Looking out the window here at The Faith Cafe, you see that the trees in the park display a stark beauty.
Stripped of their leaves in winter, they stand amid the snow looking rather barren and forlorn.
But a funny thing happens when a tree has lost its leaves: you can see things that you didn’t know were there before.
Going for a walk in your neighbourhood in winter, you might see that the bare trees are now revealing things that had been concealed by summer’s foliage. You might be surprised to see a bird’s nest the size of a teacup nestled in the bare branches; you’d passed beneath it dozens of times without knowing it was right above you.
Or you might see a larger nest, called a drey, which was built by squirrels. You’d had no idea that the squirrels had been raising a family there in their hidden home, perhaps in a tree just feet from your own house.
With the trees denuded of leaves, you might spot a kite or balloon that had been caught in the branches months before. Only winter could reveal this lost object. Maybe it belonged to your child: “So that’s where it went!” you think.
Or you realize that there are dead branches in some of the trees around your house that need removing. You can only see the problem now that the dense foliage has been stripped away.
So it is with us, too.
Sometimes there are things we can only see when we hit a barren season in our lives, brought on by a loss, a breakup, a setback, or a disappointment. Sometimes it’s only when something has been stripped away from us that other things are revealed.
I don’t know about you, but I still have trouble recognizing acquaintances when they’re wearing a mask.
One of the unusual things this pandemic has taught us is just how much we rely on a person’s whole face to clue us in to who they are.
When someone wears a mask, we’re missing half the visual information we normally get from their features. It takes us longer to cotton on to who it is.
We waltz past someone, glance at the top half of their face above their mask, and think they look vaguely familiar.
“That’s not so-and-so, is it?” we wonder, as we keep walking.
Too late, we realize it was so-and-so. We can only hope they weren’t offended that we sped past them without a hello.
This pandemic has been unnerving in many ways. Mask-wearing has robbed us of some of the crucial information we need to identify people quickly. Not only that, masks also deprive us of the ability to see people smile.
Do you ever feel like you’re only seeing half of God’s “face,” as it were?
Has hardship obscured His features from your sight? Do you long to see Him smile upon you again?
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.
Have you ever been shocked to find out that things which look nothing alike are actually closely related?
I know two men who are brothers, but who don’t resemble one another at all. One takes after his father with his dark, curly hair; the other has his mother’s straight blond hair. You would never take them for siblings by just looking at them.
It’s the same in the natural world, too. There are some plants which surprisingly belong to the same family, despite looking totally different. Broccoli and cabbages, for instance, which are both Brassicas. It’s hard to believe from their appearance that they have common roots, so to speak.
This disparity is even more evident in the animal world.
Surprisingly, jellyfish and corals are related, even though one swims like a fish and the other is fixed in place like a plant. They’re both members of the Cnidarian family.
Horseshoe crabs are actually more closely related to spiders than to other crabs, despite there seeming to be no family resemblance at all.
Elephants and manatees are kin, even though one lives on land and the other underwater.
I think the love of God follows this same pattern at times.
Sometimes His love looks nothing like what we would expect, so we don’t recognize certain circumstances as reflecting God working in our lives for our good.
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?
A chickadee may have a bird-brain, but it can actually be pretty smart.
Especially if it lives in a harsh climate.
What does climate have to do with bird intelligence? As it turns out, more than you’d expect.
Biologists have discovered that chickadees living in the mountains or in northern latitudes, where the weather is more severe, were smarter than their peers living more comfortably down below.
Chickadees from harsher habitats had superior spatial memories and problem-solving abilities than those living in gentler climes. They were better at finding stored caches of food and at figuring out how to access a worm treat that scientists had cleverly tucked into a glass tube.
The harsh environment makes their brains work a bit harder.
Is there a lesson for humans in the example of the chickadees?
Yes, but it isn’t to move to a more wintry climate (take it from a Canadian who’s done her share of shovelling snow—it hasn’t made me smarter!).
The takeaway here is that there can be unseen benefits to the challenges we face.
There’s a real art to translation: zeroing in on just the right words to convey the nuance of what the original author intended.
Done well, a translated work can be a masterpiece in its own right.
Oftentimes, though, a translation can turn out to be a farce, as in the following examples:
A menu item in Chinese for a roasted gluten dish was translated into English as “Sixi Roasted Husband.” (The perfect dish for wives who’ve finally had enough of their mates?)
A hot and spicy chicken dish on another Chinese menu became “Chicken Rude and Unreasonable” in English. (No wonder the chicken met his end—he had it coming!)
Or this Google Translate zinger: “It’s been the goat in the budget, because His raining badly, so quite short, he is on the bucket month out.” (Not sure what this meant in the original Danish, but I hope the goat was able to figure it out.)
Then there’s the sign for a hair salon in China whose English name is “Could Not Connect To Translator Service.” (A bit of a give-away that they didn’t bother hiring a real live translator?)
Sometimes, we have a different understanding or “translation” of what God actually meant in certain Bible verses.