health

God’s Hidden Treasures: What the Appendix, Black Holes and Trees Have in Common

Scientific discoveries are gifts from God, to inspire and encourage us.

Despite my Christian faith, I’ve often found myself questioning what God’s plan is for me during the difficult times of my life. Although I’m comforted when I read about His wonders in the Bible, I have to admit I haven’t always been able to apply that knowledge to my own life. That’s why, during a particularly tough season in the past couple of years, I was especially moved by a few recent scientific discoveries that showed me that God’s purposes, in everything from our bodies to our world and beyond, aren’t always immediately visible from a human perspective—reminding me that the same can be said for the circumstances of our personal lives as well.

The—Useless?—Appendix

Take, for instance, the fact that the appendix has been considered an unnecessary organ. Experts theorized that while the appendix may have once served a purpose, it seems that it no longer does.

Until now. In April 2017, new research from Midwestern University suggested that the appendix is not the “vestigial organ with little known purpose” it was once thought to be. Rather, researchers say it may have the “important purpose” of serving “as a reservoir for beneficial gut bacteria.”

Considering that “good” bacteria in our gastrointestinal systems have been shown to positively affect virtually every part of our bodies, including our immune systems, brain function, weight, and energy and nutrition, it’s clear that the appendix could be playing a surprisingly significant role in our health.

This finding proves that just because we can’t figure out a reason for something, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one! God makes no mistakes.

Black Holes: Consumers and Creators

I felt similarly moved by the latest findings about black holes in space.

I was passionate about astronomy growing up, and to this day I still have a particular fascination with black holes. Having been taught that they were areas of intense gravity into which nearby matter is absorbed with no chance of escape, black holes always intrigued me—was there any purpose to these dangerous, mysterious regions? Or were they at most a cosmic cleansing system of sorts?

Well, reported evidence from March 2017 shows that black holes are much more than that. Black holes have not only been observed to consume and destroy matter such as stars, but to create new stars as well.

ESO-stars forming

According to the European Southern Observatory (ESO), black holes “expel gases in powerful winds” containing “colossal flows of material” in which “newborn stars” were recently spotted.

A March 2017 Voice of America report described the essence of this star-creating process. It stated that as a black hole attracts and consumes matter, some matter remains immediately outside the swirling opening of the black hole. When cosmic winds then blow out of the black hole, it is this matter combining with hot gases from the consumption process which forms the new stars. The winds are so powerful that they can propel these new stars to great distances, even outside a galaxy.

The full ESO report, which was published in the journal Nature on April 13, 2017, stated that this breakthrough could also explain how some galaxies get their unique shapes.

Before this discovery, observing how these powerful winds blow had been a noteworthy finding in and of itself. In 2015, NASA had reported that these winds “blow outward in all directions,” and were “a phenomenon that had been suspected, but difficult to prove until now.” At that time, however, the winds were thought to have inhibiting effects on the growth of new stars within galaxies since they resulted in decreasing a galaxy’s mass and gas supply, both of which are necessary factors in star formation.

The ESO’s news a couple of years later, then, has provided a new perspective on these winds and how they actually contribute to black holes’ creation of stars using nearby matter.

It also shows us firsthand why God tells us repeatedly in Scripture not to be afraid—because new creations can be birthed in even the darkest of places!

Trees Can “Talk”

There have been recent surprising discoveries right here on our own planet, too. A tree is a perfect example.

As a child, I used to talk to the tree outside my bedroom window. Being young and naïve, I assumed it could process communication since it was a living thing just like me. It never struck me as odd to do this—until people started saying it was.

As it turns out, trees really can communicate, albeit not with words like we do. While browsing a bookstore recently, I was pleased to come across the September 2016 book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World. In it, author and forester Peter Wohlleben writes that trees communicate in a number of ways and situations. One method involves the emission of a “warning gas” when a tree is experiencing pain or a hazard, like when a giraffe is feeding on its leaves. During this process, the tree also emits toxins to create a bitter taste and drive away its predator. Nearby trees then begin producing the same gases and toxins in response to the warning scent. As a result, grazing animals have been witnessed to stop eating, move on and then walk past the surrounding trees without even stopping to taste them due to their unpleasant odors. The injured tree has effectively warded off its predator and communicated its distress to its neighbors—and they were able to understand and respond to the message!

