Thursday, November 17, 2005

Roses and Thorns

“Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” ~I Chronicles 16:34 (NKJV)

“Happiness is to be found along the way, not at the end of the road, for then the journey is over and it’s too late. Today, this hour, this minute is the day, the hour the minute for each of us to sense the fact that life is good, with all its trials and troubles, and perhaps more interesting because of them.” ~ Robert R. Updegraff, author of "Be Thankful For Your Troubles"

The other day I saw a story about a little girl who was born without the ability to feel pain. At first her parents thought it would be a blessing, but they soon learned that it was much more like a curse. For example, when their daughter was teething, she nearly chewed the ends of her fingers right off. And when she got older, she received third degree burns from grabbing a hot light bulb. The girl’s mother stated that no one realizes how important it is to be able to feel pain, and how necessary it is to our physical well-being.

While pain of any kind is unpleasant – whether physical or emotional – it is that very pain which stretches our faith, making us stronger and more equipped to face the next trial that comes our way. These painful experiences also help keep our hearts tender, so that we’re in a better position to extend compassion to others who are facing difficult situations in their own lives.

“Tonight Keen was talking about how he treasures our walks and the times we’ve danced on the patio. Then I said, ‘But do you know what’s sad? There would have been so much more of that, if there had only been less of this,’ (the lawsuit). Then Keen replied, ‘But would it have been as sweet? If we’d never climbed the mountains, would we appreciate the plains?” ~ Journal entry, 1996 (after the lawsuit settled)

I hope that the following story and poem will serve as gentle reminders for all of us to maintain an attitude of thanksgiving to God, even in the midst of our darkest hours.

Thanksgiving Bouquet
Author Unknown

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her Birkenstocks as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door. Her life had been easy, like a spring breeze. Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole her ease.

During this Thanksgiving week she would have delivered a son. She grieved over her loss. As if that weren't enough, her husband's company threatened a transfer. Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called to say she could not come. What's worse, Sandra was infuriated by a friend’s suggestion that her grief was a God-given path to maturity which would allow her to empathize with others who suffer. "She has no idea what I'm feeling," Sandra thought with a shudder.

Thanksgiving? Thankful for what, she wondered. For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear ended her? For an airbag that saved her life but took that of her unborn child?

"Good afternoon, may I help you?" The shop clerk's approach startled her.

"I....I need an arrangement," stammered Sandra.

"For Thanksgiving? Do you want beautiful but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call ‘the Thanksgiving Special?’ the clerk asked. "I'm convinced that flowers tell stories," she continued. "Are you looking for something that conveys gratitude this Thanksgiving?"

"Not exactly!" Sandra blurted out. "In the last five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong." Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the shop clerk said, "I have the perfect arrangement for you."

Then the door's small bell rang, and the shop clerk said, "Hi, Barbara...let me get your order." She politely excused herself and walked toward a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses – except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped and there were no flowers.

Sandra watched for the customer's response. Was this a joke? Who would want rose stems with no flowers! She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed. "Yes, please," Barbara replied with an appreciative smile. "You'd think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn't be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again,” she said, gently tapping her chest.

"Uh," stammered Sandra, "that lady just left with....she just left with no flowers!"

“That’s right," said the clerk. "I cut the flowers off. That's the Special. I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet."

"Oh, come on, you can't tell me someone is willing to pay for that!" exclaimed Sandra.

"Barbara came into the shop three years ago feeling much like you do today," explained the clerk. "She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, her son was into drugs, and she was facing major surgery.” “That same year I lost my husband," continued the clerk, "and for the first time in my life, I had just spent the holidays alone. I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow any travel."

"So what did you do?" asked Sandra.

"I learned to be thankful for thorns," answered the clerk quietly. "I've always thanked God for good things in life and never asked Him why those good things happened to me. But when the bad stuff hit, boy, did I ever ask! It took time for me to learn that dark times are important. I have always enjoyed the 'flowers' of life, but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God's comfort. You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we're afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others."

Sandra sucked in her breath as she thought about the very thing her friend had tried to tell her. "I guess the truth is that I don't want comfort. I've lost a baby and I'm angry with God. I don't know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life. It’s all too...fresh."

“Well,” the clerk replied carefully, "my experience has shown me that thorns make roses more precious. We treasure God's providential care more during trouble than at any other time. Remember, it was a crown of thorns that Jesus wore so we might know His love. Don't resent the thorns."

Tears rolled down Sandra's cheeks. For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on resentment. "I'll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please.”

"I hoped you would," said the clerk gently. "I'll have them ready in a minute."

"Thank you. What do I owe you?"

"Oh, nothing. Nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart. The first year's arrangement is always on me." The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra. "I'll attach this card to your arrangement, but maybe you would like to read it first."

“Dear God, I have never thanked You for my thorns. I have thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed closer to You along the path of pain. Show me that, through my tears, the colors of Your rainbow look much more brilliant."

Praise Him for your roses; thank Him for your thorns.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” ~ II Corinthians 1:3,4 (NKJV)

The following poem was written by my friend, Pat Barrett, who has graciously allowed me to share it with you.(She also took the above photograph.) Pat is an amazing woman of strength, who recently suffered the loss of her younger brother to lymphoma. Yet, in the midst of her pain, Pat was still able to write this inspiring poem of thanksgiving. God bless you, Pat.

Thanks and Joy Always
By Patricia Kohls Barrett

Yearly we have a special time
To thank you and pray
But you want a thankful life
Joy and thanksgiving every day

Your will for us in Christ
Is to pray through good and bad
Not just when we are pleased
But also when scared or sad

When we think of benefits
Of having you as our God
There’s much reason for joy
As on this earth we trod

We often disappoint you
Still perfectly you love
You shower many blessings
From your throne up above

You loved before we knew You
Planned salvation free and clear
To send Christ to the cross
So we never need to fear

When we have the hard times
You are with us all the way
You will turn them to our good
As in the promise you did say

To keep a joyful heart
We must keep in your Word
We’ll get the peace and comfort
From what we’ve seen and heard

Through this the Spirit fills us
With happiness and peace
To soothe our pain and sorrow
Our complaining to cease.

He will lead us to look
For the good in the bad
To concentrate and focus
On what we have, not had

If we keep in his Word
We can be joyful each day
And pray without ceasing
And do things His way

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” ~ I Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV