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. 





Tuesday, October 22, 2019

His Sunset

I'd have missed seeing this awesome sight my Father created if I'd remained inside the house working away! This gorgeous scene reminded me of words I'd read this morning, so I added them to the photo. Enjoy! Give God praise!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Farther Along

When someone is going through a difficult situation, it's hard to know what to say to them, isn't it? While we want desperately to encourage them, we don't want to glibly spout words of wisdom, unintentionally implying that if we were in their situation we'd know how to handle our suffering far better than they are handling theirs. 

However, suffering people find it easier to accept wise counsel from someone who has also suffered deeply and, in the process, found wisdom he or she can pass along to others. For example, while William Buel Stevens, who wrote the song Farther Along, was in his late teens, he suffered two great losses. His uncle died suddenly of heart disease at age 48. A couple of years later, the uncle's 17-year-old son died the same way. Perhaps those experiences prompted Stevens to write the song that shows he understands our grief when the death of loved ones leaves our homes so lonely and drear. 

He understands when we wonder why we suffer while others seem to prosper, when we wonder why we're tempted and tested "all the day long," and when we wonder why we must endure great discomforts. Although it's natural to think such thoughts, Stevens shares a lesson he learned: Cheer up! Live in the sunshine of God's love. 


It's a rocky and steep climb
to the top of Mount Washburn
in Yellowstone National Park.
Elevation: over 10,000 feet
I take that to mean: Let God be the light you need for the journey. Let His light push away the darkness and doubt you feel. Walk steadily onward on the path marked out for you. Know full well that farther along you will gain a better perspective about your path. You will understand more and more that God walks that difficult road with you, that God loves you, and that God never leaves you nor forsakes you. Rejoice in His presence with you and His power to sustain you.

To hear Johnny Cash sing Farther Along, click here

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Three R's of Happiness

As Abraham Lincoln so rightly said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Even if you have already determined to be happy, let me share with you three things I do to increase my happiness. I urge you to try them!

Remind myself that I am loved.
For over 36 years I’ve treasured a tiny rosebud encased in a clear container no bigger than my thumb. Jessie brought it to me the day she visited me during my weeklong stay in the hospital.

Have I kept it because it’s valuable? No. It probably wouldn’t sell for a nickel at a yard sale. Yet, I cherish it since it reminds me of her love for me, a love she expressed in many ways during the years we lived across the street from each other. It also prompts me to express love, as she did.

Reach out to others.
When Mrs. Ruby (a new friend and fellow writer) heard me say I usually put off going for my goals, she reached out to encourage me by cross-stitching and framing this quote for me: “Opportunities are never lost...someone will take the one you miss.”

Does her 5x7-inch gift have monetary value? No. But I treasure it because it reminds me that she loved me enough to make something that would keep those words before me long after she had passed away. It also prompts me to reach out and share wise words with others, as she did.

Dewey, a dear friend who was the Discipleship Training Director at the church we attended, also reached out to me in a meaningful way. One Sunday evening as I left the room where I’d finished teaching a D. T. class, he gave me a tiny gift I still treasure. When he slipped that little scrap of paper into my hand, his eyes sparkled, as did mine when I read what he had written: I appreciate you! What a much-needed uplift those three words gave me.

Is that gift valuable? No. It’s only a scrap of paper! But I cherish it. It reminds me that some people do appreciate me. It prompts me to find a way to affirm and encourage others.

Record my gratitude.
I look around at all the wonderful gifts I’ve been given and list a few of them in a gratitude journal every day. As my list grows, I begin to notice even more things I’m thankful for, including the little things, which often are much more meaningful than I realized.

Dear Reader, do try these three things, especially when life gets hard. You’ll be amazed at how much you are loved—by God and by others. The more thankful you are for the love you’ve been shown, the happier you will be--and the happier you’ll make others feel as you love and encourage them. 






Sunday, September 29, 2019

Definitely Desirable Fruit

People and animals enjoy the fruit trees in our yard. In the springtime, I love to photograph the beautiful blooms on the pear trees. Later on, even before any pears ripen, the deer who forage for food in our yard eat the green ones attached to low-growing limbs. However, the deer have to wait for the persimmons to ripen and fall to the ground from limbs high overhead. Therefore, they visit the tree many times a day, hoping to find the delicious fruit.

As I think about physical fruit, I am reminded that the Bible talks about a different kind of "fruit" that is produced by the Holy Spirit who indwells each believer. Most translations use wording similar to this when listing that fruit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

However, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language describes the fruit this way:
But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way fruit appears in an orchard--things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Although descriptions of the fruit vary, it's definitely desirable since such fruit honors God and blesses those who partake of it. Oh, may the Holy Spirit produce a bumper crop of fruit in your life and mine!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

SOAPing


Most mornings, I use a Bible study method called SOAP (Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer).

I handwrite or type one or more verses of Scripture

During the Observation portion, I also read the surrounding verses, look up some of the related verses listed in my Bible, and use the free tools provided by www.blueletter.com and/or the YouVersion app in order to better understand what the passage means. 

During the Application portion, I reflect on what the Scripture and the additional insights I've gleaned mean to me. 

Then, I type/write out a Prayer.

Let me show you an example.


Scripture

Isaiah 29:19, NKJV:
The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

Observation

In order to understand the context of this verse, I read the entire chapter and tried to mentally answer the Who, What, Where, Why, When and How questions. The passage itself provided answers to some of them. For example: The LORD is obviously the one who is making the promises in the verse above, as well as other thrilling ones like this one: “And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness” (Isaiah 29:18, NKJV).

I’m not sure what the “in that day” phrase refers to. A day of reckoning that passed in long-ago times? A future reckoning? (I’ll need to do further study to find that out.) However, the truth is: God will set things right again! When He does, there will be a great reversal. The meek shall increase their joy in the LORD. The poor shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. The deaf shall hear the words of the book. The eyes of the blind will see.

Another exciting thing will also occur, just as the LORD promises in Isaiah 29: 23, NKJV: 
But when he [Jacob, Israel] sees his children, 
The work of My hands, in his midst, 
They will hallow My name,
And hallow the Holy One of Jacob,
And fear the God of Israel.

The New Living Translation renders that verse this way: "For when they see their many children and all the blessings I have given them, they will recognize the holiness of the Holy One of Israel. They will stand in awe of the God of Jacob."

That time, “that day,” will be a fulfillment of yet another one of God's promises that's found in this chapter:

Application

I will wait patiently and prayerfully for God to set things right. How and when He does it is His business, not mine. I trust Him to do a marvelous work--in His time and in His way. In the meantime, I will honor His name and stand in awe of Him for He is an awesome God at all times not just when He astounds me with “miracles.” Every day, I see His awesome work all around me. And those glimpses prompt me to praise Him.

Prayer

Father, I take joy in knowing You are indeed the God who sees and the God who acts. Help me to keep a quiet and trusting heart as I wait for You to set all things straight. 

NOTES: 
  • I don't always write/type this much. But when time permits, I do enjoy and benefit from "digging deeper." However, even a little bit of SOAPing helps me.
  • I encourage you to try this method and then post a comment to let me (and others) know what you think of it.