Gratitude is an overused theme during November, because it's the month of Thanksgiving. It's the "Month of Gratitude"--facebook status updates start with "30 Days of Gratitude", tweets are all about it, newspapers run specials about things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.
This is good. We should all take the time to count our blessings, to be thankful.
But what if we did it....all the time? Not just when someone gets the job, or the baby is born, or the cancer is in remission. It is, of course, good to praise God at those times. But the Bible doesn't say, "In happy situations, give thanks." It says, "give thanks in all circumstances."
You've probably heard of Corrie ten Boom. If you haven't: Corrie and her family hid Dutch Jews during the Nazi occupation of Holland during WWII. They hid them in their house and watch/clock repair shop, building a "hiding place" in case of raids in the back of Corrie's tiny bedroom.
Corrie and her sister, Betsie, and her father, Casper, who lived above the shop, were not young. They were not rich. Betsie wasn't even in very good health--she had pernicious anemia. But they hid Jews and worked with the Dutch underground to give hidden Jews ration cards, false ID cards, and whatever else people needed to save their lives, to keep the Jewish people in their care alive during the Nazi occupation, while trains took millions of people away by the boxcar full, all over Europe.
Eventually, they were caught, and Betsie, Corrie, and their father were shipped to concentration camps. They were separated from their father, who died in a camp hospital, but Betsie and Corrie were sent to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp in Northern Germany.
"We stepped out of line with a dozen or so others and stared at the long grey front of Barracks 28. Half its windows seemed to have been broken and replaced with rags.
A door in the center let us into a large room where two hundred or more women were bent over knitting needles...On either side doors opened into two still larger rooms...Our noses told us, first, that the place was filthy; somewhere plumbing had back ed up, the bedding was soiled and rancid. Then as our eyes adjusted...we saw that there were no individual beds at all, but great square piers stacked three high, and wedged side by side, and end to end with only an occasional narrow aisle slicing through...
We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw...
Suddenly, I sat up, striking my head on the cross slats above. "Fleas!" I cried. "Betsie, the place is swarming with them!"
We scrambled across the intervening platforms...and edged our way to a patch of light.
"Here! And another one!" I wailed. "Betsie, how can we live in such a place?"
"Show us. Show us how." It was said so matter of factly that it took me 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!"
"It was in First Thessalonians," I said..."Here it is: 'Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always see to do good to one another and to all...'"
"Go on," said Betsie. "That wasn't all."
"Oh yes: '...to one another and to all. 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 it 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..."Such as?"
"Such as being assigned her 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 the 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!"
"Oh, all right. Thank you for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocation 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."....
[Weeks later] there'd been confusing in her knitting group about sock sizes and they'd asked the supervisor to come and settle it.
"But she wouldn't. 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 bored head, remembering her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.
Bestie died in Ravensbruck on December 16, 1944. In January 1945, Corrie was released, due to a clerical error--all women her age were supposed to be sent to the gas chambers. Instead, Corrie was released, nursed back to health, and returned to her home in Haarlem. Five of the six Jews the ten Booms hid survived the war.
When I first ran into that Betsie story, I thought the same way Corrie did: Is Betsie for real? Seriously, she must be living on a plane higher than the rest of us, because, like Corrie, there is no way I'd be able to give thanks for fleas.
But that worked out--the fleas were what Ann Voskamp calls "ugly beautiful"--those things that we see as ugly, but really, are gifts, are beautiful things, in God's vision. We just can't see it.
Maybe we need the macro view?
The lower part of my right arm is mostly covered with a big skin graft scar. It's not hideous, but it's not gorgeous, either; but it looks a lot better now than it did 11 years ago (this weekend, actually) when I originally had surgery. The skin was taken from the top of my right thigh, so there's two scars, roughly a inch wide and five inches or so long, there, too.
Why did I need a skin graft at all? Because an IV that was dispensing calcium during my transplant infiltrated, and gave me a third degree burn on my right arm. For awhile, the surgeon thought he might have to amputate. Fortunately, I was blissed out on drugs and wasn't privy to all those discussions.
So if it's a choice between pretty and still having an arm, I'm going with the later--especially since I'm right handed!
That's probably the most graphic example of the macro view.
After I read Ann's 1000 Gifts about 1000 times (really, I dip into it almost constantly), I think I've started to get it. Waking up late? Traffic jam? Not getting cast in the show? It's all OK. God has a plan. I don't know it (And some days that drives me crazy), but God wants me to give thanks all the time. There is always something to be grateful for.
Even, as Betsie tells us, the fleas.