Emily M. DeArdo

writer

Christianity

Gratitude in All Things

books, essaysEmily DeArdoComment
I have lived pain, and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on summer humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives.

Ann Voskamp


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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"You've Got To Be Kidding!": Being Mad at God

Catholicism, prayerEmily DeArdo1 Comment

"And you can say to God sometimes, 'you have got to be kidding'...oh, I think you can say anything. You can say, 'I am mad at you, and I am not going to be a good sport about it!' And that's prayer...It's all prayer."

--Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but there are times when she hits the nail squarely on the head, and this is one of those times. 

If you never, ever read another thing I write (though I hope you do), remember this: You can be mad at God. It's OK. He can handle it. 

Is your jaw on the table yet? Do you wonder how I can be a "good Christian" and write what I just wrote? 

Some people are. I've had people say to me that being mad at God is a sin that will send me to Hell. Now, I believe in Hell, and I know a lot of ways to get there, but I don't think honesty is one of those ways. 

I taught my CCD kids a few weeks ago that prayer is talking to God, which is what it is. When you want to have a relationship with someone, eventually, the gloves come off, right? What friendship, marriage, partnership, etc. doesn't have the eventual fight? Eventually, the guy you marry will see you with your makeup off. Eventually, your best friend is going to see you when you're in a not-nice mood. It's part of life. 

God made us the way we are. He wants us to come close to Him, to enter into a real relationship with Him. He loves us so much, that that love created us, and sent His son to die for us. God doesn't want, and doesn't need, us to be happy all the time. 

Should we thank God in all circumstances, like the Bible says? Yes. Absolutely. It drives me crazy when people say "God is so good!" only when the job has been gained, or the house bought, or the kid chosen for the team. God is always good. Ann Voskamp says that God is always good, and we are always loved. And we are. The Bible tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. God is never not good. He can't be--his very nature is Goodness. 

You can do that--and still get irritated at God. "God...this position I'm in right now? It sucks. I'm not real thrilled that I'm here. I don't want to be here. I want something different. But.....you are in control. But right now, I'm sort of pissed at you, and I want you to know that." 

Do bad things happen to good people? Yes. I've also been told that my illnesses, my "issues", are because I didn't have enough faith. That I didn't do enough. I didn't pray enough. That if I just did more, somehow, God was going to change everything. 

Guys. God is not a Cosmic Vending Machine. You don't put in prayers and get a Milky War Bar of Good Answer back. Yes, we have to pray, and we have to believe. But even with all those things--there is still suffering. Jesus, the Most Blameless, Perfect Person Who Will Ever Live, still died on the cross

Every time I've been mad at God, it's because I haven't been open to His Will. I would have long, drawn-out sessions of "I do not want to do this. I do not like this plan..." but at the end of all of them, I--and you--opened my hands and said, "OK. The only way I will stay sane through any of this is to commend my spirit to you. Just give it up. Surrender all of this to Your Will, because the only thing that's going to keep me sane in that." Corrie Ten Boom prayed that same prayer--keep me in the center of your will! Don't let me poke around outside it, because that's going to drive me crazy.

You can get mad at God. You can say "God, I do not understand any of this, and it makes me SO MAD!" That's OK! That is valid. That is prayer. 

But the thing that brings you back, and keeps you from going crazy? Knowing that He has a plan. It's His Plan, you don't know it, and you're not in control of it. Open yourself up and say "OK. Your plan is driving me nuts, but I know that without the plan, outside of your plan, I will definitely go nuts. The only way to keep myself in peace and goodness and sanity is to stay with you. You have to take me through this, because I can't." 

 

What do you think? Can you be angry at God? Is anger legitimate prayer? When have you been angry at God, and how did you work through it--or are you still angry?