The Thorn and The Rose
By: Kate Cannon

Poking, itching, irritating, jabbing, rough, sharp thorns. They hurt, and we know they are there. Even after careful removal, they still remind us of their presence. I have often wondered why thorns are given to the rose or any other plant, as I love flowers, especially roses and yet can not seem to understand how something so beautiful can hurt if not very carefully handled. In essence, the thorn is the plant’s most viable defense mechanism, designed to protect and preserve the plant from attacks, since the plant itself can not move away from any threat. Interestingly, then, thorns keep the flowers safe, thereby ensuring life continues, and perhaps helping one to see the flower with even more appreciation as well. Thorns do have a simple and effective purpose, yet they can cause one who is not threatening, but simply intends to enjoy the beauty of the flower, to feel pain. Perhaps we can hear the still, small voice of God through the thorn and the rose. 

Of course, Christ himself knew the pressure and stabbing of thorns upon his holy head, and He endured great pain in order that we may come to know him as the ultimate suffering servant. As Christians worldwide celebrated the death and resurrection of Christ this week, we have a reminder of his sacrifice for all humanity. We also have the vivid details and description of the pain he went through in order that we may know His grace, personally, which is the ultimate gift. This certainly leaves us in a place of pause… how does God intend in twenty-first century America to get in touch with us so that we can see him?

A beautiful woman and dear friend, talented and intelligent, sat with me one Sunday morning last spring in the baby nursing room at church. Her long, chestnut-brown hair flowed beautifully as she was holding her new son, whom she gently fed. I asked her how she was doing, and she began to explain to me that she was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She is in her mid-thirties, married, has three children, and runs a very successful photography business. I sat in utter amazement at how calm she was as she described this illness and the potential destruction that it could cause. I still think about the peace that surrounded her and which was in her that morning, the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding; peace, which would be the hallmark of her journey for all who know her. She began to detail for me the information she had been given by doctors, and it wasn’t long before I was feeling sick, and jabbed, and poked and pricked by those nasty thorns on my beautiful friend. She continued to describe a variety of possibilities, ranging from one surgery to several, chemical treatments, lifelong medication, the possibility of losing her voice, to even death. She was the first person I have known closely who would be faced with something this life-threatening, and the thought of losing her was unthinkable. 

I could not help but lament for her family, mostly, as she spoke, as I know how much she loves them and wants to care for them. O my Comforter, in sorrow, my heart is faint within me… I also thought of the photographs she takes, a most pure art form and gift that she uses to simply highlight the goodness and truth of who God is in our broken world. She photographs children, newborns primarily, in their first days of life. Why would He allow this to happen? I only knew to pray, fervently, for my friend. I spoke with God intimately and deeply about protecting her, healing her, and giving her peace through this process. The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.  I asked him many times to give her the doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel that he would hand-select as they studied her particular case. I prayed for her husband to have strong resolve and patience as he stood beside her and helped in many ways to care for daily tasks as well as provide income and the steady hands which would guide this family. Happy are those who remain faithful under trials, because when they succeed in passing such a test, they will receive as their reward the life which God has promised to those who love him. And, I prayed for her children to be understanding and obedient as they began a year of homeschooling with their mother as she began cancer treatments. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

Months unfolded with more news of the treatments, and soon she was choosing which hospital to attend for this most-invasive surgery. If the surgeons cut too close when removing the thyroid and parathyroid, she could lose her ability to speak. It is then that I began to memorize the sound of her voice. In it all, she was strong, and again, at peace. I would listen to her speaking on the way to the next appointment, and she would sound at peace.  I would stop by to see her, and again, my friend was still in a place of peace.  She was not anxious or afraid, but she seemed to be aware of the thorns as they threatened to hurt her, but only to the end that it would allow her to trust God more each day. 

One surgery was scheduled to remove the thyroid and two of the parathyroid glands. There was more praying and thankfulness when she called after the surgery, because I heard her voice! I was so happy to actually hear her speaking! And as I was thinking, Lord, I give you thanks in all circumstances! she explained a few weeks later that they did not get all of the cancer out. So, there would be more medication, and waiting to heal so that they could continue. Then, another surgery was scheduled for her to have more removed, and continuously through it all she remained at peace, saying to me there is a reason. As I listened to her and watched the weeks and months unfold, I became more and more interested in knowing how God works out all things for the good of those who love Him. He continued to speak through this family and in their circumstances to me. He said, Trust me through it all, and I will show you who I am.  I Am the I Am.

