Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wait! Watch!


“Is your church having a Watch Night Service?” a friend asked.

“I haven’t heard about one,” I responded.

That question set me to thinking about Watch Night services I attended while growing up in the beautiful north Georgia mountains. Each New Year’s Eve around 10 p.m., our family would meet with other families at the little country church, and together we would worship as we waited for the arrival of the New Year. We’d sing hymns and pray. Some folks would stand and testify about the blessings the Lord had given them in the past and how they trusted Him to be faithful to them in the coming year.

Those simple services stand in stark contrast to the way so many people celebrate today. Back in those long-ago days, we knew nothing about “toasting” in the New Year, of being among the thousands who gather in large cities to celebrate, of needing “designated drivers” to get us home, and so forth. We celebrated quietly, with hearts filled with gratitude to our gracious God—and with our hands, figuratively speaking, in His, trusting Him to lead us and to guide us in the coming year, as He had in the past.

Even though Watch Night Services are pretty much a thing of the past, I continue to celebrate the coming of the New Year in a similar manner in my own home. As the old year draws to an end, I sit quietly and reflect on the ways God blessed me in it and thank Him for His mercy and grace. I ask Him to take care of me in the New Year and to show me the paths He wants me to follow, since what was said to God’s people centuries ago as they prepared to enter the land He had promised to them can be said to me—and to you, Dear Reader:  “You have not been this way before” (Joshua 3:4).

Since we, like they, need Him to lead us, let’s wait quietly and watch eagerly for Him.

©2014, Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill 


This is the Bible my Daddy and Mother gave me for my birthday in 1978.
It is one of my most cherished possessions.
My parents knew that the Word of God
would show me how to live a good and godly life,
as it had shown them.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Gifts Are Waiting!

The Sunday before Christmas, our pastor preached a wonderful sermon about “The Gift of Prayer.” During the message, he said we are the ones who lose if we reject God’s invitation to confidently “draw near the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, ESV). Whether we stubbornly refuse the gift of prayer or simply neglect to draw near to God, we miss out on the wonderful gifts God want to give us, gifts He has already prepared for us, gifts just waiting until such time as we turn to Him and ask for them.

Upon hearing that, I immediately thought about the Christmas gifts that were wrapped and waiting in my house. How sad—unthinkable, actually—that the intended recipients of those gifts would fail to express any interest in receiving them, that they would go on their merry way without paying any attention to me and to the gifts I've lovingly provided for them. Yet, we do that same kind of thing when we fail to pray. For example, the Bible clearly says, “You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:2b-3, ESV).




Dear Reader, all sorts of wonderful gifts are in God’s storehouse of blessings, gifts with our name on them, gifts just waiting for us to humbly ask God for them and then gratefully receive them. Let us, then, draw near the throne of grace every day!


Monday, December 22, 2014

Let the light shine!

As my husband started to put up our Christmas tree, I said, “Oh, hold off just a few minutes, please, so I can wash the windows before the tree goes up.”

Within a few minutes, the living room windows were sparkling clean—inside and out. Cleaning them wasn’t absolutely necessary, since they weren’t all that dirty. Even so, I wanted to do all I could to showcase the tiny white lights on the tree, hoping they would delight folks driving down the street. I know I’m always affected by the sight of soft light in a window, especially on very dark nights. Such light conveys a feeling of peace, of warmth and coziness, of simplicity and timelessness, of …. Thus, I’m happy to let light shine forth from my windows so that others can enjoy it and know that there is life within these walls, that people live here.

