Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A Message for Me

Note: I hope you enjoy the following edited version of a FICTION story I wrote in response to this writing prompt: You're at the beach and find a message in a bottle. What does it say?

As I wandered along a remote section of beach, I saw a bottle bobbing in the surf. I waded into waist-deep water to retrieve it. After carrying it to shore and drying it and my hands as best I could, I removed the cork, eager to pull out the paper someone had rolled tightly before inserting it into the quarter-size opening.

Something stirred deep within my soul as I read these words:
Created by Johnnie Ann Gaskill, 2019

I wondered, Did she reach her desired destination? If not, what happened to her? Had she sailed alone? What prompted her to leave all that was familiar and embark upon such an uncertain journey?

I didn’t know the answer to any of those questions, but I applauded her courage and tenacity. Sensing that God intended me to find that message and to follow her example, I decided I’d set sail, not upon an ocean, but in the direction of the dream God gave me over three decades ago, a dream I’d been too scared to pursue. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

My Stubborn Will

If merely longing for change could make it happen, wouldn't that be wonderful? Yet, work is required to bring about the desired change. Work plus time plus resources plus self-discipline. And, most essential of all, God's guidance and help. 

As I reflect on the changes I'd like to experience, I realize that God does His part. He tells me in His Word what He wants me to be and do and how to accomplish that. Yet, even with such clear guidance, I'm still pretty much the "same ol' me" as I've been for years! I'm still struggling with the same unproductive habits: procrastination, excesses (weight, possessions, etc.), poor use of time, and so forth. I'm still longing for something to sweep over me and instantly transform me into what I should be--and want to be. I've been waiting for years for such a miracle.

But I'm beginning to understand that the changes I long for will not happen until I make myself DO what I know I should. That, Dear Reader, is called self-discipline. It's something I lack, as perhaps you do. Yet, it's essential if we are to follow God's guidance. He shows us what to do, but we are the ones who must do what He says. Otherwise, we'll never become all that He wants us to be, all that He will help us be.

As I said, God is faithfully doing His part. He's at work in me, causing me to will and to do His good pleasure. But I am unfaithful in doing my part. All too often, I refuse to make myself do what He says even though what He says to do is both right and beneficial. Like a pampered child, I sit back and wait for Him (or someone else!) to do my work for me. But that is not the way personal change will take place, is it?

O Father, help me to subdue my stubborn will that refuses to obey You. Help me to be able to say sincerely:

To listen to the song, click here.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sing and Speak

Dense fog lingered until mid-morning before slowly dissipating. When it began to lift, I raised one of the sunroom windows (from which my husband had removed the screen) and began to photograph the little songbirds feeding beside the deck. 

Despite the dreariness of the day, the birds chirped cheerily, or so it seemed to me, and continued to do so that afternoon even as rain moved closer and closer to our area.

As I listened to them, I thought, I wish I could be truly cheerful ALL the time, especially when conditions are less than ideal and/or when all signs indicate unpleasant change ahead.

Later that evening, when I read Psalm 89:1, I realized I'd been shown how to do that: Sing (or speak) about God's faithfulness and His mercies! 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

An Eternal Word

Don't Look Back--or Around!

"No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
--Jesus (Luke 9:62, NKJV)

Amy Carmichael* points out that Jesus says looking back, not turning back. (There is a huge difference, isn't there?) When we look back, we can't plow a straight furrow. In other words, we "mess up." 

The devil knows that. Thus, he continually tempts us to look back at our past sins, at our worthlessness, at our failures, at the things we want but do not have, at the things we once had but no longer have, at the "good life" others seem to be living.... 

We must NOT let our thoughts linger on those kinds of things. Instead, we must read God's Word daily and keep our minds focused on the truths it contains (rather than on the devil's lies) as we continue to move forward, fully committed to doing His will.

*author of Thou Givest...They Gather

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Tough Love

Reflecting on the years she had children to care for, the guest on a radio program said, “I grew tired of struggling to get the children up, fed, dressed, and out the door on time for school. So, one Christmas my husband and I bought alarm clocks for each of them and said, ‘It’s your responsibility to get yourself up and to come to breakfast cheerily.’”

She didn’t say how that worked, but I’m assuming it did. If so, I’m sure everyone in that household felt less frustrated without the constant naggings that used to go on and without the frenzied rushes to get out the door. 

I wonder how that would have worked if Mama had given my sister and me the responsibility for getting ourselves up and to the breakfast table cheerily. I wonder how that would have worked if I had tried it with my own children. (One took responsibility for her wake-up schedule without being told; the other was more like me and required lots of trips to her bedroom door and lots of loud commands to “Get up NOW or you’re going to be late!”)

