Sunday, November 20, 2011

Artist at Work

When Fall was at its peak in the area where I live, I regularly passed by a church sign that read, "Artist at work. Slow down." I smiled each time I read that, knowing that the beautiful landscapes all around were, indeed, some of God's finest masterpieces. I did slow down to look at His work and to thank Him for all He had created--and for giving me the vision to see His work.

Along about that same time, a columnist for one of our local newspapers interspersed one of his columns with various quotes about Fall. I especially agreed with this one by Nathaniel Hawthorne: "I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air." Because I feel as he did, I've been out and about a lot these last few weeks.

Whether walking in my yard or in other scenic spots, I've had experiences similar to the one Eric Sloane described: "A few days ago [as] I walked along...[I] was treated to the crunch and rustle of leaves with each step I made."

Fall...a glorious season indeed! One of God's gifts to us! Let's slow down to look at His work and to take the time to go outside to feel the crispness in the air and to hear crunch of the leaves beneath our feet.

(c) 2011 by Johnnie Ann Gaskill. Note: The photos in this post are just a sample of the beauty I've seen. I hope you enjoy them!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Gestures of Gratitude

The Oct. 30-Nov. 5, 2011, issue of American Profile contained a wonderful story entitled: “Saluting Fallen Soldiers.” The article began: “A thousand American flags flutter in the breeze along State Route 157 as a white hearse carrying the remains of Army Spc. Randall Dalton enters Glen Carbon, Ill. (pop. 12,934), escorted by a mile-long procession of rumbling motorcycles and shiny police vehicles.” T

Larry Eckhardt, age 55, stood with his hand over his heart as the hearse pulled into the cemetery. He had driven 225 miles in order to place the thousand flags along the route. He has been performing this kind of service for over five years, assisted by individuals as well as by members of various organizations, such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Boy Scouts of America.

He doesn’t charge for his service, of course, but he does gratefully accept all donations to help defray the expenses incurred during his travels throughout his home state of Illinois. He is also appreciative of the volunteers who help him plant the flags along the routes the funeral processions follow.

He plans to continue using this means to salute the fallen soldiers. “This,” he says, “is my feeble attempt to say thank you to every soldier who has ever served and fought to protect the freedoms that I have.”

May we, too, find a way to express our gratitude to those who have served. Even if we can’t do something on a grand scale, we can all do something! Even the smallest gesture of gratitude is meaningful.

© 2011 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill. The photos were taken in Minnesota and Georgia, and are NOT the ones that accompanied the American Profile article mentioned in this post.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Transformation

Being a Christian is like being a pumpkin. God lifts you up, takes you in, and washes all the dirt off of you. He opens you up, touches you deep inside, and scoops out all the yucky stuff—including the seeds of doubt, hate, greed, etc. Then He carves you a new smiling face and puts His light inside you to shine for all the world to see.
Note: The above short story has been passed around (via e-mail) for several years. But after a friend sent it to me, I thought I’d post it, along with this photo of a pumpkin my grandson (Michael, age 4) and I carved a few weeks ago. Perhaps the next time you and I see a jack-o-lantern, it will remind us, not of evil, but of what God, through His Son, has done for us.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lessening the Lump

Every September when the big yellow school buses rumble up and down the road, I get a lump in my throat. I remember seeing Jennifer, our firstborn, climb the big steps of the mini bus that picked her up for kindergarten. She seemed so small, so young, to be going off alone into her new world.

As I waved goodbye to Jennifer, I felt alone and incredibly sad because the child with whom I had spent nearly every waking moment for the past six years had just boarded the bus that would take her to a school where she would encounter more new faces and experiences than familiar ones. No longer would I have the privilege of meeting the majority of her needs. Instead, I was relinquishing her to others. I knew full well that even the kindest and best teachers and friends would never love her as much as I did.

