A Sticker Bush Thanksgiving

Theresa RoweBy Theresa Rowe7 Minutes

For my father, it was a sweetheart of a deal. You see I was a rather strong-willed child and when I set my mind to something, well, there was just no stopping me. So when I asked him if it was alright to clear out the area behind the sticker bushes to have church, he just puffed a little circle of smoke from his cigar, smiled, and happily agreed to the arrangement.

In the good old days, when children played outside in the dirt, the kids in our neighborhood used to play hide and seek. This was my first real experience with the sticker bushes. I knew no one wanted to hide there, so the red berries and thorns became my hiding place of choice. I never gave away my special hiding place and always made it back to base without getting caught. The special seclusion of the sticker bushes must have been my initial reasoning for starting the church there, but then again, it must have been God.

While it had been a wonderful hiding place, I was ready and willing to give it up for my soon-to-be congregation. Even with scratches on my arms, legs, and face, and blood running down, I was determined to make something beautiful inside the bushes. Other than my father, none of the parents knew about our church in the sticker bushes. Weekly attendance was good, and their 25 cent offering supplied plenty of candy wafers for communion, with enough money left over to make improvements like crayon-colored stain glass windows. While I was obviously inexperienced as a preacher, the kids sat silently on the crusty mud floor listening intently for a word of hope.

But children do not stay children long, and our sticker church family of friends grew to face more daunting tasks than prickly stickers. Our inexperience with life turned scratches on our bodies into scars on our hearts. For some in our group, it was dealing with crime, cruelty, and evil, and the damages done. For others, it was poor decision-making or becoming entangled in the wiles of the world. I am sure that all of us, at one time or another, longed for a few moments hiding in the sweet seclusion of the sticker bush church.

Time after time the memories of the small church in the bushes would come back to mind. The pain from the scratches and scars drove me to the hiding place.

God didn’t leave me hiding, he sent a faithful servant to show me the way to his love. Day by day, one by one, he walked with me and helped me deal with the pain in each of the scars. As my relationship with him matured, I began to understand the value of those scars and how they were really just valuable life lessons, and an important part of my testimony. He turned the pain into gain, for me and His Kingdom.

As time passed, even when things seemed impossible, I learned to be thankful in all things. The times as a single parent, raising four children, and in need of our daily provision, God was building character. He was asking me to trust him and surrender my strong will to his control. I began to teach my children to thank God in advance for his daily provision, even before the prayer was answered. My trust in God grew as my prayer life grew. He answered every prayer in His timing.

My memories from the sticker bushes have changed my perspective of life. My scratches turned to blood, which scarred over and became life lessons, but then God removed the pain and I now share them with others. “This is the day the Lord has made; we will be glad and rejoice in it.” Psalm 118:24. By the way, thankfulness and rejoicing are a choice, not a matter of circumstance.

We the people are the church, moving to and fro within the marketplace. What part of the church do others see from you? Are you a wall, uninviting, hard, and judgmental? Perhaps you are a window, easily seen but stationary and fixed. I hope you are a door, with a welcome sign, and standing wide open. Will you be standing wide open and ready to share your life lessons with those in pain?

My sticker bush hiding place has given way to the cross of Jesus. He hides my sins there and offers me shelter and security. Looking up in thankfulness from the foot of the cross, I can see Jesus with the crown of thorns piercing his brow. My eternity has been assured by His blood and His victory over death. He wants the same for you. Philippians 4:6-7 offers His comfort now, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Amen.

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