Thursday, February 26, 2015

Refreshing Water

I am awed by the way various writers convey similar messages on any given morning during the hour or more I spend praying and reading the Bible, devotional books, and hymnals before I began to write a blog post.

Even though the Bible and the other books were written by various authors in various centuries, the “message of the day” is basically the same! And, even more astonishing, each one relates to what I am experiencing at that time. How is this possible? I wonder. How do they know how to write so specifically to my need on any given morning? How do ministers and hymn writers do the same kind of thing?????

According to John Gill, the famous Puritan pastor, here’s how the process works: The doctrines (teachings) a godly person absorbs and fills his heart with and which his mouth utters are like pure, purifying, and refreshing water. And the wellspring of wisdom within such a person is like a flowing brook, like a spring of spiritual wisdom and knowledge within him. From there “it flows freely and constantly; communicating itself liberally unto others, and ministering grace to the hearers [and readers!], for their edification [instruction, enlightenment, guidance]” Gill’s Exposition of the Entire  Bible.

I am indescribably grateful for such godly people who freely share truths they’ve gleaned. And I long to be one of them.

The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters;

the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.

Proverbs 18:4, ESV

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Innermost Part

I’d photographed a small pot of tulips every other day or so for more than a week. 

I’d snapped picture after picture of them when they were tightly encased buds and when they were in full bloom. 

Those stages were a delight to my eyes, but I didn’t like the looks of the dying blooms. So…one day I thought, I’m going to throw them away. They’re way past their prime. 

I carried the pot from the sunroom/office to a counter near an outside door, intending to take the pot to the trash on my next trip outside. But when I took a closer look at their centers, I thought, Oooooh, they’re still beautiful.

Indeed, that part of them—the innermost part—had changed very little, though the petals were showing multiple signs of dying—curling, drying, shriveling, discoloring, drooping….

Upon realizing there was a “lesson” to be learned from the dying blooms, I returned the pot to the sunroom for more photographs. As I did so, I thought, What’s going on with these tulips is true of human life, too. In our youth and even middle age, we are beautiful and admired. But as the dying process takes increasingly heavy tolls on us, little remains of the vibrant person we once were—except for the innermost part! That stays alive and beautiful far longer than the more “showy” parts of us.

Therefore, Dear Reader, despite what’s happening on the outside of us, may we say, as did Horatio G. Spafford (1873), “It is well with my soul,” with that innermost part of us. Even when our physical strength wanes and our outward beauty diminishes, may we say, as did David in Psalm 57:7, ESV:
My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Embrace the Challenges; Receive the Blessings

The day before I was to give my first speech at the January 22nd meeting of the local chapter of Toastmasters, I was a bundle of nerves. In fact, I was telling myself and others I’d never sign up to give another one.

I’m not sure why I was so nervous. I’d written my speech months ago. I knew my subject well. (Since this first speech was an “ice breaker,” I was supposed to talk about myself.) I had prepared a visual aid. I knew and liked everyone in the group, and I felt confident they’d be “cheering” for me.

The morning I was to give the speech, I woke up early and followed my normal routine. I spent the first hour or so reading the Bible and several devotional books. As always, I came across words that seemed written especially for me. In Sarah Young’s wonderful book, Jesus Calling, I read: “Anything that tends to make you anxious is a growth opportunity. Instead of running away from these challenges, embrace them, eager to gain the blessings I [Jesus] have hidden in the difficulties” (reading for January 22).

Embrace my fears???? Run toward—rather than away from—this challenge (as well as others)? Could I really do that?

As I struggled with that idea, I recalled these words spoken by Moses as the Israelites were preparing to enter the land God had promised them many years before: “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them [the current residents in that land], for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” Deuteronomy 31:6, ESV.

As I reflected on that promise, I realized God would be with me, as He was with them, though my challenges with that 4-6 minute speech were minuscule in comparison to theirs. He would enable me to succeed. Consequently, my faith in Him would increase all the more, as would my gratitude for His help! Furthermore, only He knew what other blessings were hidden in the challenge.

Note: Much to my surprise (and great relief), I was calm when I gave my speech. That had to be a "God thing," because I had been "falling apart" the day before and the morning of the speech!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Light in the Darkness

After a dear friend highly recommended Sara Young’s devotional book, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence, I downloaded it for my Kindle. What a treasure it is!!! As soon as I finish my daily Bible reading, I read the day’s devotional. Reading each one is as exciting (and easy!) as finding precious gems scattered on the ground, just waiting for me to notice them and be uplifted by them.

The author writes what she senses Jesus saying to her, hence the title Jesus Calling. As I read the words in the Feb. 11th devotional, I gave thanks for the confirmation of something quite similar He had said to me the night I’d looked out the window of our room on the ninth-floor of a hotel in Savannah and immediately noticed the brightly lit steeple of a nearby church. Nearly all the other buildings were concealed in darkness, which made the lighted steeple stand out all the more. 

The picture I’d felt compelled to take, though it was 1:00 in the morning, isn't any good--from a technical perspective--since I took it in low light and through the thick glass of the window while I hand held the camera. Plus, I couldn’t change my vantage point much at all. All those factors, when combined, produced a very poor picture. Even so, it’s a favorite of mine because I love how that lighted structure contrasts so sharply (and beautifully) with the surrounding darkness.

Thus, I immediately thought of that photo as I read these words in Jesus Calling: “My Peace is like a shaft of golden light shining on you continuously….See times of darkness as opportunities for My light to shine in transcendent splendor.”

Note: The following morning, I photographed the same steeple. I could see more details. I produced a more technically correct photo. But gone was the striking contrast the light had made while surrounded by darkness. So, I was thankful I had taken the time to make the photograph in the middle of the night. I will use it to remind me that God uses even our dark times as opportunities to showcase His splendor, causing others to notice the incredible difference He makes in the lives of those He indwells.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

For once you were full of darkness,

but now you have light from the Lord.

So live as people of light! 

~Ephesians 5:8, NLT

Thursday, February 19, 2015

As we age, my friends and I often wish we had the strength and the opportunities to do what we used to do. Thus, I found comfort in the Feb. 18th devotional in Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. (Note: Each devotional is what she sensed Jesus was saying to her, thus the words Me and I refer to Jesus.) In this particular writing, He urges her (and, by implication, you and me) to realize our “down” time (or our “slowing down” time) is an opportunity to become more aware of His presence with us, to get to know Him better, to learn to serve Him in simple ways, to notice how He’s working in every circumstance, and to remember this:
“Some of the greatest works in My kingdom have been done from sickbeds and prison cells.”

May we learn the same lesson the Apostle Paul did. As you may recall, he begged God three times to remove his “thorn in the flesh.” (No one knows for sure what the thorn was, but we can assume it was something painful.) Although God said no, He reassured Paul with these words: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV).

That powerful insight dramatically changed Paul’s view of his situation. He said, “[In light of that assurance], I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV).

Dear Reader, God’s strength is available to us in our weaknesses, in every painful situation, in all our ups and downs, and in all our limitations. Let’s learn to turn to Him, to depend on His strength rather than our own, and to ask Him to show us creative ways we can continue to serve Him—whatever our situation.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

He Holds My Hand!

Each time, I’m in situations where someone needs a steadying hand, the person invariably reaches for my hand, even though I can better steady her and keep her from falling if she’d let me hold onto her. But since hand-holding makes her feel more secure (than it actually is), we hold hands until we reach a place where she feels at ease.

My husband holds our youngest grandson's hand. I took the photo
and applied the special effects.
Whenever young children feel insecure or frightened, they instinctively reach for the hand of a loving, adult. There’s just something very reassuring when we place our hand inside a hand that’s stronger and more capable of protecting us. 

Lovers hold hands, too, relishing the feelings created by the warmth of closeness and other pleasant emotions.

Knowing how special hand-holding is, I like to read the many verses in the Bible that remind me that God is holding my hand, that He most certainly can be trusted to love me and protect me, just as He did those to whom the original assurance was made. One of my “go-to” verses is Isaiah 41:13 (ESV). I turn there often and “listen” to God say to me:
For I, the LORD your God,
Hold your right hand;
It is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.”

Wow! Hand-holding doesn't ever get any better than 
that, does it, Dear Reader? May we realize this: It's impossible to hold hands without being near one another!!!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Every Step Counts!

Around the middle of January 2015, I received an e-mail from the good folks at Fitbit® informing me that I had walked 696 miles in 2014. In doing so, I’d taken over 1.5 million steps (1,696,496, to be exact). I was shocked I’d walked that much!

But then I read the note near the bottom of the e-mail, which said, in essence, “Every single step you took during your very busy days added up to something big, something really big!”  You know, that’s very true. Most days, I do some intentional walking, like in my neighborhood. But the many steps I’ve taken while running errands or going on photo shoots or doing household chores or volunteering at the local hospital, etc. have brought me closer to my goal.

What is my goal? To walk from my home in Georgia to a small town in Nevada where a dear friend lives. I embarked upon this “virtual” journey in October 2013.  I reached Oklahoma City at the end of Jan. 2015 and am heading to Amarillo, which is 1139 miles from where I live. That’s still a looooong way from Wellington, Nevada, but I’ll eventually get there, step by step, mile by mile.

As I reflected on that, I realized anew that nearly every goal we set is achieved in small increments. For example, losing weight, learning how to do something, etc. As the Bible says, “For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:10, ESV).

Step. Step. Step. Every one counts!!!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Trust! Then Relax!

As my husband and I stood outside a friend’s glass storm door, her two little dogs stood on the inside. Both were barking non-stop, but one seemed particularly ferocious, so much so that I feared he’d bite us even as our friend tried to shush her dogs and shoo them away from the door so we could step inside.

My husband used his cell phone to take this photo of Duffy and me.
A while after I’d seated myself on the sofa, the ferocious dog (Duffy) jumped up and sat quietly beside me for over an hour, listening to the conversation in the room. As I stroked his back and rubbed his silky ears, he dozed off—totally relaxed. Once he sensed he could trust me, what a difference that made in his behavior!

That experience helped me realize this spiritual truth: Life becomes far less stressful when we learn we can trust God. Only then will we relax in His presence and just let Him love us. Only then do we stop yipping and yapping and wearing ourselves out, feeling as if our well-being depends solely on us. Only when we fully trust Him do we, in effect, curl up in His presence and receive the love and the peace we've been struggling to obtain in our own strength.
For thus says the LORD GOD...
In returning [repentance] and rest you shall be saved; 
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
Isaiah 30:15, ESV

Thursday, February 12, 2015

In His Time

Several years ago, a friend who lives in Nevada said, “We have five inches of snow on the ground—and more on the way."

“Well, then," I said, "I won’t e-mail you the spring photos I’d planned to send you. I wouldn’t want you to think I was saying, ‘Ha! Ha! We have spring and you don’t!’”

   “Oh, I wouldn’t think that!” she replied. “Go ahead and send the photos. They’ll encourage me!”

   As I scrolled through dozens of digital photos I’d uploaded to my computer, I had a hard time deciding which ones to send. I finally settled on five.

   When I checked my e-mail the following morning, her reply was waiting for me. “The pictures are just gorgeous. Thanks for sending them.  Makes spring feel a little closer for me.”

I knew she was as eager for spring as I was! Early in February I began going outside frequently to check for signs of spring. Once they began appearing, I was so excited. I took pictures, pictures, and more pictures of the daffodils, of the delicate blooms on the flowering almond tree, and of anything and everything that had color!

I don’t know if I could stand to wait until late March or April or perhaps early June for spring to arrive, as folks in colder climates have to do. I’m sure I, like everyone else, would be asking, “Will it ever be spring?”

After the chilly, dreary days of winter, we long for spring, for signs of new life, for splashes of color, for warmer temperatures that we can end our hibernation and get out and about once again.

We long for the time when we can say, “…the winter is past, and the rain is over and gone. The flowers are springing up, and the time of singing birds has come…The fig trees are budding, and the grapevines are in blossom. How delicious they smell! Yes, spring is here!” (Song of Songs, 2:11-13a.)

But sometimes we feel stuck in one season—in life, as well as in nature—don’t we? For example, children often feel they’ll be children forever! They long to grow up and do the things big people do. Likewise, people who are battling an illness may see no end to that season.

Whenever we’re feeling stuck in a season, it’s good to remind ourselves of this truth: “There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest…A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance… ” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4).

