Need A Clean Slate?

Image of birch bark by Lisa Johnson from Pixabay

If you feel like you could use a clean slate, you’re not the only one.

Birch trees feel the need to start afresh with a new page occasionally, too.

Except they do it literally, by allowing their outer bark to peel off to reveal a fresh layer underneath.

Why do birches do this?

After all, most trees don’t shed their bark. As trees grow from the inside out, their rigid outer bark, which can’t stretch, splits and cracks instead. This gives tree bark the rough texture and fissure-like patterns that we’re all familiar with.

The drawback of these crevices and grooves is that pests and parasites like to burrow into them, which can affect the health of the tree.

Birches have solved this problem by growing smooth bark. This type of bark doesn’t split, which means it’s more impervious to insects, bacteria and fungi. As the birch grows, it exfoliates some of its outer bark, like a snake shedding its skin.

Along with the shed bark the tree is able to cast off insects, moss and lichen at the same time. Birch trees are continually refreshing themselves.

Smart, isn’t it?

Could you use a fresh start, too? Would you like to get rid of some things that are dragging you down?

Jesus gives us an opportunity to do just that.

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The Way of Escape

Image of Jewelweed flower by jimaro morales from Pixabay

Sometimes Mother Nature can reach out and bite you.

If you’ve ever suffered the ill effects of a run-in with stinging nettles or poison ivy, you’ll know what I mean.

Both of these plants produce an unpleasant, itchy rash if your exposed skin comes in contact with them. If this happens when you’re out in the woods and nowhere near a pharmacy to buy rash cream, where do you find some relief?

From Mother Nature herself!

The wilderness might have stung you, but it also provides an effective solution.

Plants such as dock and jewelweed (also called touch-me-not) help relieve the sting from nettles and the itch from poison ivy. The sap of these “rescue” plants, when rubbed on the skin, provides a cooling, soothing effect. Native Americans have known this trick for millennia.

Conveniently, dock and jewelweed can usually be found growing in the same area as poison ivy and stinging nettles.

Coincidence? I’m not so sure.

I think God placed the “cures” near the harmful plants on purpose.

For one thing, He knew we’d need a ready remedy for skin woes when out in the bush.

Also, it illustrates a truth contained in the Bible:

When we are faced with temptation, God always provides a way of escape along with it.

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Plant the Seeds of Your Dreams

Vintage seed packets. Photo by Douglas Coulter on Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

If you’re a gardener, you probably have a stash of seeds tucked away.

I certainly do. I have a special bin in a cupboard where I store all my seed packets:

Envelopes containing seeds I’ve harvested over the years from plants in my garden. Seeds that friends have collected from their own gardens and then passed on to me, along with handwritten notes about the plants.

Packets of seeds I’ve bought the Botanic Garden’s seed fairs that look intriguing: seeds of rare plants, unusual colours of better known plants, or hard-to-find heirloom varieties of vegetables or flowers.

I have a veritable treasure trove of seeds in my cupboard!

There’s only one problem:

Those seeds are doing me absolutely no good sitting in a bin on a shelf.

I may take the packets out from time to time and look rapturously at the photos on the front. I might imagine how nice it would be to grow such gorgeous flowers or unusual veggies.

But until I put those seeds in the ground, all they are is wishful thinking and pretty pictures.

If I don’t take a step of faith and plant my seeds, I’ll never get a harvest.

Similarly, we sometimes leave our dreams and desires on a shelf, so to speak.

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We Must Experience Christ Firsthand

What’s your favourite floral fragrance?

If you said rose or lavender, you’re in luck.

These flowers are among those from which we can easily extract essential oils. These substances can then be used in products ranging from perfumes to scented soaps. If you love the smell of these flowers, you have all manner of ways to experience the scent. You can do so directly, by smelling the flower, or secondhand, as it were, through items made from their oils.

But some flowers don’t produce enough usable essential oils.

My favourite floral scent, lilac, is one of them.

Unfortunately for me, the aromatic compounds in lilacs are nearly impossible to acquire. Trying to extract the fragrance through steam distillation can end up destroying the scent profile. And the tiny amount of essential oils that may result are so expensive to produce that it’s not economically worthwhile to bother.

The end result is that you can’t buy true lilac essential oil. Perfumers may be able to mimic the scent of lilacs through synthesis, but the resulting fragrance hasn’t been distilled solely from the actual flower itself; it’s merely an approximation, a blend of other floral notes. No chemist can authentically capture the unique scent of the lilac.

If you want to experience the true fragrance of lilacs, there’s only one way to do it. You have to experience it “live,” by smelling an actual cluster of flowers.

Likewise, if we want to experience Jesus, it has to be “live.”

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Weeding, Like Forgiving, Never Ends

Weeding the garden, like forgiving, is a task that’s never-ending.

We can’t simply say, “I weeded last week, so I’m done now. I won’t need to weed for the rest of the season.”

