Saturday, January 4, 2020

Live!


Image by Daniel Byram from Pixabay 
Used by permission.
When I saw this image on the Internet, I zoomed in to read what some folks had written on the chalkboard in a bar. Despite the heavy accumulation of chalk dust on the board, I managed to read some of the dreams written in the blanks. "Ride the gondolas in Venice with my husband." "Be happily in love." "Marry Ryan."

But one answer intrigued me far more than any of the others. "Live." I reflected on those four large, red letters. What exactly did he mean? To feel fully alive rather than dead inside? To thrive rather than shrivel up? To feel excited rather than bored? To experience adventures rather than stay in the same old rut? To feel eager rather than dutiful? To dare rather than to hesitate?

Did he realize the disconnect between the life he had and the life he was created to have? The life he could have--and should have? That's what happens when we settle for being anything less than what God created us to be. And we recognize it, as did the person who wrote, "Before I die, I want to live." 

But here's the Good News: We can have an abundant life! How? Believe Him. Receive Him. Experience the life He wants us to enjoy here and throughout eternity.






Saturday, December 28, 2019

Create An Environment for Success

“Create an environment for success," our weight loss coach says. "Look around and ask, 'What should I change in my home? My car? My school or workplace? What could I add? Or remove?’”

During each weekly meeting, we talk about how even small changes help us lose weight. One member of the group said, “I keep all my snacks in one cabinet. That way, I don’t see the chips and cookies stored in the cabinet my family uses."

Another person said, “I used to store apples in the fruit drawer of the fridge. But then, I'd forget about them. Now, I put them in a pretty bowl on one of the shelves—right in the front. My family and I see them first whenever we open the door.”

Someone else said, “I keep healthy snacks in my purse. Then I don't resort to snacking on cookies and chips when I‘m out and about.”

   Another said, “I keep a pair of comfortable shoes in my car. Anytime I have an opportunity to walk, my shoes are right there.”

Suggestions such as these inspired me to make changes in my environment and to notice others I can make. For example, I bought a red bowl and placed assorted measuring cups and spoons in it. It sits on the counter, right beside the food scales. Now, I measure my food rather than estimate how much I ate.


I'm changing not only my stuff but also my habits. Before I sit down to write a column or to edit a batch of photos, I set the timer on the microwave. Since I don’t like hearing the beep-beep-beep of the timer, I’ll walk to the kitchen to silence it. While I’m up every hour, I’ll do a household task or two before returning to my computer. Taking mini-breaks is essential since I have a history of blood clots. But until I started using the timer, I’d work for hours without moving around.

Whether trying to lose weight or reach some other goal, you and I can get to where we want to go sooner and with less effort if we’ll create an environment for success.                   

We'll also make progress in reaching our spiritual goals if we follow the advice provided in Hebrews 12:1, New Living Translation. “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.”

Removing hindrances, even little ones, helps us reach our goals sooner than we ever dreamed.                                                                          
 © 2013 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Wonderful Names


“If I’d known what my children would be like once they were grown, I could’ve chosen more appropriate names for them,” she said.

Although that’s true, none of us have that kind of foreknowledge, do we? Thus, we simply choose a name we like or one that’s been in the family for generations or one that’s the same as someone we admire. Sometimes we create a new one.

However, some parents mentioned in the Bible were told. For example, an angel appeared to aged Zacharias to tell him he and his wife Elizabeth would have a baby and that they were to name him John. (That name means “Jehovah [God] has been gracious, has shown favor.”)

An angel also appeared to Mary, a young virgin, and said to her, “…you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.” (A name derived from the Hebrew name Yeshua, which means “to deliver, to rescue.”)

Jesus’ life matched the meaning of His name. He did deliver us from our sins and rescue us from being cast into Hell, forever separated from the One who loves us more than we can conceive.

He also lived up to another name given to Him centuries before His birth: Immanuel. That name, which means “God with us,” refers to not only His deity (God) but also His identification with and His nearness to mankind.

As Henry Barraclough’s beautiful hymn (1915) says:
Out of the ivory palaces
Into a world of woe
Only His great eternal love
Made my Savior go.

