The Fleas of Disappointment.

“We should thank God for these fleas,” said Betsie ten Boom to her sister Corrie, as they walked into the concentration camp barracks to which they’d been assigned and discovered the building was not only severely overcrowded, but also overrun with fleas. Corrie said no way.

I just finished re-reading The Hiding Place, the story of how Corrie and her family helped hide Jews during World War II. As she detailed their eventual capture and imprisonment, I appreciated very much her honesty. While her sainted sister Betsie thanked God for fleas and prayed for the guards and wept over the guilt a man who’d betrayed them must be feeling, Corrie battled anger and disappointment and at one point went after a guard with a shovel.

I like Corrie. I can relate to Corrie. Betsie, not so much.

How is it that we can be standing beside someone, in the same circumstances, and react in a totally different way? Is it that some of us are more spiritual, more holy, standing somehow a millimeter closer to God … or is it something else?

My husband and I recently experienced a crushing disappointment, and while we’re about as spiritual and holy as your average pet rock, this is not our first rodeo. After a time of shock and grief, we began to thank God for this thing we would not have chosen. Given the choice, in fact, I’m sure we would both have preferred fleas.

But the truth is, in the center of my frequently faithless heart, I think almost everything in life comes down to whether or not you believe in the goodness of God. And I do. I really do.

If you believe He is good, it doesn’t matter what comes. Not that it won’t be hard, or excruciating, or even maybe feel as if your very skin is melting off in the fire He’s stoked for you — but if He is good, then He is trustworthy, and if He is trustworthy, we can cling to Him, and if we cling to Him, we’ll find He is strong enough to help us survive anything.

That reminds me of a verse I should probably look up, but instead I’ll just badly quote it to you from memory — it’s something about suffering and perseverance and character and hope that does not disappoint. I think in modern parlance we might call it resilience.

God wants to create resilience in us so that we can not only survive the storms, but eventually thrive in them — maybe even singing praise songs at the top of our lungs while we’re being half-drowned by wind and waves — but that kind of divine lunacy resilience requires training, sometimes brutal training.

When we know God is good, we can trust His plan, no matter how daunting it looks. He is the master architect, after all, and He’s building things in us, good things that grow upon one another. And the best thing about His training plan is that, even when our shaky muscles betray us and our hearts act faithlessly and we show ourselves to be pretty much unreliable in most circumstances, what He’s building is founded upon the Solid Rock, and that is something that does not crumble. He will never crumble.

Storms come and go, but I think the fleas are always with us. Fleas of disappointment that juke and jive around our ankles and generally annoy the crap out of us, always trying to drag our attention down. After all, we all know in our hearts that this world is not as it was meant to be. There is no escaping the cloud of fleas, the daily disappointments that pile up.

Except maybe to look beyond the fleas, which is I think what Betsie was always doing. In fact I’m sure that’s what she was doing because I just remembered another scene that Corrie related, when Betsie was whipped by a guard for working too slow. That was what inspired Corrie to pick up her shovel and charge the guard, but Betsie grabbed her and said look past this, past this sister you love and this blood and these awful circumstances, and see Jesus.

Look through me and see Jesus.

Only then can we survive the fleas. The pain. The blood. The sorrow. The compounding grief and impotence. When we focus our gaze not on the mist of today, but on the beauty of Jesus behind the mist. His goodness. His love. His grace. His mercy. His faithfulness. His strength. His creativity.

I’m telling you, once you start listing off His good attributes, it’s hard to stop.

After the ten Booms had been in the concentration camp for awhile, Betsie came running up to Corrie and explained that the guards weren’t coming into the barracks because of the fleas, and that’s why they’d had so much freedom to share with the other women the reason for the hope that they had. You see, she’d said, I told you we should thank God for those fleas!

What a kindness that God showed them the reason for their fleas. I don’t think He always does that. He shows us His mercy and gives us the strength to face the day, but He doesn’t always answer the why. We’re left with the daily choice to trust the goodness of the One who provided the fleas, or we can get angry all over again.

I don’t know what fleas of disappointment are buzzing around you today, but I hope you’re able to spend some time doing what I’m about to do — I’m going to sign off, go have a cup of coffee, and focus my gaze through the mist.

Zooming Out, Zooming In & A Little Artistic Licentiousness.