The earlier the children learn to take responsibility for their actions, the easier and quicker they learn that actions/decisions have consequences as well as rewards. The earlier they learn to face those consequences, the quicker they learn to collect what they need before heading out the door. For example: Forgot your lunch??? Too bad!

I never felt I could be that tough with my children--or grandchildren. No matter what they did (or didn’t do), I felt compelled to come to their aid. I thought that’s what loving parents did. But child-rearing experts recommend “tough love,” which requires parents to say, “I love you too much to allow you to continue behaving that way.” Now I see that nipping bad habits in the bud early on is much easier than trying to instill good habits in older children.

Tough love is painful for children and parents. Yet, it brings great rewards.  Even the Bible says so. Take Hebrews 12:11, for example, which says: Now no chastening [discipline] seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (emphasis added).

Note: We can also apply the "tough love" principle to ourselves!

So Brief!

When talking with my twenty-one-year-old grandson, I mentioned several goals I've set for myself this year, including walking 7500 steps (3 miles) most days so that by year's end I will have walked at least 500 miles.

I went on to say, "I don't like to sit around. You've noticed, haven't you, how whenever I do sit down to talk or watch a few minutes of educational TV that I reach for the bag that holds my yarn and crochet hook? That's because I like to make every minute count--for life passes by so fast."

Later that same day, I read words written by Moses centuries ago and marveled at how true they still are. After he'd commented on how brief this life is, even if we're privileged to live 70 or 80 years, Moses said to God, "Teach us to number our days [to realize the brevity of life], so that we may gain a heart of wisdom [grow in wisdom, especially in regard to how God wants us to live this life He has given us]" (Psalm 90: 10, 12, NKJV). 

Indeed, our days are passing by so quickly. May we use each one for God's glory and the good of others. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Little Dab of Light

Normally, photographers love to have plenty of light when they're photographing. But professional photographer Joe Baraban, who also teaches on-line photography courses, recommends finding "a little dab" of sunlight in a dark scene. "When you find the light," he says, "you'll find the shot." 

To prove his point, he shares a photograph of an outdoor seating area. Most photographers would have thought the scene too dark and looked elsewhere for "the shot." But Joe saw a little dab of sunlight spilling through a small hole in the red umbrella/awning fabric and falling onto a white chair. That chair* became "the shot" because it contrasted beautifully with its dark surroundings.

As I reflected on that, I thought about how the apostle Paul urged those who of us who are children of God to talk and act in such a way that we will shine as lights in a society darkened by sin. (See Philippians 2:15). We may be quite ordinary, but even a little dab of light will make us stand out, in a beautiful way, like the chair Joe photographed or this rose that I photographed. 

*Note: To read Joe's article and see his photo visit: https://bpsop.com/category/blog/ 

Lessons from a 5K: #5--Do YOUR Best!

Note: This is the fifth in a series of posts. Click here to read the previous one.

As I mentioned in other posts in this series, I finished last in the 5K. On one hand, I'm embarrassed by that. On the other hand, I'm extremely proud of myself--for several reasons:

  • I finished the course even though my body begged me to give up.
  • I did something few, if any, people my age even attempted that cold February morning. 
  • I bettered my practice times by 30 minutes, so I was really giving it all I had--and on a course that had more hills than the one I'd trained on.
Lesson 5: Our opinions of ourselves change, depending on the standard of comparison we're using. There will always be people who perform far better than we do. Compared to them, we're a failure. There will always be people who don't perform as well as we do. Compared to them, we're doing great. Since we can never gain a true evaluation of ourselves by comparing ourselves to others, we do ourselves a great disservice if we do. We'll benefit far more if we always try to better our best--and celebrate that!

However, when it comes to evaluating our character, there is a standard of comparison that gives us a true picture of how we're doing. To remind me of that, I wrote this note many years ago in the front of my Bible:

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Lessons from a 5K: #4--Give Thanks for the One Who Walks Beside You

Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts. Click here to read the previous one.

As soon as my daughter finished running the 3.1 miles, she used the Find Friends app on her cell phone to see where I was and then ran to me. 

"I'm so happy to see you!" I said. "I really do need someone to walk with me for my legs feel like rubber bands."

We finished the last mile or so together. Just having her right beside me--and the law enforcement officer in his vehicle right behind us--removed much of my fear of falling and made the final leg of the race so much more pleasant. As I struggled up the last hill, Jena said, "The rest of the course is easy. You can do this!"

When we reached the FINISH line, I said, "Let's get someone to take our picture." I certainly wanted her to be with me in the picture for I don't know if I would have made it without her love and support.

Lesson #4: Even the hardest "course" through life is made easier by those who love us and willingly walk beside us. Sometimes we're the one who needs such a friend. Sometimes we can be the friend someone else desperately needs.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Lessons from the 5K: #3--Realize Someone Is Watching Over You

Note: This is the third in a series of posts. Click here to read the previous one.