She is healing now, and getting healthier every day. It has been almost a year. I can still see peace in her, and it is interesting how I can see in my friend’s beautiful face, the evidence of how she has been walking closely with God. She is another example of how Christ lives in us daily by the Holy Spirit, and she speaks now with a most special voice, a voice that has been preserved by the power of God. I know that she will continue to be on a journey to live in health, and yes, in peace. I am so truly thankful for the beauty from ashes in which God can take even thorns and use them to protect and preserve the life that is in us through Christ. He is alive and as relevant today as he was thousands of years ago. He is still working to bring each one of us back into a relationship with God, as he came to testify to the truth while he was on earth. What joy we have in his resurrection…the greatest gift of all.

Can't Cast Your Anxiety and Keep Your Pride

Anxiety.  I struggle with anxiety. Real, intense stress that wells up inside of me. Anxiety that I don’t know where to park. Anxiety that I am uncertain of the root. Anxiety that was lullabied into submission for years with prescribed medication to help. The same medication I quit taking nine months ago because not only was it numbing my anxiety but it seemed to overflow into many other areas of my life. I had grown numb.

So, next I tried keep it at bay with exercise. Lots and lots of exercise, and food, and wine trying to stuff  a cork into this pressurized space that anxiety occupies in me. However, each time I try to fill the black hole anxiety creates in me with anything other than surrender – the void remains.

 I  am learning to sit with anxiety. To feel it. To be uncomfortable in it and not want to swallow, chew,  or sip  something to make it go away. Unfortunately, Galatians does not describe the Fruit of the Spirit that can be found in the pantry. Ben and Jerrys and red wine did not make the cut. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. (Galatians 5:22)

 I know that some  may want to question the depth of my faith if I say I believe what I do but struggle in this way. The truth is, I understand why someone could come to this conclusion. I would say, I know God’s not finished with me yet.

 Anxiety swells up when I begin to rely on myself and my abilities. Surrender to my Savior and remembrance that I am nothing apart from Christ, brings me peace. He brings clarity to my mind and helps me know that the enemy is not ambushing me. The devil is like a roaring lion. In these moments when anxiety begins to shake my core, I’m learning to stop and ask “What is the enemy trying to distract me from?” Usually it is the truth of the great work that GOD is doing and has nothing to do with what I am capable of doing.

“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” What I am realizing is that maybe, feeling the realness of anxiety IS in fact walking in faith.  Realizing the brokenness of my flesh and  not trying to run from it, numb it, or fill it with something has left me in a place of total reliance on the Prince of Peace.

 I know that most people who have it together don’t discuss their mental shortcomings but maybe that is why so many of us have anxiety. Maybe it is because we feel like we are the only one who doesn’t have it all together. Maybe it is because no one wants to talk about anything but success. However, sometimes to measure success, we must look at the failures. At the shortcomings. At the brokenness. At the flesh. Maybe we have to see those things first to be able to look at the growth, to see the change, and  recognize the GLORY of the great work of  God. So, tonight I share with you something that is somewhat uncomfortable to talk about. But, maybe if I’m brave enough to share more than a Pinterest moment, through an Instagram Filter  with a Facebook like, maybe then I am able to humble myself enough to show who I am without Christ so others can SEE who Christ is in me.

He brings me peace in the midst of my storm. He brings me surrender when I want to fight. He restores when I try to fix. He gently waits when I run.

Recently, I listened to a sermon by Steven Furtick of Eleveation church that I think I’ve listened to 10 times now. I listen to it a lot because he is speaking of something I know well. Pride. He points out in his sermon the word anxiety. anxiety. Look at the word. Maybe the root of all my anxiety is me. I. I wonder if I were able to truly surrender the “I”  

Steven goes on to say “maybe anxiety is the fruit and the pride is the root. Maybe you’ve been trying to cast your anxiety and keep your pride. Maybe you need to know that pride and anxiety come in the same package.”

“Humble yourself, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

But you know, this lion in my life called anxiety, it is losing its grip. Does it still swell up, distract me and even succeed in giving me horrible tension headaches at times? Yes. But do you know that over time, the headaches are not as often, the grip is not as intense? Even the fact that I can sit with it and feel it and not run to find something to numb it is a huge victory. The fact that I want to share this with you doesn’t terrify me or bring me anxiety. I feel freedom in sharing with you this piece of my brokenness that God continues to restore and renew.

