The Thorn is Not a Thorn

Today is a day of thorns.

When this story goes to post it will be Good Friday, the day commemorated in Christianity as a day of fasting and penance for the torture and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

We remember Christ in his sufferings and call it “good” not because of what he endured but why he endured it.

Since the very beginning of time, God planned to send his only Son into the world to redeem and bring back to himself what was lost and stolen by sin (John 3:16-17). We as a people stepped away from him, but God stepped two steps towards us.

When Jesus Christ came into the world, this promised Messiah, this prophesied King and Redeemer, was expected to come with a mighty army to overthrow the Roman rule–but he didn’t. He was expected to overthrow physical restraints on his people, topple Rome and make Israel politically free–but he didn’t. Instead, Christ preached about freedom of hearts and minds–freedom that can’t be taken or shaken by circumstances.

Jesus was expected to be mighty and physically strong, yet he came as a baby needing the help of others. All hope seemed lost at the end, on Good Friday, when he hung defeated and dead on a cross. A crown of thorns pierced his head and mocked the idea that he was a king at all.

Christ wasn’t the only one to bear thorns.

Thorns became a metaphor, following Good Friday, of putting up with some crippling difficulty.

The Apostle Paul wrote about it in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. He had something he had to wrestle with that bothered him so much that he prayed for God to remove it. We still don’t know what Paul wrestled with, but the response to his prayer stands true still: God shows his power through our weaknesses.

Today, we haven’t gotten away from the crown of thorns.

One of the strongest women I know comes from the hills of Kentucky. Though she has traveled the world and lived in other cultures like Japan, she still has the pluck of a mountain woman. All the time I have known this ginger-haired woman, she has been thin and frail. While she worried about feeding her children, they worried about putting meat on her bones. Even as a teenager, you could lift her feet off the ground with a good bear hug. When you thought she couldn’t get skinnier, she got sick, couldn’t eat, and lost more weight. She developed COPD and struggled to breathe, but she kept smoking.

One day, I stepped outside to light a cigarette, and I went to take in a breath of air, and I couldn’t get one. I literally couldn’t breathe.

Betty Eubank

That was the end of cigarettes for Betty. Still, it didn’t resolve her COPD. There were expensive treatments ahead but no cure. The disease itself was painful; medicine could at least ease in that. Still, for the most part, Betty rejected it.

How can I call this a Thorn in my flesh when I look at all Christ went through for me? This little bit of stuff I deal with is nothing compared to that.

Betty Eubank

Instead of worrying about her disease, Betty focused on her faith. She turned to Christ and developed a deep faith and patient trust in God’s will for her life. She doesn’t fear COPD. In fact, most days she barely acknowledges it. If she is in pain, she doesn’t talk about it. Instead, she lets her weakness remind her of Christ and all he has done to reconnect her with the love of the God that made her.

SPOILER ALERT: Christ doesn’t stay dead on a cross. He ends up coming back to life after three days in a burial tomb. He walked and talked and was seen by others for a short time. Then he went to Heaven to prepare a place there for all that believe in him and choose him as Lord. The end was just the beginning.

What end are you facing in your life today?

What thorn stands between you and happiness? Pray and ask God to help you through your weakness.

If you are still not sure about this Jesus, it is not too late to get to know him. Read what he did in the Bible’s Gospel of John. The heart of the Father in Heaven is to love you and restore a relationship with you. It has never been to condemn you. Return to Him today.

Christmas Time Blues, Doubts, And A Hard Lesson In Valuing Your Health

This Christmas is not setting itself up to be one of my best ones, and it’s not because of what I’m about to tell you. It’s because so far this Christmas season, I have bought all my presents but not wrapped a one. I never found an ugly Christmas sweater to wear to the party, so I was completely left out of the photos. I’ve missed almost every Christmas song on the radio, been too busy-or sick-to decorate, and lost out on all my Christmas parties (even the ones I planned myself). It’s warmer than Autumn, most days this December, it’s not feeling like Christmas at all.