Even more appealing than light shining in a window is the light that emanates from people who truly love the Lord Jesus and have a close relationship with Him. Such persons have an inner glow that is obvious to all. Folks are drawn to him or her, eager to know what is producing the glow, the peace, the gentleness, the joy, the love…. The cleaner the windows of the soul, the brighter His light shines forth.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
~Jesus (in Matthew 5:14-16, New Living Translation)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Like a Birdling In Its Nest

1He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
            Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
            My God, in whom I trust!”
3For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper
            And from the deadly pestilence.
4He will cover you with His pinions,
            And under His wings you may seek refuge;
            His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.
Psalm 91:1-4, NASB

On Dec. 14th, as a friend and I talked about our favorite devotional books, we mentioned Streams in the Desert. Later that day, I ordered that book for my Kindle but didn’t begin reading it until the following morning. The moment I read the poem at the end of the devotional for that day, I felt compelled to share it with others, especially with a friend whose one-year-old great grandson had been hospitalized the night before. I knew it contained good advice for her—and for all of us!
Trust and rest when all around you
Puts your faith to stringent test;
Let no fear or foe confound you,
Wait for God and trust and rest.
Trust and rest with heart abiding,
Like a birdling in its nest,
Underneath His feathers hiding,
Fold your wings and trust and rest.

Dec. 15th reading, Streams in the Desert, written by L. B. Cowman, edited by James Reiman, ©1997. Original was published in 1925.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thankful for Each Veteran!



Today, as in previous years, the annual Veterans Day Observance I attended included a reading* entitled, “What Is a Veteran?” According to its author, Anthony Barton Hinkle, the answers are as varied as the veterans themselves. A veteran may be the “old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket,” or “the parade-riding legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.” As Hinkle points out, “Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a look in the eye. Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg – or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul’s alloy forged in the refinery of adversity. Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem. You can’t tell a vet just by looking.”


As Hinkle so rightly concludes, a veteran “is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being – a person who offered some of his [or her] life’s most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.”

I’m very thankful for the service each veteran has given, and I’m glad that each November 11th people all over this great country assemble to pay tribute to them and to thank them for helping ensure the freedoms we enjoy.

*An editorial that first appeared in 1995 in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Linger Long



I noticed something quite peculiar while visiting Yellowstone National Park. Huge crowds gathered to wait for Old Faithful’s next eruption. Some who arrived shortly after the geyser’s last eruption would wait over an hour to watch the next one. They’d wait despite the weather. For example, one day the sunshine gave way to a sudden storm that produced thunder, lightning, and about an inch of ice pellets all over the ground. Even so, the visitors to Old Faithful stayed nearby. Some sought shelter inside the nearby buildings; others remained on the boardwalk.

But that was not the peculiar thing I observed. Neither was it the hush that descended upon the crowd as the time for the eruption neared. Neither was it the collective gasp of hundreds of onlookers as sprays of water and steam began spewing hundreds of feet into the air.
The peculiar thing I observed was the leaving of the crowd mere moments after the eruption began. As soon as most visitors had taken a photo or two, they rushed away to see another of the many wonders of Yellowstone.

I thought it odd that they chose not to linger even a few minutes to enjoy the awesome sight, which lasts less than five minutes. Five minutes!

Apparently, it isn’t easy to hold attention these days—no matter how riveting the performance. Sadly, far too many of us rush on to the next big event, eager to add one more thing to our been-there-done-that list.

We seem to have lost the ability to reflect on the wonder that is before us, whether that wonder is an erupting geyser or a flower flourishing in the cracks in the sidewalk.
How much better it would be if only we were like the people I observed sitting beside scenic sites they’d hiked more than a mile to see. Instead, after we’ve huffed and puffed to reach natural wonders like cascading waterfalls or crystal-clear lakes nestled at the bottom of snow-capped mountains, we pause only long enough to take a picture or two before hurrying back to the car to see what else is ahead.

We know little about quiet reflection and deep contemplation, both of which greatly relieve stress. But by our refusal to be still and enjoy the wonders of nature, we miss out on an even greater benefit: being prompted to worship the Creator.