Furtick says, “The enemies that we fear today, will be your testimony of triumph in your tomorrow.” Where my anxiety multiplies is hidden in the darkness, where my pride of appearances doesn’t want anyone to know. Freedom continues to be found in the dawning of each new day, in His mercies, in sweet surrender to Him and His power that is at work within me.

“Resist him(the devil), standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever.” (1 Peter 9-10).

I share this to let you know I don’t have it all together. I always joke, in truth, about the hot mess I am. But you know what, I mean it. Most days I feel like the conductor of the Hot Mess Express and Jesus loves me anyway.   

Tragedy into Treasure

On this great day of remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I want to introduce you to another change maker. A person who has taken all that has happened in her life and surrendered it to the Lord. A strong women who knows that God can truly work all things for good and for His glory for those who love HIm. This courageous woman has taken her struggle and turned it into the fuel for her passion for the Lord and for life.  She has taken her darkest moments and bravely found her ministry in sharing what God has brought her through. Today, I am honored to share my cousin Sarah's story of overcoming. Her story of dry bones to life. Her story of bravery, courage and finding Christ in the midst of the mess. May God bless you through Sarah's testimony. 

"My name is Sarah.  I've been asked to write my  testimony-  I'm not a great writer -  I'm a better speaker so please bear with me because the message, my journey, my healing and how the Lord came into my life along the way is a story worth sharing. It's a journey that saved me and  led me to a new healthier way to live .  I'm now 43 and about 20 years ago the disease of addiction took over my life and I lived a slave to it during all those years not able to come to terms with it or surrender it to begin to heal.  Addiction is a very difficult road.  I believe with all my heart that drug addicts and alcoholics are born with this disease. It's only a matter of what they put in their body to trigger it later in life. In fact there are many addictions and diseases, 30 "isms "  that I know of. 

People are addicted to eating, gambling, TV, video games, shopping... it goes on and on. My disease almost killed me. I was shooting up meth,  opiates , and drinking alcohol for so long. Thank you to God for giving me the  strength to find Him. I began to  put God in center of my recovery. Through Him I have grown into the mother, daughter, and sister I was meant to be. I was raised in an amazing home with great parents. I was popular . I played sports and kept very active. However it was not a  Christian household . I don't  blame my parents whatsoever , but I always felt "different ". I had this hole in me that I was trying to fill.  I didn't know that my void was meant to be filled was God . My mom suggested to me in 1997 that I try  going to church. I'm not 100% sure her belief but I know at that point was so shaken by my disease that she was reaching for anything to help me. No psychiatry,  no doctor, no rehab worked.  I went to about 15 of these over the years, and detoxed six times . Talk about feeling helpless and hopeless. 

I  ruined my parents best years of their lives with constant worry and waiting for a phone call that I was dead. So  I took my mom's suggestion and I went to a very small church down the road from my house .That church is where I accepted Christ into my life and was baptized by an older pastor named Reverend McKay.  I will never forget him. He would just show up at my house and speak the word to me.  I didn't understand anything of what he was saying.  My head was in such a fog but God's word is living and active.  I heard that  I had a loving God who was not mad at me and that I had Jesus  who would forgive me if I asked him to -  no matter how bad, how sinful or how hopeless I felt. 

 I wish I could say that I  stayed clean and sober after that but, I did not. Not until 2011 did I finally get it during my last trip to jail. I spent many years inside and outside of jail, suicidal , and just plain crazy .  But I kept praying  and praying for God to help me.  I never understood that he would help me but I had to do some of the footwork.  II

 I know a lot of addicts who are very mad at God for not being able to get over the habit and move on because they have not realized there's footwork needed in their  recovery. The prayer just does not work like that .  Every time I asked for God's help during my drug use I ended up in jail. God had to physically pluck me from society to give me time to clear my head to figure out what I needed to do.  It took so long but I kept praying and kept my faith . During my last trip to jail, I finally prayed to God that I was willing to go to any length to stay clean and sober . I told God that  if that meant putting me in jail or prison for 10 years , I was willing to do it .  The freedom of that prayer, in jail, was the best relief I ever had in my life. I knew I was done with my old ways. 

I  was supposed to do two years in prison, but God saw fit to put me in a Department of Corrections  and Drug Rehabilitation program for women. I was willing to do everything they told me to do and I stuck with the girls in there who believed in God .I have fellowships and 12 step programs that I go to on a regular basis. I sponsor other women. I always keep God at the center my life now.

