle so big we couldn’t see a way out, but You made a way. He lived through his twenties and into his thirties, and You never once failed to meet his needs. I’m amazed as I look back on Your goodness in our lives over the past thirty-four plus years.

Yes, Father, we still miss our special son. But this has been a huge lesson in the truth that no matter what You ask us to walk through, Your grace is sufficient. Thank You, Father, that even now I can with confidence confess the promise You gave me when David was admitted to the hospital for testing because his pediatrician was concerned that something was wrong. Yes, the pediatrician was right, but Your Word has sustained me from that day until now.

“Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed…” Psalm 25:3a NASB

Going “Gratitudinal” – Changing My Attitude to One of Gratitude

The final chapter in Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, is about change. When we are facing difficult circumstances, change sounds inviting. But this chapter isn’t talking about a change of circumstances. The change referred to in this chapter is a change in our attitude toward our circumstances.

An attitude is a set of emotions, beliefs, and behaviors toward a particular subject, situation, person or group of people. Attitudes are often the result of our experiences or upbringing, and they can have a powerful influence over our behavior. While attitudes are enduring, they can also change. Attitudes are a learned tendency to evaluate things in a certain way, and since they are learned they can also be unlearned.

Woodrow Kroll, evangelical preacher and radio host of Back to the Bible has said concerning our attitude about difficult circumstances, “Nothing is so sour that it can’t be sweetened by a good attitude.”

Author, speaker and pastor John Maxwell wrote in his book Developing the Leader Within You, “The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.”

While changing circumstances is a great goal, sometimes we are powerless to do this. For example, I can do nothing to change the fact that our special needs son David suffered for thirty-four years with profound mental retardation, spastic quadriplegia CP, seizures and fragile bones prone to fracture and then graduated from this world to heaven last November. I also can do little to change my personal pain and limitations from the chronic illness and disability I live with daily as a result of an auto accident in 1975 that also took the life of our first born daughter Teresa. But in both of these situations, I do have the power to change my attitude. I can choose to have a God-honoring attitude in whatever circumstances I’m currently walking through.

New attitudes start with new mind-sets and result in new behavior. Let’s take the two circumstances I shared above. In dealing with the challenging life and recent loss of our precious son, I could focus on how hard life was for David and the pain of our recent loss, or I could shift my focus to the truth that David is now in the presence of the Lord and whole after a lifetime in a broken body. In my chronic illness and physical disability, I could turn my mind on all the things I’m unable to do, or I could thank the Lord for the blessings in my life and all the things I am able to do. As Nancy says, “The pathway to personal transformation requires a change in perspective.”

She says, “I’d like to coin a new word for those who may be deficient in the gratitude department (which includes all of us from time to time).” Instead of speaking of “attitudinal change,” Nancy calls us to “gratitudinal change.”

Gratitudinal change comes from choosing “to live in the fullness of your relationship with God, not hindered and hamstrung and holding Him at arm’s length, but experiencing Him richly. Feeling at home in His presence.”

It results in rewriting our story “into a tale of God’s grace, one that He uses to help you be an effective minister of His hope and healing to those who are walking the same kind of path” He has helped us to walk. It’s being “so available to His Spirit’s leading, so aware of others’ needs, and so willing to be open and genuine, that God takes the things Satan meant for evil and transforms them into things of value.”

It’s living as God’s Word instructs us in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

‭‭The author gives several specific recommendations to get us headed in the direction of “gratitudinal change.”

  • Surrender your rights to God. If we are to bloom and flourish as children of God in this harsh and suffocating culture – shining like ‘lights in the world’ – we must pour ourselves out as a drink offering before the Lord.”
  • Commit to a set season of gratitude. “Like any other virtue, a grateful spirit is the work of God’s Spirit within the life of a believer who is purposeful about putting off fleshly inclinations and cultivating spiritual ones. And that takes time, effort, and focused attention.” 
  • Take stock of your gratitude accounts. “Who deserves (or needs) a word of thanks from you? Who in your life could use a bit of encouragement today?”
  • Write thank you notes. Remember, “the act of expressing gratitude breeds joy. In the sender and in the recipient… Don’t get hung up on the ‘technique.’ Do resolve to have a thankful heart and to take time to express your gratitude as frequently as possible, by whatever means possible, to as many people as possible.”
  • Do it together, as a Body-building exercise. As we bring this nine-week study of Choosing Gratitude to a close, I encourage you to share with the other members of our group how you plan to put these principles we’ve studied into practice.

Understanding the place of suffering in the Christian life is a key to walking through whatever God permits to touch our lives with a Gratitudinal attitude.

Joni Eareckson Tada became well acquainted with suffering when at age eighteen she suffered a cervical fracture when diving into some shallow water in the Chesapeake Bay and became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down. She has identified suffering as “God’s choicest tool in shaping the character of Christ in us... the gym equipment on which my faith can be exercised.” She adds, “God is more concerned with conforming me to the likeness of His Son than leaving me in my comfort zones. God is more interested in inward qualities than outward circumstances – things like refining my faith, humbling my heart, cleaning up my thought life and strengthening my character.”

Elizabeth Elliot was plunged into the world of suffering when her husband Jim was one of five missionaries killed while participating in Operation Auca, an attempt to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador. She said, “This hard place in which you perhaps find yourself is the very place in which God is giving you opportunity to look only to Him, to spend time in prayer, and to learn long-suffering, gentleness, meekness – in short, to learn the depths of the love that Christ Himself has poured out on all of us… The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”

Author Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth brings this study to a close with these words, “Some of the holy work we need to have done in us and through us can only come through the valley of shadow and suffering. Are you going to be resistant to that? Or are you going to be clay in His hands, knowing that He is intent on shaping you into the image of Christ and wants to use your life for something far bigger than you own comfort, convenience, and pleasure? He wants your life to be part of a grand, eternal redemptive picture that portrays the wonder of His saving grace.”

I encourage you to meditate on these quotes concerning the benefits we gain through suffering. And allow them to cause a change in your perspective concerning the difficult circumstances in your life.

Do you want your life to reflect the character of Christ? Do you agree that God is more interested in inward qualities than in outward circumstances? Do you want to know the depths of God’s love? Do you want to “go forward in ways that are pleasing to Him, ways that place us in the center of His great will and plan”? Then, make the decision to begin looking at your world through “gratitude-colored glasses.”

I want to close today with a song by Joni Eareckson Tada that perfectly expresses the attitude God desires us to have toward the suffering He has allowed in our lives.

Peace In Tough Situations

My devotional reading this morning in Breaking Free Day By Day, by Beth Moore, began with the following question.

“Have you had a time when you were surrendered to Christ in the midst of real difficulty and you found His peace beyond understanding?”

This immediately brought to mind the day in November 2018 when I was in a small room in the emergency center of St. Luke’s Hospital in the Houston Medical Center. We had already been told that our son David was in critical condition, and while the medical staff was doing their best to stabilize him, his private duty nurse and supported home living aide and I were taken to a nearby room to wait. As I sat in that room, it became a sanctuary of God’s presence. The Lord clearly spoke to me that He was ready to take our son to heaven to be with Him. The words brought no fear, no fight, simply a deep willingness to surrender our precious son to the Lord.

For years, as we battled through one life-threatening situation after another in David’s life, I had dreaded the time when God would take him home. Even in recent years, fear of David’s death had been my biggest source of anxiety. Yet as we faced the time of surrendering our special-needs son to the Lord, there was no fear, no dread.

Concerning situations such as this one, Beth Moore said:

“When we are in crisis and finally give up trying to discover all the answers to the whys in our lives, His unexpected peace washes over us like a summer rain… Peace comes only in situations that are completely surrendered to the sovereign authority of Christ.”

Elisabeth Elliot said in the deepest valleys we walk through, we gain the deepest insights about our God. This deep valley has taught me much about God’s peace. The Greek word translated peace, as used in Philippians 4:7, refers to the sense of rest and contentment that comes from living in harmony with God, accomplished through the gospel.

As I read this brief devotional this morning, my eyes were opened to truth of why God spoke to me that day in the hospital. God was not asking my permission to take David home, I already knew that. In reality, He was inviting me to walk through this very painful situation in His peace. Through surrender to His clearly revealed will, I’ve walked through one of the most painful seasons in my life with a deep sense of peace. Yes, we miss our son. Yes, we have grieved his loss. But if I had to find one phrase to characterize these last four months it would be supernatural peace, that peace spoken of in Philippians 4:7 that makes no sense in the natural, that surpasses our human understanding and is a gift from God.

Help for the Brokenhearted

My One Word for 2019 is FREEDOM, so when I looked for a devotional for the year I decided to use Breaking Free Day By Day, by Beth Moore. The theme of today’s reading was too good not to share.

During this season of growing through the pain of losing our special-needs son David, a time of both rejoicing that he is now in the presence of the Lord and whole for the first time and of feeling like a big chunk has been cut out of my heart and missing him daily, these words really spoke to my heart.

“God does not minimize the things that break our hearts. He is not looking down on us, thinking how petty we are because things have hurt us. If we are so “heavenly minded” that we grow out of touch with earthly hardships, we’ve missed an important priority of Christ.