For example, I doubt David could have written these beautiful words if he hadn’t spent time contemplating the beauty of nature and connecting what his physical senses were experiencing to what his spiritual senses were revealing to him:
Your unfailing love, O LORD, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness
reaches beyond the clouds. Your righteousness is like mighty mountains, your
justice like the ocean depths. You care for people and animals alike, O LORD.
How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the
shadow of your wings. You feed them from the abundance of your own house,
letting them drink from your rivers of delight. For you are the fountain of
life, the light by which we see (Psalm 36:5-9, New Living Translation).

Oh, Dear Reader, may you and I learn to linger long in the presence of the Creator and His creation.

© 2006 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill. For permission to use, please contact her.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Happiness

Happiness is like a butterfly
which, when pursued,
is always beyond our grasp, 
but, if you will sit down quietly, 
may alight upon you.
~Nathaniel Hawthorne

Friday, October 24, 2014

Interruptions

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house."
Luke 19:1-5, NASB


During a phone conversation, a dear friend and I talked about the day we’d met (over twenty years ago).

“I just came into your office and interrupted your work,” she said.

As we laughed about that, I said, “Neither of us knew that meeting would be the beginning of a beautiful and lasting friendship, did we?”

Indeed, we have become as close as sisters as we’ve shared good times together, as well as times of struggle and heartbreak. Every conversation I have with her is a feast for our spirits as we laugh together and encourage one another.



I thought about that a day or two later as I read these words in Mark Buchanan’s wonderful book, The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath: “Think a moment of all the events and encounters that have shaped you most deeply and lastingly. How many did you see coming? How many did you engineer, manufacture, chase down? And how many were interruptions?” (Location #1462, Kindle)


Yes, often what we view as an interruption is actually God’s way of blessing us far more than we could envision, His way of leading us down paths He has chosen for us. For example, consider the life of Jesus. He lived with full awareness of His purpose; yet, He used “interruptions” as opportunities for healing and teaching and meeting all sorts of needs. The “interruptions” were, in fact, an integral part of His work. That’s true for us, as well. May we realize that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Refresh

So, Jesus, perceiving that they [the crowds] were intending to come 
and take Him by force to make Him King, 
withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.
John 4:15, NASB

Several passages of Scripture (like the one above) tell about how even Jesus needed to pull away from the pressures of life. Even He needed to pray and to seek the Father’s will in all things. Even He, for a brief time, had to leave His work, important though it was, in order to return to it even better equipped to carry it out.

Likewise, as the time drew near for His painful death on the cross, He went into the Mount of Olives, as was His custom, for a time of earnest prayer. Although His disciples went there with Him, He “withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done’” (Luke 22:41-42, NIV).

Dear Reader, may you and I set aside time to take a brief respite from the pressures of life in order to pray, to read the Word, and to rest our souls and bodies so that we can return—refreshed and ready—to whatever work/ministry God has given us.



Note: We don’t have to go to the beach or to the mountains, etc. Any quiet, peaceful place will do!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Wabi-Sabi

At the conclusion of a Toastmasters meeting, the leader said, “The theme for our next meeting will be wabi-sabi.”

Well…that theme was quite different from recent ones, such as enthusiasm, being prepared, rise and shine, etc., all of which were easily understood. But wabi-sabi????

Naturally, I made a bee-line for her after the meeting and smiled as I asked, “Just what is wabi-sabi?”

“It’s a Japanese word that means a way of seeing beauty in things that are imperfect, like a cracked vase. People who understand wabi-sabi intentionally place the vase so that the imperfection can be seen rather than hidden.”

After the meeting, I logged on to the internet to find out more about wabi-sabi. I learned that ancients Greeks once prized beauty; westerners desire perfection; but those who practice wabi-sabi value authenticity. They see beauty in things that are imperfect, impermanent, and/or incomplete. For example, they find beauty in things that are rough, irregular, natural, rustic…things with “character,” such as a table with a few dings and dongs, a chipped cup, wrinkled faces, etc. 

