Monday, January 16, 2023

New Beginnings

Note: I wrote the gist of the following in my journal in December 1997. However, the message remains true and applicable to us today. 

As I reflect on all that happened last year, I also look toward the New Year and wonder what it will hold. None of us knows what's ahead, not even in the next hour. But I take comfort in this sentence I read in a little booklet as I waited for an appointment: “Every ending holds the promise of a new beginning.” 

I like that, don't you? Whether the ending is a good thing or a bad thing, it does hold the promise of a new beginning. Perhaps it holds an opportunity to start over.  Or an opportunity to experience growth of various kinds—emotional, mental, financial, spiritual, social, leadership, etc.  That’s exciting!

On the other hand, new beginnings can be scary.  However, there’s much wisdom expressed in an old song, these bits and snatches of which came to mind as I thought about what might be ahead:

“I don’t worry o’er the future.  I just live from day to day.  I don’t borrow from its sunshine for its skies may turn to gray.  I don’t worry about tomorrow.  It may bring me poverty.  But the One who feeds the sparrow is the One who stands by me.”


How wonderful to know that—no matter what changes (i.e. new beginnings) are ahead —God stands by us! Yes, by you. And by me. And... aren't we glad that we do not go alone into the new beginnings? That we get to hold His hand as He leads us into tomorrow, into the time of new beginnings?


To listen to the entire song, please click here.


Sunday, January 8, 2023

God Is Still in Charge!

 My heart was heavy as 2022 came to an end. I was thinking about so many dear ones who have problems that are heartbreaking and have no obvious solution. But as my husband and I traveled toward a friend's house on New Year’s Eve, we noticed the sky was a vivid orange near the horizon, making it appear as if a fire raged behind the trees.


My eyes filled with happy tears at the awesome sight before us. I said to my husband, "This reminds me that God is still very much in charge of this world." 

And, indeed, He is. He's in charge of the natural world. He's in charge of every living thing, including the human race. He's in charge of the things that happen and those that don't.

As I reflected on those awesome truths, I recalled these words written by the psalmist David:

But the LORD is in his holy Temple;
the LORD still rules from heaven...
~Psalm 11:4, NLT

Other Scriptures point out that God is in charge, even when we think He isn't. Even when we think He has forgotten about us. Even when we think He is never going to do anything. Granted, He may not resolve the situation in the way we want Him to, but whatever He does will be the right thing.

As we wait for God to act, we can remind ourselves, as did Moses as he was speaking to God's people centuries ago:

Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.

~Deuteronomy 7:9. NKJV

As we enter a New Year, let's remind ourselves daily to trust God in every situation. As the centuries-old hymn says:

Simply trusting ev'ry day,
Trusting thro' a stormy way;
Even when my faith is small, 
Trusting Jesus, that is all.
...
Singing if my way is clear,
Praying if the path be drear;
If in danger, for him call;
Trusting Jesus, that is all.
...
~Ira D. Sankey, 1876

Listen to (and sing along with) that beautiful song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVU-bgxjuW8

If we'll trust Him, we can have a happy new year, despite our circumstances. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

‘Tis the Season

The theme for a meeting I attended recently was ‘Tis the Season.

Those words come from  Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly, a Christmas carol written in 1881. However, the phrase ‘Tis the Season didn’t begin appearing in magazines and newspapers until the 1970s.  Now, that phrase is used throughout the year, as in ‘Tis the season for spring cleaning. Or ‘Tis the season for flu and strep throat.”     

Thankfully, ‘Tis the Season is most often used to draw attention to the Christmas season. By filling in the blank following ‘Tis the season______, we can mention whichever aspects we enjoy. For example, ‘Tis the season for giving. ‘Tis the season for decorating. ‘Tis the season for enjoying Christmas lights and music.

But amid all the things we enjoy about the Christmas Season (or the Holiday Season, as many prefer to call it), have we lost sight of the real reason for the Christmas season? Have we gotten so busy with all the shopping and the decorating and the baking and the partying and the singing and such that we have forgotten that Christmas is the time set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus? Are we so busy that we forget to think of Him, much less talk with others about Him?


A friend of mine has not forgotten Jesus. When she and I talked recently, she told me how thrilled she is to have purchased a manger scene to display inside her home. Why? She knows that when her four-year-old granddaughter visits, the child will ask about the odd-looking components. Then, my friend will tell her granddaughter as much as her young mind can absorb. 