 I have an amazing husband who is seven years recovered.  He also did 12 years of his adult life in prison. Being married to a Godly man is amazing. Our story  of how we were brought together is remarkable. We have our children and our life built on a foundation of Christ. We are able to pray together.  I now have devoted much of my extra time to helping teach a Bible study in the county jail where I once was held. I help teach a faith based parenting program to women in the jail .  The people God has put in my path along this journey is unbelievable. Many of them are parents of still sick and suffering addict's looking for my counsel at times . 

God had better plans for me. I am so grateful for that every day . I am able  to repay my apologies with living amends to my family and myself by staying clean and sober one day at a time .  My sponsor tells me God turns are tragedies into treasures and I believe that.  I like to share that with other people .  If there's anybody who really needs to know this, it is a family member, friend or loved one who is  enslaved to the disease of addiction or if you yourself are the addict or alcoholic.  Please know there is a better way of life through Christ and  if this old junky can do it ,anybody can . 

I've  enclosed in this testimony my last mug shot five years ago. The other picture is last April on my Wedding Day.  God not only restored my heart and soul but, he helped restore a once strung out ,lost woman. My eyes say it all.  

I feel honored that my beautiful cousin asked me to write this for her blog. I was not very close to Jenny growing up but I always, always remember her and her family's faith in the Lord. I'm so grateful to be able to share that same faith. "


In 1988 I wrote my first book. It was entitled "My ME Book". My Kindergarten teacher recorded my responses. It was the first and last book I published.  Well, at least the last elementary school book that I could dig up. I've published several articles in magazines and many, many blog posts since but somewhere along the way I lost the confidence I had in myself as a 5 year old. At 5 my answers were given with the assurance that comes from a pure heart and an untouched spirit.

Over the years, I've become a little more uncertain and a little too concerned with the voices outside of my own soul rather than listening to the gentle whispers inside. Call it a midlife crisis or an awakening but as the hour glass grows ever closer to 35, the confidence of that 5 year old has started to float to the surface. The precious, big cheeked, bright eyed, certain of who she is girl seems to have returned. Years of turning to the world to affirm, praise and say "you're ok" suddenly seems to be washing out with the tide and being renewed with fresh soil and fertile ground. Ground that is ready to grow seeds to fields never imagined and dreams to sow that were once out of reach.

The thing is -  at 5 I knew the worst thing I ever ate was...peas and baby food. That is still true today.

At five, I got really upset when my brother teased me. The thing is one of my biggest upsets in life is the hurt I feel for the addiction my brother deals with and the effect it has had my family and for many years my self confidence. As an adult I would have to say that I get really upset that I can't "fix" it. But, I have to remind myself that I wasn't called to fix anyone. Not even myself. I was called to lay down my life and to receive the grace that God so feely extended to me in the midst of all of my sin.
God also calls me to extend the same grace He has given to me. I'm working on that.

I'm shy when it comes 5 I said, "going to funerals". My great uncle  died when I  was five and I remember trying to understand death, dying and heaven at such an early age. I could not.


After school I would like to eat lunch and watch TV. Well, that still doesn't happen these days.

I feel good about myself when I share. Thirty years later and that is still true.

My favorite story at 5.... 


Tomorrow is my youngest's 5th birthday. If I accomplish nothing else, I hope he feels good when he shares and loves the the story of when Christ died on the cross.

Happy Birthday Zach. The one who made our family complete. The one who made me see myself outside of a mirror. The one who made me remember who I was when I was five. Kind and shy and fiercely in love with Jesus Christ. The one who adores Mommy, Daddy, Noah and all things with sugar much like myself.


 The one who came a little early into this world and made a statement. The one who makes my heart sing and reminds me that you can be gentle, meek and fierce all at the same time! You are my precious son. I am so honored to be your mom. Here's to many more paintings, snuggles, hugs and tender moments that mean more than a picture can capture. You, my son, are going to change this world in your own gentle way. Manners matter Zach and your sweet manners bring me to my knees. Thank you for holding the door, saying yes ma'am and always asking me "What would  you like, Mama"?  You are my reflection beyond the glass and I am so thankful for you. You created a beautiful new meaning to Friday the 13th. It was the day you completed me and our family. 