Letting children go into a world that may not love them or treat them kindly is one of the most difficult tasks a parent must do. As I write these words, I’ve had years of parenting experience, but waving goodbye hasn’t gotten much easier even though the children have matured. I still get that very familiar lump in my throat as Jennifer and Jena—“my babies”—venture into the unknown.

The uncertainty of what’s ahead for them in the new world causes tightness in my stomach. The sadness of being separated from them and being unable to care for them produces tears.

My feelings are not uncommon. Mothers throughout the world ask questions such as these: Will my child be safe? Will my child make friends? Will my child resist temptation to do the wrong things and to run with the wrong crowd? Will my child be happy and successful in the new situation? Will my child find someone who will genuinely care for him or her?

Releasing the child is easier if the answer to all the above is “Yes.” However, if the answer is “No,” letting go becomes extremely difficult.

As the child goes into a world filled with crime, drugs, prejudice, perversion, injustice, misunderstanding, and the like, the words Jesus spoke to His disciples take on a new meaning. “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. Be as wary as snakes and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16, New Living Translation).

Several times in the Gospels, Jesus assured those who trusted Him that He would never leave them, that He would always be with them. His promise still holds true today. Therefore, our children do not go out into the world alone, neither are we left home alone. That lessens the lump a bit, doesn’t it?

Excerpted from Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill’s book, Reflections, published in 2002. For permission to use, please contact the author at johnniegaskillATgmailDOTcom.
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Friday, June 3, 2011

My daddy used to say, “Honey, as you get older, time flies.”

Being much younger then than I am now, I didn’t see how he could be right about that. Back then, Christmases and birthdays seemed years apart. Now, they seem to come every few months!

When I was a child, some days felt interminably long, for often I had more time on my hands than I knew what to do with. So, as the hours dragged by, I’d complain of boredom. But now I can’t do all the things I want to do, even though I get up early and go to bed late. Sure enough, time is flying by, just like Daddy said.

As I reflect on how time is swiftly passing and things are changing at a dizzying (and often alarming) rate, the words to an old song come to mind: “Time is filled with swift transition / Naught of earth unmoved can stand / Build you hopes on things eternal / Hold to God's unchanging hand.”

Although Daddy never spoke those exact words to me, I knew he was holding to God’s hand. Even as a child, I realized times were hard for us and for our neighbors. Hard, unending work. Little rest. Little money. Things constantly tearing up. Sickness. Tragedies. And the older I got, the more I understood Daddy was holding on to God’s hand, trusting God to get us through the difficulties.

I saw Daddy reading from his Bible a lot. And I heard him singing old hymns like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” as he worked or drove his old truck.

I noticed how he smiled as he sang “Heavenly Sunlight,” one of his favorite songs. “Shadows around me, shadows above me, / Never conceal my Savior and Guide; / He is the light, in Him is no darkness; / Ever I’m walking close to His side.”

And I couldn’t help but see how Daddy loved to go to church. In fact, he could hardly wait to get there. Consequently, our family went every time the doors were open—at our church or neighboring churches.

The older Daddy got and the more he had to say goodbye to lifelong friends as they passed away, the more I observed him doing exactly what the old song said to do: “Trust in Him who will not leave you / Whatsoever years may bring. / If by earthly friends forsaken, / Still more closely to Him cling.”

As I think back on those years I spent with Daddy, I realize his life spoke to me with words I didn’t hear with my physical ears. For example, his life “said” to me, “Honey, family and friends are important. Cherish them. Do all you can to help them.” And his life also “said,” “Even when times are hard, hang in there.”

Another powerful principle his life “told” me, though I didn’t hear it at the time, was: “Enjoy your life, even when it’s not ideal. Savor the simple pleasures. Hope for better things; work for better things—but be thankful for the good things you currently have.”

If Daddy were still alive, I’d tell him how right he was about a lot of things, including how time flies as you get older. And I’d also mention how I’m asking my heavenly Father to teach me to make the most of my time (Psalm 90:12), since, as David said, “An entire lifetime is just a moment…[just] a breath” (Psalm 39:5, New Living Translation).