      My goodness! I thought. I’ve been practicing wabi-sabi for years and didn’t even know it! To prove it, I looked through my collection of digital photos and found many images I’d made of what I considered beautiful “finds.” I’d found them in unexpected places. For example: an outhouse made of rough wood standing beside acres of sunflowers in full bloom, outgrown children’s shoes being used as small planters, an old worn-out shoe providing a home to a plant in need of care, textured walls in an abandoned building, dried blooms silhouetted again a November sky…


 One of my all-time favorite wabi-sabi photos is one of my mother’s hands, taken when she was 86 years old. I liked it so much I even wrote a poem about her hands and placed those words onto the photo itself.


The more we accept the imperfect elements in our environment and consider them interesting and beautiful, the more willing we’ll be to let go of our relentless quest for perfection—not only in things but also in people—including ourselves!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Undiscovered




To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, 
while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me.
    ~Isaac Newton


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Make Life Beautiful

In an article in the June 2013 issue of Southern Living magazine, writer Allison Glock talks about her great-grandfathers’ gardens, which were as different as the men themselves. One man’s garden was formal. The other’s was wild and free. Yet, each one was filled with beauty.

“In both houses,” Allison says, “there were jars of fresh flowers, blooms that reminded them that life could be beautiful, that they could make it so” (p. 78, “Portrait in Green”).

As I reflected on her words, I recalled the times I’ve visited (and photographed!) the garden of a humble, gentle-spirited man who lives in a small house. Like Allison’s great-grandfathers, this man has also surrounded himself with beauty.

He has planted flowers almost everywhere in his small yard. Other than a grassy pathway, which runs alongside his house and leads to his “sitting area” and to his small vegetable garden near the back fence, almost every available inch of his yard is ablaze with color.


In order to add a splash of color to the part of the yard that is more utilitarian than beautiful, he has hung a sunflower flag on a tree near a table covered with an assortment of unfilled flower pots.


He is happy to share the beauty of his garden with others. For example, when children in his neighborhood ask to be allowed to help him plant and weed and water, he teaches them to care for the plants and to appreciate their beauty, as he does.

Like Allison’s great-grandfathers, he believes life can be beautiful and that people can make it so.

They’re right, aren’t they? We can—and do—cultivate beauty in all kinds of spaces, whether in huge formal gardens surrounding a mansion or in limited space alongside a small house.

We also create beauty in all kinds of ways, not just in flower gardens. Consider: the chef who makes each entrĂ©e a work of art…the fashion designer who adds detail to a garment to make it uniquely beautiful…an interior designer who knows just what to put where in order to create a stunningly beautiful room.

Even folks who don’t get paid to create beauty do it instinctively. Take, for example, the person who creates beauty by artfully arranging assorted, chopped, colorful veggies…the man who washes and waxes his car until it looks brand new...the child who gathers a handful of wild flowers to present to her mother... the toddler who draws on a wall with a crayon…


Because we humans have an innate longing for beauty, we either find it—or create it!

Poets and writers use words to paint pictures for us to enjoy; photographers and artists create visual feasts. Even folks who don’t consider themselves artistic or creative, crave beauty and, thus, create it in all kinds of places and with whatever materials are at hand.

Even when life is hard—especially when life is hard—we have a need for beauty. We flank caskets with flowers to soften the harshness of death. We place flowers and balloon bouquets around the room of those who are ill. We dress in bright colors in order to lift our spirits.

Yes, life can be beautiful. And we should make it so! In the process, let’s also take time to thank our Father for the beauty He’s already provided for us, as Folliott S. Pierpoint did when, in 1864, he penned these words:
For the beauty of the earth,
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth,
Over and around us lies;
Christ our God to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.






Tuesday, August 5, 2014

After a Rain



Have you ever seen clearer shining than that which follows a shower? Then the sun transforms the rain-drops into gems, the flowers look up with fresher smiles and faces glittering from their refreshing bath, and the birds from among the dripping branches sing with notes more rapturous, because they have paused awhile. So, when the soul has been saturated with the rain of penitence, the clear shining of forgiving love makes the flowers of gladness blossom all around.