“God left our bare feet on the hot pavement of earth so we could grow through our hurts, not ignore and refuse to feel our way through them. So surrender your hurt to Him, withholding nothing, and invite Him to work miracles from your misery. Be patient and get to know Him through the process of healing.”

It’s been a little over two months since our precious son David left the pain and limitations he experienced during his thirty-four years on earth to enter eternity whole and in the presence of the Lord. Our whole family definitely misses him, but we have peace in knowing where he is.

This is still a season of “earthly hardships” for my husband Mitch, our daughter Amy and myself, as we adjust to a new path. We are sensing God saying it’s time for life to take some turns, and we’re still uncertain as to all of what that means. For nearly three and a half decades, our lives revolved around meeting David’s needs. That no longer is true. So we are seeking God for clear direction concerning the future. Much needs to be done in preparation, so 2019 is getting off to a challenging start.

In the midst of all of this, the reminder to “be patient and get to know Him through the process of healing” had special meaning in my life. I don’t know what you are facing as we move into the middle of the first month of this new year, but I suspect this may also be helpful instruction for many of my readers as well. Surrender your hurt to Jesus – He cares about you and what you’re going through. Love Him and move forward into what He has for you and your family in 2019.

Understanding Wisdom and Insight

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As I was doing some study on wisdom this morning, trying to understand the difference between wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and insight as they are used in the Bible, I came across an article that used the well known verses of James 1:2-5 in the J.B. Philips paraphrase to explain this. The title of this section of Scripture: “The Christian can even welcome trouble.”

“When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence.

“And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God – who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty – and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him.”

Though I knew these verses were together in Scripture, I’ve always separated James 1:2-4 from verses 5-8 in my mind. These words stood out to me in our current situation because it was so clearly tied together in this paraphrase. If “in the process” of all kinds of trials, you need wisdom concerning how to meet any particular problem, don’t lean on your own understanding. Ask God for the necessary wisdom.

This immediately prompted me to pray for wisdom, not just in general, but in a specific area that has come up as we seek to move forward into what God as for our future. And as soon as I finished that prayer, another area came to mind for prayer.

Wisdom from God is available for us in the numerous daily decisions we face. Do you tend to handle the small daily decisions in your own understanding? I know often I do. God wants us to go to Him for wisdom in the small and not just the major decisions that need to be made. As my husband and I walk through this painful season after the loss of our son, life is full of changes. God cares about the decisions we make in even the smallest hour-to-hour situations that arise. And that’s a new insight – sight into something giving new understanding – for me this morning into the true biblical meaning of wisdom.

Walking By Faith into an Unknown Future

This Christmas, our family is preparing to enter a new phase of life. As a new year approaches, we are adjusting to no longer being caregivers for our special needs son David, who is spending this Christmas whole and in the presence of Jesus, and looking ahead to a much different year.

To prepare my heart for what lies ahead in 2019, I decided to end 2018 by doing a devotional study called Life Journey, aimed at those who are facing major changes in life, written by two of my favorite writers, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, authors of the Boundaries series of books.

Today’s devotion focused on the life of Joseph. If you aren’t familiar with the story of Joseph, Genesis 37 tells of his jealous brothers selling him in slavery, and the story picks up in Genesis 39, which begins with these words: “Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.” (‭Genesis‬ ‭39:1‬) From there things went downhill, as a series of difficult circumstances begin to change Joseph into the man God was calling him to be, second in charge over the land of Egypt and a key character in the preserving of God’s chosen people through a worldwide famine.

The following quote stood out to me from this devotional reading.

“Joseph’s fruitfulness, or success, came from putting his faith into action. He trusted God to do the divine part, then invested himself fully to do his human part.

Joseph didn’t try to manipulate the pieces of his life that were out of his control. He entrusted those to God. Note what Joseph didn’t do: try to escape slavery or prison; despair and forfeit his identity and integrity; resent and hate the ungrateful cupbearer; or develop a victim mentality. Knowing what circumstances were out of his control, Joseph handed them over to God and focused on his responsibilities.

Joseph embraced the tasks he could do: He waited patiently on God for his vindication and reward (see Psalm 37:6–7); worked hard for his master, Potiphar; resisted Potiphar’s wife; managed the prison for the warden; interpreted dreams for his fellow prisoners; respected God’s warning of famine; stockpiled food and grain for the lean years; married and raised two sons.

Joseph couldn’t possibly have foreseen how God would orchestrate the pieces of a worldwide famine to reunite him with his family. He simply did what was in front of him at that moment and trusted God with the big picture of his life. And God made him fruitful (see Genesis 41:52).”

Good advice for how to walk into an unknown future!