© 2005 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill, who welcomes comments.
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Saturday, May 28, 2011

A World Apart

(My brother's coffin and flowers.)

Each time I’ve visited national cemeteries, I’ve sensed a reverential silence hovering over them. Visitors, even very young ones, speak softly. Some kneel beside a grave or stoop to arrange a bouquet of flowers. Others sit in contemplative silence underneath shade-giving trees. The atmosphere there seems a world apart from the hustle and bustle taking place outside.

Such was my experience the day my family and I visited Punchbowl, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, located in Hawaii. Inside that almost perfectly round crater of an extinct volcano, we walked along on paved paths that meandered past the grass-covered graves of over 33, 000 men and women who had lost their lives while fighting to preserve freedom for the citizens of the United States and its allies.

As we strolled along that picture-perfect day, I became increasingly aware of the magnitude of the sacrifices that had been made. In addition to seeing row upon row upon row of marked graves, I saw, inscribed on the massive marble walls to the right and to the left of the series of steep steps leading to the upper areas of the cemetery, the names of Missing in Action soldiers (26, 280 of them!).

Each of the more than 100 national cemeteries contains the bodies of thousands of fallen military heroes. For example, over 250,000 are entombed at Arlington, which is near Washington, DC.

Thus, the price paid, in terms of human suffering, is astronomical, especially if this fact is taken into consideration: All those thousands of men and women left behind loved ones whose grief followed them to their graves.

But in the idyllic national cemeteries, there’s little evidence of the hellish conditions many of the soldiers experienced before death provided a merciful escape. Peace reigns in the garden-like places where their bodies rest. That’s as it should be, for no group is more deserving of serenity than those who experienced the atrocities of war.

These words of Sir Walter Scott, the Scottish writer and poet who lived 1771-1832, articulate far better than any words of my own the feeling in my heart as I’ve strolled past row upon row of graves in several cemeteries: “Soldier, rest! Thy warfare o’er, / Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking, / Dream of battled fields no more. / Days of danger, nights of waking” (The Lady of the Lake, 1810).

Every Memorial Day observance calls upon us to remember the sacrifices and the contributions made in the past. Each one also reminds us to give thanks and to pray for those who are currently doing their best, often at great personal cost to themselves and their loved ones, to ensure that the precious freedoms secured in the past are preserved until that future time when all wars will have ceased and the Prince of Peace will reign forevermore.

Then, “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things [will have] passed away” (Revelation 21:4, New International Version).

©2010 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill, who welcomes comments.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Tender Voice

One afternoon when two-year-old Peyton was almost asleep in my arms, the phone rang. When I answered it, Peyton could also hear her mother’s voice. Peyton sat up immediately and reached for the phone. She and Jennifer talked for a minute before Jennifer said, “Go to sleep. Mama will be there when you wake up."

Knowing Jennifer needed to go, I said, “Peyton, give the phone to Nana, please.”

She obeyed, though I sensed she wanted to keep talking. She lay in my arms and listened to me assure her mom that all was well.

As soon as I told Jennifer good-bye and started to put the cordless phone on the sofa cushion beside me, Peyton began to whimper and to reach for the phone.

“Mama’s at school,” I explained. “She had to say bye-bye.”

Peyton’s eyes filled with tears.

“Do you want to hold the phone?”

She nodded.

She drifted off to sleep, holding the phone close to her ear, hoping (expecting?) to hear her mother’s voice once again. Although I knew Peyton was very happy staying with me everyday while her mother taught school, I also understood that there was no voice as sweet or as dear to her as her mother’s. And that’s as it should be! I want her mother to hold first place in her heart.