~From a sermon ("The Joy of the LORD, the Strength of His People") delivered by C. H. Spurgeon on the Lord's Day Morning, December 31, 1871, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington






Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Describe Your Perfect Day

“Describe your perfect day,” was one of the thought-provoking assignments given during the Table Topics portion of the ToastMasters meeting. As soon as it was announced, my heart began to pound, and I fervently hoped the person who’d given the challenge wouldn’t call on me to stand up and speak on that topic for at least one minute.

Any kind of public speaking is scary enough, but to have to stand up, collect your thoughts, and speak sensibly about a topic that was presented to you just seconds before, leaving you zero time to figure out what you’re going to say—and certainly no time to rehearse—makes speaking that much more frightening.

So, whenever I’m called upon during Table Topics, I just start praying that I’ll have something fairly sensible to say and that I won’t die from fright! I don’t worry about whether I’ll receive a blue ribbon (like the one shown below) for having given what those in attendance consider the “Best Table Topics” response. Oh no! I just worry about surviving the ordeal and also about “saving face.”
Thankfully, I was not called upon to describe my perfect day, but that assignment intrigued me so much that I decided I’d write out my response—after I’d gotten home and was sitting on the guest bed, with several big, comfy throw pillows at my back, a laptop on my lap, my heart beating a normal rhythm, no eyes upon me eagerly waiting to hear what I’d say…But even with most of the stress gone, I still had trouble describing what would be a perfect day for me.

Perhaps the difficulty was due to the fact that I tend to be happy with almost every day! I like my life. Sure, it would be nice to:
·  go on trips to faraway places like New Zealand or Ireland
·  win a million dollars
·  be given a new camera and some new lenses
·  see miracles done in the lives of those who are grieving or are critically ill or bankrupt
·  know that the world was at peace and that all the soldiers were back home, unharmed and with their families.

But rather than wish for things that are probably NOT going to happen, I’ve decided to be content with the life I’ve been given. So, a perfect day for me is one that holds blessings often taken for granted—for example, to be able to:
·  live independently in my own home
·  do my own work (yes, even unloading the dishwasher!)
·  walk three or more miles
·  eat healthy foods (but not in excess)
·  come and go as I please
·  rest whenever I’m tired
·  talk to/be with family and friends
·  enjoy my hobbies: reading, taking and editing pictures, writing, walking
·  feel like my life has meaning and purpose, etc.

Bottom line: I feel so very grateful for the life I do have. Although I have dreams, as well as longings for miracles, I’m content with each day the Lord gives me. However, if I were to give a lot of thought as to what a perfect day would look like, I might become discontent with the wonderful life I currently have. Thus, I’ll give heart-felt thanks for my current blessings, and if the Lord should opt to give me some of the things I can only dream about at this point, I’d certainly thank Him for putting extra icing on the proverbial cake He’s already provided for me to enjoy.

(C) 2014 by Johnnie Ann Gaskill

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Lessons from Flowers

As folks who know me can attest, I enjoy photographing flowers of all kinds. I don’t delight in making or maintaining the garden itself, but I do love it when I have an opportunity to photograph the flowers in other folks’ gardens. Fortunately, sweet friends often invite me over to photograph the beautiful results of their hard work. And my husband and I are blessed to be able to travel a good bit, too. When we’re “on the road,” we’re always on the lookout for parks, botanical gardens, plant nurseries, businesses with flowers out front, hanging basket lining the city sidewalks, courtyard in the downtown area, small gardens near entrances to the hotels where we stay, etc.


Although gardens require a good bit of money, time, attention, and hard work, wildflowers don’t. Quite the contrary! They just appear in various places and seem to do very well without human intervention. Many of my favorite “flower photos” are of wildflowers--and also weeds with beautiful blooms. I even love dandelion blooms and seed heads.

