(warning: blessed spoilers) All excerpts from "The Hiding Place" by Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill; 1971.
There is an entire library worth of books on Lyme disease: information and research, treatment methods, memoirs, narratives, histories, you name it. When you’re in it for the long-haul, you’re going to read as many as you can afford, and you’re going to find explanations, options, solidarity, and good advice.
Unfortunately, all the volumes in the world are not going to heal your disease. The information organizes evidence for your cause, but won’t stop the impending doom as you wrestle with unbelievable facts. The advice is only as good as your wallet can afford supplements, herbs, doctors, and organic food. The company is welcome, but in the end it’s just a cold paper object, not an actual presence to defend you in public and assure you in private.
I need more.
I have found the treasure of someone to walk along side me, to commiserate in our parallel nightmares, and to whisper profound truths that can only be mined in the darkest of valleys. Finding a dusty old copy of “The Hiding Place” has been one of the most memorable and helpful episodes in this Lyme journey. The impact has been therapeutic.
In short, following the experience of a woman who found God in a Nazi prison and concentration camp, one of the worst possible situations to confront a human being on this earth, leads you to understand that you can find God anywhere. Everywhere. Even in the midst of the hell of an existence consumed by Lyme. It teaches you to trust, to cope, to fight, and to hope.
Corrie’s story, woven together before anyone ever heard of Lyme disease, was written for me. God, in His sovereignty, is using her life, amongst many other reasons, to teach me:
1. I desperately need Truth.
I’ve mentioned many times before that the passages I’ve read over and over throughout my life have often meant nothing until some fateful night when they came to mind and their profound truth has captivated me. I am privileged to own at least half a dozen Bibles, big and small, in every type of English and several other languages. Hundreds more are at my fingertips. But should the day come when those are taken from me, I need those promises written on my heart, engraved in my mind. It is the most precious thing one can own.
And, most wonderful of all, not indeed a whole Bible, but in four small booklets, the four Gospels. I shared the soap and pins among the five of us but, though I offered to divide the books as well, they refused. “They catch you with those… and it’s double sentence and kalte kost as well.” [The bread ration alone without the daily plate of hot food.]… But even kalte kost would be a small price to pay, I thought as I stretched my aching body on the foul straw, for the precious books I clutched between my hands. ... As my health returned, I was able to use my eyes longer. I had been sustaining myself from my Scriptures a verse at a time; now like a starving man I gulped entire Gospels at a reading, seeing whole the magnificent drama of salvation. And as I did, an incredible thought prickled the back of my neck. Was it possible that this - all of this that seemed so wasteful and so needless... none of it was unforeseen or accidental? Could it be part of the pattern first revealed in the Gospels? ...Hadn't Jesus been defeated as utterly and unarguably as our little group and or small plans had been? But... if the Gospels were truly the pattern of God's activity, then defeat was only the beginning. I would look around at the bare little cell and wonder what conceivable victory could come from a place like this.
I don’t always stay faithful to my reading plan, and some of those old testament histories are brutal and unwanted for the times. But the promises, the very real presence of God, the small pearls of wisdom helping me to understand why this is happening to me, are all in there waiting to be discovered.
2. God’s glory shines brightest in the darkest of hells.
This lesson turns your suffering into sweet expectation. This period has been the darkest and most miserable of my life. Chronic Lyme doesn’t even feel like a life. It is a prison of flesh and bone and mental torture. But losing everything I would lean on dumped me in a helpless heap before God, which is the most beautiful place to be. He created me. Only He can recreate me from this broken and miserable mess.
It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy. “Will you carry this too, LORD Jesus?
But as the rest of the world grew stranger, one thing became increasingly clear. And that was the reason the two of us were here. Why others should suffer we were not shown. As for us, from morning until lights-out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call, our Bible was the center of an ever-widening circle of help and hope. Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire, we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the Word of God.
“Who shall separate us from the Love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Nay in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.”
I would look around us as Betsie read, watching the light leap from face to face. More than conquerors… It was not a wish. It was a fact. We knew it, experienced it minute by minute – poor, hated, hungry. We are more than conquerors. Not we shall be, “We are!” Life in Ravensbruck took place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, external life, grew every day more horrible. The other, the life we lived with God, grew daily better, truth upon truth, glory upon glory.
3. Suffering allows me to live the Bible intimately.
As the Bible passages become clearer, a portal opens between this story - 2000 years old - and my own life. I see it before my very eyes, in the suffering, in desperation, in mercy, in redemption.
So mysterious had [the Bible] become to me. It was new; it had just been written. I marveled sometimes that the ink was dry. I had believed the Bible always, but reading it now had nothing to do with belief. It was simply a description of the way things were – of hell and heaven, of how men act and how God acts. I had read a thousand times the story of Jesus’ arrest – how soldiers had slapped Him, laughed at Him, flogged Him. Now such happenings had faces and voices.
But it was one of those mornings while we were waiting [naked, for medical inspection], shivering, in the corridor, that yet another page in the Bible leapt to life for me. He hung naked on the cross. I had not known – I had not thought… The paintings, the carved crucifixes showed at least a scrap of cloth. But this, I suddenly knew was the respect and reverence of the artist. But oh – at the time itself, on that other Friday morning – there had been no reverence. No more than I saw in the faces around us now. I leaned toward Betsie, ahead of me in line… “Betsie, they took His clothes too.” Ahead of me I heard a little gasp. “Oh Corrie. And I never thanked Him...”
4. Thank Him.
The first step to finding answers, to finding peace, and to finding God, is thankfulness.
Our noses told us, first, that the place was filthy: somewhere plumbing had backed up, the bedding was soiled and rancid… there were no individual beds at all, but great square piers stacked three high, and wedged side by side… The deck above us was too close to sit up. 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. Something had pinched my leg. “Fleas!” I cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them! ...Here! And here another one!” I wailed. “Betsie, how can we live in such a place!” “Show us. Show us how" ...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!” “...Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus ---” “That’s it, Corrie… ‘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!” ...“Such as?” “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 the women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.” “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear… 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 piers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.
One chapter later…
Betsie was waiting for me, as always… 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 [to hold worship services] 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. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why? Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’”
Thank God for the extraordinary patience and love people show me. Thank God for the lessons He will teach me. Thank God for the empathy and understanding I will gain for others. For the healthy habits I will learn. For the ability to let go. For the inflammation. For the hair loss. For the bruises. For the dirty house. For the doctor visits. For the bankruptcy. For His glory in all of it.
Before all of that could even sink in, just finishing the book filled me with joy. I stepped outside into the sunshine and took a walk. I’d been on a journey through darkness, hatred, violence, putrid infested cells and barracks, sickness, and unspeakable death. And here I was free. Warm in the sunshine. Walking on my own two legs. Roof to go home to. Food in the refrigerator. Husband coming home from work. Body invaded with bacteria, parasites, encephalitis, neuropathy, blood disease… and so blessed. So free. So victorious. More than a conqueror.