Less than a week before Thanksgiving last year, my husband drove me to the emergency room, where we quickly learned that I was miscarrying our longed-for fifth baby. We hadn’t told anyone yet that we were expecting, enjoying the secret for ourselves and wanting to wait and surprise our children and extended families on Christmas morning. Instead I was in agonizing pain for more than a week as I miscarried at home, my heart shattered and my faith rocked to the core. How could I trust Someone who would let this happen? My body had incredibly carried a set of triplets followed by a nine plus pound baby without a hitch; how could it be that this baby wasn’t safe in my womb? Why didn’t God protect him or her? Why did He create that precious life, only to stop knitting it together and allow it to die without ever being born?
That Thanksgiving as I lost my child down the shower drain and wept until I had no tears left to cry, I struggled to find a reason to be thankful. Yes, I had a loving husband and four wonderful children, but what guarantee did I have that I wouldn’t lose them as well? For months afterward, I wrestled with the Almighty. I experienced anxiety and depression like I’ve never known before or since. I felt that I had lost more than a baby; I had lost my trust in my Father. Fear wrapped itself around my heart and squeezed until I couldn’t escape.
In a beautiful display of God’s infinite mercy and love, I had just finished reading Katie Davis Majors’ Daring to Hope when the miscarriage began. Katie writes about the overwhelming struggles she and loved ones around her have experienced and the heart-wrenching search for faith and hope in the midst of it all. Suddenly I was in that place too, lying in the living room night after night, crying out to God, not even having the words to express the turmoil I was in, knowing only that I was desperate for assurance of His goodness and His care. I realized then that if I didn’t have the God I had always known and loved, I had nothing.
On the first day of the month I introduce a new hymn to my children and we read about its origin together. In keeping with the thankful theme of November, this month’s hymn is “Now Thank We All Our God,” written by a Lutheran pastor in Saxony. Martin Rinkart was just beginning his ministry when the Thirty Years’ War started in Germany. His hometown was completely overrun by innumerable refugees and the Swedish army. The people trapped within the city gates were starving, sick, and dying. The faithful pastors were run ragged trying to tend to everyone, and they began to die too. Eventually the only pastor remaining in the city was Martin Rinkart. And while he served the people under circumstances most of us cannot even imagine, his wife also passed away. Yet these are the words he penned in the midst of all he was suffering:
Now thank we all our God,
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
In whom this world rejoices;
Who, from our mothers’ arms,
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
And blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace,
And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills
In this world and the next.
All praise and thanks to God
The Father now be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns
With them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God,
Whom earth and heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.
How could someone who experienced such great loss endure with a thankful heart? It makes no sense to our human minds to not only thank God when times are good but to praise Him in the midst of sorrow. Thankfulness, for Martin, did not flow from the security of his circumstances or the abundance of blessings he could reach out and touch. It flowed from the security of knowing that God is who He says He is, and from the abundance of blessings that cannot be altered, no matter our situation.
Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were imprisoned at the concentration camp Ravensbruck during the second world war. When they arrived after their long, miserable journey to the huge barracks crammed with rickety, stinking bunks, they quickly found that even in sleep they would have no rest, as the barracks was crawling with nasty, biting fleas. Wasn’t it enough that they’d been betrayed by those they risked their lives to serve? That their family had been torn apart, tortured, humiliated, and killed? That the sisters were exiled to a place whose very name inspired fear and dread in the hearts of those who heard it? Were they not even to be allowed to sleep at the end of their horrifying days?
Betsie, ever mindful of an eternal outlook, urged Corrie to be thankful in all things – even to the point of specifically thanking God for the fleas. Reluctantly, Corrie agreed to do so. As the weeks went on, the faithful sisters were astonished that their whispered Bible study times in the evenings, translated from one language to another by the multilingual prisoners, wasn’t found out. They added a second Bible study time to their daily routine, scores of women joining them to hear the precious words of life, and still they weren’t discovered. Finally, they overheard some guards speaking to each other about their barracks and realized that they owed their incredible ministry opportunities to the presence of those insufferable fleas. The guards didn’t want to chance becoming infested, and so stayed on the perimeter of the building rather than come inside.
Corrie and Betsie could give heartfelt thanks not in spite of the hated fleas, but because of them.
After months of despair and anxiety, during which I questioned all I had ever known to be true about our God, I finally released all semblance of control and whispered, “As You will, Lord. I and all I have are Yours.” I had wrestled with God, had spared Him no questions, no anger, no fear, and I had come to the conclusion that He is, indeed, faithful. That He weeps with those who weep. That He is near to the brokenhearted. That He comforts those who mourn, and He raises up those bowed low. That He is who He says He is, and we can trust Him to be good always. To be for us always. To take everything that is terrible and wrong in our lives and to somehow bring forth beauty from the ashes. And that is why Katie Davis Majors could find peace and continue to hope. It’s why Martin Rinkart could sing. It’s why Corrie and Betsie could rejoice in the fleas biting them. It’s why I am thankful this year, and every day, even in the midst of circumstances I cannot understand.
Right now my arms should be holding a sweet-smelling baby, but they aren’t. The same can be said for several of my friends, some of whom lost their darling children during childbirth or as infants or toddlers. Among the people I hold dear is a friend who, barring a miracle, is dying. Several who are struggling in their marriages, some facing major issues in their work lives, others battling debilitating depression. I know more than one parent whose children are suffering from health problems and families where greed and selfishness and arrogance have destroyed relationships. Even so, we can rest assured that God is good, that He has good for us, that He is worthy of our praise. And so we thank Him, not because our imperfect world satisfies us, but because He does.
I hope you are able to join me this year in open-hearted thanks to the One who loves us more than we could ever hope to understand. And if you’re in a time of suffering, take all your worries and cares to Him. He does not hide from those who seek Him, and He will bear your burdens.