Because of my love of beautiful blooms, these three verses in Isaiah 40 captured my attention: “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (vv.6-8, New American Standard Bible).

These verses point out how temporal our lives are. Even though we, like the grasses of the field, bloom and flourish for a time, we will not be here forever. We, like the grasses, will wither and fade; and those who pass by where we used to live may scarcely remember us—if at all.

Yet, God, who is eternal, created us for His good pleasure and lets us live and flourish for a season, as He does the wildflowers and the grasses of the field. In fact, Jesus referred to the beauty of the grasses of the field when He was reminding His followers not to worry about what they would eat or drink or wear. “And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30, NASB).

 

Thus, we should not worry about our lives, but simply bloom where God has planted us and let our lives testify to HIS glory and goodness.
 (C) 2014 by Johnnie Ann Gaskill

Saturday, July 5, 2014

His Works


Last evening, our immediate family gathered at our older daughter’s home to enjoy family time and to celebrate the 4th of July by having fun with some fireworks the guys had provided. We laughed and talked and screamed and covered our ears and ran around as the sparklers spit and sputtered and zoomed and boomed. After the fireworks had been used up, we gathered our belongings and hugged each other, saying what a fun time we’d had while making some wonderful memories.

But while I was still seated in one of the folding chairs, I happened to look up at the sky. The stars were twinkling in the velvety black night sky, making no sound whatsoever. How beautiful. How serene. And certainly a huge contrast to all the noise and flashing lights we’ve just experienced, I thought. And it was.

I thought about the stars the next morning when my daily Bible reading brought me to Isaiah chapter 40, where I found these words in verse 26: Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing (NASB).

While we’d been laughing and talking and having fun with manmade lights, the Creator had been providing an awesome show in the night sky, as He has been doing night after night for untold centuries. It’s sad that we rarely see it. It’s sadder still, that, seeing it, we fail to worship the One who created those stars—and everything else!

(C) 2014 by Johnnie Ann Gaskill

Note: I failed to take a picture of the night sky, but here is one that I took (through the windshield) while my husband was driving us to the fireworks show. The clouds also were created and are sustained by the Creator, as are the family members He's blessed us with! Seeing His work should remind us to praise and thank HIM.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Creator's Works

One day a week or so ago when my daily Bible reading brought me to the 104th chapter of Psalms, I came to these words: “O LORD, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your possessions. There is the sea, great and broad, in which are swarms without number, animals both small and great” (Psalm 104:24-25, New American Standard Bible).

Immediately, I recalled places my husband I had especially enjoyed this past May while on a trip to northwestern Nevada and northern California. One place in particular seemed to fit the Scripture passage. So, I mentally returned there to reminisce about what we’d seen and experienced in the Fort Bragg area of California. While standing on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, we’d seen not only the beautiful blue waters of the seemingly endless Pacific, but also two harbor seals sunning themselves and a migrating whale that surfaced just for a moment. We’d been intrigued by men in scuba diving suits who’d managed to get down the steep, treacherous cliffs to search around the rocks for abalone and other creatures hiding there. 

As I recalled such scenes, I realized anew that the psalmist was exactly right in giving the Creator the credit for all the wonders we’d seen on that trip—as well as those we see all around us every day! What a beautiful world He has made!

(c) 2014 by Johnnie Ann Gaskill

Monday, June 30, 2014

Searcher of Hearts

Yesterday at church, the congregation sang a song I’d never heard before. As I haltingly sang along, most of the time off key, I realized that the words were “keepers” even if I couldn’t sing them well. So, today, I did a Google search for the hymn (Searcher of Hearts, From Mine Erase) and found the lyrics and the music here: http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/s/h/shfmeras.htm

 I’ve printed myself a copy of the words so that I can sing along as I listen to the music. Whether or not my singing improves, I’m going to memorize the words, much like I would a poem, and use them as a prayer.