Christmas starts to feel like Christmas to me when the first cup of cider is poured in November, and the craft bazaars start popping up everywhere for early shoppers. This is my favorite time of year, and it excites me almost as much as Christmas morning, because this is the time I get to support local artists and buy gifts for the ones that I love. When we gather and give thanks at Thanksgiving, it just preps my heart more for the appreciation and love to come. The bright lights, the displays, and the holiday specials all feel magical to me. Christmas music and movies on constant play while I’m swimming in hot chocolate and gift wrap is…well…divine. Without all this cheer, all I hear is, “I’ll have a blue…Christmas.”

A Serious Wake Up Call

In the middle of my bustling, busy life, I got a serious wake-up call. I walked out the door, ten days before Christmas, excited to finally be going to a Christmas party, and my leg gave way beneath me. I fall on the steps and cried out for help. Help comes running, and I got back up only to feel my legs crumble again inside the house. I rested a moment, and looked at the clock; I was missing the party.

The shades of blue deepened in my heart. Again I tried to get up and leave. This time I made it to my car and fell completely on the cold, hard ground. I could feel the cold but nothing more, and I got scared. This falling business could be serious. I pulled myself up with a cane and my car wheel, but couldn’t hold it. My right leg was complete jello. All the strength of my left side was not enough to pick up Humpty Dumpty again. This time my cry for help would require a team of EMS workers to lift me.

With the arms of EMS gripped around me, I thought of my students. So many of them have expressed a desire to be EMS someday. I held on to the man closest to me–a volunteer first responder, a neighbor whose name I still don’t know. I let him be my legs that would get me to the stretcher and the ambulance and the hospital while I text work and my students what to do while their teacher missed class.

All Too Familiar

Six months before this moment, I was doing the same thing only much more damaged and covered in blood. I was hit by a van and spun down the highway three times. My brand new car was totalled. My face was cut and permanently scarred. My back was severely shaken out of alignment. Yet, I survived.

I remember thinking, in those few seconds of white as I spun down the road, “God, is this going to be it? This can’t be it. I’ve got so much left to do in the world.”

Then I thought about the tractor-trailer. Where was it? It had been right behind me before I was hit. I closed my eyes and braced for a second impact. “Oh God, Oh Jesus, please help me!”

I knew I would most likely not survive that blow. As my car spun out, I thought about my loved ones and how it would hurt them. I thought of all the things I left unsaid. I thought about my job, my goals, and my dreams. I wasn’t ready for the end.

Then suddenly, the car stopped. I opened my car door and tried to get out as quickly as possible. If I was still in the road, I didn’t want to be hit again. But I was not in the road. Somehow, I had been spun around enough to put me facing oncoming traffic but resting safely on the side grass a few feet beside the road sign.

This was God’s answer: Not yet.

Temptation To Doubt God

Landing back in the hospital, my thoughts spiraled.

“Are you sure, God? If I have a purpose not yet done in this world, why bring me more pain and suffering? How can that further your cause?”

I questioned God, but I didn’t get angry. I didn’t understand the purpose in the pain, but I remembered that we were never promised a struggle-free life.

In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world. –John 16:33 NIV

Four hours later lying immobile in the hospital bed, a CT scan revealed that I had a herniated disc in my lumbar spine. I left with heavy drugs, possible surgery, and weeks of required time off work. When it was all said and done, my body reset itself, and I learned a hard lesson in paying attention to my health.

But in the moment…all I had was the hope that God really was in control.

I wrote this poem:

Now my Christmas may be less active and bright.

I may be seeing your lights from a distance tonight.

I will be sending you gifts of hope and cheer,

while you celebrate with all who are near.

As you open your gifts, there’s one gift I hope we can share:

It’s the gift of the Christ child on Calvary’s snare.

What meant to kill and steal him from the Earth,

Gave to us our second birth.

Merry Christmas!