Monday, January 24, 2022

Guard and Guide

A friend told me that her daughter-in-law's cancer had come back and, thus, required another round of chemo. Then she said, "I'm praying for God's mercy and grace as He walks with her through this."

Her words triggered a memory of a painting that was on the wall of my Aunt Delia and Uncle Howard's bedroom when I was a child. Enthralled, I'd gaze at that lovely picture of a beautifully-robed angel hovering over two young children as they crossed a narrow, rickety footbridge that spanned turbulent water. I hadn't thought about that painting in years, but I'm glad I remembered it. 

As I reflected on it, I realized anew that many people, like the children depicted in the painting, are walking a scary part of their journey. The daughter-in-law who's battling cancer---again. The parents whose 10-year-old son was killed in a rodeo accident. An 85-year-old who's facing major surgery. A widowed wife and her young children....

I felt prompted to read Scriptures that speak about God's presence with us in times of trouble. Psalm 23:4 was especially comforting.

After reading that verse and several others, I prayed:

Oh, Lord God, thank You for the love that motivates You to walk with us along life's journey.

I lift up all those who need extra watching over while they're traveling through dark and scary places. Do give them the strength to carry on. Guide their steps. Comfort them with Your presence. Help them to realize they do not walk alone.



Friday, January 7, 2022

Simplify!

Each year, I choose one word to focus on. My word for 2021 was action. Previous words have been lovefinish, and focus


This year, I’m feeling drawn to the word simplify. Apparently, I’m not the only one. Each day I receive multiple emails on that topic. The bottom line of most of the messages is “Less is more,” an idea I first encountered in Greg McKeown’s excellent book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

Although I tend to love my stuff and like having an abundance of the things I enjoy, I’m beginning to realize that when I have less stuff to deal with, I have more time to rest, more time to do the things that are truly a priority, and more calmness in my mind, as well as my environment. 

When I say “stuff,” I’m not just talking about things like books, clothes, digital devices, etc. Stuff also includes activities, commitments, hobbies, and so forth. If I wish to simplify my life--and I do--I need to let go of whatever is no longer adding to the quality of my life. 

I’ll keep the essentials (and a moderate number of non-essentials that bring me joy, like notes from dear friends, a meaningful magnet on the fridge, etc.) Although I'll want to keep boxes of perfectly good Christmas ornaments and decorations that I haven’t used in many years, as well as articles and newsletters I’ve saved for years, intending to read them “when I have time,” I'll need to let them go.

Do you want to simplify your life? If so, what will you let go?




Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Little Steps

As this year draws to a close, I feel a mix of emotions, don’t you? Gratitude for all the blessings I’ve received. Sadness over the passing of loved ones. Concern over the seemingly unsolvable situations in the world. Regret over things done or left undone. Overwhelm regarding things yet to do.

I can’t do anything about some of those things, but I know from previous experience that if I’ll declutter my personal spaces, I’ll feel much more hopeful and function more efficiently as I do the things I can do. 

However, even improving my workspace seems a daunting task. But the day I vowed to sort and file the accumulated items in my “to be done” stack, I came across a 3x5 card on which I'd scribbled these words several months ago: “find little ways forward.”

As I dealt with the stack, I said to myself, Think about what runners do. When they’re running a marathon (26.2 miles) or a shorter distance, they do it one step at a time. Step by step, from start to finish, they stay on the course marked out for them. They know that each step brings them closer to the finish line. They don’t lollygag around or quit. They don’t look back. They look ahead, eager to reach the finish line. That’s what I’ll do in regard to sorting this stuff and to finishing important projects that I’ve set aside for far too long.

Encouraged by that insight, I’m feeling less overwhelmed and more determined than ever to find little ways forward in the New Year. I hope you are too.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Obedience--Despite...


Around 6 a.m. I looked out the floor-to-ceiling windows of the condo my husband and I had rented in Gulf Shores, Alabama. I expected to see the sun slowly appear, as it had on previous mornings, looking like a gigantic orange ball emerging from the watery depths of the Gulf of Mexico.  

A "normal" sunrise!
Instead, all I saw was a long, narrow band of orange on the horizon line that separated the water from the overcast sky. I couldn’t see the sun as it rose higher and higher that morning. Neither could I marvel as its light created pastel colors in the sky. Neither did I have to shield my eyes as the sun flooded the room with brilliant light, as I was accustomed to doing. 

