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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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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The Dark Side of the Moon

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Is the “dark side” of the moon truly as dark as we think it is?

From Earth, we only see one side of our companion satellite. The moon is “tidally locked” with our planet, with the result that it always presents the same face to us.

Because we can’t see the side of the moon facing away from the Earth, we sometimes assume that it’s in perpetual darkness.

But this isn’t so. The “dark side” of the moon (which should more accurately be called the “far side”) gets just as much sunlight as the face we see. All sides of the moon receive the sun’s light equally in turn.

From the sun’s perspective, the moon doesn’t have a dark side at all.

It’s our perspective that throws us off and leads us to the wrong conclusion.

We can easily fall prey to misconceptions about our own lives, too. When we don’t have the right perspective, we can assume that things are darker than they really are.

Naomi in the Old Testament Book of Ruth certainly made this mistake.

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Inscribed in the Palms of His Hands

Image by Lisa Johnson from Pixabay

Have you ever been tempted to carve initials or names in the trunk of a tree?

Perhaps linking yours with those of someone you love, like “M + F” or “Josh loves Amanda”? The inscriptions could last for centuries, emblems immortalizing your love for generations to come.

(Of course, as a nature lover, I’d rather people not make carvings in the bark of a living tree. But I can understand the impulse to do so.)

In fact, people have been engraving things on tree trunks for millennia.

Birch trees are a natural choice due to their white bark. The smooth silver-grey bark of beech trees is also a magnet for trunk-carvers. Indo-European peoples have used it for writing-related purposes since antiquity. In some modern European languages, the words for “book” and “beech” are either very close or identical. No wonder the beech has been called the “patron tree” (sort of like a patron saint) of writers.

Did you know that God sometimes inscribes things in usual places, too?

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Follow The Cat

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

If you have ever owned a cat (or have been owned by one), you’ll know that if you want to find the warmest, most comfortable place in your home, just follow the cat.

Cats unerringly zero in on the most comfortable spot in your house. They’re not above stealing your favourite chair or displacing you from your own bed in their quest for comfort.

Our feline friends consistently find the sunniest windowsill on which to perch or a warm heating vent in the floor over which to drape themselves. They’ll snuggle into the coziest, most protected part of the sofa, or stake out a claim on the most comfy lap.

Cats are masters at pinpointing zones of highest comfort.

But if you’re in need of comfort, reassurance, love and protection, where do you find it?

Follow the people who know the Source of all comfort.

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What Is Your “Job One”?

Man installing seat into Ford F-150 pickup truck at the Kansas City, MO plant. Wikimedia Commons CC BY-2.0

Sometimes we need a reminder of what we’re really here for, don’t we?

Many companies know this. Their employees can get so focussed on the little details of their tasks that they lose sight of what their main goal is.

That’s why for many years the auto manufacturer Ford put a large sign on the walls of its factories:

“Quality is Job One.”

An employee might have been helping to assemble the engine, working on the upholstery of the seats, or perfecting the paint finish on the vehicle.

But no matter what their specific task, the sign reminded the workers that their overarching goal was to produce a quality product.

Perhaps we as Christians sometimes need to be reminded what our primary function here on earth is?

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You’re Not Insignificant to God

Man looking at the Milky Way
Photo by Evgeni Tcherkassi on Pixabay

When you look up at the stars in the night sky, what do you feel?

Many people say the vastness of the universe and the countless stars make them feel puny and insignificant.

In a way, that’s understandable.

The star that Earth orbits around is just one of many in the Milky Way, the galaxy in which we live. In fact, there are perhaps 100 billion stars in our cosmic “neighbourhood.”

And the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies. Estimates vary as to how many galaxies exist in the observable universe: some experts suggest a couple hundred billion, and others postulate as many as 10 trillion.

It’s impossible for us to know how many stars there are in the observable universe, but here’s the largest guess I came across: Multiplying the higher number of estimated galaxies by the Milky Way’s estimated 100 billion stars gives a possibility of 1 septillion stars in the universe (1 quadrillion in the European system). That’s a “1” with 24 zeroes after it!

The Milky Way is so enormous that, even travelling at light speed, it would take 100,000 years to travel across it. The observable universe is incredibly more vast: according to current thinking, it’s about 93 billion light years in diameter.

No wonder people feel small when they contemplate the unimaginable expanse of the universe!

But for me, this knowledge doesn’t make me feel insignificant.

It makes me feel just the opposite.

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This Is Who We Are

Canadian Flag Photo from PickPik

In a few days, Canada will be celebrating its birthday. July 1st is Canada Day, a holiday on which we have parties, set off fireworks, and wave the flag.

We’re all attached to our national flags, aren’t we? Each is beautiful in its own way. Some flags have blocks of colour, some feature significant symbols, others have patterns of stars and stripes. A handful of countries depict plants or trees on their flags, mine among them.

Canada’s flag has a maple leaf at its centre. In fact, the nickname for our flag is the Maple Leaf. As a nature lover, I’m proud to have a symbol of a plant on my national flag, and especially pleased that it’s a leaf from one of my favourite trees.

Growing up, I loved maple trees: I climbed them, enjoyed the sugar and fudge made from their sap, collected their red and orange leaves in autumn to press and even jumped into raked-up piles of them.

I’d venture to say that all Canadians love maple trees. The trees themselves are beautiful and stately; the wood harvested from them is so strong it can be used as the flooring for bowling alleys; we harvest precious sap from them to make sought-after products; and the leaves turn gorgeous colours in the autumn.

The maple leaf is the emblem of Canada. It symbolizes who we are as a people: hardy, strong, nature-loving northerners.

Just as the maple tree is important to Canadians, there’s another tree which is very important to a certain group of people:

It’s the tree Christ was crucified on.

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The Sweetest Perfume Can’t Be Bought

Vintage perfume bottles
Photo by domeckopol on Pixabay

We humans can’t help but react instinctively to a beautiful smell, can we?

In my last post, The Perfect Recipe for Bread, I mentioned how wonderful the smell of freshly baked bread is in your own home. The same is true when you bake a cake, cook a roast, light a scented candle, or when you bring a bouquet of flowers inside: the aroma fills the whole house and gives you a deep sense of pleasure.

You get the same pleasing effect when you take a walk in your neighbourhood and can detect cooking smells emanating from houses as you pass by: here someone’s making a rich stew, over there a spicy curry. Even better is strolling by someone’s garden and being enveloped by the scent of the lilacs or roses growing there.

But what if a beautiful aroma could permeate an even bigger area?

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Good Fear Vs. Bad Fear

A tarantula, one of the most feared spiders
Photo by WikiImages on Pixabay

Has this pandemic made you fearful? Are you afraid that you or your loved ones might catch the COVID-19 virus? Are you nervous about even going out in public? Afraid that life will never be quite the same again?

For many of us, the coronavirus crisis has only added to our list of things to fear. As if we didn’t already have enough things to be afraid of!

There are fears common to many of us, such as fear of spiders or snakes, fear of public speaking or fear of falling.

Then there are the more unusual phobias, such as fear of clocks or clowns, balloons or buttons, and even beards. (Full marks to you if you know that triskaidekaphobia means fear of the number thirteen.)

There’s no end of things to be afraid of in this world. But is fear always bad?

No. God gave us the emotion of fear: it’s there to save us from danger.

But we need to differentiate between good fear and bad fear.

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