“The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad” (Psalm 118:23-24).

Philip Yancey brings to us the journal of a young Jewish girl, Etty Hilllesum, who wrote of her dialogue with God in the Auschwitz concentration camp. “Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on Your earth, my eyes raised toward Your Heaven, tears run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude.” Yancey says that Etty knew the horrors of the death camp, still she wrote in her journal, “I want to be right there in the thick of what people call horror and still be able to say, life is beautiful. Yes, I lie here in a corner, parched and dizzy and feverish and unable to do a thing. Yet I am also with the jasmine and the piece of sky beyond my window.”

Even though many of us enjoy health, plenty of open sky, and unlimited freedom, we often express less gratitude than Etty did for the wonders of God’s creation. It’s hard for us to imagine this young woman’s remarkable spirit and depth of prayer in her tragic situation. Yet the crucible of horrendous circumstances is what sometimes creates unusual spiritual strength.

Prison chaplains speak of prisoners finding faith in the trauma of imprisonment. Some prisoners have even said, “Thank God for prison.” Thousands of believers behind bars live out their faith with passionate prayer. Philip Yancey expresses awe at Etty’s “defiant faith” and he quotes her triumph conclusion: “Once you have begun to walk with God, you need only keep on walking with God and all of life becomes one big stroll—a marvelous feeling.”

Adapted from The One Year Book of Encouragement