Hidden Life of Trees

In this book as well as in a September 2016 interview with The Guardian, Wohlleben said that trees also release chemicals and electrical impulses via their underground fungal root systems to communicate across longer distances, since scents can only travel so far; he cleverly refers to this network as the “wood wide web.”

In the June 2016 TED Talk How Trees Talk to Each Other, forest ecology professor Suzanne Simard also discussed this “massive belowground communications network” within a forest. Through experiments she conducted measuring the transfer of nutrients such as carbon between trees, she discovered trees engaged “in a lively two-way conversation.” Simard states that she knew this finding would “change the way we look at how trees interact in forests.”

TED talk on trees

Even more interestingly, both Simard and Wohlleben state that tree interactions vary, similar to how human ones do. For instance, Wohlleben states that trees will often help fortify weak trees and nurture specific “most beloved child” saplings. Wohlleben explains in The Guardian that this is possible because “trees may recognize with their roots who are their friends, who are their families, where their kids are.”

In her TED Talk, Suzanne Simard described these special bonds between trees. “We found that mother trees will send their excess carbon…to the understory seedlings, and we’ve associated this with increased seedling survival by four times.”

Simard also confirmed that trees go out of their way to help their own “children.” In an experiment conducted on Douglas firs in which “mother trees” were grown using “kin and stranger’s seedlings,” she determined that the mother trees did recognize their own seedlings as demonstrated by sharing more nutrients such as carbon with them as well as sending them defense signals, all of which “increased the resistance of those seedlings to future stresses.” In fact, “they even reduce their own root competition to make elbow room for their kids,” Simard said. Even more surprisingly, Simard stated that “when mother trees are injured or dying, they also send messages of wisdom on to the next generation of seedlings.”

Since trees use not only their root cells but also fungal cells, they are able to transmit a great deal of information and resources. “It turns out they were conversing not only in the language of carbon but also nitrogen and phosphorous and water and defense signals and allele chemicals and hormones—information,” Simard said.

Ultimately, not only do trees interact, but they decide how and when to do so. As Wohlleben told The Guardian, “We think about plants being robotic, following a genetic code. Plants and trees always have a choice about what to do.”

My tree-loving inner child felt vindicated after learning that trees do interact! Beyond that, though, I was awed by the unseen richness of life around us. Reading about the hidden communication of trees brought to mind what Romans 1:20 says about God’s “invisible attributes” being evident “ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (ESV). It really should be no surprise, then, that there’s much more to His creation than meets the eye.

The same can be said for our own existence. If God has given trees such rich inner lives, we can be sure that much more is going on behind the scenes in our own lives, even when we can’t perceive it.

Science: The Perfect Gift

There are countless Bible verses that speak about God’s wisdom. Isaiah 55: 8-9 is a favorite of mine: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (ESV).

Despite what we know from His Word, however, I feel God continues to gift us with scientific discoveries like these so we can see His higher ways in action for ourselves. He wants us to see that everything has a purpose and a function, no matter how impossible, confusing or scary surrounding circumstances may seem. He knows that as humans we have weak moments, so concrete reminders of His wisdom can refresh us in our faith and uplift us during trials. I know this has been the case with me, and I’m deeply grateful for it.

I also think he hides these treasures so that we can share in His joy over His creation each time we unearth a rare find, similar to receiving a gift-wrapped present: part of the fun lies in opening a gift and finding the surprise yourself.

In fact, I suspect that if we could somehow have all of this knowledge already, many of us wouldn’t appreciate His wisdom and all He has done in quite the same way. When you work for something, it means that much more, and you’re less likely to take it for granted.

Ultimately, as we learn more about God through science, we’re better able to celebrate all He has done in and around us and to trust in His higher purposes, no matter what we’re facing.

