My last two blogs, The Elusiveness of "Why? and Death Becomes You, were not easy to write. They were personal, passionate and deliberately blunt. So, as we find ourselves just beyond the cusp of a new calendar year, I want to offer hope.

My wife and I took a trip to Lancaster, Pa this past summer. A short zip along Route 222 South, Amish country offers a day getaway where we can absorb a little pastoral landscape. We like to check out the shops, especially the ones tucked off the highways and thoroughfares of Routes 30 and 340, hear the clip-clop of horse hooves and for me, believe it or not, smell the farm air. There's something about the smell of horse and bovine manure that brings back fond memories of my childhood. Yeah, you can call me weird!

I was snagged; as if a tractor beam had engaged.

Anyway, if you've followed my blog for any length of time you know I like to find life lessons in the everyday things - it’s about wandering but not being lost. Well, as we walked from one craft shop to another, dodging horse piles, we passed a thistle plant growing on a field's edge. I grew up taking a machete to these prickly buggers in our cow’s pasture. Nasty plants; even our Herefords avoided them! But this day, on West Newport Road between King’s Homestead and King’s Kountry Corner, I was snagged; as if a tractor beam had engaged.

Silybum marianum, milk thistle, that prickly plant gracing pastureland throughout Pennsylvania and beyond! Beautiful purple flowers so aggressively complimented by sharp spines. I laid on my back, in the grass, to take this. My wife simply giggled.

A lot of times, when there’s a lesson to be learned, for me, the world slows down, as in movies where the action abruptly slows to a crawl, like in The Matrix, The Hurt Locker or Robert Downey Jr's Sherlock Holmes. The viewer is forced to see details otherwise missed. Thistle, aka Milk Thistle, blessed milk thistle, Marian thistle, Mary Thistle, Saint Mary's Thistle, Mediterranean Milk Thistle, grows all over the world. Usually, I pass it by without a second look. But suddenly, a thought came to my mind and both flower and prickles became the epicenter of my world! A word picture formed very clearly. Wanting to give my attention to my wife, I asked her if we could stop on our return to the car. I do a lot of weird things when I'm out and about with Kris. I've flopped on the floor of a supermarket holding a dish sponge. I’ve used my "outside voice" in critiquing a store's floor setup which sent her peeling off to sit on a bench far away. So, on our return when I laid on my back, three feet from passing cars, in the grass and dirt with thistle above, she didn’t flinch. She’s great!

There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t experienced both pain and joy in their life. Yet, it seems, like the plant, the prickles far out number the blossoms. But it’s this high contrast between pain and pleasure that makes life so rich. I know that every one of us experiences blossoms of beauty and terrible, thorny events. I see it every day on social media. One post boasts of a child’s life achievement while another bemoans the struggles of the day, week, or year. Thistles are part of our life; it’s part of the package. But as I lay on my back in the bright sun, the combination of both flower and prickles were amazingly attractive. Remember, I grew up with these. They were annoyingly common and a nuisance. But not today.

All too frequently I give attention to the prickly and distasteful while dismissing their commingled beauty.

Why God put prickles on thistles and thorns on roses is beyond me. But they do make for great illustrations! Pain, conflict, difficulty, frustration and rejection connected to beauty and life. For the thistle, the flower is less notable than the rose; the spines far outnumber the single-bloom stem. But, when the flower has blossomed, it gives birth to seed, to life. I know this may sound a bit far-fetched, but it’s what has recently made the difference in my life. All too frequently I give attention to the prickly and distasteful while dismissing their commingled beauty. I’m not suggesting a superficial, “look on the bright side,” approach. It’s more of seeing the beauty and the blight.

I was never one to dismiss the troubling or the negative. At times, I focused on it too much, missing the beauty. But to ignore hard issues doesn’t set us up to be solution minded, just ignorant. I want to be a person who sees the onerous as part of the positive, not separated from it.


Know you are not alone.

As you wrestle with the struggles of this world, know you are not alone. Perhaps reflecting on life a little differently, seeing both flowers and prickles as necessary parts of the whole, will help you have hope. And because I believe God loves us through it all, I pray that you may see His care for you in all things. I leave you with this quote of Jesus from the Gospel of John...

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. - John 16:33