gifts

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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Gratitude for a Few of My Favorite Things

I recently read a book by a man chronicling his experience sending a thank you note to someone every day for a year — it was A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life, written by John Kralik and published by Hyperion in 2011.

John Kralik book

It’s an interesting read; if you want to check it out, click the image above, or here.

This book was still pretty fresh in my mind a few weeks ago when I had to deal with a company’s customer service division to resolve an issue for me.

I started thinking about how they’ll really only hear from people when there’s a problem.

Which is understandable, but having a lot of experience handling clients’ problems myself throughout the years, I know how it feels to not hear enough good feedback. When things are not ideal — you’ll hear it. But when they’re great?

Silence, usually.

At times it can be a little discouraging to only hear the negative side of things, despite everything you’re doing right. So in the spirit of that book, as well as the Thanksgiving season we’re in, lately I’ve been trying to contact companies whose products I love, to let them know they’re appreciated. I also want to help spread the word about them, since I think what they offer is so…well, cool!

I should add that I also do this with individuals, but in this post I’ll just cover a few businesses, primarily because I think they offer products you may enjoy as well or which may give you some gift ideas for the holidays this year!

And no, I am not being paid or compensated in any way for this; I know one or two of you are wondering about that. 🙂

So, here are 3 of my “favorite things” — to quote Oprah and the famous song from Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music — which I truly appreciate!

Wellspring

I love this company’s “Flip Note” line; I have so many of them that it could be considered an addiction a collection!

Wellspring argyle Flip Notes

Wellspring’s “Stacy Argyle Flip Note.” I love how cute AND practical these are!

These are so handy; while I know many people jot things down using their phones, you can’t deny the merits of old-fashioned pen and paper in a pinch, like when your phone battery is low for example. And these beat generic notepads, which usually get damaged pretty quickly in a purse or bag; Flip Notes, on the other hand, have metal cases that stay shut. That’s because each one comes with a pen (how convenient is that?) which is stored on the case itself (yet even more convenient); when you slide it into place, it locks the notepad shut. That way, you don’t have to worry about the pages getting ruined or torn.

The Flip Notes come in so many cute designs and options, like the “Stacy Argyle” one I have (pictured above); they also have a few options “for men” (which I found amusing).

A couple of times when I found myself in an unofficial meeting without my planner or laptop on me, I was able to use a Flip Notes pad and not worry that it looked unprofessional or that my notes would get lost or messed up, the way I’d feel with a loose sheet of paper or a notepad like this with no protective cover. Plus then I’d have had to look for a pen — but with Flip Notes? They’re small enough that I always have one in my bag, which means I always have pen and paper on me, and in good condition! (I feel like I’m reciting copy for a commercial. Oh well, I love these notepads and am not afraid to say it!)

You can easily find Wellspring Flip Notes, as well as additional pens and paper for them, on the Wellspring website or on Amazon; I use the latter option myself, since I do a lot of my shopping that way. (Amazon is another addiction habit of mine, but we won’t get into that right now.)

So, take a look at what they offer if you think these could be useful to you or anyone you know. I’ve given many as gifts and stocking-stuffers, and everyone seemed to truly like them. In fact, a couple of people I know carry theirs on a daily basis, like I do.

I should also point out that Wellspring offers many other unique products besides Flip Notes, like Auto Notes (which attach to your car’s visor), wall art and more. Although I’ve never personally used these, they look like good gift-giving options as well.

Peter Pauper Press

I am also obsessed with Peter Pauper Press’ line of journals. You can find these in many stores, and of course on their website above as well as on Amazon.

I still remember the first time I came across one of their journals. It was years ago, and I was browsing a bookstore — ah, the good old days, when bookstores were popular! — when I saw it.

It was a beautiful book that looked more like an ancient text one might see on display in a museum than something I could use to record my daily ramblings in.

I bought it instantly, without any of the usual “Hmm, should I?” debates in my head.

Here’s a picture of it from Amazon:

Peter Pauper Press Persian Splendor journal

But bear in mind that online photos of it do not do it justice at all; in person, the book looks so much more beautiful, down to the embossed detailing that isn’t easy to see in a photo. I found it so lovely and well-made, in fact, that — and this is somewhat embarrassing to admit — I didn’t feel I could sully it with my writing!

Yes, I’m aware I have a problem.

Some time later, I thought to look the journal up online and was thrilled to find it. I bought a second one, just so I wouldn’t feel so bad messing one of them up. That’s when I discovered all their other beautiful designs and products.

Today, I have quite a collection of them, and at least now I’m more willing to write in them since I know I can easily find them online again, in addition to a wide range of new designs they release on an ongoing basis. I really appreciate how varied their designs are, ranging from being inspired by 17th-century French book binding to 19th-century Japanese art. (And yes, I have purchased both of those; the first for a friend, the second for me — in case you were curious!)

Another benefit, I find, is that writing in such an aesthetically-pleasing book inspires me to be more creative and thoughtful about what I write in it. I’m much less likely to scrawl nonsense; it’s like the book’s quality helps me think quality thoughts, if that makes any sense.

Anyway, if you’re also into beautiful books and novelty items, or if you’re looking for some gift ideas for the holidays, I urge you to check out Peter Pauper Press’ products. They sell much more than journals, including planners, cute little books, unique bookmarks and more.

Sparkling ICE

OK, I swear I don’t only buy and consume notebooks of various types — although the writer in me does love writing supplies. 🙂

No, I am also a fan of Sparkling ICE, a line of zero-calorie, “naturally flavored sparkling mountain spring water” beverages that have added vitamins and antioxidants:

Sparkling ICE

These are great! I especially recommend these if ever you’re in the mood for a less-than-healthy soda; I have that tendency now and then but want to avoid soda. Luckily, I’m more than satisfied drinking these instead.

I must be honest about the fact that I haven’t tried all the various flavors they offer, so I can’t vouch for every single option; at first, I’d only tried their apple one, which was pretty good. One day, though, my store was out of apple, so I tried their pomegranate blueberry drink — and I was hooked. I’ve felt no need to explore further ever since. I love this flavor combination, representing a mix I won’t usually find and enjoy too often otherwise.

On a side note, while I do eat blueberries often, I rarely bother with pomegranates even though I know I should; the seeds are so good for you! Luckily, this drink contains real pomegranate juice, as opposed to artificial pomegranate flavoring like so many other products would do. A prime example that always bugs me are the pumpkin drinks out there, most of which have no real pumpkin in them. Why?!

If you’d like to try Sparkling ICE, you should be able to find it in your local supermarket or drugstore; if you need help, check out this link on the Sparkling ICE website for where to find it by you. Once you know which stores carry it, look for it in the bottled water aisle; at least that’s where I typically find it.

You can also order it online via Amazon; I recently ordered it from there myself when my local stores were out of the pomegranate flavor I must have to live prefer!

I feel good having told these companies how I feel about their products, as well as sharing these recommendations with you. I hope this post helps you find a nice treat for yourself or someone  else, and that it also helps these businesses; I get so disappointed when a product I love disappears, so here’s hoping these remain successful enough to stick around for a long time!