Yet, the sun was there, following its God-ordained path, doing exactly what God created it to do, and adhering to the schedule God had set for it.

Likewise, when God sent His Son to earth at the appointed time, Jesus did exactly what the Father sent Him to do, no matter what people of His day assumed He would. With various words and at various times, He expressed this truth to God the Father: “I have come to do Thy will–Thy will, not My will.” (See Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 22:42, Matthew 6:10, Matthew 26:39-42, etc.)

Oh, dear reader, may you and I faithfully do what God created us to do despite the “daily-ness” of our work, despite the circumstances that reduce our effectiveness, despite the fact that others often fail to see the good work we’re doing, despite their lack of positive response to it, despite….

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Gather to Give Thanks

I rarely sit down just to watch TV. But sometimes a story or a sentence or a phrase or even one word catches my attention as I pass a TV. For example, this week, I’ve heard the word Friendsgiving used by different people in various situations. I finally sat down long enough to look it up on the Internet. *

I learned that it was first used in 2007 but wasn’t added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary until January 2020. Basically, it’s the day you choose to celebrate an informal Thanksgiving with your friends. It can be in addition to or in lieu of the traditional Thanksgiving celebration you have with your family on the fourth Thursday in November.


I’m all for celebrating with friends as well as with family. But I hope that Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving gatherings will remind us to thank God for the loved ones and the countless other special blessings He sends into our lives every day.  May each celebration be more than an opportunity to stuff ourselves with delicious food or to show off our homes and cooking skills. May it be a time when all who gather together around a bountiful table gratefully acknowledge the One from whom all blessings come. May He be the Guest of Honor. May all that’s said and done be pleasing to Him.



*   https://www.delish.com/food-news/a33957858/what-is-friendsgiving/


Friday, October 22, 2021

Be Still

 With all the advice being given from so many sources today, rarely do we hear this wise counsel:


Does the command to be still, intrigue you? It does me. So, I looked it up in other translations. The Contemporary English Version (CEV) says, “Calm down, and learn that I am God.” The Passion Translation (TPT) says, “Surrender your anxiety. Be still and realize I am God.”


How do we do that? Find a quiet place to read God’s Word and talk with Him. Commit to obeying whatever He says—even if it goes against whatever we might prefer or whatever advice others have given. Follow the example of Jesus, who said to His Father, “Not what I want, but what You want.”


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

I Need Thee

 Note: I hope you enjoy this fiction story I wrote. I based it on the personal experience column I submitted for the Oct. 2021 issue of Chapel Hill News and Views magazine.

As Sharon swiped the perspiration from her face, she said, “I feel sad about all the stuff that’s going on in our world. I wonder when—or if—life will return to normal again, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do! Elaine replied.

After the two friends topped the hill on their walk around their neighborhood, Elaine recovered enough breath to continue the conversation.


“Early this morning, the words in an old hymn came to mind...the one that says, “I need Thee every hour…stay Thou nearby.”

Sharon smiled. “I love that song! I wish more people, including myself, realized that human strength and human wisdom are not adequate to deal with life’s challenges.”

      “Life is hard, isn’t it? It was hard even for the saints of old.”

Sharon stopped. Making eye contact with Elaine, she said, “Funny you should mention that. I've been thinking about Psalm 18 that my pastor read last Sunday morning. I read it again this morning in the Contemporary English Version. Just listen.”

Sharon opened up the YouVersion app on her cell phone and read verse 4: “Death had wrapped its ropes around me, and I was almost swallowed by its flooding waters.”

“Wow!” Elaine said. “As bad as things are today, I wouldn’t want to swap situations with him, would you? But…don’t keep me in suspense. What did David do?”

      “He cried out to the Lord for help! And the Lord heard David’s cries and rescued him.”

      “I imagine David was one happy man!” Elaine said, grinning at her friend.

      “Yep! But he didn’t just say, ‘Thank You very much.’ He took time to praise God. Listen to what David said in verses 30b-32: ‘You are a shield for those who run to you for help…You give me strength and guide me right.’” 

    As they started up the next hill, Elaine said, “I love stories about real people with real problems, don’t you? I learn so much from them.”

They walked on in silence for a bit. Then Elaine said, “While doing my daily Bible reading this morning, I read the 3rd chapter of Lamentations. I can sooo relate to what the writer said.”

