Wisdom for Wives

"Be diligent to know the state of your flocks …"

Thank God for Laundry, Heartache, and Fleas

Female prisoners gathered when the Red Cross arrive at Ravensbrück in April 1945. The white paint marks show they are prisoners.

Female prisoners at Ravensbrük. Image credit: wikipedia.org

My youngest child has long outgrown his crib, but it’s still in my room serving as a giant laundry basket.  After the clothes come out of the dryer, I heap them by the armful into my son’s former bed.  There, the clothes wait for days, occasionally weeks (OK, usually.  Who am I kidding?), to be folded, hung, or picked up by the older kids to be put way in their rooms.  One afternoon the pile was especially high, but right before a groan came to my lips, I resolved that I was not going to complain about having so many clothes to fold. SO MANY clean clothes, for my whole family, as well as clean towels and clean sheets. Isn’t that a nice problem to have?  Realizing that it is indeed very nice, I turned on HGTV and set to folding.

Actually, I think that was kind of an easy test. Laundry is a chore, but it doesn’t hurt.  It’s a little harder to be thankful for things that hurt, like marital problems, or not being able to pay your bills.

When my husband and I look back on the financial setbacks we faced early in our marriage, we are glad that those challenges knocked down our pride a few notches. Our lifestyle had centered largely on earning and consuming.  But after our income shrunk dramatically, our mixed up priorities were rearranged, and we’re grateful for it.  Now.

And it’s when our relationship has been the most strained that I’ve clung to Jesus as if my life—from moment to the very next moment—depended on Him. It always depends on him, but I tend to forget that when things are rosy and cozy. So, in retrospect, I’m thankful for those days that made me intensely aware of my need for God, and intimately aware of his mercy and faithfulness.  But do I thank God for the heartache at the time?

James 1:2 exhorts us to count it all joy when we face all kinds of trials.  The “when” catches my eye, because it doesn’t say “after.” It doesn’t say “five years later,” or “after the sting fades.”  But while it’s happening!  Why should we rejoice? Because the testing of our faith produces patience.  And why did Paul delight in weakness and hardship? Because he had learned that Christ’s power was made perfect in his human weakness.  “For when I am weak,” Paul confessed, “then I am strong.”

One woman who appeared to have mastered joy “while it’s happening” was Betsie ten Boom. Her sister Corrie wrote about it in The Hiding Place.  I read this book in high school (Junior high maybe??  Both were a long time ago.), so I had to refresh myself on the details. But to this day I still remember, “Thank God for the fleas.”

The “fleas” incident took place at the Ravensbrük concentration camp in Germany.  The sisters’ long journey there began in the Netherlands, where the Nazis had arrested their family for hiding Jews in their home.  Corrie and Betsie had been transferred to a barracks that was swarming fleas, and Corrie cried, “How can we live in such a place!”  Betsie’s response was to pray.  Then, remembering what they’d read that morning, Betsie asked Corrie to read it again.

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 Ravensbrük.

“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.

Days later, the sisters learned how they had been blessed by the fleas.

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,” said Betsie. “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.

Thank You for the fleas!  It’s practically beyond my imagination how Betsie was so grateful in the midst of their hellish circumstances, or how Paul wrote letters from jail about rejoicing always and giving thanks at all times.  But surely if God commands us, it’s possible.  And I can start by thanking God for my own trials, however big or small.

Thanks for stopping by,

Susan

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Home Sweet Home

stainless steel kitchen

image credit: hgtv.com

Right now as I write this post, I am also engaging in an almost nightly ritual, watching HGTV over a cup of coffee.  (Don’t worry. The coffee will have no effect whatsoever on my ability to fall asleep tonight.)  Two of my favorite shows are “House Hunters” and its younger sister, “House Hunters International,” which follow people searching for new homes to buy or rent.  Another favorite is “Love It or List It,” in which disenchanted homeowners present their lists of “must-haves” (you know, like stainless-steel kitchen appliances and ensuite master baths) to a designer/Realtor duo.  The designer renovates the home with the intention of persuading the homeowners to love it again, while the Realtor searches for a new dream home so that they will ditch, or list their current residence.  I do realize that these shows are staged and maybe a teeny bit fake ;). And yet I find programs about home shopping and renovating so entertaining!  Back in its heyday, I was so crazy about the show “Trading Spaces” that I stood in line with a toddler for over an hour at the House and Garden Show to meet my favorite designer from that show.  Talk about commitment!

