Have you ever been tempted to carve initials or names in the trunk of a tree?
Perhaps linking yours with those of someone you love, like “M + F” or “Josh loves Amanda”? The inscriptions could last for centuries, emblems immortalizing your love for generations to come.
(Of course, as a nature lover, I’d rather people not make carvings in the bark of a living tree. But I can understand the impulse to do so.)
In fact, people have been engraving things on tree trunks for millennia.
Birch trees are a natural choice due to their white bark. The smooth silver-grey bark of beech trees is also a magnet for trunk-carvers. Indo-European peoples have used it for writing-related purposes since antiquity. In some modern European languages, the words for “book” and “beech” are either very close or identical. No wonder the beech has been called the “patron tree” (sort of like a patron saint) of writers.
Did you know that God sometimes inscribes things in usual places, too?
We all love stories of rescues from behind enemy lines, don’t we?
There’s something thrilling about the courage of soldiers who risk their lives penetrating hostile territory for the sole aim of retrieving a fellow soldier who is trapped there.
Perhaps you’ve seen movies like “Behind Enemy Lines” or “Saving Private Ryan,” both of which feature storylines of military units launching search and rescue missions into enemy territory to retrieve one of their own soldiers.
We admire the willingness of soldiers to potentially sacrifice their own lives to save another’s. They deserve our utmost respect.
But did you know that God goes “behind enemy lines” to save people, too?
If you have ever owned a cat (or have been owned by one), you’ll know that if you want to find the warmest, most comfortable place in your home, just follow the cat.
Cats unerringly zero in on the most comfortable spot in your house. They’re not above stealing your favourite chair or displacing you from your own bed in their quest for comfort.
Our feline friends consistently find the sunniest windowsill on which to perch or a warm heating vent in the floor over which to drape themselves. They’ll snuggle into the coziest, most protected part of the sofa, or stake out a claim on the most comfy lap.
Cats are masters at pinpointing zones of highest comfort.
But if you’re in need of comfort, reassurance, love and protection, where do you find it?
Follow the people who know the Source of all comfort.
Last week, NASA’s science rover “Perseverance” landed successfully on Mars, to jubilant cheers from scientists back home.
Mission managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab near Los Angeles had been waiting anxiously for confirmation that the craft had landed safely.
Because it takes radio waves 11 minutes to reach Earth from Mars, “Perseverance” had already settled on the surface of the Red Planet by the time news of its safe arrival reached scientists back on Earth. NASA had to endure a nerve-wracking wait before they got the verification.
We encounter this time lag throughout our universe.
The light from our own Sun takes 8 minutes to reach Earth. Light from Pluto takes 5 hours. It takes 8 years for the light from the “Dog Star” Sirius to reach our planet.
This time lag means that with stars extremely distant from us, we’re actually seeing them now as they were thousands of years ago. It takes that long for their light to travel to us.
It sometimes seems as though there’s a similar “time lag” between our brains and our hearts.
We all love receiving more than we expected, don’t we?
Like when you order a product online, and to your surprise the company throws in some extra goodies or samples as a bonus.
Or perhaps it’s your birthday, and your family outdoes themselves with a party, special gifts and a scrumptious meal, all despite being in a lockdown.
It makes us feel valued to be the recipients of these unexpected blessings.
God certainly knows this. That’s why He often seems to enjoy outdoing Himself, showing up in a big way in answer to prayer or simply to demonstrate His power and majesty.
This is how Paul describes God’s “above and beyond” abilities in Ephesians 3:20:
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (NKJV, italics mine)
The term Paul uses to express God’s ability to work beyond what we pray for, think or even dream is possible is variously translated “superabundantly more” (AMP), “infinitely more” (NLT), “immeasurably more” (NIV) and “far more abundantly beyond all” (NASB).
However you phrase it, it says a lot about God’s character, His generosity and his abounding love for His children.
Many of us learned as youngsters that raw cookie dough can taste even better than baked cookies. As adults, some of us will sneak a spoonful or two of cookie dough when we’re baking, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
For some of us, however, our addiction to raw cookie dough is rather more extensive. We have a particular problem resisting those tubes of uncooked cookie dough that you can buy in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores.
When we were kids, our Mom would buy a tube of dough and put it in the fridge, but it would mysteriously disappear before she had a chance to bake it.
As adults, our addiction to this surreptitious habit continued. We’d sometimes eat an entire tube of dough without baking a single cookie for our families.
Last summer, the Pillsbury company finally acknowledged what many of us have known for decades: their raw cookie dough tastes darn good, and people can’t resist it. So they’ve developed a formula that is safe to eat raw.
Pillsbury Cookie Dough tubes now state on the label: “Eat or Bake.”
Fellow cookie dough eaters: our secret is finally out!
And yes, I’m admitting that I’ve been a surreptitious cookie dough eater, too. There, I’ve said it.
Frankly, it’s a relief to have it out in the open. It feels liberating to finally admit my secret “sin.”
So do I, frankly. Perhaps I should simply stop vacuuming? After all, who am I to argue with Aristotle?
Seriously, though, what that phrase suggests is that empty spaces are unnatural, and somehow or other nature will seek to fill them.
I encountered a dramatic example of this truism through a friend of my late father.
This friend had developed a disorder called Charles Bonnet Syndrome. Macular degeneration had left voids or blank spots in his field of vision. The brain finds these empty spaces to be disturbing, so in Charles Bonnet Syndrome it fills in the blank areas with patterns or random images from its memory bank.
The result was that my father’s friend would “see” people or animals that weren’t actually there. His wife would have to tell him that, no, there wasn’t really a stranger sitting on their couch, or a cow in their backyard. The hallucinations he experienced were just his brain attempting to paper over the upsetting voids in his visual field.
It seems that human nature abhors a vacuum, too.
We all have voids or empty spaces in our lives that we seek to fill: areas of dissatisfaction, lack of love or absence of validation. These blank areas make us uneasy, so we try to fill them up.
Doomscrolling is a new word that’s been coined to describe the habit of obsessively consuming a large quantity of negative online news.
The committee of the Australian Macquarie Dictionary even named “doomscrolling” their Word of the Year for 2020.
Humans have a natural tendency to pay more attention to bad news, but the doomscrolling trend has accelerated during the pandemic.
We compulsively check our news apps and social media feeds, endlessly scanning the latest ominous headlines. We feed ourselves a steady diet shocking or disheartening news about rising COVID-19 case numbers, hospital intensive care units filling up, businesses shutting down, political instability or even weather woes.
We can’t seem to help ourselves, even when we sense that doomscrolling is probably detrimental to our mental health. All this bad news saturating our minds can leave us depressed, anxious, angry or hopeless.
We need an antidote to the feeling of despair that doomscrolling can produce.
With 2020 behind us, it’s time to believe that good things are in store for us in 2021.
Are you having trouble believing that? Has your faith been a bit battered by the events of the past year? Do you find it difficult to believe that God has something good lined up for your future?
You’re not the only one to think certain things are simply impossible.
Have you read the book, “Alice in Wonderland,” by Lewis Carroll? At one point in the story, Alice is challenged by the White Queen to believe impossible things.
When the Queen says that she’s a hundred and one years old, Alice is incredulous.
“I can’t believe that,” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said, in a pitying tone. “Try again; draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
“There is no use trying,” said Alice; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Even though this story is fictional, I think we as believers in God can learn a lesson from it. Sometimes God wants us to believe things that the world might consider to be “impossible.”