My friend seeks ways to tell her granddaughter (and others) about Jesus. She wants to make sure the child knows about the gift of God’s Son. Therefore, she talks about Jesus in hope that one future day her beloved granddaughter will choose to receive Jesus and invite Him to be her Lord, as well as Savior.

May this current season be the season you and I also love the Lord Jesus and look for opportunities to tell others about Him. Moreover, may we realize that every season is the perfect season to do that. No matter what month it is, may we understand that the present time—whatever the season—is a wonderful time to say, “‘Tis the season to experience awe and joy, to give generously, to praise God for all that He is, and to thank Him for all His amazing gifts, especially the gift of His Son.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

On the Way!

An online merchant sends me a notification that my order has been shipped. In most cases, I also receive a link I can use to track the package. On the day the order is to arrive, I receive another notification that the item is out for delivery.

I like having access to that information. Once I know the item is on its way, my anticipation builds. And when I receive an “out for delivery” notification, I listen for the noise of the delivery truck. I go to the door and thank the delivery person. If I’ve been away from home on delivery day, upon my return, I check the front and side entrances to the house (or the mailbox) to see if the package was delivered.


This morning, I received an “out for delivery” notification. [See photo.] I clicked the link to the tracking information. As I looked at it, I realized afresh that while I’d worked at my tasks and while I’d slept, people had been working day and night to get the item to me. Other people had been involved in the manufacturing and marketing processes before it could be shipped and sent to me. A virtual army of people had been used to provide the item I wanted.

Realizing that so much goes on behind the scenes reminds me to wait patiently for God to act. He knows, even though I don’t, what’s going on and when and how and through whom His answers to prayers will come. And, oh, the joy when His gift arrives.




Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Whatever the Weather

 Today

I opened my eyes at 7:23 a.m., delighted by the bright light streaming into the master bedroom of the condo. I hurried toward the great room. It, too, was bathed in light so bright that I squinted my eyes when I looked toward the east-facing section of the floor-to-ceiling windows that surrounded the room on three sides. The only sound I heard was the gentle lapping of the surf against the shore.

Last Night

But last night... Oh, my goodness! The wind shrieked around the exterior walls. It shoved two of the lighter-weight balcony chairs against the windows and banged them until my husband fought against it to bring the chairs inside. The wind created white caps on the normally calm waters of our portion of the Gulf of Mexico. Lightning flashed in the inky black sky. Rain pelted the windows. Even the water in the toilet bowls swirled slightly as the storm raged against the high-rise condo--as well as against everything and everyone in its path.

Today

Thankfully, after several hours, the storm passed. By God’s grace, my husband and I are safe and are anticipating a beautiful day here at the beach.

Reflections

The storm and the stillness, the darkness and the sunshine, the fear and the calm…are part of life, aren’t they? Whichever one we're experiencing at the moment will, at some point, be replaced by its opposite. By God’s grace, we transition from one to the other, trusting Him to be with us no matter life's current “weather.”

As I reflect on that, I remember a quote I'd read the day before the storm released its fury:

 I am not in control, but I am deeply loved by the one who is.

--Glenn Packiam


And I do believe, as I hope you do, that God has everything under control, even the storms of life. And as my mama used to say, “Whether He spares or shares, He will be there.” His presence with us makes ALL the difference—whether we’re experiencing storms or sunshine.

Note: To read my previous posts about storms, click here and here.


Monday, October 24, 2022

What If…?

 

Jesus said unto him [a Pharisee], Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Matthew 22:37-38, KJV).

 

Friday, September 23, 2022

In Praise of Mama

My sweet mama died years ago. Even so, I think of her many times each day, especially on her birthday (September 24th). Although I can no longer visit her or give her a gift or even call to chat a bit, I yearn to honor her in some way.


As I thought about what I could do, a familiar verse (Proverbs 31:28) from the Old Testament came to mind. Although the words stored in my memory are from the King James Version (the translation Mama and Daddy used), I also like the words from modern versions that express how I want to honor Mama on her birthday. For example, 




Therefore, I want to use written and spoken words to say I do love Mama, and that I thank God for choosing her to be my mama.