This time Elaine was the one who opened up YouVersion on her phone. “Listen to what he says in verses 19-24:

Just thinking of my troubles and my lonely wanderings makes me miserable. That’s all I ever think about, and I am depressed. Then I remember something that fills me with hope. The LORD’s kindness never fails! If he had not been merciful, we would have been destroyed. The LORD can always be trusted to show mercy each morning. Deep in my heart I say, “The LORD is all I need. I can depend on him!”

Sharon said, “He’s so right about that. Since we can’t stop thinking about all the stuff that’s going on, and neither could he, maybe we should do what he did. Take time out to focus on what we KNOW to be true about God and to remember how He has always helped us through our difficulties—little ones and big ones.”

When they reached Elaine’s driveway, they paused to chat a bit more, as was their custom. Sharon said, “Let’s take a minute and pray together.”

Elaine nodded. “O Father, since problems ranging from mere annoyances to major upheavals continue to plague the human race, we often feel powerless and hopeless and full of despair. But today we cry out to You as countless other people of faith have done. We say, ‘O Father, we don’t understand why certain things happen, particularly to good people and innocent children. We don’t know what to do or say to reduce suffering. We don’t know when relief may come. But we know that You know.”

Elaine paused in order to give Sharon an opportunity to pray. “O, Father, we do look to You. We cry out to You regarding the needs of others as well as our own. While we wait for You to intervene, help us to remember, with thanksgiving, the countless times when You came to our aid when we felt scared and hopeless.”

When Sharon’s voice broke, Elaine prayed while Sharon regained her composure. “Help us to quiet our anxious thoughts by recalling the promises You’ve made, including this one: ‘I am the LORD your God. I am holding your hand, so don’t be afraid. I am here to help you’ (Isaiah 41:13, CEV).

“So, Father, we will cry out to You again and again. We will believe You love us and want to help us even more than we want to help our children.

“O Father, help us to live in faith, fully assured of this truth expressed in Ephesians 3:20-21: You are indeed able to do far more than anyone can ever ask for or even imagine. Thank You, Father.”

Sharon and Elaine both said, “Amen” and hugged each other. “See you tomorrow!

As they walked toward their homes, each hummed the old song, I Need Thee Every Hour, for indeed they did need Him. Don’t we all?  

 

©2021 by Johnnie Ann Gaskill




Thursday, October 14, 2021

Not Alone (poem)

Note: The poem I mentioned in my previous post inspired me to try my hand at writing a poem that describes experiences I've had on beautiful beaches, especially those on the Gulf of Mexico. Please feel free to comment.

Not Alone

 My feet made prints in the wet sand
As I strolled near the ocean's foam.
I marveled at all God had made 
On that island far from my home.

The shorebirds fascinated me,
As did pelicans plunging down
To fill their large, empty pouches
With fish swimming in their playground.

As the breeze restyled my grey hair,
And the sun's rays reddened my face,
I continued on, praising God
For His handiwork in that place.

Sea oats swayed in the gentle breeze, 
And puffy white clouds drifted by.
Seagulls swooped and strutted and shrieked,
While some swimmers toweled themselves dry.

Concerns and fears I’d brought with me
Vanished quicker than morning dew,
As I pondered this awesome truth:
God made me and sustains me, too!

I saw no footprints beside mine,
Yet, I sensed I was not alone.
Awed by His presence near to me,
I praised Him as we journeyed on.
 --Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill, (c) 2021
 
[Jesus said to His disciples:]
"I am with you always,
even to the end of the age."
--Matthew 28:20, NLT
 
Photo courtesy of Upsplash


Thursday, October 7, 2021

Sensing His Presence

As I read Patience Allison Hartbauer’s poem entitled Footprints, which I recently found in a pocket-sized booklet I’d had for years, I recalled many experiences similar to the one she describes.


I, too, have walked along the beach and marveled at all the things God has created. I, too, have felt a renewed sense of peace and hope. I, too, have worshipped God as I walked on sandy shores. I, too, have concluded that, although I did not see His footprints in the sand, I knew He was walking with me. 

(c)2017, Sanibel Island, Florida

I pray you have had a similar experience. You may have sensed God with you at places other than the beach. The place we experience Him could be anywhere. According to the Bible, Paul and Silas felt His presence while in a prison cell. David knew God was with him even while David was hiding out in a cave. Moses experienced God out in the desert. I’ve felt His presence in a hospital room. On a mountaintop. In the grocery store... 


He is everywhere! How extra blessed we are when we sense Him--wherever we are.