Undoubtedly, most of you reading this post have experienced a major life event you might describe as being more of a “thorn” than a blessing. We don’t like the thorns. They’re sharp and often draw blood. They might leave bruising or an infection that takes time to heal. They make it difficult to handle life. Sometimes it’s best if you wear protective gloves or clothing when working around them.
But there are priceless, life-growing lessons to be learned from blood-drawing thorns, and joy can result from them. For it is in life’s thorns that we usually learn the most about ourselves, the world and grow the most.
This post is focused on Thanksgiving, a special holiday we will celebrate here in the United States on Thursday, November 26. It focuses our hearts on what we’re thankful for: family, friends, and life events. While we probably wouldn’t think about celebrating or giving thanks for the thorns in our lives, they may be the first and most important things we should look to and have at the top of our “I’m thankful for…” list.
Thanksgiving is special to me. It should be, since I’m a direct descendant of two of the Pilgrims who sailed to America in 1620 from England—a little band of mostly like-minded, pioneers who desired to worship God without fear, persecution, or worldly influences, and who sneaked away from England on a tiny boat to bravely start life over in another world. (As a side note, do not confuse Pilgrims with Puritans. The Pilgrims were Separatists: they wanted to separate from the church to worship their own way. The Puritans, in contrast, wanted to purify—not separate from—the Church of England.)
When I think back to that first Thanksgiving—the three-day feast the Pilgrims celebrated with the Indians—I wonder just how many of them were thinking “I’m thankful.” Were they doing it with humble, joyful, or sober hearts? Or humble, joyful AND thankful?
Certainly, they were thankful for the Indians, one of whom intervened early to teach them how to add fish to the soil to improve its growing condition. Massachusetts was not where they had intended to set up house. Farther down the coast in what is now the state of Virginia had been the plan. But they arrived too late in the season and had to settle for the more northern location. They also missed planting adequately for the upcoming growing season, in Massachusetts’s terra that wasn’t prime crop-growing soil. Then, most of their tiny band was decimated in the first six months by disease, starvation and freezing temperatures.
And this is where it gets personal. My great-great-great, etc., etc., etc. Pilgrim grandmother, Priscilla Mullins, arrived at Plymouth in Massachusetts with her brother and their parents, ready and excited to start a new life. Within months, the teenager’s mother, father, and 14-year-old brother had been buried, along with so many others, in unmarked graves. By the end of the winter, 102 had died; fifty-three had survived, including only four adult women out of the original eighteen. Priscilla was suddenly a young orphan in a strange land.
A year later, during that first Thanksgiving feast, what could she have been thankful for?
Was she at all thankful for the thorns in her life?
About fifteen years ago, I started deliberately thanking God for the thorns He’s brought me, or allowed in my life, because it’s been in and through these thorns that I’ve grown the most emotionally and spiritually.
My thorns remind me that I’m really a helpless, puny human without much control over my life, although I often entertain, placate and blind myself by thinking I have more control than I do. The thorns keep me humble, relying on Something. Someone greater than myself.
My thorns still hurt. After all, thorns make you bleed. And they can leave nasty scars. Yet they remind you where you’ve been and what you’ve survived and where you should be going.
What I will now write, what I have told others, will shock or disgust some of you and cause others to nod their heads in collective understanding: As much as I still grieve over my infant daughter’s death, as much as I still long to have her and day-dream about her possible life, and mentally replay the dreams I had for her, I am grateful – thankful – that I walked that dark, horrible road, because doing so brought me into vivid, eternal life, with the Supreme give of life. Life in the here and now, and life in the eternal. *
I’d like to think that it really didn’t need to happen that way, but in my heart, I know it did. I would have kept going just as I was, with one foot in the world and the other on a spiritual banana peel. I’m thankful for those thorns. They remind me to Whom I belong. And they remind me that I will one day see my daughter face-to-face and rejoice. They give me one more reason to look forward to heaven.
So what was Priscilla Mullins thankful for that cold fall day? I can only guess. Even though she was a firm believer in God, His word and His promises, I suspect she went through the normal stages of grief that all of us encounter: shock, denial, anger. Being a Christian doesn’t make you immune to suffering the affects of death and profound loss. Being a Christian means that when you grieve differently. You grieve with hope.
Priscilla probably sat at the table, thanking God for His protection over her and the other survivors, for the memory of her parents and brother, for the hope of the future, and probably for the new man in her life, John Alden, with whom she would have ten children and produce more descendants in the United States than any other Pilgrims. I often think of her and wonder if her unwavering faith and prayers for her children and children’s children paved the way for the blessings I’ve received in my life, that my blessings may indeed be the result of her generational faithfulness. For that, I also give thanks.
As my older son said to me the other day, “I wouldn’t change a thing about my life. I don’t regret any of the mistakes or the problems. Because they all make me the person I am today.”
I want to leave you with a couple of questions to ponder this week:
What are the thorns you have experienced in your life?
Is it possible for you to be thankful for them?
If so, offer up thanks to the One who heals and encourages and loves you with an everlasting love. The One who wants to prune and cultivate your thorns into joy!
May you give thanks this Thanksgiving Day—for everything in your life!
Until next week,
Thanks for joining me!
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