Clues to God’s Presence

If you’re out in the countryside, how can you tell if you’re near water?

You may be able to catch a glimpse of blue and know that you’re near a lake or pond, but sometimes trees may hide it from your view. What then?

You can use your other senses, plus search for indirect clues.

If you hear the sound of waves lapping on the shore or running water cascading over rocks, you know you’re close to water even if you can’t see it.

Hearing the call of the red-winged blackbird can be another clue, because this bird prefers habitats near water.

Your sense of smell might help you detect the presence of water, too. Wet earth gives off a distinctive scent, and the presence of algae in a lake also emits an odour that can be a tip-off.

If vegetation is blocking the sight of a pond or river, even that vegetation itself can be a clue for you. If you see lots of willow trees, you’re bound to be near water, as willows are naturally found there.

So there are things we can look for that indicate the presence of water, even if it’s hidden from our sight.

But what about when we’re trying to determine if God is near?

We might not be able to see Him directly in physical form, but are there still indications that our Heavenly Father is close by?

Yes!

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The Bright Side of Storms

Photo by slgckgc on Flickr CC BY-2.0

Gardeners know that storms can wreak terrible havoc with their plant friends.

If the winds are strong enough, mature trees can be downed, leaving a gaping hole where they once stood.

In a garden, the loss of a large tree upsets the ecosystem of the area. It changes all manner of things, from the shade afforded plants in the understory, to the strength of the wind that buffets them, to the amount of rain reaching the ground. The entire microclimate is affected.

But the subtraction of a tree also presents new opportunities for a gardener.

Suddenly, more sunlight and rain can reach the area. There is space now for new plants or trees to grow that couldn’t before. Where once the gardener was limited to plants suitable only for shade, now he or she can consider roses, vegetables or other sun-loving plants.

So I suppose a storm’s effects aren’t always strictly negative for gardeners.

But what about the storms of life? Is there anything good that can come when some disaster leaves a gaping hole in our lives?

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God Hasn’t Changed A Bit!

Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow plant. Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA-3.0

Some flowers have a trick up their sleeve (or up their petals):

They’re able to change colour.

I recently noticed a beautiful flowering plant heavy with pink blossoms in a neighbour’s garden. When I walked by several days later, I saw that some of the flowers had turned a lighter creamy colour as they matured. I did a double take and had to make sure I was indeed looking at the same plant as before.

Other flowering plants have the same ability to surprise us with shifting colours.

Among them is the aptly named “yesterday-today-and-tomorrow” plant. This tropical shrub has short-lived flowers which change colour as they age. They start out as purple, then shift to lavender and finally fade to white before dropping from the plant.

While flowers that change colour can delight and surprise us, sometimes we need something unchanging and constant in our lives.

Isn’t it good to know that we can count on God to always remain the same?

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5 Things A Monstera Plant Can Teach You

Photo by Maja Dumat on Flickr CC BY-2.0

Can the monstera houseplant teach us something about our faith in God?

This plant, nicknamed the Swiss cheese plant, has become hugely popular in recent times. Much sought after, it has risen to the status of an icon among houseplant aficionados.

But besides being a fun plant to grow indoors, is there anything we can learn from the monstera? Can its example help us grow spiritually?

I believe that just about everything in the natural world can teach us something that can deepen our faith. I like how Ralph Waldo Emerson put it: “Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact.”

And the monstera is no exception!

Here are 5 things this special and beloved plant can teach us:

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The Comparison Trap

Image by Sue Rickhuss from Pixabay

Around this time of year, an unwanted visitor makes its way into many a gardener’s life.

I’m not talking about weeds or pests, although we certainly have to contend with those.

Rather, I’m referring to garden envy.

It starts out when we’re visiting the gardens of friends or neighbours. At first, we admire their lush plantings and attractive landscaping.

If we’re not careful, however, this appreciation can morph into envy. We think, I wish I had roses as beautiful as hers. Or, if only I had room in my yard for a gazebo like he does.

This envy can then develop into disenchantment with what we have. Why am I stuck with so much shade in my yard? Why can’t we afford an inground pool?

We can even become resentful of our comparatively meagre gardens, when we should be grateful to have a garden at all: many people don’t.

Envy is something we need to nip in the bud, whether it relates to our gardens or our lives.

We get into trouble when we start comparing ourselves to others. This is true even in spiritual matters.

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Do Not Disturb?

Columbine Flower. Image by Paul McGowan from Pixabay

Gardeners know that every plant species has its own personality.

Some are easygoing and low maintenance; they’ll happily bloom wherever you plant them.

Others, however, are stubborn and picky. They simply will not cooperate when you try to transplant them.

When they’re comfortably settled in the soil they call home, they’re highly resistant to being moved. They might as well have a sign hanging on their branches that says, “Do Not Disturb.”

I found this out the hard way with some columbines in my yard. Try as I might, I can’t get them to transplant successfully to another location. It’s like they’d rather die in protest than go along with my plans.

We may not want to admit this, but some of us are a lot like my columbines.

Sometimes God wants us to make a major change in our lives to carry out His purposes and plans. It may be to change where we live or what we do.

