“… if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.”- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
I recently found a great article about Corrie Ten Boom by Elizabeth Sherrill, co-author of The Hiding Place. One of the running themes was a phrase that Corrie’s father, Casper had said to her on one of her birthdays: “The best is yet to be.” This would become a sort of mantra for her in her life to come, assuring her through the dark times at hand.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Corrie’s life to me is that she was not infallible, and made no attempt to prove otherwise. In her books, she names many instances of her frailty when learning normal life lessons that we all can relate to. She was not super human. She did, however, possess the ability to learn from her mistakes, and ask for strength when she needed it. From her first experience with illness and death, to the loss of her only romantic, and unrequited, love, she managed to turn heartbreak into something useful over and over again. When she did not have the tools to do this on her own, she had the faith to know where to turn. While crying of a broken heart at age 21, as any person would do, Casper comforted her by urging her to use it. “There are two things we can do when this happens. we can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.” She acknowledges that this was a much larger lesson than her father could possibly have known.
Perhaps her resilience was also due in part to her having to fight for survival from her first breath. Corrie’s mother was chronically ill, and had already lost the third of the five children she had. When Corrie was born, doctors did not expect her to survive. Relatives only hoped for a merciful death for the fifth baby. She not only pulled through, but surpassed expectations and went on to live an extraordinary life.
When Corrie was released from the concentration camp, she used her love for her late sister Betsie to fulfill their dream of rehabilitation centers for holocaust survivors. This was not limited to prisoners, however, as Betsie saw both sides as victims. This was not an easy idea to absorb for Corrie, even when she encountered it face to face. After a speaking engagement in Germany, a former guard from Ravensbruck, where she had been imprisoned, approached her, asking her forgiveness. She explains, “And I stood there- I whose sins had every day to be forgiven- and could not. ” So, she prayed, and asked for strength. “And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion…Forgiveness is an act of will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
Instead of clinging to bitterness, she focused that energy on keeping Betsie’s ambition alive. Corrie was able to heal through helping others to do the same. When former Dutch informants were met with resistance in the work force, she aided in helping them find employment. When she had secured a home to start her first rehabilitation center, she continued to gather volunteers and raise money to open a larger one. At one point, this took her to New York. At 54, with $50 to her name, she boarded a steamer to the U.S. to pound the pavement. At first, this proved unsuccessful. Though she was staying at a YMCA, and living on one meal a day (coffee, a doughnut, and orange juice) she knew that she had experienced worse, and would look forward to better. Eventually, she started booking speaking engagements. Three years later, Darmstadt, a former concentration camp, was opened as a rehabilitation facility that lasted 11 years.
Corrie’s combination of determination and humility got her through countless horrors, and more victories. She was a living example of the evolution of love, and of the greatest strengths sometimes being found by facing our weaknesses. Our losses can become our assets. If we let them.