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One-Liner Wednesday: Self-Care

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“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures.”

Irish Proverb

 

* This post was created as part of blogger Linda G. Hill’s One-Liner Wednesday series. I chose to share this quote in the hopes that it’ll help anyone who’s stressed or feeling out of balance. We can all use a friendly reminder to not neglect ourselves or feel guilty for taking some time to regroup. Self-care is a necessity for all of us — and it actually helps us to accomplish what we want and need to do. So, I hope you have a blessed day that includes some humor and adequate rest!

 

 

Special Uses for Apple Cider Vinegar

A few days ago, I wrote about natural ways you can clean your home to avoid unnecessary exposure to harsh chemicals.

I recently realized there’s another related tip I’d like to share with you: there’s also a natural option you can use to kill insects too. I’ve tried it myself, and it works.

I’m talking about apple cider vinegar.

I once had a lot of fruit flies at in an old apartment I lived in — to this day, I have no idea why, because I kept things clean and didn’t have old fruit lying around. Anyhow, I dealt with the problem by mixing some apple cider vinegar with detergent, which I read about online, and it worked — the flies were drawn to the scent of the apple cider vinegar, and either fell into the solution and drowned, or drank some and were poisoned by the soap mixed in. I’m not sure which, since some seemed to fall in right away, while others seemed to linger on the edge and “enjoy” the concoction at first. But either way, I ended up with dozens of them floating in the solution I’d left in various cups throughout my apartment, and I was able to say goodbye to the annoyance!

This is a great alternative to toxic insecticides, and it’s also very affordable. You can find it in health food stores, most standard supermarkets and online.

Incidentally, apple cider vinegar also has many health benefits too — I’m just learning about this aspect of it myself and want to investigate it some more. If you’re interested in that side of it too, I recommend reading this book, which covers all the varied uses of apple cider vinegar, ranging from using it for digestive problems to treating arthritis and much more.

We owe it to ourselves to try gentler, natural remedies for life’s various challenges before reaching for the harsh, unnatural stuff, don’t you think? It’s at least worth a try!

Don’t Hurt Yourself Trying to Keep a Clean House

poison sign

I think most of us know by now that we should avoid using antibacterial hand sanitizers and soaps, since they can be toxic to you and kill not only external germs, but your body’s own “good” germs and natural defense system. Use of these products has also been shown to cause drunken-like behavior among children, due to their high alcohol content that is easily absorbed into the skin; although this has been rare, it has been confirmed as possible.

But what about at home? Many people I know still use harsh cleansers when they clean there, like products containing ammonia, bleach, and so on — think mold/mildew removers, all-purpose cleaning solutions, disinfectants, etc.

I won’t name products here, but look at the ingredients list of many household cleansers and you’ll see these listed, as well as other unnatural additives like dyes and scents.

None of which is good for you.

If you’re the type who needs proof, just take a look online at sites like this one, or this one. These are just starting points; if you do own your search you’ll find many, many more.

“Yeah, but I like how clean my house looks and smells after,” you may be thinking.

Don’t do it, I say.

“But I take precautions, like wearing gloves, ventilating the area, or wearing a face mask,” you may protest.

But it’s not good enough!

Really, the kind of disposable masks you might wear for heavy-duty cleaning will not adequately protect you from toxic fumes while cleaning.

Plus anyone else nearby can still be affected, particularly any pets you have, who I’d assume do not have gloves and masks on as they walk in or near the areas being cleaned with these products. If they do, then kudos to you for finding these items and for having a pet who lets you use them on him or her. 🙂

But in all seriousness, products like these can harm your lungs, your skin, and so much more. And it may not be right away, but happen over time with repeated use. Trust me, you do not want to breathe in any vapors from products like these — but short of using a respirator as you spray it around, you will inhale some of it.

Think of it this way: if you’re careful to avoid wearing clothes that can be stained by them when you’re cleaning, what about your lungs? Or any other part of you exposed to them, like your skin, which we should remember is the largest organ of our bodies?