Although she wasn't financially well-off like the woman described in Proverbs 31, Mama did many of the same kinds of tasks she did. For example, she got up early every morning to cook a hot, country-style breakfast on the wood-burning cookstove. She took good care of our family and the farm animals and the garden that provided much of our food.


Mama didn't weave and spin like the Proverbs 31 woman did, but she sewed pretty dresses for my sister and me whenever she had enough money to buy fabric and buttons and lace. She also made beautiful quilts from scraps of outgrown clothes and fabric leftover from sewing projects so that we could stay as warm as possible on cold winter nights in our drafty, uninsulated house that was heated by the living room fireplace. Her stitches were so even and tiny that some folks thought they'd been done on a sewing machine.


Like the Proverbs 31 woman, Mama spoke words of wisdom and was kind to everyone. She had a gentle and quiet spirit and bravely accepted each hardship without complaining.


For these reasons and for the innumerable other ways she showed her love day after day and year by year, I want to take this opportunity to publically praise her and to say, "Mama, you are still much loved, much cherished. Although you are gone from my sight, you'll always remain on my mind and in my heart."

Friday, September 9, 2022

Learning the Lessons

In her book, Write a Poem, Save Your Life: A Guide for Teens, Teachers, and Writers of All Ages, Meredith Heller says, “We can find poetry everywhere, if we know how to look and how to listen. Poetry lives in the simplest things, in the is-ness of an object, in the relationship between people, in nature, in light and shadow…” (p.87). 

As soon as I read those words, I thought, She’s right! And I can prove it. For example:

A week ago,  my writing accountability partner and I challenged each other to write at least one poem--any topic, any length, any form. When we met (via Zoom) one week later, I read a poem (see below) I’d written about new insights regarding my elementary school experiences that had taken place over 60 years ago. Debi read her poem about walking through weeds and climbing over fences the day she searched for (and found!) the long-forgotten grave of an ancestor.


The day we read our poems to each other, I had not come across Meredith Heller’s words I mentioned above. But when I read them a few days later, I knew she was absolutely correct in saying, “Poetry lives in the simplest things.” And, as she also says, “We must know how to look and listen.” In other words, we must learn to observe—-learn to notice things and learn to hear things. And, as I’m also discovering, we must learn to reflect on the information our five senses bring to our awareness. Learn to ask ourselves: What does this additional information mean? How does it relate to something else I already know? How should I use it?


Those are essential skills to develop--whether or not we write a poem.




(Written by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill on February 2, 2022, in response to the writing prompt: "I remember…")


Note: I doubt I’ll ever be a poet laureate, but I do have such fun and gain new insights when I write poetry!


Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Landscapes

Even though I don’t tend to use fresh phrases when I write or speak, they delight me. Therefore, I felt intrigued when I discovered one (“the landscape of life”) someone else had written.

Although I hadn't thought about associating the word landscape with life, I suddenly saw the connection. 

Physical Landscapes

Some of the features in a physical landscape are natural—boulders, mountains, bodies of water, cliffs, etc. Others are added by humans. For example, property owners create whatever “look” pleases them (or they can choose to do nothing).

Case in point: when my husband and I vacationed in Arizona several years ago, we noticed striking differences between the green lawns that were as irrigated and well-tended as golf courses and those that were left in their natural desert-like state. The contrast was even more evident when the lawns were adjacent to each other. Each “look” was beautiful and reflected the preferences of the owners.

Life Landscapes

I suppose some folks, when asked to describe the “landscape of their lives,” might use a fresh phrase such as: 

  • “My life looks as barren as the desert.” 
  • “My life is as bleak as the Arctic in winter.” 
  • “My life is as interesting as the rainforest.” 
  • “My life is as lush as an island paradise.” 

Whatever the landscape of our life looks like, we can choose to leave it like it is or enhance it, even if we can’t completely change it. How?

There are some things we could do. 

  1. Take a close look at what our life currently looks like.
  2. Dream a little about what we’d like it to look like.
  3. Calculate the cost involved in changing it. Do we want to invest that much? Will the ROI (Return on Investment) be worth it? 
  4. If so, then set to work making the changes we envision. 
  5. Enjoy the results of our hard work.

But... the BEST PLAN is to ask God to transform the landscape of our lives. After all, He is the one who can do far more than we can imagine (Ephesians 3:20), even turn wildernesses into gardens (Isaiah 51:3).

Photo by Johnnie Ann Gaskill.