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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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Excuse Me, Jennifer Aniston?

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This weekend, I was reading an article on Huffington post that linked to another article and so on and so forth — you know how the Internet can be a time warp — and somehow I saw a link to the headline, “Jennifer Aniston Talks Motherhood And The Unfair Pressure To Have Kids.”

While I don’t closely follow Jennifer Aniston or most celebrity news, the headline intrigued me since I too feel strongly that people shouldn’t be made to feel weird if they haven’t had kids yet, or don’t even want any — yet this does happen way too often, particularly involving women.

So I clicked it. (The Internet wins again.)

The article referred to statements Jennifer Aniston makes in the January 2015 issue of Allure, and although her comments were brief, I was surprised at how candid she was on this topic and how much I found myself agreeing with her.

For instance, I completely understood what she meant when she said, “I don’t like [the pressure] that people put on me, on women — that you’ve failed yourself as a female because you haven’t procreated. I don’t think it’s fair.”

As a woman with no children myself, I was nodding and thinking, Right on, sister!

Until she said that not having children “doesn’t mean you aren’t mothering — dogs, friends, friends’ children.”

Excuse me?

This is when she lost me.

Who said women have to mother anyone in the first place?

Would this quote have made any sense if a man was saying it?

Try to picture George Clooney saying him not having kids doesn’t mean he’s not fathering his pets, his friends and their kids.

You can’t? That’s because he would never say that. No guy would.

And no one should about women, either.

Women do not need to mother other beings to be valid as people in our society. That’s the point I thought she was making.

This part of her statement was, if anything, proof that she buys into the expectations on women. Trying to spin them in a new way doesn’t hide that.

Now look, I’m not usually one to split hairs and dissect every nuance of a person’s statement. But in this case, I think she completely ruined the point she was trying to make with the idea that women can still be motherly without having kids. And I was unexpectedly bothered by that, as well as comments people have made saying her statement was “brilliant.”

Brilliant for a Stepford wife wanna-be, maybe.

On a side note, another aspect I disliked about what she said is the concept of friends “mothering” friends. Who wants that?! There’s only one person I enjoy being mothered by, and that’s my mother!

In fact, one of my closest friends once had another friend take on a motherly dynamic with her, and let’s just say it was not a fun experience for her! (Although those stories do make us laugh now.) So Jennifer Aniston saying that women can mother their friends, oh and their children, is just plain weird. I mean, do your friends really want you trying to mother their kids? “Oh, I told Johnny he could have a few more cookies. Look how happy he is!” Yeah, your friend is really going to love your motherly “help” there!

To be fair, I think Jennifer Aniston used the word “mothering” to mean being “loving” or “giving,” to counteract the notion of childless people, especially women, being selfish.

However, there’s a big difference between mothering and being loving and giving; you can by all means be all three — which is a beautiful thing, don’t get me wrong — but you can also be loving and giving without mothering in any form.  This is another reason why I found myself strangely disappointed when I read this. Her point had been making so much sense until then. I felt like she took so many steps back with her statement — all while she was trying to be so progressive.

But maybe I should calm down. Some would say that as a female, being easily annoyed like this isn’t the motherly way I should be acting towards others.

I apologize, my sweeties. Now please go have something to eat. You all look so thin…

Note: This post was written as part of LindaGHill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday, which was skillfully organized this week by author Leigh Michaels while Linda is away. This week’s prompt was “excuse,” which we could use either as a noun or a verb. I wasn’t sure what I was going to write with it until I read this and wanted to comment on it, and the idea of using Leigh’s excellent prompt as a verb in a rhetorical question hit me. 🙂

Don’t Be Such an Open Book!

This past weekend, I was reading a news story about Black Friday sales. I won’t specify the source of this article, and you’ll see why in a moment.

In the story, shoppers were quoted as to what they bought and how much they spent. For the most part, the shoppers quoted weren’t buying anything too extravagant, and only revealed certain things about themselves.

But others were much more open about themselves and their purchases.

One in particular shared her full name, the pricey luxury items she bought and the fact that she’s visiting New York from Oklahoma for her 50th birthday. (Note: I’ve changed her identifying details here out of concern for her privacy on my part; I know this was in the media already, but I don’t want to add to the situation by spreading her information even further!)

I should also point out that her name is somewhat unique compared to other shoppers quoted; in other words, she doesn’t have a common name like Jennifer Smith.

Right away, then, her contribution to the article struck me as just too much, for her sake. Now anyone reading this would have all they need to find out exactly where she lives in Oklahoma, especially since she even included her exact age! And based on what she could afford to buy, she is also likely well-off — and probably wouldn’t be home for another day or so from the publication date, since she’s visiting from somewhat far away.

All of which is dangerous information in the wrong hands, if you ask me.

I decided to test my theory and Google her name and state; sure enough, only a few results popped up. I knew I had the right person because a couple of the results included her age range, which was a match for the information in the news article.