But we often stubbornly resist His instructions. We dig in our heels in protest at any unwanted disturbance to our lives, even if we know the new course of action is something God would like us to undertake. We simply refuse to cooperate or obey.

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The Master of Deception

Peacock Butterfly. Image by 👀 Mabel Amber from Pixabay

If you’re out for a walk in nature, you may not realize how much you’re being tricked.

You may think you’ve got an accurate picture of the natural world around you, but in many cases, you’re being fooled.

That’s because some creatures are masters of deception.

Stick insects camouflage themselves by mimicking the shape and colour of twigs on a tree. Moths may blend in so well with the bark pattern of the tree they’re resting on that you’d never know they’re there.

The killdeer bird fakes having a broken wing to make a predator think she will be an easy meal, thereby luring it away from the vulnerable chicks in her nest. Then she suddenly flies away, to the surprise of the predator.

Even beautiful butterflies get in on the act of trickery. Some species have markings on their wings that look like huge eyes. The eyespots may discourage a predator from attacking by making it think the insect is in fact a much larger animal.

These false eyes may serve another purpose: to encourage an attacker to aim for the wrong target. The markings deflect an attack away from the butterfly’s head or body to parts less vital for survival, such as its wing margins. By using this deception, the butterfly outwits its enemies and is able to fly away with a torn wing at worst, but otherwise relatively unscathed.

Butterflies aren’t the only creatures to use misdirection in this way:

Satan does, too, and we need to be wise to his tactics. We may not realize how much he’s tricking us.

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The Cutworms Of Our Lives

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

If you’re a young seedling trying to survive, the worst thing that can happen to you is to be set upon by a cutworm.

Gardeners know this all too well. We start seeds indoors early in the season, with grand visions of the sturdy and beautiful plants they’ll eventually become. We baby the seedlings and give them just the right amount of water and light to set them on their journey to a bright future.

But then, soon after we’ve planted the seedlings in their forever home in our garden, disaster strikes.

The dreaded cutworm arrives in the night and stealthily attacks our precious young plants. It eats through their tender stems at ground level, cutting them off at the knees, as it were.

When we eagerly bound outside in the morning to check on the progress of our young charges, we’re confronted with a garden plot that has been laid waste in the most cruel way. Severed young plants lie helplessly wilting, cut off from the roots supplying them with sustenance. There is no hope for them now: they will surely die.

What makes it worse is that the cutworm hasn’t even bothered to eat the whole seedling, like a rabbit would: it seems to have acted out of sheer spite.

The cutworm has done its worst, and all we can do is mourn.

I’m overdramatizing this, of course, but the frustration, anger and sense of powerlessness gardeners feel when faced with the cutworm’s nefarious deeds are very real.

Even if you’re not a gardener, you’ve probably experienced emotions like these in your life. I’m sure we all have.

Because there will always be people trying to cut you down to size.

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Rumour Has It

Same tree in winter and summer. Photo by Coanri/Rita on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

It can be hard to believe we’ll ever be back to normal life, can’t it?

We’ve lived so long in this pandemic-induced limbo that sometimes it doesn’t seem plausible that our regular lives will ever resume. It can seem like this state of suspended animation will drag on and on and leave our usual way of life just out of reach.

We might hear of other countries where day-to-day life is approaching normalcy, but this almost seems like a rumour intended to taunt us.

It can feel the same way in the bitter depths of winter, too. We get so accustomed to the frigid temperatures, bare trees and snow-covered landscapes that it’s hard to believe there’s such a thing as summer.

This feeling of incredulity reminds me of a quotation from John Crowley’s fantasy novel, “Little, Big”:

“Love is a myth,” Grandfather Trout said. “Like summer.”

“What?”

“In winter,” Grandfather Trout said, “summer is a myth. A report, a rumour. Not to be believed in. Get it? Love is a myth. So is summer.”

This passage speaks of romantic love, but I think this quotation applies equally well to the way God sometimes works in our lives.

In “winter” seasons of our lives, when things aren’t going well for us, it seems like the status quo will drag on and on. We’re skeptical that anything could ever change. The idea that things will someday turn around for us seems like a cruel rumour, something it’s not safe to believe in.

But as we know, love, like summer, is not a myth or a rumour.

Neither is God’s goodness.

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The Dark Side of the Moon

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Is the “dark side” of the moon truly as dark as we think it is?

From Earth, we only see one side of our companion satellite. The moon is “tidally locked” with our planet, with the result that it always presents the same face to us.

Because we can’t see the side of the moon facing away from the Earth, we sometimes assume that it’s in perpetual darkness.

But this isn’t so. The “dark side” of the moon (which should more accurately be called the “far side”) gets just as much sunlight as the face we see. All sides of the moon receive the sun’s light equally in turn.

From the sun’s perspective, the moon doesn’t have a dark side at all.

It’s our perspective that throws us off and leads us to the wrong conclusion.

We can easily fall prey to misconceptions about our own lives, too. When we don’t have the right perspective, we can assume that things are darker than they really are.

Naomi in the Old Testament Book of Ruth certainly made this mistake.

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