He came down to us in order to provide the way for us to go up to live with Him throughout all eternity. In the meantime, we who know Him can come to Him with our praises, with our gratitude, with our confessions of sins, with our pleas for help, with our brokenness, with our….

Because God the Father knew exactly what His Son would be and do, every name He chose for Him is appropriate, each one describing who He was and is and forever will be. 

Oh, blessed be every name given to our wonderful Savior and Lord!  


Note: A longer version of this was published in the Chapel Hill News and Views magazine in December 2019. 

Saturday, December 7, 2019

What to Give?

Since 2012, the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday has been called Giving Tuesday and kicks off the official giving season. 

On this global day of giving (and several days prior), I receive several emails urging me to donate to various organizations and charitable causes. Those appeals make it seem as if the only way to participate in Giving Tuesday is to contribute financially. However, donating money is only one way to give.

My niece wrote this message in the sand. Thank you, Janna!
For example, the Bible repeatedly tells us to give thanks. First and foremost, we are to thank God for all the ways He blesses us day by day and year by year. We can (and should) thank others, too. The person who taught us to read. The friend who calls to see how we're feeling. The person who gives us an unexpected opportunity. The one who helps us catch up on our tasks. The child who picks a flower for us. The shopper with an overflowing cart who notices that ours contains only a few items and says, "You go first." 

They have given to us. One way we can give back to them is by thanking them.  

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
--1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NKJV






Saturday, November 23, 2019

Angels Among Us

“What’s inside?” I wondered as I eagerly opened a package Shelly (the daughter of a friend who had undergone chemo) had mailed to me. I opened the card before opening the two beautifully wrapped gifts.

The printed verse on the card spoke to my heart for it stated that miracles happen every day because of the angels who are all around us—angels (whether friends or strangers) who say a kind word or call us at just the right time, etc. 

As I read Shelly's handwritten note, I knew that it was the real treasure, no matter what else was in the box. “Johnnie, here’s a little something to put on your Thanksgiving table to remind you how thankful we are for you. And another little something to wear to remind you that you have been an ‘angel’ to our family. Thank you so much for all your help.”

After brushing away my tears, I opened the gifts: a set of small, wise-old-owl salt and pepper shakers and a beautiful bracelet made of small multi-faceted glass beads, delicate filigree silver separators, and four small, evenly-spaced, silver “angel” charms. 

I called Shelly right away. “You didn’t need to send anything. I gladly did whatever I could to help your mother.”

Helping others is my custom, because, through the years, I’ve received help from countless “angels” who came to my rescue in so many ways. Some were family members or friends. Some were total strangers—prior to our encounter. Some “angels” I’ve never met; yet, their words--found in books, blogs, cards, music, etc.--have counseled and comforted me. Some "angels" have ministered encouragement to me by letting me know a particular “Reflections” column blessed them in some way.

Since “angels” have so often and willingly ministered to me, I gladly extend help and kindness to others. Freely I have received; freely I give. (See Matthew 10:8.)

As I thanked God for the card and gifts Shelly sent in early October and then reflected on others who have ministered to me, the Thanksgiving season started even earlier that year. I also thanked God for the abundant grace and mercy He always provides. Undeserved, yes, but always supplied.

Does God appear at my side with whatever I need? No. He sends an “angel” to deliver it. The “angel” is an ordinary person who, often unknowingly, is sent on a divine mission to deliver whatever unique gift God wants His child to have.

Since I know that God is continually gracious and faithful, I wholeheartedly agree with the words to the old hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” penned in 1923 by Thomas O. Chisholm. In fact, I often hum the words, especially those in the chorus: “All I have needed thy hand hath provided; / Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.” 

(To read the lyrics and listen to the piano accompaniment, visit http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/h/19).


©2013 by Johnnie Ann Gaskill

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Feeling Better


When I got out of bed on November 18, 2009, I felt much better than I had in about a week.

I was no longer dragging around while feeling the need to return to bed. My stuffiness was nearly gone, and I wasn’t coughing every few minutes. My thinking seemed sharper, and I noticed a difference in the way I sounded when people called to check on me. My voice sounded like mine again, and I was able to kid around some instead of describing my flu-like symptoms. 