At one point, I had become so obsessed with all things home that I had to take a break from these TV shows.  It was the mid 2000s and everyone was buying a house.   If you didn’t  own a home, you were a loser, or at least that was how I felt in our apartment.  I had become so very focused on this “one thing” I didn’t have–a home of my own–that after a while, I could not sit through an episode of “Flip This House” or “Flip That House” (real names of real shows!!) without experiencing major pangs of house-lust.  (I realize now that all was not as it seemed with those shows either, and many of the renovated houses did not sell for several weeks or months, and not always at the price estimated on TV.)   Even though it was one of our most difficult times financially, and we had no business buying a house, it didn’t matter. I wanted a house!  So after I learned of some new (and very tiny) townhomes being built in our area, I listened eagerly as the agent assured me on the phone, very confidently, of the safety of getting an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM).  In her words, since we lived in the DC metro area, we had nothing to worry about!  Our home value was sure to go only UP!! We would be FIIIIINE!!! Not that I needed any convincing.  She had me at hardwood floors.

My husband, on the other hand, was not so convinced of the wisdom of this purchase. Ultimately, to my disappointment, we did not go through with it.  My house-lust burned on.  Until a very serious health scare helped me realize how blessed we truly were, and how ungrateful I had been.  Though our home was small compared to some friends’ and acquaintances’, I realized that 1,300 square feet for 4 (and later, 5) people was nothing at all to complain about.  In fact, if you consider what a human being actually needs, instead of what some of us might be used to, it’s practically palatial.

~~And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (1 Timothy 6:8)~~

All that time, I had so much more than food and clothing–not only materially, but spiritually, physically, and in my relationships.  But I had not been content because my eyes were fixed on this “one thing,” that we not only did not need, but was in fact very wrong for us.  Because did I mention that this non-house purchase took place around 2005?  In case you are unaware, the US housing market imploded not too long after.  So, what was once disappointment eventually turned to relief that our still growing family did not end up stuck in a house that was barely bigger than our apartment, mortgage payments that would increase in a few years, and a dropping value that would not rebound for years more. (Of course, God could have rescued us from that situation, as He has from many others.  But I’m grateful that we were spared from it even happening.)

And you know what? Renting isn’t always so bad!  Depending on how much you have in savings, or your plans to stay in a particular area long-term, renting can make sense financially.  While the benefits of home ownership have been advertised for decades, there are many factors that determine whether and when home ownership is best for a particular family.  These include:

  • Stability of your family’s income
  • Willingness and ability to maintain and repair a home
  • Ability to afford other costs of home ownership like homeowner’s association (HOA) fees and property taxes
  • Preparedness to become a landlord, pay for two homes, or take a loss on a sale if you have to move

And renting doesn’t always mean living in an apartment.  In some housing markets around the country, you can rent a townhome or single family home, giving you the comfort and privacy of a house, with the flexibility of being able to move within a few years if you need to.

These days, I can enjoy HGTV in peace and freedom :). I can watch shows about homes that are bigger and fancier than mine without angst.  Admittedly, it helps that we are not in an apartment anymore.  But I know that buying a home does not guarantee financial security, and renting does not make you a loser.  I have a beautiful, healthy family, and even more:  the promise of an eternal home with Jesus. And there is no real estate in any market that’s worth more than that.

Thanks for stopping by,

Susan

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Hide-the-Word Wednesday: Remember His Blessings

Recently, I have taken great comfort in Lamentations 3:22-23, the verse I shared last week.  It has been so reassuring to know that, whatever tomorrow brings, His mercy will be there, too.

But in the midst of hoping for tomorrow’s blessings, may I remember what He’s already done!

What verses stir your heart with gratitude?

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