I’ve learned several songs/prayers this way: As I walk (one to three miles daily) round and round inside my house (because it’s too hot and humid for me to do that many miles outside), I hold in my hand the copy of whatever I’m trying to memorize. As I make my laps, I repeat one phrase at a time until I get it right, without looking at the sheet in my hand, and then I learn the next one. Once I feel comfortable with the second one, I say out loud the first one and the second one over and over until I can do both correctly. Then, I follow that pattern with the rest of the phrases until I’ve learned the whole thing. 

Each day, I review my recent memorizations. Then, if I have a new one, as I will have today, I begin on it. I’m never concerned with the speed with which I learn a new message. But I do focus on learning to practice, to “live by,” the words I’ve stored in my inner being. Otherwise, the memorization is only an exercise for my brain rather than a “life changer.”


I’ve always had a hard time memorizing “word for word” poems, Bible verses, and so forth. Thus, I’m excited that my new routine is helping me to exercise my mind, as well as my body, while also enabling me to store good thoughts in my mind and heart. It’s a win-win activity! I encourage you, Dear Reader, to try my new habit and see if it works for you.

(c) 2014 by Johnnie Ann Gaskill

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Golden Daffodils


Prior to going to see the 20 million daffodils blooming on hillsides, woodlands, and valleys at Gibbs Garden in Ballground, GA, I visited the garden’s website (www.gibsgardens.com) to find out more about the place my neighbor and I and two of her friends (who are now my friends, too) were going. On the website, I found a couple of lines from a poem written by William Wordsworth and published in 1807.
 
Since I loved the words in the poem, I searched for information about it. I learned that the inspiration for the poem had come during a walk the poet had taken with his niece Dorothy on April 15, 1802.  The two of them were enthralled by the “long belt” of daffodils growing along the seashore. Wordsworth later wrote “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (also known as “Daffodils”), which became his most famous work.
 
Since my humble words can't compare with those of the famous poet, I'll gladly let his words speak for me. Even though, like Wordsworth, I am no longer at the site where I first saw the acres of golden daffodils, I can still see them with my "inward eye." Like Wordsworth, the mental pictures fills my heart, again and again, with pleasure. I have no way of knowing whether or not such images caused Wordsworth to praise and thank the Creator for His work, but I know that, time and time again, they motivate me to praise His handiwork and to thank Him for the opportunity to see it.
 
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
            
  ~William Wordsworth

 

 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Thy Servant Is Listening


Although I was tired to the bone, I felt strangely drawn to a Kindle book I’d downloaded that day. So, instead of going to bed, as my tired body wanted to do, I curled up on the sofa, with my Kindle in hand, and began to read J.C. Ryle’s book, A Call to Prayer.

I was immediately captivated (and convicted!) by his words, which he’d written in the 1800's, so much so that I read past midnight and then past 1 a.m.

I realized (1) that the book was no ordinary one, (2) that God intended me to have it, (3) that He was speaking to me through the words He had inspired His servant, J.C. Ryle, to write many years before I was born, (4) that He was making me aware of my sin of prayerlessness, (5) and that He wanted me to confess that sin and turn from it immediately and permanently.

            I confessed that sin (and others!) and then asked God to help me to put Him first in my life, to continue to speak to me, and to help me obey Him.

            I slept soundly that night and then awoke the following morning feeling rested and ready to seek God and to do His will.

            Rather than just offer a quick prayer before I began to read from the Bible, I spent several minutes just talking with my Father and asking Him to speak to me through His Word and by His Spirit. He did!  

The passage that was “next up” on my daily Bible reading plan was 1 Samuel 3, a very familiar story about the young boy Samuel who received a word from the Lord, though such words were rare in those days, due to the fact that no one really wanted to hear what God had to say about anything.

During the night, Samuel heard a voice calling his name. Naturally, he assumed that Eli, the priest with whom he lived, was the one calling him. So, he ran to Eli’s bedside and said, “Here I am, for you called me” (v.5).