Every gardener know that the weeds will keep cropping up. The job of weeding is one that lasts for as long as you have a garden.

So it is with forgiving those who have offended or hurt us. Forgiving is not optional for believers: we are to forgive others as God has forgiven us.

But sometimes we think that it’s a “one-and-done” effort. We grudgingly forgive someone once, and assume we’re done with it.

Inevitably, though, we learn that it doesn’t work that way. The next week, we might ruminate about what they did to us and get mad all over again. We find there’s still a root of bitterness in our heart, and we have to forgive them once more.

Like weeding, the duty to forgive is ongoing. It may require more “rinse and repeat” cycles than you might imagine.

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Allow God to Prune You

Fruit tree espaliered against wall. Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

If I were a young apple tree, I probably wouldn’t like being pruned very much.

If I saw the gardener heading my way with secateurs or pruning shears, I’d probably flinch. I would hope that he would just give me a little trim, and leave most of my luxuriant growth intact.

But the gardener invariably has other ideas.

I’d watch in horror as one branch after another was lopped off. They seemed perfectly good to me, but the gardener thought otherwise.

Why has the gardener cut me back so severely?

To make me more fruitful.

God does the same with us, and we find it just as uncomfortable.

The truth is, pruning hurts, and it seems to involve so much wastage.

But our loving Heavenly Father knows that it’s for our own good. Scripture says that it’s for His glory that we bear much fruit.

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What Makes A Garden?

Japanese garden. Image by Drobekpetr from Pixabay

If something doesn’t fit your idea of a garden, is it still a garden?

I must confess to having trouble warming up to Japanese gardens. They often feature distinctive elements such as conifers and moss, gravel raked to suggest waves in water, stone lanterns or water basins, and perhaps a bridge.

But to me, a garden isn’t really a garden unless its primary focus is an abundance of colourful flowers.

So are Japanese gardens still gardens? Very much so!

They still celebrate nature, even if some elements are suggested rather than incorporated literally. They still reflect the beauty that God has placed on this Earth. They still have the essentials down pat.

I guess I need to expand my idea of what a garden is.

We shouldn’t look askance at the way others have created their gardens. God smiles on them all.

Perhaps this is a lesson we can apply to the Christian life, too.

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Being Cruel To Be Kind

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Sometimes, in the garden as in life, you have to be cruel to be kind.

Perhaps like me, you’ve started seeds indoors in late winter. I have a sunny spot in a front bay window where I put my trays of seeds.

I cover them while they’re germinating to keep them warm and moist. After they’ve sprouted, I check the seedlings daily in their protected nook and make sure they’re well watered.

Life for my little seedlings is sweet.

However, I’ve sometimes made the mistake of babying my charges too much. They then shoot up too fast and get “leggy”: their stems are tall but weak.

The problem with this is that when they’re transplanted outdoors, they won’t be able to cope well with the harsher conditions in the garden: the colder night temperatures, the wind buffeting them or the rain pelting on them.

What I need to do is subject the seedlings to a bit of hardship while they’re still in their trays indoors. So I’ve learned that I should blow on them or run my hand over them to simulate wind: this will strengthen their stems. I harden them off by gradually introducing them to greater temperature fluctuations and stronger sunlight. I let them feel a bit of cold.

The seedlings may not like what I’m doing to them, but my efforts will produce stronger plants that will have a better chance of surviving and thriving once translated outside. I do them no favours if I coddle them and leave them unprepared for the hardships they’ll face outdoors.

I think God does the same with us.

Sometimes He subjects us to unwelcome things in order to toughen us up and prepare us for what lies ahead. We may not like it, but He would be an unloving Father if He didn’t do so.

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Weed-Free Living

Image of dandelions by Hans Linde from Pixabay

Is it just my imagination, or do weeds actually grow faster than the flowers I’m trying to nurture?

Gardeners will know what I’m talking about. Weeds seem to be gifted with internal steroids that accelerate their growth, outpacing the delicate flowers that we’ve brought home from the garden centre.

Weeds don’t seem to be affected by lack of rain or by intense heat. They’ll grow just about anywhere. They’re speed demons of growth compared to the flowers we try to baby along with regular watering and fertilizing.

I looked into this crucial issue on behalf of readers of The Faith Cafe, and found that weeds do have some competitive advantages.

Weeds which are perennials have the benefit of established root systems that have been alive for many years; these dormant roots have a lot of stored energy. Perennial weeds grow faster and are harder to kill than annuals.

Weeds are already acclimated to the region’s soil, and are highly adaptable. They’re usually native plants that thrive in the local ecosystem, unlike plants from the garden centre which may be non-native and need time to adjust.

Weed seeds are already present in our garden soil. They bide their time until the right conditions present themselves, and then race out of the soil. They’re often excellent self-propagators and are opportunistic growers.

All these things give weeds a head start over the flowers we favour.

This got me thinking:

Why do the “weeds” of our character grow better than the fruits of the Spirit?

Are there lessons we can learn from the natural world?

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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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