Thursday, December 20, 2012

Stories Told with Lights

I was as enthralled as a child as I (and six other adults in my family) viewed the annual display of lights at Callaway Gardens. I tried to photograph parts of scenes along the five-mile trip through the gardens, but the “Jolly Trolley” we were riding on bounced too much for me to hold the camera steady enough to get sharply-focused photographs. So, for much of the time, I “took pictures with my eyes” and stored them in my mind rather than on an SD card.

But the few “keepers” I took with my camera trigger a mental slideshow of other elements in the 15 dazzling scenes along the route we followed that chilly night in early December. For example, I can visualize “Christmas Tree Lane” and the frogs in “Nature’s Wonderland” and other magical subjects created by the 8 million lights. 

I loved “Snowflake Valley” that depicted softly swirling snowflakes, all much bigger than in life and some really, really huge. But my favorite scene of all was “The Nativity,” located near the entrance/exit of the trolley. After having spent the better part of an hour enjoying various sights and sounds associated with the Christmas season, I appreciated all the more the reverence I felt as I stood quietly and looked at the story of Christ’s Birth, beautifully told by the lights. It’s an age-old story, the story of the blessed night when God became flesh in the form of the Baby born in Bethlehem; yet it’s a story that is always sweet and precious, whether told with words or with lights.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Remember Those Who Served

Veterans Day observances touch my heart, no matter where they are held. As is my custom, I take photographs to help me remember the people and actions that impacted me most.

One of my favorite photos from the 2008 observance is of a Korean War veteran who was half-leaning, half-sitting on the hood of a car I assumed to be his. It was parked near the Korean War monument on the lawn of the courthouse, where the ceremony was being held. When I first noticed the veteran, he had a far way look in his eyes. Was he remembering experiences from the years he served? Had he known any of those whose names were inscribed on the monument?

I walked over to him, thanked him for his service, and asked permission to photograph him. He looked at me with warm eyes, gave me a gentle smile, and then nodded. I wrote down his name and address so I could send him the photos. I saw him, from time to time, at the local Wal-Mart and always stopped to talk with him and to thank him, once again, for his service. But those opportunities are over because he passed away this year (2012).

Another touching photo was also taken in 2008, this time at an observance held at a small airport. I took the photo as two gentlemen, proudly wearing their Army uniforms, held onto each other’s hands as they walked across a pedestrian bridge at the conclusion of one portion of the ceremony. Perhaps they had served together. Perhaps they had met later. Perhaps they were strangers. But the fact that they were each lending a hand to help the other touched my heart—and still does.

I plan to attend this year’s observance, too, not only to take photographs but also to let my presence express my gratitude to all those who served in any capacity. They and their families gave up so much in order to serve. Therefore, we must not fail to acknowledge their service and to thank them for it.

(c) 2012 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

In Its Time

Knowing I love to photograph “all things nature,” my neighbor often says, “Come over anytime you want to.” Whenever she thinks there’s something extra special on her patio, she’ll call to tell me about it, as she did one Spring day when the patio looked especially nice (following a garden club meeting). I walked over late that afternoon and spent an hour or more delighting in the results of her hard work. Knowing that “early” light provides a different “look” for the photos, I returned the following morning. 
One chilly morning in late October, I returned to the patio, not to photograph the upholstered furniture or the big hydrangea bushes, for their beautiful blue blooms were “past their prime.” My attention was on the fall leaves that had floated lazily down, decorating the tables and the brick pavers and the grass and the flower pots…. As I photographed, I liked not only what I was seeing but also the sound of the leaves as they crunched beneath my feet.

Seeing how the patio looked very different in the Fall than it had in the Spring, I reflected on what Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3:11(New Living Translation): “God has made everything beautiful for its own time.” Indeed, God does transform everything (and everyone!) according to His plans and purposes. So, as I delight in the beauty that’s all around me at any given time, I’m also eager to see how He will make that thing (or that person!) even more beautiful in the days ahead.

