Flowers, Thistles, and Thorns: Meeting Jesus in Places of Pain

Meeting Jesus in Places of Pain... www.annswindell.comI was at an upscale grocery store recently, admiring the tubs full of flowers, when I noticed a bouquet full of lilies, and carnations, and thistles.


Yes, thistles. Prickly, spiky, gray, and full of thorns. It wasn’t a mistake; I checked. Every bouquet in that bucket had a handful of thistles nudged between the flowers and greenery. And they actually looked–dare I say it?–rather lovely. Those thistles didn’t look soft, and they certainly didn’t look inviting. But they grounded the rest of the flowers with their solemnity and honesty. The thistles, prickly as they were, added an unexpected beauty to the bouquet as a whole. 

And I was reminded: this is the good news of the Gospel.

Stay with me.

All of us have thistles in our lives–those painful, thorny parts of our story that we’d rather do without. The broken relationships, the physical aches, the experiences that we wish we could erase. None of our lives are all flowers and sunshine. We have gray places, dark places, things that still feel like they can prick us if we touch them with our memories.

But–here again is that great, surprising news of the Gospel–even the thorns and thistles in our lives can prove themselves beautiful if they point us to Jesus and lead us into more intimacy with him. I think of the Apostle Paul who writes so honestly about begging the Lord to take away his “thorn in the flesh”–that unnamed pain that the Lord never healed–and hearing Christ tell him that His power is made perfect in our weakness.

Those things that make life so challenging–those thorns and thistles–what if we asked God to help us see those places as gateways to his heart? As open doors for his power in our weakness? As opportunities for grace to be abundant? What if we saw the thorns and thistles as part of the bouquet of our lives–not things that make us ugly and undesirable, but as parts of our story that ground us in Christ’s goodness and in the unexpected beauty of a redeemed life?

Because Jesus, perfect as he was, didn’t get past the difficult parts of life, either. In fact, he knows the pain of thorns more fully than any of us do: the thorns lodged in his skin as a mocking crown when he paid for our brokenness and sin on the cross.

In the midst of our own pains and hurts, let us rest our gaze on the One who wore the crown of thorns for us. Let us, as the old hymn says, “turn our eyes upon Jesus,” and see that he can make even the prickliest, difficult aspects of our lives into gateways of hope and redemption as he meets us in our pain. That’s the promise of life with Jesus–not ease, but intimacy; not painlessness, but purpose; not comfort, but camaraderie with Him.

Yes, that’s good news of thistles in bouquets: the joy of Jesus making even the hard parts of our story lovely in their own way–unexpectedly beautiful–as he redeems them by his grace. 

Meeting Jesus in Places of Pain.

Clothes, Coffee, and Cloth. Or, Starting Over with Stitch Fix: How I Got My Best Fix Ever

I don’t write much about clothes; in this space, I share a lot about my life and what God is doing in it, about what he’s doing in the world, about how I encounter him in unexpected moments. Occasionally, I’ll highlight a company I believe in who is doing amazing things in the world: Hand & Cloth and Sweet Aroma Coffee are two of my favorites (if you haven’t heard of these organizations, do yourself and the world a favor and hop over to their websites to read about their meaningful missions).

Starting Overwith Stitch Fix

Here’s the truth: the most important thing we should put on every day is love. Still, the other truth is that we all have to wear clothes (at least in public!), and Stitch Fix can be a great option. If you haven’t heard about it, head to the bottom of this post to read about it.*

While I’ve tried Stitch Fix several times, I just recently got a box of clothes where everything worked for me. I’d gotten a few boxes that had been hit or miss; this time, my stylist nailed it. Here’s what I did differently:

  1. I overhauled my Style Profile, and I got ruthless with it. I cut out any color and fabric and style I really didn’t like and stopped trying to leave too many options open for my stylist. I’m up for trying new things–the scarf in this Fix was just that for me–but I also don’t want to be wearing orange.
    Pixley Analisse Anorak Jacket Cargo Jacket www.annswindell.comThe Analisse Anorak Jacket: a cargo jacket in a color I love. Win! 
  2. I started a Pinterest page solely for my stylist and gave her the link. High maintenance? Maybe. But if I’m going to spend money on a stylist/clothes, I want her to have as much information as she can on my style and what I’m looking for. I pinned 20 images of styles and items that I wanted to try, and pointed out specific ones that I really wanted in my notes.
    Fierro Elbow Patch Crew Neck Sweater and Evergreen Dream Multi-Bead Necklace from 31 Bits www.annswindell.comThe Fierro Elbow Patch Crew Neck Sweater
    and Evergreen Dream Multi-Bead Necklace from 31 Bits 
  3. I told my stylist exactly what I was looking for. In the past, I had mentioned that I loved cardigans. But I got cardigans that were too short or too thin. This time, I told my stylist that I wanted something to cover my rear…and guess what I got? Yep, a long-ish cardigan. Also, I knew I wanted a 31 Bits necklace (another great company!) in bright colors and asked for one. That’s what I got. Our stylists aren’t therapists or best friends. They can’t read our minds. If you really want a total surprise, don’t fill out the notes section. But if you actually need a new pair of high-waisted skinny jeans, don’t just say that you need jeans. Tell your stylist that you need high-waisted skinny jeans. Just like I can’t expect my husband to read my mind, I can’t expect my stylist to read my mind, either. Communicating with a Stitch Fix stylist is just like communicating with anyone: be honest, be clear, be kind. And know that she has her own limitations, too; she can’t get you everything you want. As with Stitch Fix, so with life: you can’t always get what you want.Colton Marled Knit Cardigan and Timber Vintage Plaid Infinity Scarf

  4. The Colton Marled Knit Cardigan and
    Timber Vintage Plaid Infinity Scarf

*Here’s how Stitch Fix works: you order a “Fix” (a box of clothes) based on a style profile you fill out about yourself–colors, sizes, styles, patterns, lifestyle. A stylist picks five items for you (from sweaters to scarves to earrings to skirts to jeans), which are sent to you in the mail. The five items are a surprise! You try on clothes at home with the wardrobe you actually have, keep what you love, and send the rest back in a pre-paid envelope. It’s remarkably simple.

Why I like Stitch Fix in this season of life:

1. I’m not in a season where I can spend much money on clothes, and I can set my price point with Stitch Fix. Also, if I buy all 5 items in the box, there’s a 25% discount on everything.

2. I don’t have to leave the house. Three words: Toddler. Time. Winter.

3. I can get a “Fix” as often or as rarely as I want. I don’t get mine regularly (although many people do); usually, I request a box when I have an event coming up where I need a specific item (a dress for a wedding, for example).

4. The cost is a $20 styling fee, which goes toward any item you purchase.

5. Stitch Fix works for women in almost any season of life. From teenagers to retirees, they’ve got clothes for women in many stages, sizes (even maternity!), and professions.

If you want to try Stitch Fix, please click this link and I will get a referral credit. And let me know how it works out for you!

You are Seen, Known, and Loved: Preparing for the Influence Conference

You are Seen, Known, and Loved by God.

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5 Books for Aspiring Writers

5 Books for Aspiring Writers

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Writing for Glory: His and Not Our Own

Writing for God's Glory

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Time with God Shouldn’t Be a Chore: An Article for RELEVANT Magazine

How to Make Quiet Time Fun

[This is from my newest piece at RELEVANT Magazine. Click here to read the entire article!] Quiet time, devotional time, prayer time, personal time—whatever you want to call it, most of us are referring to something similar: a regular time when we … [Continue reading]