Lately I’ve had to borrow my husband’s readers so that I can see when I’m reading in bed. Frankly, it makes me wonder if it’s time to look into long-term care facilities. Yes, I recognize I have the occasional tendency to slight bouts of over-exaggeration, but I’ve decided that at my age there’s no reason to try to recover.

I embrace my inner exaggeratchi, which is what we call it in our house. In Turkish, you add gee or chee to the end of whatever job and that says what your job is, ie., bakergee is a baker. Or paintgee is a painter.

The great thing is, if you don’t know the word for something, you can just gee it up a little and, though often wrong, the Turk you’re speaking with will at least know the ballpark of what you’re trying to say.

Now that we have your Turkish lesson for the day out of the way, I want to talk about perspective. Specifically, when we should look up and when we should look down — which is tangentially-related to whether or not I need readers to see the fine print, don’t you think?

For instance, last week my aunt and I were discussing the mutual though totally different challenging set of circumstances we’re living through, and she sent me something she called a soul map. It inspired me to draw a picture of how I was feeling that day, and since I challenge you to find anyone who draws as fantastic a stick figure as myself, I will copy it in below.

Author’s Copyrighted Work Product, don’t even think of stealing this gem! 😉

I feel like I should link to the name of my junior high art teacher so you can write in your complaints, but I can’t remember who it was.

But regardless of lack of quality, I think my picture easily transmits how I was feeling, no? There I am, the grimace line of my mouth double-inked so you don’t get the misunderstanding that I’m smiling. Holding on by my last muscle fiber as I try to stay upright.

At the time I saw this image in my mind, I was sitting in the sunshine beside a tiny waterfall in the Japanese park near our home. I’d just allowed myself a few moments to sit in and acknowledge some grief, and a few tears were discretely shed. This is Istanbul after all, where you are never alone. Never ever. Even in your own home, because of thin walls and cramped streets and nosy neighbors sticking their heads out the window to watch and observe and talk amongst themselves about the weird foreigners. *Although to be fair, they gossip just as much about each other.*

Soak in the peacefulness for a moment!

I was, in fact, just wiping away a few of those discrete tears when a grandmother surprised me by stepping down heavily not one foot away from me as she heaved her two grandsons over the stream. Why she chose to cross exactly beside me instead of the 10 clear feet in either direction remains a mystery.

Anyway. I saw that picture, and I was thinking maybe it was about time to let my arms drop and just let the weight crush me. And then in my mind’s eye, the picture zoomed out. I submit the second masterpiece I drew to represent what I saw.

Okay, because you asked so nicely, you can print and frame this one.

Do you see God’s pinky finger, casually curled to hold up the colossal weight about to obliterate me? Or, as it turns out, not about to obliterate me, merely hung at the exact point needed to refine the crap out of me.

If I wanted to, I could even follow through on my idea to drop my hands. If so, I’m confident the pressure wouldn’t move one iota. And please note, God has a big smile on His face like I often do when I’m delighting in something my daughter, Joy, is doing. It reminds me of when she was holding the remote control, thinking she was playing the video game her cousin was actually playing from behind her.

Zooming out on my misery helped me see the One who holds everything in His hands. Every. Thing. Little and Big.

And with one adjustment of my vision, Every. Thing. Little and Big. was better. He flicked the pressure off my lungs like a bug so that I could breathe easily once again.

On the other hand, I’m reminded of a little Bible story with which you might be familiar, when our courageous and sometimes foolhardy brother Peter leapt out of the boat to walk on the water over to Jesus. He was fine when his eyes were zoomed in and focused on Jesus, but when he zoomed out and saw the storm raging around him and water about to swamp him, he started immediately sinking.

What’s the common denominator? Keeping our vision focused on Him.

If I’m in one of those how-long-oh-Lord kind of seasons — is there any other kind — I need to zoom in on His face and where He’s standing right now instead of looking at the long, long, looooong and discouraging path ahead of me.

If I’m having a do-you-care-my-adversaries-are-about-to-crush-me kind of day, I need to zoom out and look at the great and awesome goodness of God, and maybe pull out my altars book to remind myself of the many battles He’s already won. Maybe even ask for a Moses moment: “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.” I don’t think I’d have any trouble focusing my vision appropriately if that happened!

One thing I do know, whether today is a day I need to zoom out, or one I need to zoom in, He’s ready and able to fill my vision with wonder.