Faith In Action

“Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill that love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.”         Corrie ten Boom

The World’s Plan

The Holocaust, HaShoah, “the catastrophe” of World War II, was responsible for eleven million deaths. Besides killing nearly two-thirds of the Jews who had resided in Europe, there were five million non-Jewish victims including ethnic Poles, Soviet citizens, POWs, other Slavs, the disabled, Romani, Communists, homosexuals, Freemasons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Nazi government instituted laws which called for the sterilization of all persons with signs of disability—including conditions such as mental illness, learning disabilities, physical deformity, epilepsy, blindness, deafness, and alcoholism. The Third Reich also stepped up its propaganda against people with disabilities, regularly labeling them “life unworthy of life” or “useless eaters” and highlighting their burden upon society.

The persecution of people with disabilities escalated even further when Adolf Hitler authorized a program of “mercy death.” The killings secretly continued until the war’s end, resulting in the murder of an estimated 275,000 people with disabilities.

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A Woman’s Plan

The ten Boom family lived in Haarlem, Holland, where Corrie came from a long line of watchmakers. She learned the trade and became the first woman licensed in Holland as a watchmaker. She also engaged in social work, organizing girls’ clubs and groups for families with developmentally disabled children. On seeing what was happening in Holland under the National Socialist regime, especially the unrelenting persecution of Jews, she decided that she needed to do something about it. Corrie devised a way to assist the Jews. In this manner, she could “resist” the Nazis, but in her unique way, without violence, fully in agreement with her Christian principles and belief.

What was her plan? Initially it was to aid refugees persecuted by the Nazi regime—providing temporary shelter to aid escape to safety.  Soon the ten Booms were faced with refugees who were difficult to place in other safe houses—people too old or too sick to travel or with such strongly Semitic features that they could not be disguised safely. This single, fifty-year-old woman decided to provide some permanent shelter, so they constructed the “hiding place” in Corrie’s third-floor bedroom—the furthest point from the door where searching police might enter. Eventually a core group of seven fugitives joined their family household along with the steady flow of visitors who would stay for just a few nights. As Jews started to be arrested and their property seized, the ten Boom family joined the Dutch Underground in assisting Jews to escape.

When the German army invaded and occupied Holland, the Nazis banned Corrie’s girls’ clubs, and heavy restrictions fell upon the Jews of Holland. Corrie helped secure food ration cards that were only supposed to be given to non-Jews. Corrie took the illegally gained ration cards and distributed them to help feed the Jews in hiding.

When the ten Booms were sheltering a family with a baby, the pastor of a church outside Haarlem visited them. When asked if the pastor would shelter the baby’s family in his home for the next step of their journey to freedom, the pastor replied, “Definitely not! We could lose our lives for that Jewish child!” Corrie’s father Casper ten Boom picked up the baby and held it tenderly in his arms, “You say we could lose our lives for this child. I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family.”

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The ten Boom family not only hid the Jews but honored the Jewish culture and faith. The entire household kept the Sabbath. They celebrated Hanukkah. The graciousness of these Jews and Christians living intimately together (under grave threat) brought much joy and even humor amid the fear and anxiety.

In February 1944, someone betrayed the family to the German Gestapo. The house was raided, and a trap set to seize anyone who came to the house throughout the day. Thirty people were arrested, but the hiding place was not found. The four Jews and two Dutch Underground workers who had been hustled into the hiding place stayed in that cramped wall cavity for two days until the Underground finally rescued them.

Corrie ten Boom and her family were taken to a series of prisons and concentration camps. Her father died within ten days at Scheveningen Prison. Corrie’s nephew died in Bergen-Belsen. Her brother Willem died shortly after the war from tuberculosis he contracted in prison. Corrie and her sister Betsie were sent to the notorious Ravensbruck concentration camp where Betsie died. On December 30, 1944, Corrie ten Boom was freed on what appeared to be a clerical error. She spent the rest of the war recovering from the deprivations she had suffered.

God’s Plan

Following the war, Corrie established rehabilitation centers for disabled people and for survivors of the Nazi concentration camps and prisons. Surely you know of Corrie ten Boom and her message of forgiveness and reconciliation that became the “key which unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of bitterness.”

One woman.

 

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Ready, Set, Go!

It was hot in Greeley, Colorado last Friday. Mid-90s. We turned out to watch the events at Rocky Mountain Senior Games where athletes age 50-plus compete in events from Bowling to Pickle Ball. Swimming might have been nice—or something indoors away from the sun.

Wanting to be supportive of a visiting friend, I trundled off to watch him compete in Track and Field events. It was encouraging and interesting and inspiring. Some athletes make the national circuit of these games and travel from one state to another. They make everything look smooth and effortless, they have the right clothes, expensive shoes, and win medals. Others look like they are on their last breath, run humorously, and shoot to the finish line with amazing speed. Some limp along with blistered feet, slipping knee braces, and purple faces. All are medal winners from my perspective.

They got out there and  tried. They took the steps. Like the photo below. The woman was ninety years old. The 50-meter run began with “Mark, Set, Bang!” Within a few seconds, everyone was across the finish line. All but this woman, who calmly walked with her trekking poles. Unhurried, unworried by her speed–or its lack. Step, step.

She finished to applause. Tears dribbled down my cheeks and off my nose.

Wonder what we could do if we gave up on the excuses?

 

 

Different…Not Less

If you were to build a perfect society, how would you build it? What you include in it would be telling. But perhaps more revealing would be what you might exclude from that perfect world.

What kind of society might result from endorsing a belief that a society without disabled people is “perfect?” Voices like mine  will, no doubt,  be dismissed as the whining of a ‘special interest’ group. I have never been able to understand why. I am frightened of the times that seem to be coming. Societies with goals of eliminating the birth of children with Down Syndrome—not the cause, mind you, the births. Perceptions of beauty as shallow as Hollywood noses and dental veneers.

Dr. Temple Grandin didn’t talk until she was three and a half years old, communicating frustration instead by screaming, peeping, and humming. In 1950, she was diagnosed with autism, and her parents were told that she should be institutionalized. Yet she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology and both masters and doctoral degrees in animal science.

For the past decades, Dr. Grandin has  been a professor at Colorado State University. She tells her story in her book Emergence: Labeled Autistic, a book which stunned the world because, until its publication, most professionals and parents assumed that an autism diagnosis was virtually a death sentence to achievement or productivity in life.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. From Stephen Hawking, a man in a wheelchair who can’t speak and is one of the smartest people in the world to Francesco Clark, a quadriplegic and CEO of a beauty product company, don’t ever think a disability means someone who is not impressive or successful.

What a tragedy when those who think themselves “normal” (read “superior”) fail to see the rich lives of the disabled.  What darkness lurks in hearts who are uncomfortable or even fear those who are different in some way…what ignorance to live that way for a lifetime. We are all imperfect human beings. Disability can happen to anyone.

Tell your children that they don’t need to fit in to feel good about themselves, and use the lives of the disabled as examples.

Henri Nouwen wrote of how God reveals himself through the reality of disability. Without trying to romanticize the complexity and hardship of any disability…

I suddenly realized that Adam was not just a disabled person, less human than me or other people. He was a fully human being, so fully human that God even chose him to become the instrument of His love. He was so vulnerable, so weak, so empty, that he became just heart, the heart where God wanted to dwell, where He wanted to stay and where He wanted to speak to those who came close to His vulnerable heart. Adam was a full human being, not half human or less human.

 

 

The title of this post comes  a book by Temple Grandin.

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