As I thanked God for healing me, I thought about one of the psalms (songs) of praise David had written many centuries ago. In it (Psalm 103), David says that the Lord “heals all my diseases…” (vv.3b, 4).

However, David praises and thanks God for far more than physical healing. For example, he says, “Praise the LORD, I tell myself; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, I tell myself, and never forget the good things he does for me.
      
“He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases….He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!” (Psalm 103:1-4).
      
Although David’s list goes on, it doesn’t contain all that God does for him. No list can do that!
      
David also gives thanks for what God is like. “The LORD is merciful and gracious; he is slow to get angry and full of unfailing love…The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate toward those who fear him. For he understands how weak we are…” (vv. 8-14).
      
Because of who God is and what He does for us, may you and I say, as David did, “As for me—I, too, will praise the LORD” (Psalm 103:22).
      
Even if the Lord doesn’t do everything we asked Him to, we can still praise and thank Him for all that He does do, can’t we? After all, He doesn’t have to grant our every wish any more than an earthly father must do everything his children ask him to do for them.

When God says “No” to a request, it doesn’t mean He can’t fulfill it. Neither does it mean He doesn’t love us enough to grant our request.

So, let’s continue to thank Him for all the ways He cares for us and trust He will act on our behalf—in His time and in accordance with His plan.

Copyright © 2009 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill, www.jgaskill.com. Scripture quoted is from the New Living Translation.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Remarkable Preservations


“I'm cancer free!” a friend said to me in an e-mail.

“I'm so thankful…,” I replied. “And I’m going to write this good news down in my 1,000 Gifts journal—NOW!”

Note: My friend knew which journal I was talking about because I’d given her one just like mine. As she uses it to list the "gifts" God abundantly provides day by day, she, too, is experiencing big changes in attitude and outlook. (We started listing our gifts a couple of months ago when we began to read Ann Voskamp’s inspiring book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.) 


My friend’s wonderful news was #587 on my list.  Next on the list (#588) was a mention of the delicious dinner my husband and I had had with our two oldest grandsons (ages 16 and 13) at The Island Cow Restaurant on Sanibel Island, Florida. At first glance, that entry seemed far less significant than #587. However, my thankfulness for #588 increased all the more as, later that same evening, I heard about a grandmother who, along with other family members, was waiting at a hospital to find out if her twelve-year-old granddaughter would survive a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.       

My heart ached for the young girl and her family. I prayed earnestly late into the night that God would help them and bring good out of that tragedy, which He can do, as Paul points out in Romans 8:28.

Although I remained so sad about whatever pain had caused the pre-teen to try to end her life and, thereby, bring such grief to her family and friends, I also realized how truly blessed my husband and I are to have happy and healthy grandsons with whom to enjoy a meal.

The following morning, while I was reading Matthew Henry’s Commentary on 2 Samuel 22:1-51, I had an “ah-ha!” moment as I read these words: “Remarkable preservations should be particularly mentioned in our praises…Those who receive signal mercies from God, ought to give him the glory.” Matthew Henry then pointed out that the very day God delivered David, David sang a song of praise to God, while God’s mercy was still fresh on his mind.

Dear Reader, daily listing God’s mercies, while they’re still fresh on our minds, keeps us reminded of His great goodness to us. Taking note of seemingly simple things like enjoying a meal with loved ones, reminds us of the “remarkable preservations” that He has given to us. For example, apart from His tender mercies, all so undeserved, we would be the ones weeping in a hospital and praying for a life-saving miracle for a loved one.

My precious mother knew the truth of "remarkable preservations," for she often said, “We should thank God for what He’s given us. We should also thank Him for what He has spared us from.”

© 2014 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill, who welcomes comments.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

A Grateful Heart

Note; Although the following is a fiction story I wrote in 2015, it's message is true: it IS possible to have a grateful heart even in trying circumstances.

As Linda Leigh sipped her morning coffee, she became increasingly aware of the birds that flew to and from the feeders outside the screened-in porch where she was sitting.
Unlike her, they seemed to be unaffected by the chilly air. They conversed with each other as happily as they had on spring mornings and balmy summer evenings when she’d listened to them as she’d sat alone in her favorite chair on the porch and sipped her hazlenut-flavored coffee.
As she enjoyed the sight and sounds of the birds, the words to a simple blessing she’d said with her third-grade students many years ago popped into her mind.
“Thank You for the world so sweet. Thank You for the food we eat. Thank You for the birds that sing. Thank You, God, for everything.”
Surprised by those long-forgotten words, Linda Leigh whispered them aloud—and realized, for the first time in over 30 years, that she felt truly thankful. With pleasure she noted that the feeling warmed her cold heart even more than the hot coffee warmed her chilly body.
Clasping the hot mug, she mused, Is it possible to give thanks for everything?
Her first response was Absolutely not! I will never be able to give thanks for the horrible things I’ve been through. Never! Never!
But as she listened to the birds, she reflected on how they chirped happily in stinging cold or sizzling heat, in pouring rain or in dazzling sunshine.
She, on the other hand, had let circumstances snatch her song from her. But as she listened to their songs and watched the energetic actions of the Chickadees, the Nuthatches, the Finches, and other birds as they flew from feeders to trees, she wondered, Will I ever be able to recapture the joy I’ve lost?
O how she wanted to feel happy and purposeful again instead of angry over and defeated by the hard blows she’d sustained. So, taking another sip of coffee, she whispered, “Thank You, God, for the warmth I feel.”
As she sat there, she spoke yet another small thanksgiving. “Thank You, God, for these quiet moments to linger here before I meet with the oncologist.”
Realizing it was time to go, she stood—and was surprised once again to hear herself whisper, “Thank You, God, for strength to stand.”
The following morning when she was sitting on her porch and sipping her coffee, her friend Marie stopped by to check on her. Linda Lee said, “Pour a cup of coffee and come out here. I have something to tell you.”
As Marie seated herself, Linda Leigh said, “The strangest thing happened to me yesterday.” After telling Marie about the blessing that had popped into her mind and how she’d surprised herself as she’d begun to whisper one-sentence thanksgivings, Linda Leigh said, “And I couldn’t stop! Throughout the day, I said things like, “Thank You, God, that I can see and smell. And hear. And taste. And feel. And Thank You, God, for money to buy the things I need.”
As sentence after sentence spilled out of her mouth, Linda Leigh noticed Marie was smiling at her.
“What?” she asked.
“I think the ice around your heart is melting,” Marie said softly.
“I believe it is!” Linda Leigh said. “I still can’t thank God for everything He’s allowed to come my way, but I can thank Him for the things He’s given me that help me get through the tough times.”
Smiling, she whispered, “Thank You, God, for a friend like Marie.”

© 2015 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill

Monday, October 28, 2019

Happy Hearts. Happy Faces.

"Happy Faces!"
While taking a break from my duties as the official photographer at an annual luncheon,  I sat down to talk with a man and his wife I've come to know. 

Since I've never seen him when he wasn't smiling, even when I wasn't pointing my camera in his direction, I said to her, "Does he smile all the time?" 

"Yes, he does! It's a joy to be married to him."

In addition to his beautiful smile, his eyes sparkle like those of a young child opening the best gift ever. Thus, it's a pleasure to be in his presence. 

I wish I'd asked him his secret, but I'm assuming that the answer is found in the Bible: "A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance" (Proverbs 15:13, NKJV).

And there is definitely a direct link between the heart and the face, just as there is between the heart and the words we say and the actions we take. 

As a photographer, I notice details in faces, but not just physical features such as the shape, the skin, the eyes, etc. I also notice the expression on each face, for the expression is an indicator of what's going on in that person's mind and heart. Is he or she troubled? Tense? Angry? Defiant? Bored? Kind? Inquisitive? Confident?

Most of us can manage to smile when a camera is aimed at us, but what kind of expressions do we have when we're not being photographed? Those expressions speak volumes about the kind of person we are.