Roses and Thorns

A few years ago, our pastor shared this story (written by our visitation pastor) in our Thanksgiving service. It touched my heart then, and every time I read it, my eyes fill with tears as I consider the truth of it all. I share this story with you on the eve of Thanksgiving 2011 as a reminder that in the midst of the things we need to be thankful for, we must thank God for the thorns He places in our lives, whether or not we understand why they are there. Be blessed, my friends.

 “Why me, Lord?”

This question has been asked many times when days of perplexity and confusion arise. We all have gone through circumstances that were beyond our ability to explain. We begin to wonder if God really loves us or if we are one of His children. Why must we go through such difficult times? This is a question that always looms up before us.

When we have tried to give of our best service to the Lord, shouldn’t we expect Him to shield us from such trying experiences? After all, it is not uncommon to find the unbeliever going through easy times while we are struggling with a huge pile of grief.

“Why me, Lord?”

This is perhaps the most frequent question that has been asked of me during my years of ministry. It is undoubtedly one of the most difficult ones to answer adequately for the one who is suffering.

I recently came across and interesting approach to this subject in a Christian publication. I thought the answer and the conclusion is one that we need to face squarely to put our problems into perspective.

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 saying she could not come. What’s worse, Sandra’s friend infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to sympathize 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 that of her child?

“Good afternoon, can 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?” asked the shop clerk. “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 shop’s door 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: there were no flowers on the ends

“Want this in a box?” asked the clerk.

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 as she gently tapped her chest.

“Uh,” stammered Sandra, “that lady just left with, uh…she just left with no flowers!”

“Right, said the clerk, “I cut off the flowers. 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 feel 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 had lost my husband,” continued the clerk, “and for the first time in my life, 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 to ask Him why those good things happened to me, but when bad stuff hit, 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 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!” shouted the clerk to 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 me asking why she wants something that looks like that?”

“No…I’m glad you asked,” Phil replied. “Four years ago my wife and I nearly divorced. After forty years, we were in a real mess, but with the Lord’s grace and guidance, we slogged through problem after problem. He rescued our marriage. Jenny here (the clerk) told me she kept a vase of rose stems to remind her of what she learned from “thorny” times, and 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 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,” she managed to choke out.

“I hoped you would,” said the clerk gently. “I’ll have them ready in a minute.”

“Thank you. What do I owe you?”

“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 your roses, thank Him for your thorns.

Have you thanked God for the thorns in your life? Have you learned lessons from them?

Pastor Paul Eldridge

Defining the Core

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Anyone interested in fitness lingo, or has sustained a back injury, has likely encountered a therapist or fitness enthusiast who loves telling people about the importance of “the Core.”  This mysterious and powerfully functional aspect of the body has nothing do with eating apples, and everything to do with developing efficient & stable muscles.  Although professionals tend to overuse the word, the idea behind core stabilization remains significant, and understanding it can help individuals develop muscle strength, and reduce injury risk.  Today we’ll look at a basic “core” definition, explain some reasons for it’s importance, and provide a few basic exercises to help develop the area.

In Certified News of American Council on Exercise (ACE) June/July 2008, contributer Fabio Comana, M.A, M.S. describes the core as “the ability to control the position and motion of the trunk relative to the pelvis and legs (9). ” This means that the core of the body functions the same way as a building foundation; it provides stabilization for the major muscle groups (back, pelvis, legs).  The strength & efficiency of these major muscle groups contributes to postural control, balance, coordination and overall movement.   Incorporating core exercises into daily regiments can greatly enhance functional activities, as well as overall health.

The authors of the Second Edition of The Essentials of Strength & Conditioning define core exercises as those which “recruit one or more large muscle areas (i.e. chest, shoulder, back, hip, or thigh), involve two or more primary joints, and receive priority when selecting exercises because of their direct application to the sport.” This definition may appear somewhat vague, until compared with the idea of “assistance exercises,” exercises that recruit smaller muscles (neck, biceps) and involve only one primary joint (Baechle & Earle 398).  Single-joint exercises include some basics, like bicep curls, knee extensions, shoulder rows, ab crunches & neck circles.

Core exercises, on the other hand, involve the cooperation of 2+ large muscle groups, and can work in several planes.  A lunge, for example, is a core exercise because when performed correctly, it recruits the quadriceps muscles as the knee flexes, and also the glute muscles as the posterior hip extends.

Another component to core exercises involves the idea of stabilization, or developing supportive muscles.  The concept here is explained in the 3rd Ed. ACE Personal Trainer Manual as exercises that “challenge the abdominal and back muscles to hold the spine in the appropriate position during movement of the extremities (Bryant & Green 271).”  Basically this means that to develop the support of large muscle groups, there must be tests of muscular endurance, often in static positions, and involving more than one plane.

A few examples of this concept would be a single-leg balance pose, bird-dog pose (see below), and the basic plank position (see below).

The importance of core exercises comes into play when paired with daily activities, & common muscle functions.  How often, for example, do people go up & down stairs, putting their bodies through a modified version of a reverse lunge?  Or down to the toilet or chair & back up, for a squat?  Or reaching behind furniture to pick up something hard to reach, much like a single-leg deadlift?  Some of these basic movements often become difficult when the muscles become shortened, underused or injured.  Performing core strengthening & stabilizing exercises regularly reduces the pain and/or inability of basic tasks.

For fitness novices & experts alike, core exercises remain vital to the overall longevity and health of muscles.  Performing exercises like the ones below can help almost anyone develop a strong & stable foundation for the rest of their body to live in.  Individuals at any fitness level can perform core exercises, as modifications or challenges can usually be incorporated.  Start with the basics, and gradually progress to greater challenges.  And as always, consider it a joy that you have the ability to exercise!

All images are property of ACE Fitness.  Complete descriptions of exercises can be found at the ACE Fitness website.

When Will You Quit?

Borrowing the title from Brad Bloom’s Faith & Fitness future discussion forum, the start of 2011 presents not only a good time to think of new beginnings, but also of new “quittings.”  Many times, to start something, we must first quit another thing, whatever it is that’s holding us back from our starting.  We realize that to “Let God,”  we must first “Let Go” of “every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us (Heb. 12:1).

So with the beginning of a brand new year, we see people that generally fall into three categories of thought. 1-Resolutions of Failure-those who avoid making resolutions because they believe resolutions are “set-ups for failure.” ; 2-Vague Resolutioners–those who verbally express goals but have no plan of action to reach them. ; 3-Persistent Resolutioners-goal oriented people who set goals and have specific ideas on accomplishing them, and often reach their goals.   Regardless of which group you find yourself in, there is no doubt that the need for new beginnings resides in each of us.  And so to start, we must first quit.

Quit elevating comfort over betterment.  Quit pushing God aside.  Quit making excuses.  Quit loving taste over nutrition.  Quit being vague about our goals.

When we quit, we allow God to start something new in us.

Start a friendship.  Start a vibrant prayer & devotional life.  Start giving without grieving.  Start making reasons for starting.  Start adding nutrients into our consumption.  Start setting specific actions to reach your goals.  Start living the abundant life.

Ps. 144:9 – “I will sing a new song to You, O God.”

Luke 22:20 – “Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.”

2 Corinthians 5:17- “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he isnew creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

Rev. 21:5 – “Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Jesus is in the business of making raggedy, old and worn people and transforming them into beautiful new creations of His design.  Do not resist His Spirit…let him create something new in your life today.

Blessings to you for 2011!