Mom! Dad! Something keeps biting me!” one of our children yelled. We ran into the family room to investigate what was happening. As soon as I realized the cause, I froze. Fleas! Nope, no way, this was too much. Everything in me wanted to run for the hills, escape the horror we were living in, and never look back.
“I can’t take it anymore!” I vented to my husband a little while later. The layers of trials seemed too great. We had already experienced so much suffering: the life-altering challenges with our son were all-consuming; all four of our kids and I were growing weary from a daily battle with chronic illness; we had needed to walk away from our beautiful home and a comfortable salary due to the increasing challenges at home; we were facing overwhelming medical expenses; Jeff had unexpectedly lost the lower paid job to which he’d sacrificially switched; and I was slowly losing my ability to walk. And now our rental home was infested with fleas.
Life had been incredibly hard for years, but this latest trial felt like more than I could bear. To be honest, I felt utterly hopeless. I didn’t want to live in my diseased and hurting body; I didn’t want to live in the chaos of our special-needs challenges; and I certainly didn’t want to live in a flea-infested home.
Everything in me wanted to escape, but I had nowhere to run.
A few days later, I picked up The Hiding Place, the biographical story of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, who had risked their lives to hide countless Jews during World War Two until they were arrested and taken to a concentration camp. My own worries drifted into the background as I became engrossed in the horrors they were living.
At the point I had reached in the book, Betsie and Corrie had just been moved to a new barracks.
The “beds” were nothing more than boards stacked on top of each other and the blankets were scarce, despite the freezing temperatures. Before long, they realized that this barrack was even worse than they imagined—it was infested with fleas!
My eyes widened. “Fleas?!” I nearly laughed out loud, not because there was anything funny about the horrors that they were enduring, but because of the pure irony in light of my current situation.
There had to be a reason for this coincidence.
As I kept reading, Betsie and Corrie had somehow managed to keep a Bible hidden as the guards would do their nightly rounds. After a few days, they noticed something strange was happening: the guards had stopped checking their barracks altogether. As time went on, Betsie and Corrie gained more confidence and began reading the Bible out loud to all the women who wanted to listen in their barracks. It became a lifeline for these suffering prisoners. Regardless of what they had previously believed about God, they soaked in the hope and comfort of the words they were hearing.
Night after night, they continued, until one day Betsie realized why the guards had stopped checking their barracks.
“You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” she said. “Well—I 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 even step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”
Betsie could not keep from the triumph in 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.
The words stopped me in my tracks: “her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.” I sure couldn’t see any use for any of our trials, let alone the fleas. But I felt a small flame of hope spark within me. If God could somehow take something as horrible as an infestation of fleas in a concentration camp and turn them into a blessing, surely he could bring something good out of my own, much less horrifying, circumstances. I realized at that moment how personal (and humorous!) God is to somehow bring good out of something as seemingly useless as fleas.
Even more, I felt seen and cared for, unable to deny that God had arranged for me to read this exact part of Corrie and Betsie’s story at the time I most needed it. I was experiencing firsthand one of God’s promises to us in the Bible: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Ps. 34:18)
Hope when circumstances appear hopeless
There are times in life when we face something incredibly difficult, but there are other times when we feel utterly hopeless. I admit, I’ve been there more times than I can count. However, it’s also in these seasons when I’ve seen God’s presence and tangible care for me most clearly.
Corrie ten Boom knew this. She goes on to explain in The Hiding Place about a time when the women in their barracks were getting sicker by the hour. She had a little medicine dropper of vitamins that she wanted to hoard, making sure she could save enough for her sister, Betsie, who was extremely ill. But as more women came to her, pleading for a drop of the medicine, she continued to sacrificially give a drop to each of them. After a while, they began to marvel at why this little bottle never seemed to run dry. Day after day, as woman after woman approached her, a drop would somehow always appear. Corrie tried to come up with some logical explanation, to which Betsie replied, “Corrie, don’t try too hard to explain it. Just accept it as a surprise from a Father who loves you.”
One day, a delivery of vitamins surprisingly came to their barracks. When Corrie went to use up the old vitamin drops first, the bottle was completely empty. God hadn’t taken away the reality of illness, but he had provided for them— in a way that showed them that he was not only a God of miracles, but was near and personally caring for their needs.
This has been true in my own life as well, often in moments when our circumstances have felt hopeless. During a season of job loss and when our needs were many, we started to pray asking God to provide what we needed. Then one morning, an unclaimed box of Christmas gifts anonymously showed up at our front door. To this day, we don’t know from whom they came.
Another time, there was an unclaimed envelope of cash in our mailbox for the exact amount we needed for a bill—one that no one else knew we had. Even the job loss itself ended up being a blessing in the long run—putting us in a position to be ready for a better opportunity that came shortly after. I could share countless times when the encouragement I needed most came at just the right time and in the most unexpected ways.
Moments like these have brought to life Jesus’ words to us: “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” (Luke 12:24)
Sometimes, the more hopeless our circumstances may seem, the more we become aware of God’s provision, comfort, and nearness in ways we never would have looked for or been aware of before. And when we do, our hearts are encouraged to see that God is personal and compassionate. He not only cares about our pain; he wants to show us that he’s present in it.
Friend, do you feel hopeless in your circumstances? If you do, I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine the pain you must be enduring, but I want to encourage you to not lose hope. May our seemingly hopeless circumstances teach us that we should never put our ultimate hope in better circumstances, because that’s never a guarantee. Instead, may our circumstances lead us to Jesus and the hope he gives—a hope that is beyond what this world can offer.
As Betsie ten Boom was carried away to the hospital ward just before she died, she whispered to her sister, “We must tell people what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been there.”
If you are feeling hopeless today, be encouraged. In this world, we will have sorrows, but when our life is in God’s hands, we are never hopeless. For “there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”