Since Eli had not been the one calling the boy, he instructed Samuel to go back to bed. But once again, Samuel heard someone calling his name and hurried to Eli’s bedside, where he learned that it was not Eli who was calling him.

When someone called Samuel a third time, he made another trip to Eli’s bedside. This time, Eli discerned that it was the Lord calling Samuel.

As before, Eli told Samuel to go back to bed, but he also said that if the Lord called Samuel again, Samuel should say, “Speak, LORD, for Thy servant is listening” (v.9).

The Lord did call to Samuel again. And when Samuel said, “Speak, for Thy servant is listening,” the Lord told Samuel what He wanted him to know and to do.

As soon as I’d finished reading those words, I knew that the same Lord who’d spoken to Samuel centuries ago was the One who’d been speaking to me the night before through the words of J.C. Ryle. I knew that the same Lord was the One speaking to me through His Word that morning. I knew that He intended me to obey Him, just as Samuel had.

After an extended prayer time, I felt compelled to go to the computer to write these words rather than do the other tasks that were “calling my name.” The Lord had spoken to me, I listened to Him, and I obeyed. May that continue to be true of me—and of you, Dear Reader.

© 2014 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Watch for Spring!

Note: Although I wrote this article in 2003, I still search for signs of Spring, as I'm doing this year (2014, when I took the photos included in this post) and the same truths expressed here still apply.

I love being outside in this Spring-like weather. The sun is warm; the wind is gentle. The daffodils are swaying gracefully, their movements choreographed by invisible currents. The crabapple tree is in full bloom, looking (from a distance) like it’s adorned with cotton balls. The skinny branches on the almond tree, which just a few weeks ago looked like small sticks, are hardly visible now that their buds have opened, revealing the beauty within each tiny one.

As I stroll along, the sight and smell of freshly-cut grass makes me smile. Even the dog trots happily alongside me, looking as if she’s smiling, too. We stop frequently so that I can photograph the surprises I’m finding everywhere--for example,the buds on the Japanese Magnolia (aka "Tulip Tree").
 

As I walk along enjoying the warmth, I think about the bitter cold we’ve experienced this winter. Some days were just “too raw” to venture out at all. Freezing temperatures. Bone-chilling, wet winds. Clouds so dark and heavy that mid-day seemed like late afternoon.

 But now that the weather is nice, every day I look longingly out the windows, waiting eagerly for my time outside. A writer friend adds to that longing when she says, “Go outside to write! Don’t you dare stay inside on a day like today.”

Perhaps my delight in this beautiful season helps me recognize the truth in these words of David L. Weatherford. “We enjoy warmth because we have been cold. We appreciate light because we have been in darkness. By the same token, we can experience joy because we have known sorrow.”

Thankfully, there is a cycle to ALL of life, not in the seasons alone. When we’re experiencing a “long, dark night of the soul,” we know that light will come into our lives again. And when it does, oh, how we welcome it. When we’re feeling fearful, we know that calm will come.  And when it does, oh, how we welcome it.

          While thinking about such cycles, I reflect on these words of Abraham Lincoln. “In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all, and it often comes with bitter agony. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You cannot now believe that you will ever feel better. But this is not true. You are sure to be happy again. Knowing this, truly believing it, will make you less miserable now. I have had enough experience to make this statement.”

          It comforts me to know that great persons, including Biblical writers, experienced cycles in their faith, just as you and I do. For example, one of the psalmists wrote, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel…” (Psalm 73:21-24a, New International Version).

          No matter what cycle we’re in, God loves us and is with us! And even though we may feel we’ve been in the harsh grip of Winter for a long time, we can know that it won’t last forever. We will experience a Springtime! Wait for it! Watch for it!
Bud on our Crabapple tree.

 
© 2003 by Johnnie Ann Gaskill.