(c) 2012 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill. For permission to use, please contact me at johnniegaskillATgmailDOTcom.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Slipping Away

One evening, with my camera in hand, I stepped out onto the balcony of the condo where we (my husband and I, along with two of our grandsons) were spending a week at the beach.

“I almost missed the sunset,” I said to my husband when he joined me a minute or so later.
Sure enough, the sun, looking like a huge, orange, beach ball, seemed only a few inches about the horizon line. I worked quickly to try to capture a really good picture of the scene. I changed settings on my camera, selected different focus points, zoomed in and out with my lens, placed the sun in various places within the viewfinder’s frame, and moved to different places along the narrow balcony, hoping all the while to make a photo that would capture at least a little bit of the grandeur my eyes were seeing. 

In less than six minutes after I’d stepped onto the balcony, the sun had slipped below the horizon, seeming to have disappeared in the blue-gray waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It appeared to have submerged into the depths of the ocean, never to return.

As I reflected on that, I thought about how so many things in life seem to slip away so quickly, just like the setting sun. Although the sun had been visible since early morn, it had slowly been making its way toward the horizon line. No one paid much attention to its progress, due to being involved with activities of the day: traveling, working, shopping, swimming, shelling, etc. Perhaps a relatively low percentage of folks paid any attention to the setting of the sun, since that wonder takes place each day. But I did.

As I watched the changes brought about by the setting of the sun, I thought about recent things that had slipped away: A friend’s dad had slipped into eternity last Tuesday. That day had been coming ever nearer for 96 years. But on Tuesday, he slipped away from this life. Another example: a friend  fell in the pasture while she was taking care of her horses and broke her back. Her busy life slipped away, at least temporarily. Whether our blessings disappear ever so gradually or in the blink of an eye, they do slip away. Loved ones. Good health. Jobs. Finances. Opportunities. Abilities….

Therefore, let’s cherish the abundant blessings we have each day, always aware that they, like the setting sun, are slipping away. Some, unlike the sun, won’t return.  

(c) 2012 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill. To request permission to use, please send an e-mail to

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Consider the Lilies (and Other Flowers)

Here in the South, Spring came early this year--and, as always, we were glad to see it.

As I write this, it's early April. Yet, so many of the spring blooms have already put on their annual display of splendor and each now lies in various stages of decay at the base of the bush or tree that they adorned.

Since I still yearn for Spring's beauty, I purchased a small container of potted tulips and placed it in a sunny spot on the screened-in porch so that I could enjoy the lovely blooms. One day when they were especially beautiful, I set aside my many chores and went to the porch to photograph them so that I'd have a lasting remembrance of their beauty. In addition to my camera, I brought along a vase that contained a large stem so heavily laden with amaryllis blooms that it had broken off from the main plant. (My husband had spotted it in the yard and brought it into the house, knowing I'd be thrilled to photograph the blooms, as well as enjoy them as they sat on a counter top in the kitchen.)

The minutes flew by as I took close-up photos of the blooms. I was in awe over the intricate details the Creator has placed in each one, even though they would only bloom for a short time and then fall off. As I took photo after photo, I began to think about these words of Jesus that are recorded in the sixth chapter of Matthew, verses 25-33, New Living Translation):

"So I tell you, don't worry about your everyday life--whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn't life consist of more than food and clothing? Look at the birds. They don't need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are. Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not.

"And why worry about your clothes? Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don't work or make their clothing, yet [King] Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won't he more surely care for you?"

We should believe Him, shouldn't we? After all, as He said to those gathered around Him (and to you and me, as well), "Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern."

Wow! How different our lives would be if we, like the flowers, simply relied on God to meet our needs. We could stop worrying, stop trying to “make things happen,” stop obsessing over “stuff,” and stop being overly concerned with “tomorrow.” If we doubt that God will supply all that we need, we should find assurance as we look at the birds, lilies, tulips, amaryllis blooms—and all of nature.