Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Thorns and Roses on the Journey

 I remember sitting in church as a child hearing the story of Paul’s thorn in the flesh:

2 Corinthians 12:7 : "... a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited."

I recall trying to figure out exactly what Paul’s thorn was. Did he have a barb stuck in his foot? Maybe one leg was shorter than the other so he walked like Frankenstein. Did he break out in hives whenever he had to preach? Was it migraines?  Or perhaps he suffered from the heartbreak of psoriasis! This curious kid just had to know, and she was somewhat annoyed that no one had the answer.

Later in life, I realized that that was the point. We aren’t supposed to identify Paul’s thorn because we each have our own unique thorn, our own type of brokenness. We are supposed to model Paul’s acceptance and fill in the blank with our own thorn.

One of the people I admire most, Richard Wurmbrand, was a Christian minister in communist Romania. In his book "Tortured for Christ" he describes his multiple imprisonments, torture, and the persecution of his family. He suffered unimaginable physical pain as well as many cruel indignities. 

Another person I greatly admire is Mary McCleod Bethune.  Bethune, an educator who lived at the turn of the century, was burdened by the lack of educational opportunities for African Americans, particularly the girls. She rented a house and started her own school, soliciting door to door, asking for wood crates and donations of furniture. They used charcoal for pencils and crushed berries for ink. 

Probably, the person I admire who has influenced me the most is Bill Wilson. His thorn was uncontrollable alcoholism that tried to steal his health, his family, and his livelihood. One day in 1935 Bill accepted that he couldn’t drink safely anymore and he called his friend Bob. They met together to share their common problem and seek a spiritual solution.

All of these thorny examples have one thing in commonthey sprouted roses! Like oysters that require an irritant to grow a pearl, they produced beauty from pain.

Richard Wurmbrand's thorn of torture eventually produced the worldwide organization "The Voice of the Martyrs". The VOM has a network of offices that support persecuted churches around the globe.

Bethune's thorn of prejudice spurred her tireless efforts that won her national recognition from President Franklin D. Roosevelt and led to the founding of Bethune-Cookman College, later to become Behtune-Cookman University.

Bill's thorn of alcoholism gave birth to a global fellowship that has helped millions recover from hopeless addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous is a program that now serves 117,000 groups in approximately 170 countries. AA is so successful that judges regularly sentence offenders to attend meetings rather than go to jail

My thorn is tremendous loss. First I lost my teenage son,Chris, to cancer, then the recession devastated our financial stability, and finally, last year we lost our other son, Jarrod.

 I haven’t built any schools or started any worldwide organizations, but I’m gradually learning  how to cultivate the roses.

One of my roses has been staying sober through all of my tragedies(Thank you Bill!). Others in the rooms of recovery have told me that I have inspired them.

Another of my roses has been my writing. I have received emails from folks telling me that my books have helped them.

But I still struggle, and probably will for a long time. The gentle scent of  the roses keeps me going. I remind myself that Jesus Christ wore a crown of thorns as he secured for us our place in eternity. There I bet the roses bloom year around!

So what is your thorn? Have the roses stated budding? I would love to hear about it. Please post a comment.