Look, I’ve seen towels hanging nearby get discolored when a product like this was sprayed in the bathroom, yet nowhere near them — so imagine the exposure to us, the ones doing the spraying?

I don’t know about you, but I won’t do that anymore.

OK, so what to use instead? After doing some reading on this subject and testing different alternatives out myself, I swear you can clean as effectively — and in many cases even more so — with the following natural cleansers:

  • Tea tree oil – this is an essential oil that has a multitude of uses, including being an anti-fungal, anti-microbial agent. It’s sold in health stores but is also widely available online — I got my most recent bottle of it from Amazon. If you can find it in a spray bottle, that’s ideal, but if not, you can purchase a spray bottle yourself and put 10 drops of it in it for every cup of water, then spray it onto whatever area you want to clean. My only word of caution is, it can smell a bit like bug spray, so you may want to avoid it if you or anyone at home is sensitive to odors like that. However, I find the smell does fade quickly enough.
  • Grapefruit seed extract – This is another natural item with anti-fungal, anti-bacterial properties that can be used to clean your home, plus it has the added benefit of having no pungent odor, unlike tea tree oil. It too can be found in health shops and online. Use the same ratio of 10 drops per cup of water.
  • Hydrogen peroxide – This does a great job at cleaning more than just cuts on your skin, yet many people don’t realize they can use it for everything from wiping down surfaces to mopping floors. And let’s not forget the fun it is to see it bubble up first — I feel like we’re actually witnessing germs being killed! Plus now many stores sell it in convenient spray bottles, which helps a lot, especially since hydrogen peroxide is a fairly delicate substance and has to be kept well-protected from light. (That’s why it’s always sold in thick, dark/opaque bottles.) So you can’t easily transfer it into a spray bottle yourself, since most empty spray bottles I see for sale are usually see-through or light-colored. But buy hydrogen peroxide in a ready-to-spray bottle like this one or this one, both of which I’ve personally bought, and you’re all set! (You can also buy hydrogen peroxide wipes, although I’ve found these will break with vigorous scrubbing and are better suited for simple cleanups.) Cleaning with hydrogen peroxide is also extremely affordable.
  • Baking soda – I never knew how well basic baking soda could clean mold and mildew in the shower until I read about it and tried it — it worked great! All you do is mix it with water in a 50/50 ratio and then apply it as a paste to the area you need to clean. I also read you can spray it onto the area, but I didn’t get to try that since you have to use less baking soda with this method (about a tablespoon per 2 cups of water); I wanted more baking soda in the mix to clean the mildew quickly and I think that would have clogged my spray bottle dispenser. But who knows, it may be worth a try, especially for preventative, maintenance cleaning. This is easy to find in any supermarket.
  • Vinegar – I also read about using white, distilled vinegar (undiluted) in a spray bottle, and it also worked on mildew stains. The area does smell a bit odd, like someone just ate a salad there, but the smell dissipates quickly enough. This is another very affordable option that can be found in any grocery store.

And why do I say some of these options may be more effective than the harsh commercial cleansers most of us are used to? Well, according to sites like this one for example, products containing bleach may only appear to be better at getting rid of mold and mildew by lightening its appearance, but not killing it — leaving you still exposed to the harmful effects of mold and mildew, plus with the added dangers of being exposed to bleach fumes as you cleaned. All of these effects are even worse among the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, health conditions like asthma, and so on. On top of that, you have to keep repeating the vicious cycle since the mold is never fully killed in the first place.

My recommendation to kill mold/mildew and get rid of its appearance? What I found worked is a combination of the items above followed by using baking soda last, since it whitened the dark areas up. Now I knew the mildew/mold was killed and the area looked clean — win-win.

Ultimately, my goal with these tips is to spare you from exposing yourself and your loved ones to harsh chemicals that are not good for you and may not even be cleaning as well as you think. I encourage you to do your own research on this subject and then see what works for you — I am no expert and just sharing my own experience, but if even just one of these tips helps you out, I’ll be happy!