God Won’t Waste Your Pain

Quilting Bee circa 1910, New Jersey
Photo by Richard on Flickr CC BY-2.0

Did you grow up in a family that hated wasting things? So did I.

Instead of throwing out old scraps of fabric, my paternal great-grandmother would twist the lengths and sew the resulting cords together into a rag rug. Nothing was wasted.

It was the same on my mother’s side of the family. Material from clothes that were no longer of use would be cut up and sewn into quilts. My Mom recalls sitting underneath the quilting frame as a child when her mother and other female relatives worked together at a quilting bee (Mom thought she was “helping” push the needle back up to the top surface). Even as a little girl, my mother learned an early lesson in letting nothing go to waste.

I must have inherited that trait.

I love recipes that not only produce a yummy result, but that are efficient. By that I mean that you’re not left with partly used cans of an ingredient that will languish in the fridge and eventually have to be thrown out.

I prefer a recipe that uses up the whole can of an ingredient, or, if it calls for 3 egg yolks for the batter, it also calls for 3 egg whites for the filling or a meringue (see cheesecake recipe below). Nothing is wasted. No leftover egg whites that you have to store until you think of another recipe that can use them up.

Likewise, I think God is efficient in how He manages our lives. He won’t waste anything we go through: it all has a purpose, even the negative parts.

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Golden at the Broken Places

Bowl repaired by Kintsugi method by artist Ruthann Hurwitz
Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA-4.0

We all shudder at the sound of something breaking, don’t we? We can’t help but wince when we hear glass or crockery shattering into pieces on the floor.

Why do we have that involuntary reaction? Because we know that the object probably can’t be repaired: it’s likely to be damaged irreparably, and must be thrown away.

We’re wincing at the sound of loss.

But what if there were a way to not only put the pieces back together, but to make the object more beautiful than it was before, despite the breaks?

The Japanese long ago invented a way of doing just that, and have even made an art form of it. It’s called “Kintsugi,” which means “golden joinery.” The process involves mending the cracks in pottery with gold lacquer. Instead of trying to hide the damaged areas, they are instead highlighted with something precious. The end result is a restored piece of pottery that is beautiful at the broken places.

But what happens if it’s not a piece of pottery that is broken, but a life? How can a shattered heart be put back together?

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Give It Time

Handkerchief Tree photo from Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Do you get the feeling that society is becoming too impatient?

We seem to expect instant results these days: immediate responses to our texts or emails, same-day delivery for things we order, instantaneous loading of videos or web pages. In fact, a study showed that a YouTube video that loads slowly will start losing viewers after two seconds.

The problem is that sometimes our impatience with technology gets applied to people, too. We expect people to change quickly, and if they don’t, we lose patience with them and give up on them.

This reminds me of the tale of the handkerchief tree.

Called the dove tree in its native China, it became known to Western visitors in the late 1800s, who were entranced by it. The handkerchief tree features stunning white bracts surrounding its flowers, which resemble doves, ghosts or fluttering handkerchiefs, hence its name in the West.

European botanists in China collected the seeds and brought them back home, keen to grow such a gorgeous tree. One gardener planted the seeds, but was disappointed to find after a year that they hadn’t sprouted into seedlings. Figuring that the seeds must be no good, he discarded them by dumping them onto his compost pile, then forgot about them.

To his surprise, two years later he saw a bunch of seedlings on the compost pile. They were from the handkerchief tree. They had sprouted after all!

What he didn’t know was that seeds of the handkerchief tree have what’s called a “double dormancy”: they require two years to germinate, unlike most seeds which will sprout within the first year.

He had written them off too soon.

Don’t we do the same with people sometimes?

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Got Baggage? Jesus Understands

Image by Scott O’Donnell on Flickr CC BY-2.0

Do you ever feel like you have too much “baggage” to ever be accepted by people, let alone by God?

Do you need a sense of hope that you could be loved despite the burdens you’re carrying from your background? Then read on…

A few weeks ago, we explored the moving account of Ruth and Boaz in the Old Testament. It’s a favourite of many people, because it’s one of the few outright love stories in the Bible. But we sometimes get so caught up in the romance of the story that we miss how startling their pairing actually was.

Boaz was a wealthy landowner living in ancient Israel. He was successful and respected, a descendent of Abraham himself. One would have expected him to marry a woman of his own people, someone from an equally illustrious family.

But Boaz ended up marrying Ruth, a woman with three strikes against her: she was poor, a widow and a foreigner. She had nothing and was a nobody in the eyes of the Israelites. In fact, she was worse than that: she was a Moabite, a group hated by the Israelites. No doubt Ruth was looked down on by many in the community.

So why would Boaz agree to marry her? We know that Boaz respected Ruth for how she’d cared for her mother-in-law. And certainly, God’s hand was on their meeting and their union. But why was Boaz so accepting of the idea of marrying someone like Ruth? Why was he not put off by her “baggage”?

I believe an answer lies in Boaz’ background. Turns out he had some baggage of his own.

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When Bad Cakes Happen to Good People

Cake Explosion Photo by Raffi Asdourian on Flickr CC BY-2.0

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, recipes don’t turn out the way they’re supposed to.

Your soufflé turns into a pancake; your cookies are as hard as hockey pucks; or your cake is a soggy mess. Any way you slice it (if it’s even possible to slice it), the recipe results in a total disaster.

Sometimes it’s due to a mistake on your part. You accidentally added twice the amount of an ingredient called for (guilty!); you used Shake ’n’ Bake instead of graham cracker crumbs for the dessert base; or you put the pizza in the oven for 450 minutes at 15 degrees, instead of 15 minutes at 450 degrees.

