This weekend, my neighbours south of the border celebrate their nation’s birthday.
July 4th is known as Independence Day for our American friends. There is much to admire about their yearning for freedom and their hard-won independence.
On the whole, independence is a good thing. We try to foster independence in our children, and rejoice when they’re finally able to do tasks for themselves, such as tying their own shoelaces or making their own beds (although some teenagers never seem to master this one).
But as Christians, we have a slightly different take on independence. We’re called to live “in dependence” on God, not independent of Him.
I received an alarming notice in my mailbox from my neighbourhood association recently.
It informed me that there was an infestation of “dog-strangling vine” in the area. Dog-strangling vine is an unwanted, invasive plant that can choke out native species. The leaflet told me what steps to take if I saw this plant in my yard, and who to report its presence to.
Inexplicably missing from the notice, however, was the answer to a crucial question:
Will the dog-strangling vine actually strangle my dog?
I’ve conducted some research on this vital issue for readers of The Faith Cafe and can assure you that this crafty vine likely won’t strangle your canine. Unless, of course, he sits next to the vine and keeps perfectly still for several weeks. But if your dog isn’t in the habit of sitting motionless next to murderous flora, he’s probably safe from this vicious plant.
I’m being facetious, of course, but perhaps there’s a lesson here for us when it comes to sin:
If we just sit there and take no action to avoid the temptation, we’ll get into trouble.
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.
I love desserts that you can make on the spur of the moment, with ingredients you already have in your kitchen (like the recipe for coffee cake below). The ones where you don’t need to make a special trip to the store to find an uncommon or rarely used ingredient.
For instance, I love the flavour of pistachios, but rarely keep them on hand in my cupboard. Walnuts, on the other hand, are more likely to be found year-round in my kitchen. If a recipe calls for nuts, I know I’m bound to have some walnuts I can use.
Or what about an ingredient like rosewater? It sounds like it would create an exotic dessert, but who keeps rosewater in their pantry?
When I was a little girl, I always loved baking cookies with my Mom. The best part was when I “helped” her clean the mixing bowl.
Many people have fond memories of their Moms letting them “lick the bowl”: that is, scraping up and eating the bits of leftover cookie dough on the sides of the bowl.
My Mom would go one better than that, however. She’d deliberately leave not just the scrapings, but extra spoonfuls of cookie dough in the bowl for me to eat. Sometimes I wonder if more of the dough ended up in my stomach than on the cookie sheets to bake!
Isn’t God like that with us, too? He sometimes gives us unexpected favour or extra blessings in our lives just to show us how much He loves us.
We find an illustration of this favour in the beautiful Biblical story of Ruth.
Is there a colour more exquisite than robin’s-egg blue? If there is, I’m not aware of it.
To me, the tiny oval of a robin’s egg is perfection itself. Its soft blue-green hue seems to evoke a feeling of serenity. And the shape of the egg itself, all gentle curves, seems to echo this calmness.
I’d love to keep it that way forever, just so, and never see it broken.
There’s only one problem with this: if the egg stayed intact, a baby robin would never be born.
Sometimes we have to break something we cherish for an even more beautiful thing to come into being.
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.
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?
There’s something strange about the crisis the world is undergoing right now: from the outside, things look surprisingly normal.
If you view the streets of your town during this pandemic, most things look the same as they did before. The buildings are intact, the streetlights come on at night like clockwork, and the spring flowers are blooming. This isn’t a crisis like a flood or earthquake, where the devastation is plain to see.
The COVID-19 crisis seems almost invisible, until you realize that something isn’t quite right when you look around: missing from the scene is the normal hum of human activity. The workplaces are shut, people aren’t in restaurants, and children aren’t in playgrounds. An eerie quiet pervades most areas.
It’s only when you look behind closed doors that you see the devastating impact of the pandemic. The high death toll in some nursing homes, the stressed out health care workers, and the loneliness of self-isolation.
When we have a crisis of our own, like depression or despair, we can look a bit like those intact buildings. Things look normal from the outside. When people look at us, there’s no evidence of the turmoil raging within.
During the past week hundreds of millions of people around the globe have been told to “shelter in place,” a phrase normally reserved for natural disasters or violent attacks. In today’s context, it means to stay at home for a certain length of time to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
Good advice. But what if it’s your heart that needs shelter? Where can you go when you need protection from emotional distress?
The Bible speaks of a shelter that believers can turn to when events threaten to overwhelm us: