Thursday, December 12, 2013

Focus on the Savior

Two children rushed to their mother and said, “It’s only 55 days till Christmas!!!”

She didn’t share their excitement over the coming of Christmas. Instead, panic swept over her as she thought of all the extra things she had to get done in those 55 days. Buy (and wrap!) gifts for everyone on the family’s Christmas list. Decorate the tree and house. Mail cards. Attend/Host Christmas programs and get-togethers.

She’s not the only one dreading the coming of Christmas. For many, the images of “perfect” people living “the good life,” especially during the holidays, bring painful awareness that they and their family don’t measure up to such perfection.

Others, who, for various reasons, will be apart from their families at Christmas, dread the pain of loneliness they’ll experience. Still others, weary and worn from the struggles of daily life, feel they have no more energy and/or resources to use for Christmas, since the holiday has become so draining—financially, emotionally, physically…

Such dread, such lack of excitement, regarding the coming of Christmas, isn’t new. In 1849 Edmund H. Sears mentioned circumstances that are much the same for us today: “the woes of sin and strife…years of wrong…man at war with man…life’s crushing load…toil…painful steps and slow…” (“It Came upon a Midnight Clear”).

 What can we do? Mr. Sears advice: “O rest beside the weary road, / And hear the angels sing,” as they did centuries ago to lowly shepherds watching over their flocks. They, like we, yearned for good news, for hope that life would get better. It was to these downcast shepherds that the angel announced the birth of Christ.

Here’s the story, as recorded in Luke 2:8-15, NLT: “That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terribly frightened, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David! And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!’

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors.’

“When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Come on, let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’”

The shepherds ran into the village and found the Baby lying in a manger, just as the angel had said. What great joy they—and everyone else who heard about the birth of the long-awaited Messiah—felt.

Yet, sadly, the joy over that good news has gotten lost in today’s celebration of Christmas. But we can experience it anew if we’ll slow down and shift our focus from the “stuff” of Christmas to the wondrous gift of a Savior who loves us.

© 2012 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thankful Every Day

Every now and then I like to thumb through a gratitude journal I began writing in in May 1999.

As I scan the handwritten lists of people and things I was thankful for at that time, I realize that I still have many of those blessings and that I remain as grateful now as I was the day I first listed them in the journal.

For example, the May 21, 1999, page included a mention of our house, which I referred to as a “nest of comfort.” It remains so even today. On July 2, 2011, I listed, “Having wonderful appliances, especially a washer and dryer. I remember well the years Mama didn’t have such luxuries.”

As I peruse the pages, I notice that “things” don’t get mentioned nearly as often as people and experiences and opportunities. For example, on January 18, 2002, I listed, “Sharing with Mother a few jokes I’d found in the local paper.” On Oct. 28, 1999, I wrote, “Ryan’s sweet message on the answering machine! They’ll be HERE in less than two weeks. Yeah!” [At the time, two-year-old Ryan and his parents were living in Hawaii, so my husband and I didn’t get to see them often.] 

On July 5, 1999, I noted that I was grateful for “exchanging e-mails with friends in far away places. It’s nice to know that friends are still friends despite the distance that separates us.”

On July 29, 2011, I mentioned “receiving an e-mail last night saying that one of the photos I’d entered into Better Photo’s monthly contest had been chosen as a finalist. It was one of the 14,000+ photos judges looked at before choosing finalists and then winners. What an honor!”

My gratitude journal contains many mentions of “intangibles.” Simplicity….Solitude…. Learning from all people….Loving and being loved....

I've also listed things in nature for which I was grateful. For example, “The Mandevilla plant that is twining its way up the handrail on the front porch steps. Its gorgeous pink blooms attract attention and give pleasure to the eyes….The birds chirping at daybreak. They are excited about the new day, and so am I.”

On April 21, 2000, I wrote, "I am thankful for all that I have," and then I added, “I am so blessed, blessed beyond all measure, blessed beyond words can describe, blessed far more than I realize.”

Indeed, I am! And so are you, Dear Reader, even if there are things you and I lack or things that are difficult, etc. So, whether we express our thanks by making lists in gratitude journals (like one of my recent pages shown in the photo) or whether we mentally contemplate our blessings, let’s just be sure we find some way every day to reflect on the blessings that are all around us and then to say, “Thank You, Lord, for giving so much to me!”

(C)2013 by Johnnie Ann Gaskill

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Message

While on a recent vacation to Crescent Beach, Florida, I woke up before dawn every morning, eager to head to the beach and watch the sun come up over the Atlantic Ocean. (Although the same sun comes up where I live, I rarely go outside to see it, because so many trees block my view. But at the ocean, nothing obstructs the wonder and beauty of sunrise.)
So, out I’d go and stroll along the beach as I waited for the majestic display. One morning, I noticed a man who was walking near the water’s edge, glancing frequently toward the east, as I was doing, eager for the first glimpse of the sun. His dog ambled hither and yon, obviously happy to be out and about on a beautiful morning.

When his dog started to approach me, the man also walked quickly toward me, saying, “Butter! Come here!” The dog obeyed.
As soon as the man and I were in “speaking distance,” I said, “God puts on an awesome show every morning, doesn’t He?”
The man smiled. “Yes, He does! When I’m out here, I feel like I do in church.”

I nodded, for I, too, was worshipping the Creator, as was the psalmist (David) when he wrote these words centuries ago: “The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or a word; their voice is silent in the skies; yet their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world” (Psalm 19:1-4, New Living Translation).
Thankfully, the man and I received “the message” that morning on the beach. With glad hearts, we went our separate ways. As I photographed sea shells and crabs and birds and sea turtles' nests and white-capped waves and an ever-changing sky, my “praise and worship” service continued.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Kindred Spirits

After sunset one evening, I sat by a pool in Fort Walton Beach and watched two of my grandsons laughing and splashing in the water. While sitting there, I noticed a hotel employee who was arranging the chairs and lounges that had been moved helter-skelter by guests who had used that area all during the day. His body was as thin as a string bean and his expression was serious—almost lifeless, really, because there seemed no spark in him as he methodically returned the white chairs to their places at the dozens of round tables and as he placed the lounge chairs in straight rows along the sides of the pool so they’d be ready for the next day’s crowd of sunbathers who needed to keep a careful eye on their children.
I wondered why he was so solemn. Had he done this particular task each evening for no telling how long and was, therefore, very bored with it? Was he longing to do something more exciting than rearranging chairs and closing big umbrellas?
Since I make it a habit to speak to "service" employees as often as I can because it seems that many people consider them “part of the landscape” (if they really see them at all), I resolved to find an opportunity to speak to that young man. Thankfully, as I was leaving the area, I happened to pass him. I stopped for a moment, made eye contact, and then said, “This is a beautiful place, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” he agreed. “Especially at sunset when the sky turns all shades of red and orange.”
“It was that way tonight!” I said. “I think I got a beautiful picture of it, too.”
“I tried,” he said, “but the camera in my cell phone isn’t very good.”
“Well, you may have to do what a friend advised me to do whenever I see wonderful shots but don’t have my camera with me. ‘Just take pictures with your eyes,’ she told me.”

He nodded.
“That’s what I’m doing tonight,” I said. “I left my camera in our room, but I’ve taken hundreds of pictures with my eyes because I’ve noticed how this pool area looks soooo different tonight than it did earlier today when I was here with the boys. It looks magical,” I added. “All these lights create such interesting shadows and silhouettes.”
He nodded, and I could tell by the sparkle in his eyes that he truly agreed with me.
Encouraged by his obvious interest in photography, I continued talking. “Even if we take pictures with our eyes, we're developing our skill as a photographer. We’re learning to see, to compose our shots, to think about what interests us in whatever scene is before us…”
He nodded once again, a shy smile lighting up his thin face.
“However,” I admitted, “we do love having pictures to take home with us so that we can revisit places and re-live experiences, don’t we.”
Once again, he nodded.  
We smiled at each other before we went our separate ways. I was glad, and I believe he was, to have met a kindred spirit.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Light

As I woke up one morning, this thought popped into my awareness: “Look at the light.” I felt compelled to write about it. In the meantime, as I lay in my warm bed, reluctant to get up that chilly morning, especially since cleaning the basement was at the top of my to-do list for the day, I began thinking about photos I’d taken that would illustrate the noticeable difference the light makes in a photograph. Light has a source, of course, whether natural or man-made, as well as color, direction, intensity, temperature, etc.
Later that morning, I opened an e-mail from Better Photo that contained a photo of a beautifully lit trumpeter swan. Much to my surprise, the accompanying “Pro Tip,” written by Charlotte Lowrie, was: Look for the light. Light, especially beautiful light, is transitory and fleeting, so be ready to shoot when you see the magical light of the day.”
Since I have a gallery on the BetterPhoto website, I took a few minutes to look at some of the images I’ve posted there. While doing so, I realized I tend to “balance” the light by using an external flash rather than capturing images using natural light only. Using additional light allows more details to be seen in the subject but lessens the “dramatic effect.”


So, as soon as I had time, I looked through some of the thousands of digital images I’d taken recently, searching for photos where natural light created a dramatic difference. (Posted here are a few of the ones I found.)
 As I looked at them, I remembered this phrase from an old hymn: “Come to the Light, ‘tis shining for thee.” Using a search engine on my computer, I looked up the lyrics and found them, along with the music, here:

The writer of the hymn (Philip P. Bliss, 1875) was certainly right when he said, “The Light of the world is Jesus.” When we come to the Light, that is, when we come to Jesus, out of the darkness of sin, what a dramatic difference He makes in our lives, both now and for all eternity.

(C) Copyright 2013 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill.