“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I Thessalonians 5:18
“And thank you God for the fleas…”
That was the prayer of Betsie Ten Boom in the fall of 1944, as she sat on a plank bed and a soured, rotten straw mattress in a lice and flea infested room in the Ravensbruck concentration camp. Betsie and her sister Corrie were imprisoned by the Nazis for helping Jews escape persecution and death. Assigned to a knitting brigade making socks, working indoors in the harsh weather, Betsie’s prayer caused Corrie to question how in the world she could be thankful for the fleas that infested the room. The next day, the answer came. Betsie discovered that the fleas kept the Nazi guards from coming into the room to supervise the women prisoners as they knitted socks, and thus, she and Corrie had all kinds of freedom to share their faith and testify to Christ’s saving power, leading literally hundreds of women to Christ in that very dark, dismal place.
“Give thanks in all circumstances,” says the scripture.
So, that means that the circumstances I encountered in 2008 are all things in which I can give thanks. No fleas, but a friend of mine, unaware of what had transpired in my life since June, called and asked me how I was. I said, “Well, the pastor of my church resigned, I was in the hospital for most of August, had surgery, survived a hurricane, and my car engine blew up last week. I’m doing great!” And the truth is, I have an awful lot to be thankful for.
Well, first of all, I have a lot of things that should not be taken for granted. I’m married to my best friend, we own our home, we both have jobs that we love, plenty to eat, closets full of clothes, friends, and the world’s best dog. We live a simple life, but we enjoy it, and we are richly blessed by God. I’m serving in the ministry to which I was called by God and led by the Spirit, and I am blessed to serve a congregation that demonstrates the love of Christ with which they have been blessed.
For the first time in my ministry career, in June I found myself on staff of a pastorless church. The Lord called our pastor to a new church plant, and my plate got pretty full. But the Lord has been faithful, and even in these circumstances, there are many things for which I can be thankful. Our church, during this transition, has maintained a positive attitude, and is looking forward to what God is going to do. They are encouraged, and that is wonderful to see.
In August, I came down with a leg infection that I thought a week’s worth of antibiotics would cure. As it turned out, some of the medication I took to reduce the swelling also caused my blood sugar to rise to danger levels, and triggered a pulmonary embolism. I was hospitalized twice, first to treat the embolism, and then a second time to treat the recurring leg infection, which eventually required surgery and a lengthy recovery. Technically, I am still recovering. So what is there to be thankful for in those circumstances? Well, I am recovering from what could have been a life-threatening situation. I got a lot of rest in the hospital, and then at home afterward. Someone stepped up and anonymously paid the deductible and out of pocket expenses. We were flooded with visits, prayers and cards from our church. If there is anything else that comes out of it, I would be overwhelmed.
On September 13, Hurricane Ike hit the Houston area. For nine hours, we endured sustained winds of 85 MPH at our house. Things bumped on the roof, thumped against the side of the house, the beams creaked and cracked, the rain poured, sounding like stones against the windows. When it was all over, we were missing a few pieces of flashing and a small pile of limbs from our trees. No broken windows, no shingles torn off, no trees down, no flooding. We were basically unscathed, and free to offer ourselves in service to others who were not as fortunate, and that was a blessing through which we could offer thanks back to God. Our church did not fare as well, but we are insured, and that, too is a blessing. We are seeing the wisdom of choosing a policy with a low deductible, and God sent us a Christian contractor. In a few more weeks, we will be back in place, in better shape than we were before the storm.
On my way to work one morning, about two weeks after the storm, I was driving through Starbucks to get something to drink before going to the office. My car stopped running. It wouldn’t restart. Once it was towed to the garage, it was discovered that a blown head gasket had essentially ruined the engine. So how to give thanks in those circumstances? The garage directly next door to the church is owned by a Christian gentleman who feels it to be his calling to serve those in the ministry. Not only did I receive a nice discount on a rebuild engine, but as a result of some anonymous benefactor paying my hospital expenses, I had the money to fix the car.
Yeah, I’ve heard stories like this before, and I always wondered why those kinds of things never happened to me. Now they have, not because I deserved them, but because I believe the Lord was watching out for me, knew what I was capable of handling, and did not let my circumstances get beyond what I was able to bear. During this year, I spent more time in the hospital than I had in more than 25 years, served on the staff of a church that went pastorless, experienced a hurricane and my car engine blew up. Yet, in all of those things, there are circumstances for which I can thank God.
Wow. What a lesson I’ve learned.