This morning I looked back at the emails I sent around Thanksgiving 2008, just to refresh my memory about where we were at this time last year. Hannah had completed her second round of radiation treatments about a month previously, and we were still waiting for her bone marrow to rebound enough to start her new chemotherapy treatment. Her blood counts were still extremely low, and she was getting weekly blood transfusions, and almost daily platelet infusions. The chemo treatments were our last hope, medically speaking, for Hannah's survival. Hannah was feeling pretty good at Thanksgiving time last year...the "ground-up glass" feeling in her throat from the radiation treatments had diminished, and her sense of taste was just beginning to return, so she really enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner. It was an excruciatingly difficult time for us, though, as we were seeing daily indications that without a miraculous intervention from God, she was leaving us, little by little.
This year, I find myself with many things to be thankful for. I am thankful for my wonderful, godly husband, and my beautiful, healthy daughter. I am thankful for our extended family, and the many friends who have loved us and prayed us through the difficult months of the recent past. I am thankful for the 17 1/2 years we had with our precious daughter, Hannah, who has been a resident of Heaven nine months tomorrow. And most of all, I am thankful for Jesus's sacrifice, so that we will all be reunited in Heaven some day.
I am not a big fan of forwarded emails, often just deleting them without reading them. But, when I received this one a few months ago, I was struck by the truth it contained and I decided to save it and pass it on at the appropriate time. As I consider my blessings this Thanksgiving, I want to try to be thankful for my thorns.
"Sandra felt as low as the heels of her shoes when she pulled open the florist shop door, against a November gust of wind. Her life had been as sweet as a spring breeze and then, in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a "minor" automobile accident stole her joy. This was Thanksgiving week and the time she should have delivered their infant son. She grieved over their loss.
Troubles had multiplied. Her husband's company "threatened" to transfer his job to a new location. Her sister had called to say that she could not come for her long awaited holiday visit. What's worse, Sandra's friend suggested that Sandra's grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer. "She has no idea what I'm feeling," thought Sandra 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 her child's?
"Good afternoon, can I help you?" Sandra was startled by the approach of the shop clerk. "I . . . I need an arrangement," stammered Sandra. "...For Thanksgiving. I'm convinced that flowers tell stories, "she continued.
"Are you looking for something that conveys 'gratitude' this Thanksgiving?" the shop clerk asked.
"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 clerk said, "I have the perfect arrangement for you."
Then the bell on the door rang, and the clerk greeted the new customer, "Hi, Barbara, let me get your order." She excused herself and walked back to a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and what appeared to be long-stemmed thorny roses. Except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped: there were no flowers.
"Do you want these in a box?" asked the clerk. Sandra watched...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, as she gently tapped her chest and left.
Sandra stammered, "Ummm, that lady just left with . .. . uh . . .she left with no flowers!" "That's right," said the clerk. "I cut off the flowers. That's the 'Special'. I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet. Barbara came into the shop three years ago, feeling much as you do today," explained the clerk. "She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had just lost her father to cancer; the family business was failing; her son had gotten into drugs; and she was facing major surgery. That same year I had lost my husband," continued the clerk. "For the first time in my life, I had to spend the holidays alone. I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too much 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 the good things in my life and I never questioned Him why those good things happened to me, but when the bad stuff hit, I cried out, 'Why? Why me?!' It took time for me to learn that the dark times are important to our faith! I have always enjoyed the 'flowers' of my life, but it took the 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 what 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."
Just then someone else walked in the shop. "Hey, Phil!" the clerk greeted the balding, rotund man. "My wife sent me in to get our usual Thanksgiving arrangement . . twelve thorny, long-stemmed stems!" laughed Phil, as the clerk handed him a tissue wrapped arrangement from the refrigerator.
"Those are for your wife?" asked Sandra incredulously. "Do you mind telling me why she wants a bouquet that looks like that?"
"Four years ago, my wife and I nearly divorced," Phil replied."After forty years, we were in a real mess, but with the Lord's grace and guidance, we trudged through problem after problem. The Lord rescued our marriage. Jenny here (the clerk) told me she kept a vase of rose stems to remind her of what she had learned from "thorny" times. That was good enough for me. I took home some of those stems. My wife and I decided to label each one for a specific "problem" and give thanks for what that problem taught us." As Phil paid the clerk, he said to Sandra,"I highly recommend the Special!"
"I don't know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life,"Sandra said to the clerk. "It's all too . . . fresh."
"Well," the clerk replied carefully, "my experience has shown me that the thorns make the roses more precious. We treasure God'sprovidential care more during trouble than at any other time. Remember that 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 her resentment.. "I'll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please," she managed to choke out.
"I hoped you would," said the clerk gently. "I'll have them ready in a minute." As the clerk presented the bouquet of thorns, Sandra said, "Thank you. What do I owe you?" The clerk replied, "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."
It read: "My 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 the roses; thank Him for the thorns.