Although we enjoy some seasons more than others, we benefit from experiencing a variety of seasons and cycles, else the Creator wouldn’t have designed them. In fact, we need the harshness and bleakness of winter in order to appreciate the warmth and beauty of spring. As 17th century poet Anne Bradstreet pointed out, “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”

So…whatever time, whatever season, we find ourselves in, especially if we’re feeling stuck in it, let’s follow David’s example and humbly say to God, “My times are in thy hand…” (Psalm 31:15, KJV). And then wait patiently for Him to provide the next season--in His time.

© 2012 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill,

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quoted is from the New Living Translation.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sail On! Sail On!

I know many people, as do you, Dear Reader, who are coping with pain and deteriorating health and loss and financial difficulties and…the list goes on and on. I thought of them and their struggles (and my own, as well) this morning when I read an uplifting poem by J. R. Miller. I found it in the Feb. 11th devotional in Streams in the Desert.

The poet wrote about an imaginary conversation between Christopher Columbus (the Admiral) and his Mate as they and the rest of the crew sailed to the New World. Before them was “only shoreless seas.” When the Mate felt they should pray, since the very stars they needed for navigation were gone on that dark night, he asked the Admiral what he should say.

The Admiral replied, “Why, say, ‘Sail on! Sail on! And on!’”

When the Mate said his men were growing more mutinous every day and that they were ghastly pale and weak, he asked again what he should say, if, the next morning, all they could see was sea.

The Admiral’s answer was the same: “‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’”

When the Mate described the sea as having “lifted teeth, as if to bite,” he begged the Admiral to tell him what to do, since hope was gone.

His answer: “’Sail on! sail on! and on!’”

As you know, Dear Reader, the Admiral and his crew eventually reached land and gave the world “its grandest lesson: “On! sail on!”

May this lesson encourage us to sail on. Surely, surely, smoother seas and welcoming shores are just ahead!

"...we are always of good courage...
for we walk [live--and sail on!] by faith, 
not by sight."
~Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:6-7, ESV

I took this photo in San Francisco in 2005. Little did I know then that God would want me to use it on this blog, which I had not even imagined or created at that time. Thankfully, God enabled me to EASILY find this photo though it is among thousands and thousands stored on various hard drives. Praise Him!!!!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Wonder Everywhere! (Haiku)

One day, I decided I'd try my hand at writing Haiku (pronounced high-koo). I went online to learn more about that kind of poetry and to read some examples. I learned that Haiku (short poem) can be written on any theme, BUT must adhere to a strict format of 3 lines and only three lines, each with a specific number of syllables, totaling exactly 17 for the entire poem.

  • Line 1 has 5 syllables (no more, no less)
  • Line 2 has 7 syllables
  • Line 3 has 5 syllables
Haiku poetry originated in Japan, but has been adopted and adapted by poets in many other nations. The poets use sensory language to "paint a word picture" about a poignant experience, a thing of beauty, or an element in nature, etc. Thus, writing Haiku requires poets (and "wanna be" poets like me) to be observant and appreciative of nature and beauty. 

Here are some of my first attempts—and the photos that inspired them. I won’t win any awards with these little poems, but I had fun writing them. I pray the lessons they contain will “speak” to your heart, Dear Reader, as they have to mine.

Wonder everywhere!
Open my eyes, Lord,
that I may see it.

Beautiful stages!
First the bud and then the bloom—
beauty unfolding.

One of many, yes!
Yet, standing out tall and proud
From among the crowd.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Focus on What Remains

While photographing blooms and butterflies with a macro (closeup) lens, I was awed by the incredible design and uniqueness of each one. Even the Paper White butterfly with an imperfect wing delighted me. Despite its imperfection, it was still very beautiful, still functioning well, still inspiring…. And it reminded me of this important “life lesson:" Whatever the loss, give thanks for all that’s left. And keep on living to the fullest extent possible.

Those who do that will inspire others and encourage them to to keep on keeping on as they, too, focus on all the good that remains.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The God Who Sees Us

I really enjoy Bible stories for they tell great truths about God and how He loves us. One of my favorites is that of Hagar, a slave girl who was running away from home. As she sat by a spring in the wilderness, the angel of the LORD found her, called her by name, and asked, “Where have you come from and where are you going?” (See Genesis 16:8.)

When she quickly acknowledged she was running away from her mistress, he instructed her to go back home. He also told Hagar to name her unborn son Ishmael, which means “God hears,” since the LORD had indeed listened to Hagar’s affliction. She replied, “You are a God who sees me!” Awed that He had seen her and that she had seen Him, she obediently returned home.

Several years later, when the situation there became intolerable, Hagar and her son were sent away into the wilderness. When the skin [canteen] of water they’d been given ran out, Hagar placed the boy in the shade of a bush and then went a short distance away because she couldn’t bear to watch her son die.
As she wailed and wept, the angel of God called to her from heaven and said, “What troubles you, Hagar?”

Before she could answer, the angel said, “Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation” (Genesis 21:17, ESV).

The story continues with these words: “Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin [canteen] with water and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy, and he grew up…” (Genesis 21:19ff).

Dear Reader, may Hagar’s story remind you and me that God sees us, God cares for us, and God helps us. When we cry out to Him, He hears us. He will speak. He will supply what we need most. Let’s turn to Him today. Let’s listen to what He will say. Let’s trust Him to deal graciously with us, as He did with Hagar (and many others!).

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Produce Excellent Work!

“Johnnie, you will love the photos on the 2014 Norfolk Southern calendar," a friend said. “I want you to stop by here and pick it up and take it home with you for a while so you can read about the photographers who took the photos and the stories of how they took the winning images.”

(Note: To see the front cover of the calendar, visit 

Oh, was I ever impressed with the beauty of the images—and the size (approximately 11x16 inches) of each one, as well as the efforts the photographers made to create the image. For example, Lance Myers, who took the March photo, said he photographed the train at Fostoria [Pennsylvania] and then decided to go to Horseshoe Curve to photograph it again. His extra effort enabled him to get a “winner.”

Likewise, Roger Durfee put extra effort into his image that was chosen for April. “I knew this train was coming so I decided to make a stop [at the McKees Rocks Bridge near Pittsburg] on my way back from a photography shoot I had in Altoona the night before.”

Mark Shull, photographer of the June image, had to stand in a soybean field to get his shot—in between thunderstorms.

Rich Borkowski knew the train he wanted to photograph was coming and would be changing crews. So, he drove to the site. “I was really lucky that the flag was unfurled. It’s about a 40-foot flag, so it takes a good bit of wind to see it flying. It’s a great shot for July.”

Willie Brown says his winning photo (on the December page) of a coal train moving on the rails in the midst of a winter wonderland was taken quite by accident. He was simply going to the grocery store when he noticed the headlights of the train, hurried back home, grabbed his camera, and went to the overpass about a block from his house. Voila!

Despite the variety of photographers—and their stories and locations—they have much in common (or so I surmised).  All the photographers are employees of Norfolk Southern and, thus, all have access to and knowledge of trains. All are passionate about photography. All look for creative viewpoints and angles, a beautiful landscape, and an opportunity (planned or spur of the moment) to create the images they’ve visualized. All desire to produce an image that will stand out when the judging is being done.

 As I reflected on that, I thought about Bible verses (and there are lots of them!) that speak of the importance of excelling in whatever we do. For example, we are to excel not only in our work, but also in our relationships and in all aspects of the Christian life. After all, we are made in the image of God, who certainly excels in His work!

California coastline in the Fort Bragg/Mendocino area.

Monday, February 2, 2015

This Is My Doing!

When I read the Feb. 1st devotional in Streams in the Desert, I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the truth found in the Scripture reading for the day: “This is my doing” (I Kings 12:24). In my heart of hearts, I knew what God had said was true, absolutely true. Yet, I questioned it.

In an effort to “prove” my case, I began to recall various verses that say, in essence, God loves His children and blesses them in innumerable ways. For example: Jeremiah 29:11, ESV: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

But as I struggled to understand (and accept!) the truth, I also recalled verses that tell how God is with us as we go through difficulties. For instance, many centuries ago, God made this promise to His children: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1b-3a, ESV, emphasis added).

I began to understand that God does allow certain things to come our way, things that, from our perspective, seem unfair or unloving. Yet, He has a purpose in each difficulty, in each pathway of pain, even if we can’t understand what it is or why He has allowed it.  

Dear Reader, as you and I look at each painful situation, at each stressful circumstance, at each long delay, at whatever strikes fear in our hearts, at…, may we learn to accept the fact that each one is from God and that He is using it and is causing all things (the difficulties as well as the delights) to work together for our good and His glory. (See Romans 8:28.) May we cling to this truth: “Whether He spare or share, He will be there.”