Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Thorns, Joy & Holy Braids

It's so natural, intuitive even, to settle one's vision on the rough parts of anything. It's the way we protect ourselves.

Whenever we know exactly what we are dealing with, we feel we are better prepared to fight against it or rise above it or bring it under our control. When there is an enemy, it is always better to have the upper hand. And the way to gain that advantage is to know every side of the evil.

So, we study it. We caress it's edges. We keep it close at hand so, in the moments between other moments, we can pull it out and remember how it wants us.

And oh, how it wants us.

Its pursuant tendrils silently wrap and curl into our shadowed folds and feed on the darkness. And the rough and the dark? They become silent, parasitic partners.

We believe we are armed for battle when, really, we are wasting away in our deepest places.


In nature, thorns are fortifications that protect a plant from being eaten by predators. A great many fruits and edible flowers are kept alive by the trails and rings of thorns surrounding them.

My life this past year? It has been rife with trails and rings of thorns. Walking alongside my mom through her illness and chemotherapy and eventual death was the most difficult thing I have ever done. And my default? More often than I care to admit, it has been to succumb to the vacuum of scarcity that Life's defense manufactures. Because when all I see and feel and experience is prickly and nettlesome, I can't help but feel shut out from the beauty.

But that's exactly the arc of the great ache--that our experiences that are often strewn with thorns are but stations on a path ringed with beauty and joy. If a thorn's design is to protect, then it follows that their presence is purposeful and necessary. They remind us that all the things that are true and noble and reputable and authentic and compelling and gracious are prized and sought after. They remind us that joy and pain are profoundly intertwined. 

For me, this is where my faith in a God of grace and mercy becomes manifest. For when I am willing to take the joy and the pain in both hands, God's immense love and care for me provide yet a third cord. Taken together, they become a holy braid that is not easily broken. 


Where are you, today, friend? Are you knee-deep in the pain and struggle? Do you feel wrapped in thorns, as if Life wanted to "protect" you from the good you see and that others seem to have in spades? Perhaps, your go-to response is bitterness, anger or, worse, indifference. What if there was another way?

I wrote today's post as a way of partnering with Margaret Feinberg and to help spread the word about her latest book Fight Back With Joy

This book began as an intense study of the over 400 references to joy in Scripture. Margaret was in the final stages of writing her book when she received a cancer diagnosis. Suddenly, all the sources of joy that she had discovered were turned on their head in the shadow of her illness. In an instant, her understanding of true joy was called into question. In writing Fight Back With Joy  Margaret "discovered facets of joy that no one ever taught me—more than whimsy, joy is a weapon we can use to fight life’s battles."

You can purchase the book at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Margaret has also created a 6-session DVD Bible Study kit that is available for purchase. 


  1. Dear Holly, taking time to lift you and your loved ones up in prayer today. Humbled and grateful for you and this post.

  2. Thank you, Margaret. Honored and humbled to partner with you. The lessons you have learned while walking through the fire are necessary and important. Thank you for gifting them to the world. Please continue to let me know if there is anything that I can do to encourage you in your continued recovery. You have my prayers, always.

  3. So beautiful, Holly - thank you. This past year, I walked a similar path with my daddy. I'm so sorry for the loss of your mother. Thank you for sharing how you have found strength and joy in this holy braid. Your words give hope.

  4. Beautifully done, Holly. Thank you.

  5. Oh Renee, I am so very sorry about the loss of your dad. It is no small thing to let loose of those we hold so dear. I pray that you will continue to be filled with the joy of your father's presence in all of the ways that God reminds you of him and his love for you.

  6. Thank you, Diana, as always.

  7. And these words you write here, Holly, are braided with a depth of beauty, wisdom and humility that only comes from learning to walk in the dark - as you have been this past year. Love and peace, and yes, JOY to you, friend.

  8. Holly, as I followed Lisha's link here, I can feel my own heart's empty space which the earthly life and love of my Mama filled. She will be gone into the arms of Jesus 2 years ago this coming January 30th. I cared for her through diabetes and dementia for 15 years. Life certainly had its thorns and thistles yet God walked with me through it all. He holds me close in those moments, hours, days of missing her so. I was so very blessed to have near and loving me dearly. Her dementia may have given her confusion, fear, worry, accusatory times, but she never forgot who I was. She never couldn't love me so. I am grateful.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda