Monday, December 21, 2009

The Testimony of the Tree

Every year as I prepare to decorate our tree with ornaments that are showing their age, I consider either buying or making new ones. After all, those crafters on TV who demonstrate how to make lovely ornaments out of all kinds of materials make the process seem so simple. Yes, I tell myself, next year I will definitely do something new. But when it's time to decorate the tree the next Christmas, I have neither made nor purchased any ornaments. This year was no exception. But when I hung the old ones on what our firstborn daughter calls our "sentimental tree," I realized that the assortment of ornaments said a lot about our family's history and our values. (Funny, I'd never thought about that before.) 

This year, as always, I got misty-eyed as I hung ornaments made by our daughters when they were in kindergarten and elementary school. Although the construction paper had faded a bit and some of the handcrafted ones weren't very attractive, I enjoyed them because they brought to mind the sparkle in Jennifer and Jena's eyes when they rushed home to show them to me. 

During the years the girls were still living at home, they helped me decorate the tree. I enjoyed listening to them as they reminisced about classmates and teachers associated with the making of those ornaments. 

While I trimmed the tree alone (again!) this year, I smiled as I hung whimsical ornaments we'd bought in order to help raise money for PTA projects. Other ornaments had been made at times when I'd volunteered to assist Jennifer and Jena's teachers with art projects. Those simple ornaments reminded me of two of the many ways we participated in the children's education. Some of the school-made decorations included photos. I held them in my hands a long time and reflected on the way the children were "way back then." 

As I hung ornaments given to us by my college roommate (who is still one of my best friends, even after all these years) and by ladies in Sunday School classes I'd taught, I was reminded of the love and friendship I've enjoyed all these years. 

While hanging some of the various kinds of ornaments I'd made through the years, I thought, You know...I can be creative--whenever I have time. 

As I hung a lovely "store-bought" one that Jennifer had given me, I remembered the handwritten, heartfelt note she'd included in the box with it. 

As I trimmed the tree, I gave thanks for the blessing of having a full and happy life and for having a heart that's content with simple things.

Now that I've finished the decorating, I love looking at our "sentimental tree" even when daylight reveals the age and condition of the ornaments. But each evening I catch my breath when I plug up the lights and see the magical transformation that occurs.

As I see how the light hides the imperfections and casts a beautiful glow on each treasured ornament, my heart echoes these words of David: "LORD, [in like manner] you have brought light to my life; my God, you light up my darkness" (Psalm 18:28, New Living Translation), and then I whisper, "Thank you!" (c) 2001, Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009

As Vast As the Heavens

Mount Rainier in Washington

Your unfailing love, O LORD, is as vast as the heavens;

your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the 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!

Psalm 36:3-6, New Living Translation

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Paths Chosen

Upon learning that the path from the parking area to the beach was only ¾ of a mile, my husband and I decided we’d walk there. The path seemed easy, at first, but quickly became very steep. Plus, we had to watch our footing, due to the large tree roots that ran every which way across the path.

When the sound of our labored breathing broke the silence of the forest surrounding us, I suggested we return to the car. “No,” James said, “I want to see the sea stacks.”

So, we continued to climb, stopping every few minutes to catch our breath. Finally, the well-worn path leveled out, and we strolled leisurely past centuries-old fir and cedar trees whose needles carpeted the forest floor. We paused from time to time to take pictures—of a fallen tree covered with velvety green moss, of another fallen tree whose base and roots were more than eight feet across….

Soon the path began to change. As we began to descend, we assumed we were nearing the beach. But, as it turned out, we had quite a ways to go, and, unknown to us, a series of old, soil-filled, wooden steps lay ahead. Obviously, built to lessen the chances of visitors slipping on the steep slope, the steps were of varying sizes, some being two or three feet wide, while others were no more than a foot.

After walking down a few of them, I said, “Since we don’t know how many of these are ahead, let’s just turn around.”

“We’ve come too far to turn back now,” James said.

“But,” I protested, “we’ll have to climb these on the way back!”

Since he was determined to go on, we did. Several minutes later, I said, “I see blue sky through the trees, so we must be getting close to the beach.”

Finally, we reached our destination, only to find hundreds of huge, weathered tree trunks between us and the Pacific Ocean. We chose not to climb across them, though we watched some younger folks do so. I held my breath as I watched one man step from trunk to trunk while balancing himself with a long stick he had found.

After taking some photos of the sea stacks (huge oddly shaped rock outcroppings in the ocean), we returned to the path that had brought us there, including the 100 soil-filled, wooden steps.

As we huffed and puffed our way back, I reflected on the experience. I realized that, as in life, the path we had opted to take had not been the easy trek we thought it would be. The destination had not been what we envisioned it to be. Yet, along the way, we made memories and gleaned new insights. (We also got some great exercise!)

Thankfully, the experience turned out to be a good one. We didn’t fall down and injure ourselves. We didn’t have a heart attack from all that exertion. We weren’t robbed. We weren’t attacked by a bear or bitten by a snake.