Or maybe the fault lies with someone else. The recipe’s author might have led you astray by inadvertently calling for 1/2 pound of flour instead of 1/2 cup’s worth. You only discover later that the recipe contained errors when you see a correction printed in the next day’s newspaper or blog post. But by then, of course, it’s too late: your family is using the rock-hard muffins you made as door-stops.

Often, you didn’t see a recipe fail coming at all. You followed the instructions to the letter, but it still didn’t work out. The ingredients may not have behaved as you expected due to humidity, altitude, or their age. Your oven may be hotter or colder than you realized, or your flour is harder than the type tested in the recipe. It wasn’t your fault, but just the nature of baking.

As Marian Keyes puts it in her cookbook, “Saved by Cake,” sometimes bad cakes happen to good people.

It’s the same in our lives, isn’t it? Sometimes things go wrong even when we’ve tried to do everything right. Our lives don’t turn out the way we expected.

But there’s good news for the believer in God: He can redeem any mistake and turn things around for your good and His glory.

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Break Your Four-Minute Mile

Last October in Vienna, Kenyan Olympic champion Eluid Kipchoge made history. He became the first person to run a marathon in under two hours, a feat that had long seemed impossible.

After running the 26.2 mile course in one hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds, Kipchoge drew comparisons to Sir Roger Bannister. Bannister was the Briton who in 1954 became the first person to run one mile in under four minutes, an achievement also once thought to be unattainable.

Kipchoge said something very significant after his race: “I expect more people all over the world to run under two hours after today.”

Why did he say that? Because Kipchoge knew that a funny thing had happened after Bannister’s victory: other people began breaking the four-minute mile as well. They suddenly saw that it was possible, and were inspired to believe that if Bannister could do it, so could they. The barrier he broke for people was just as much a mental one as a physical one.

Do you have a “four-minute mile” in your life? Are there things you would like to achieve, but you feel they’re impossible?

Take courage, because God specializes in breaking barriers!

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God Sees You in Infrared

Bee on cosmos flower
Photo by Veronica H. on Pixabay

Did you know that some birds and bees can see things that are completely invisible to us? They’re able to see in infrared, just beyond the wavelengths of the visible light spectrum that human eyes can detect.

What looks to us like a regular pink flower might resemble a helicopter landing pad to a bee. Where we see only the uniform expanse of one colour, the bee may see a target-shaped design of several differently coloured concentric circles. The bee’s infrared vision allows it to home in on the most nectar-rich part of the flower.

The world looks completely different when you can see in infrared.

I sometimes think that God sees us in “infrared.” He can see things in us that are invisible to others, and even to ourselves.

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Beauty Out Of Brokenness

Sea glass on a rock
Photo by treenabelle on Pixabay

Once the worst of this pandemic is over, psychologists warn that many of us may suffer from post-traumatic stress for some time to come. Some of us will have lost a job, seen our business close down for good, suffered isolation and loneliness, or may have even lost a loved one during the COVID-19 crisis.

But is PTSD a given in these circumstances? Is there different outcome that can occur, an unexpected benefit that may arise out of these difficult times?

Psychologists say yes: there’s such a thing as post-traumatic growth. It’s been found in survivors of war, cancer, and natural disasters. Some people emerge from a crisis with increased spirituality, a greater sense of personal strength, new priorities and closer relationships with others. What could have broken them actually made them better.

This phenomenon reminds me a bit of “sea glass.” Sea glass, or beach glass, found washed up on shores, starts out as merely cast-aside pieces of broken glass. Perhaps they’ve been tossed overboard from a ship, or thrown into the sea from land along with other garbage.

These shards of glass endure years of being buffeted against the stones of the sea bottom. It seems like they’re being dashed about mercilessly by the relentless action of the waves. Surely no good could come of this?

But then, something almost magical emerges.

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The Best Worst Day

1895 lithograph of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”
Photo by Steven Zucker on Flickr CC BY-NC-SA-2.0

There are some dates in history which stand out for being associated with awful events. Each year, when the calendar rolls around to these dates, we shudder in horror when we recall what happened.

Here are a few “worst days in history” that come to mind:

September 11th, 2001: the deadly World Trade Centre terrorist attacks in New York.

August 6, 1945: the dropping of a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

June 28, 1914: the day Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, igniting the horrific First World War which killed tens of millions.

December 26, 2004: the Boxing Day tsunami which killed hundreds of thousands.

Some horrible dates in history have specific terms associated with them, such as:

December 7, 1941: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a date which President Roosevelt said would “live in infamy.”

October 29, 1929: called “Black Tuesday,” the worst day of a stock market crash which would send the world spiralling into the Great Depression.

What term is associated with the horrible day Jesus Christ was crucified?

Good. It’s called Good Friday.

But why?

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The Most Dazzling Christmas Light

Photo by Paul Vladuchick on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

What’s your favourite Christmas tradition? Is it exchanging gifts, baking special desserts, decorating the tree, or perhaps wearing ugly Christmas sweaters?

For many of us, our most cherished Christmas tradition probably involves lights, whether they’re on your own Christmas tree, or decorating houses in your neighbourhood. Some people go all out, putting tens of thousands of lights on their home, as in the example pictured above. Apparently, the interior of that house is decorated with the same exuberance, and with all the lights on, the homeowner can’t use the microwave without blowing all the fuses.

This season is inextricably linked to lights, but might we have missed the most important light of all?

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