Perfectly Put Together

By Jennifer McGowen

HELLO WORLD! I do NOT have my stuff together.  I hold my tongue when I say “stuff” because I just finished a nursing shift and have to reserve the word that I want to use for actual fecal matter.  But whether it’s actual poop from the patient, or it comes in the form of frustration expressed by the patient’s family, it’s all the same thing in my book. And here I will tell you that I don’t have any of it together. I apologize in advance for somehow seeming like I have it together, but here we go as to why.

A few months ago after writing a presentation for my local MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers) group, which was postponed due to a hurricane, I shared it with my dear friend who wanted to post it on this blog. After such a great response, several said, “Please share more!” Especially after a preschool Halloween event one mom came up to me and hugged me out of nowhere and said, “I’m so happy you wrote that post about anger! I always thought you were ‘Perfectly Put Together Jennifer McGowen.’ I showed it to my husband at said ‘See! I’m not the only one!’” ….

Perfectly. Put. Together. And my name. I love the momma that said that to me. I love her honesty! She’s a mom of 3, as am I. Her 3 are close together, as are mine. I love that she hugged me! Don’t we all need a hug every day? Immediately after that though I began thinking. There must be several people that think I have it together. That led me to think about why they must think that. And here is what my self-discovery has revealed:

I may seem to have it all together because I have tried to stop comparing myself to others. I know, that doesn’t seem simple. I think that’s the #1 complaint from new moms and especially with social media is how easy it is to compare yourself with others. I try not to compare myself with others because I know that we are ALL just trying to survive. We are all trying to make it through breakfast with breathing children. We are attempting to dress unruly little people that don’t want to put their arm into the shirt hole and kick profusely at the idea of pants. We are struggling to feed small people while forgetting about ourselves because that is towards the bottom of our list of priorities. 

Whether you are a mother of humble means, or privileged, our children don’t know the difference. Here are perfect examples:

Kate, a mom of 3, is trying her hardest to get the middle to take an oral liquid medication that tastes horrible and the child needs. The pharmacist said, “Just mix it in smoothies! She won’t taste it.” Kate’s response, “Does your child drink smoothies morning and night??” Next pharmacist’s recommendations, “You can try mixing it in ice cream, yogurt, mashed potatoes, or bribing her to take it.” I get it, enough is enough. So this genius mom got her to take the medicine morning and night with candy. That’s right, candy at 7am. But hey, you do what you got to do.

Julia, also a mom of 3, just moved into a new neighborhood from out of state. It’s a great neighborhood, wonderful amenities, and this is a custom built home that they hope to live in for a very long time. Just one and a half months into living there, they received notices from the HOA about weeds in the flowerbeds. After several calls to landscaping and such, the only remedy was to pull the weeds themselves. So, after kids went to bed, her and the husband spend several nights getting eaten up by mosquitoes until 10-11pm pulling weeds from the flower beds. But hey, you do what you got to do.

 Lindsey, also a mom of 3 (side note, there is no correlation between being a mom of 1 or 2 or 3 that helps you feel like or appear to have your stuff together, again, we are all just trying to survive), who I ran into at Target. This mom bought organic things here, and safe stuff there, but when it came to the cereal aisle, she grabbed Cinnamon Toast Crunch. She said, “Hey, no judgements here, they love it.” I said,”Girlfriend, do what you got to do.”

Those 3 examples and countless more in my head have helped me try to stop comparing myself to others. It doesn’t matter if you have limited means of income and coupon to feed your kids Fritos and donuts. It also doesn’t matter if you have unlimited source of income and could buy anything for yourself and your kids. Love is priceless and character is priceless. Encouraging positive behavior and kindness will go much further than thinking, “I need to keep up with the Joneses and enroll my children in 6ish afterschool activities.” Spending time with my littles one to tell them God made them and God loves them is what matters.

I am certainly not perfect. But my kids think I am. My children think that I am patient, calm, giving, loving, caring and kind. I sometimes don’t feel that I am those things, but when I stop comparing myself to others I know that I am exactly what God intended. I am the chosen mother for Ada, Thomas and Jayson. He chose me! He made me their mother! He picked me out of all the others to raise 3 Godly children! Not the girl across the street, not the mom driving a fancy car, and not the mother who appears to me that she has it all together.

So you know what?  I most certainly am “Perfectly Put Together In God’s Eyes Jennifer McGowen”. And God made me so Perfectly Well, I am made in his image just as you are.