From that brief search, I now had her street address, her phone number, and a list of her relatives.

I continued my creepy experiment by mapping her address and checking out the “street view” of it. Once again, my suspicions were right — she lives in a very nice house that would lead me to believe she is indeed well-off.

And based on her openness in the article, she’s likely not too savvy about her personal privacy, so aside from the risk of robbery, she could be marking herself as a prime target for identity theft or even stalking.

Now to some of you more trusting types, I know I may be coming off as overly paranoid. However, it’s been documented that criminals of all kinds often get ideas as to who to target based on the information victims themselves put out there, or fail to secure properly. For example, it’s been reported for years that some home robberies have been linked to social media posts and that oversharing online has been linked to identity theft – so sharing such personal details in print media, which is eventually posted online anyway, is no different.

Look, just because a reporter asks you a question doesn’t mean you have to divulge everything. I think their Black Friday articles will be just fine if you only give your first name, for example. This media outlet is clearly OK with that, as they quoted a few other shoppers who did this.

I hope this post isn’t coming off as critical of her; I’m writing out of concern for people like her who don’t realize how they’re making themselves vulnerable.

Think of it this way: this media outlet had no qualms printing the information this person shared in good faith; had I been the reporter, I would have cleaned up her information in the story so that it would be less personally revealing to her yet still accurate and useful for my story.

But no one will care as much about you as you do, or should. So don’t rely on anyone else to protect you. Look out for yourself, and you can start by not being such an open book — please!

My Two Cents on “Dress Code” Rules During Royal Visit

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In November, it was announced that Prince William and his wife Kate will be visiting the United States, specifically New York City and Washington, D.C., in early December.

The news about this visit also specified that any media professionals covering the royal event need to adhere to a “dress code” set by Buckingham Palace. If they do not, they will not be allowed in to report on the events.

Here are the rules directly from the official website of the British Monarchy:

Attire for journalists covering Royal engagements

Journalists wishing to cover Royal engagements, whether in the United Kingdom or abroad, should comply with the dress code on formal occasions out of respect for the guests of The Queen, or any other member of the Royal Family.

Smart attire for men includes the wearing of a jacket and tie, and for women a trouser or skirt suit. Those wearing jeans or trainers will not be admitted and casually dressed members of the media will be turned away. This also applies to technicians.

I have some thoughts on this.

Let’s start with the “technicians” part.

How can even the technicians be required to follow these guidelines?  They stand on their feet most of the day and have to handle bulky cameras and other heavy equipment; would sneakers (aka trainers) really be that big of a deal? Especially if they’re the kind of conservative sneakers that are more like shoes, and are in good condition, as opposed to bright neon ones or ratty old gym sneakers? Would that really just ruin the event?

Secondly, and possibly even more importantly, how can people be required to adhere to these rules not only in the UK, but abroad?

That would be like me going to a party at someone else’s house but telling the host what I think they should wear. All the manners books in the world would tell me that I was being rude if I did that; if I’m not the host, I don’t get to dictate things like that. So how come that basic etiquette doesn’t apply here?

To be clear, I do understand the merits of dressing your best on the job, especially for a noteworthy event like this. I also agree with showing basic respect; I’m not saying it would be right to roll up in ripped sweatpants and a stained shirt, whether you’re interacting with royals or anyone else.

I can even understand media outlets telling their staff members to dress their best, so that their companies are represented well in front of such famous public figures.

I get all that.

But there’s something about Buckingham Palace mandating this dress code that bothers me. It seems so out of line. The technician clause seems especially unnecessary and uppity to me; I think that’s what set me off, actually.

For the record, I don’t even dislike Prince William or Kate; I’m not a follower of royal events either. This just stood out to me as not right as soon as I heard it.

In fact, the adverse side of me wants to see someone manage to violate this dress code.

I have fun picturing someone coming in seemingly appropriately dressed, being cleared to enter, and then somehow being able to quickly take off that proper outer layer of clothes — only to reveal jeans and a simple shirt underneath.

The horror!

This topic came up when I was speaking with family over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and it turned out it’s not just me who found this dress code to be a bit much. In fact, my mother thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if a well-known person or dignitary of some sort were to show up and – gasp! – be in violation of the dress code.

Let’s say it was President Obama, but he had jeans and a blazer on. Wouldn’t he have to be let in anyway?

That concept made me laugh as soon as she said it! She’s so right; it would have to involve a high-standing figure for this scenario to play out this way. And I would love it if someone too prominent to turn away did something like this, just to mess with the royals…although most public figures wouldn’t want to do that. Still, it’s fun to think about…and that’s my two cents on the royals and their “dress code” on our turf!

Note: This post was written as part of LindaGHill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday. This week’s prompt was: “‘sense/scents/cents,’ with a bonus word this week – ‘sent.’ Choose one, use them all or simply write whatever comes to mind- it’s up to you!” I went with sharing my two cents on this recent news story that we were just discussing over the holiday weekend!