That experience reminded me of a truth expressed by Henry and Richard Blackaby in their book, When God Speaks. It struck me the moment I read it. It still re-plays often in my mind, for it’s such wonderful advice for those of us who are seeking to hear the voice of the Lord and to obey Him. If there is no clear instruction, Blackaby says, wait until God does speak again.
Just keep doing whatever He told you last. (And don’t feel compelled to always be doing something.) But when God does speak, then do everything He tells you to do. (See p. 72.)

Like Peyton, we can rest peacefully, fully assured that soon we will hear the tender voice of the One who loves us even more than we love Him.

(c) 2011 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill

Monday, April 18, 2011

Children as Kites

Note: A friend e-mailed me the following article, attributed to Erma Bombeck. I regret that I do not know where the words were published because I would love to give proper credit. I took the photos on March 13, 2011, at the annual kite flying event at the University of Georgia Research and Education Garden in Griffin, GA, a beautiful garden that is open to the public. Free admission.

Children as Kites . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Erma Bombeck "I see children as kites. You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground. You run with them until you’re both breathless…they crash…you add a longer tail…they hit the rooftop…you pluck them out of the spout. You patch and comfort, adjust and teach. You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they’ll fly.

"Finally they are airborne, but they need more string and you keep letting it out. With each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with the joy because the kite becomes more distant, and somehow you know that it won’t be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that bound you together and will soar as it was meant to soar…free and alone. Only then do you know that you did your job."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mother's Example

Note: Little did I know when I wrote this column on May 4, 2010, that it would be read at Mother's funeral on January 16, 2011.

At this writing, my mother no longer knows me—or anyone else in our family—but we know her and remember the love she gave us and the many things she did for us as long as she could. It feels very strange—and terribly sad, of course—to see Mother looking quite well (for someone age 93) and so familiar to us, yet to realize that, to her, we are just some nice “strangers” who’ve come to visit her. No mention of names of dear ones evokes any emotional response in her, because Alzheimer’s has erased all memory of them, as far as we know.

But, as I said, we do remember her, and we are still so very grateful for her loving care of us throughout the years and for the things she taught us. For example, she taught me how to cook and to sew, although I never reached her level of skill in the latter. She tried to teach me how to quilt, but, sadly, I wasn’t an eager learner.

However, I did learn many other things Mother taught me, among them: the love of reading, the value of quietly accepting whatever happens and making the best of it, the need to make good use of the time, the satisfaction of completing creative projects, the willingness to share with others whatever possessions and talents you have, the need to rely on God in every situation, and much, much more.

Mother and I are alike in many ways, different in others. Yet, we’ve always been very close. The older I get, the more I realize just how wonderful she was—and still is. Until the past few years, she was a treasure house of knowledge about our family and friends. She knew birthdays and other special days, ancestors and descendants, etc. She could tell interesting (and often funny!) stories about happenings in days gone by.

Mother has always been a quiet person, often looking frail; yet, she has incredible inner strength, even now that she is no longer able to take care of even her most basic needs. Each day, she exhibits dignity and grace and remains kind and cooperative. She never whines or complains about her situation. She simply does all she can to make it work for the best, as she has always done.

Now, as when I was a child, I cannot truly understand what life must be like for her. She has always made the hard things look easier than they really are. For example, when I was a child, Daddy worked in a town miles from where we lived. So, very early each Monday morning he drove off in the only vehicle we owned and didn’t return until late Friday afternoon. While he was gone, Mother did everything at home. She took care of the cow, the chickens, the garden, all the household chores, and, of course, my sister and me. We had no telephone at the time and no running water. But Mother seemed to manage just fine and didn’t fuss on Daddy for being away for days on end.

I often think about such things, especially when I read Proverbs 31 or Proverbs 1:8-9, which says, “Listen, my child, to what your father teaches you. Don’t neglect your mother’s teaching. What you learn from them will crown you with grace and clothe you with honor” (New Living Translation).

So, day by day, I give thanks for my precious mother and try even harder to follow the wonderful example she set for me.

© May 4. 2010 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill. For permission to use, please send e-mail to johnniegaskillATgmailDOTcom.