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 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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Absent-Minded Gardening

Photo by Roman Boed from Pxhere

Have you ever noticed a flower growing in a peculiar spot in your garden and wondered, “How did that get there? Did I do that?”

You might see a rogue tulip popping up incongruously in the middle of your lawn.

Or you do a double-take when you see a cluster of flowers flourishing in the corner, but you have no recollection of having planted them there.

What gives?

In some cases, squirrels might be the culprits. They’re notorious for unearthing tulip bulbs and burying them someplace else for future consumption, only to forget about them.

At other times, you might have tried growing something yourself from seeds but they never seemed to germinate. You give up and completely forget about them. A few years later, however, flowers are blooming in that corner after all, to your great surprise.

The same dynamic is sometimes at play when we plant “seeds” in someone’s life.

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With God, You Get the Flower First!

Redbud blossoms. Photo by Sheila Brown, Public Domain CC0

Sometimes nature can be a bit unpredictable—things happen in an order we wouldn’t expect.

Normally, plants put forth leaves long before they produce flowers.

But some trees and shrubs flip the script, so to speak.

With certain plants, the normal sequence is reversed: the flowers come first, before the leaves have developed.

A good example is the beautiful redbud tree. It puts forth gorgeous pink flowers on its bare branches in early spring, when none of its leaves are yet in sight.

The forsythia shrub bears its bright yellow flowers in advance of its leaves, and the lovely magnolia presents its pink or white blooms before the green foliage appears. Some maples and oaks also exhibit this flower-first behaviour, although with less showy blossoms.

All of these plants give us a treat in springtime when we’re starved for colour. We get the flower first without having to wait for the leaves.

Why do some plants reverse the normal order of things?

Some trees are wind-pollinated, so put forth flowers before their bulky leaves get in the way. The same goes for flowers that need extra sunlight. Other plants produce a mass of conspicuous flowers first, unobscured by leaves, to better attract the attention of pollinating insects.

Did you know that God also flipped the script and gave us the flower first, so to speak?

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Beauty in Unexpected Places

Burl on Tree Trunk.
Image by Evelyn Simak, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY SA-2.0

Sometimes there can be magic hidden within the most unlikely of places.

Take tree burls, for instance (or burrs, to our British friends).

These rounded, knotty growths found on tree trunks can seem very ugly.

Burls form when the tree is under some kind of stress, causing bud growth cells to develop in an abnormal way. Such stressors might include bacteria, viruses, fungi, insect infestations, or wounds. A burl is visible evidence of how the tree is dealing with these attacks.

They look rather like tumours, and mar the otherwise regular pattern of the bark.

Surely there’s nothing good about burls?

But there is.

Their unsightly exterior hides magnificence.

Few people know that inside these contorted and gnarled outgrowths is concealed something wonderful. The wood that burls yield is unusual and highly figured, making it valued and sought after by woodworkers and artists.

This unique wood is prized for its beauty and rarity, and is often used for veneers or inlays in fine furniture, trim or panelling inside luxury cars, and for household objects like bowls or pens, which become works of art.

Do you have a few “burls” in your life? Some knotty problems that have grown into a tangled mess?

Wonder if God could ever bring something good out of them?

He can!

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