But had any of those things happened, we would have been forced to take yet another path with an unknown route and destination.

Since every “path” we take (marriage, family, career, etc.) is uncertain, we can only trust God to guide us and protect us.

(c) 2009 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill

Monday, May 25, 2009

Honor the Fallen

As I read the Memorial Day Order that’s posted on an on-line encyclopedia site, the words stirred my heart. Therefore, I want to share them with you, Dear Reader, in hopes that you, too, will be more aware of the significance of Memorial Day and more committed to honor the fallen.

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but Posts and comrades will, in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, Comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers sailors and marines, who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead? We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hinds slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains, and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation's gratitude—the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander in Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this Order effective.

May each of us find some way to express the honor due the fallen, since expressing honor is evidence that we recognize and appreciate their sacrifice.

© 2009 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Even Though...

The fig trees in the yard have begun sprouting new leaves that will soon hide nearly all the branches that are clearly seen in winter. In a few months, an abundance of figs will appear, which we will gladly share with those who want to make some delicious fig preserves.

As I look at the new leaves and anticipate the harvest ahead, I recall these words found in Habakkuk 3:17-19, New Living Translation: Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. The Sovereign LORD is my strength!

As I reflect on those words, written centuries ago, I pray that I, along with people all over the world, will trust God at all times, regardless of whether things look hopeless or promising. As Habakkuk so rightly said, the Lord is our strength in every situation.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Inner Beauty

The lavender tulips I’d bought and placed in a glass vase had begun to look droopy and wilted. Their petals had opened up all the way and a few of them had begun to curl and turn dark, especially along the edge. Their stems had weakened and could no longer support the blooms, causing the tulips to face the floor instead of the ceiling. Seeing how they no longer looked liked tulips, I started to throw them away. But when I took a closer look, I realized they were still beautiful on the inside!

Naturally, I just had to photograph them! Late one evening, I carried the vase of pathetic-looking flowers downstairs to my photography studio. I broke off one of the better-looking blooms and placed it in a container that gave a bit more support to the weak stem, which I had already shortened considerably. I finally managed to get the bloom turned upward, though at a slight angle, since it could no longer hold itself fully erect.

I’m glad I photographed the tulip before discarding it, because now I have a beautiful image that reminds me that flowers—and people, as well—possess inner beauty even as their youthful loveliness fades.

That’s a comfort to me, especially as I see more and more telltale signs of aging appearing on my body. Regardless of the changes that occur in my physical body, I hope I will always have “beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (1 Peter 3:4, New Living Translation).

Friday, February 13, 2009

In My Heart

When I'd had my current Bible for about a year, I noticed that the gold leaf on the edges of the pages had begun to wear off as a result of my daily habit of leafing though the pages to locate the Scripture I wanted to read. I thought, “The gold leaf has gotten onto my hands, but has the Word gotten into my heart?”

I pray that it has. I long for the desire of my heart to be like that of the psalmist who said, "Teach me, O LORD, to follow every one of your principles. Give me understanding and I will obey your law; I will put it into practice with all my heart" (Psalm 119:33-34, New Living Translation).

I want not only to know and believe the great assurances that God loves me (for example, John 3:16), but also to understand His commands and then obey them as I live day by day.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hanging On

After first hearing the term concept photography, I’ve tried—in vain—to find a clear definition. So, after reading the dictionary’s definition of concept and after looking at many examples of concept photography on websites, I’ve concluded that a concept photo is one that tells a story and/or illustrates an abstract idea or theme.

Although almost any photograph can tell a story or make a statement, concept photos are those that provide the viewer with a clearer idea of what something is. For example, no one can take a picture of abstract ideas such as love or loneliness, since they do not exist in physical form, as does a waterfall or a window. But photographs can be composed in such a way as to lead the viewer to conclude, “The person in this picture looks lonely. This photo gives me a better idea of what loneliness looks like, a broader concept of how it might feel to be lonely, a greater sensitivity to loneliness, etc." When that happens, the photograph is a concept one.

Sometimes simple items can be arranged in such a way as to express a concept. For example, an image of paper dolls of various sizes, linked hand to hand, implies family. A picture of ABC blocks, a notebook or two and a red apple causes viewers to associate that image with the concept of school or education. Hearts, especially red ones, symbolize love.

Ever since I first heard the term concept photography, I’ve been trying to understand what it means and to take photos that fit into that category. For example, one January day, while searching my yard for something to photograph, I noticed two dried up, brown leaves still attached to a limb. Aha! I thought. That’s an illustration of hanging on, of tenacity. Unlike the many other leaves that had once been attached to that same limb, the two leaves had held on, despite being pressured by the wind, drenched by the rain, and subjected to temperature changes. I have no clue how they had managed to hold on. Apparently, some leaves, like some people, have more “staying power” than others.

For people, Jeremiah 17:7, New Living Translation, holds one of the secrets to staying power: "But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they go right on producing delicious fruit.”