A law enforcement officer had been assigned to stay behind the last runner to be ready to provide any assistance any of the runners might need. Early on, when it was obvious that another lady and I were not able to keep up with the rest, the officer drove his vehicle alongside me and said, "If y'all need a ride, let me know."

I said, "I should be fine. I'm just slow and a bit wobbly because I'm still dealing with balance problems left over from a long bout of vertigo."

For the rest of the race, he followed a few feet behind me, never getting close enough to make me feel he was trying to make me go faster than I felt was a safe pace for me.

As I walked, I realized God was watching over me and that He had arranged for the officer to also watch over me and to help me if I stumbled and fell. That comforted me.

I thought about several passages of Scripture including these words written by David:

Lesson #3: We are never out of God's sight or out of His care. He even reminds us of that by letting us see the people He has placed nearby to assure and assist us! 

Lessons from the 5K: #2--Stay the Course

Note: This is the second in a series of posts. Click here to read the previous one.

By the time I reached the point in the route where I was to make a left turn, I doubted I had enough strength to go the last mile or so. I was seriously considering giving up since the street onto which I turned would take me near the pavilion where my daughter and I had signed in.

I smiled weakly at the volunteer who was making sure everyone made the turn, and I managed to get enough breath to say, "I'm sorry...you've...had to wait...so long for me. Maybe...I shouldn't...have tried...to do this."

"Honey, you couldn't pay me to do what you're doing! And I bet you paid to do this, didn't you? So you keep going! You've almost made it to the two-mile mark."

I waved at her and walked on, staggering a bit from time to time. At the end of that block, I saw the pavilion in the distance. But a little voice in my head kept saying, "Stay the course. Stay the course. You've made it this far. Don't give up now. Stay the course."

So, with renewed commitment, I walked on, though I admit I looked longingly at the pavilion as I passed it.

Lesson #2: "Stay the course" even when you're tempted to give up! There's a lot of truth in the old cliche: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." And I do want to be strong and to discipline myself to persevere rather than quit when life gets hard, don't you?

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Lessons from the 5K, #1--Encourage One Another

I was tempted to give up before the 5K Run/Walk started, but I decided to be brave and give it my best shot. I'm glad I did for the experience brought to mind several important lessons about life. I'll share a few of them with you in the days ahead, one lesson per post, so "stay tuned."

As the 39 participants gathered near the START line, I realized I was probably the oldest one, but I hoped I wouldn't be the last one to finish. But I was! And I knew that I would be--right from the start--because all the runners took off, as did the half-dozen or so walkers, leaving another woman and me waaay behind--and with no hope of catching up.

My face was almost as red as my windbreaker as I walked as fast as I could along the busy four-lane road in the small town where I live. I hoped that no one I knew would pass by and see me lagging behind. I wanted to head back to the START line, while it was so close behind me. But I thought, No! I paid to do this! I've trained to do it. I've told people I'm doing it. And, last or not, I'm going to do it.

When I reached the first water station, I smiled at the volunteers as I hurried past them. "I'm the last one, so you can go home now."

"We're proud of you," they said. "Keep on going! You can do it!" 

Because of their words of encouragement, I felt my shame lessen a bit. I held my head higher. I became even more determined to keep going rather than give up.

Lesson: We often fail to realize how powerful our words of encouragement--even a few simple ones--can be to others, especially those who are tempted to give up rather than press on toward their goals.

Hope in God!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Count the Gifts!

I love the old song Count Your Blessings, which was written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. and published in 1897. It inspires me to count my blessings, and as I name them one by one, I'm always surprised at what God has done for me. The awareness of His love cheers me, especially on days when more things go wrong than go right.

Several years ago, my daughter gave me a copy of Ann Voskamp's wonderful book One Thousand Gifts. As I eagerly read it and began to list the "gifts" God had given me, my happiness and well-being increased significantly.

For four years, I rarely missed a day listing gifts and thanking Him for them. By the time I'd listed over 4,000 gifts, I slacked off on actually writing down my blessings because by that time the habit of noticing gifts was so well-formed in me that I felt I didn't need to physically list them.

However, if I'm feeling anxious or stressed, I sit down and take a look around. I thank God for the gifts I see, and for eyes with which to see them. I thank Him for the precious people He's placed in my life. I thank Him for the songs and books others have written that encourage me and teach me. Pretty soon, I'm calm and cheerful. Counting my blessings and praising God for His goodness to me has changed me even if my circumstances remain the same. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019


Several years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting a gentle and godly man who lived in a small house flanked by a beautiful garden. An array of plants thrived under his tender care and bloomed profusely, delighting him and those who visited.

His garden was long and narrow, like his one-room-wide house. One side bordered his house, the other the property line. A series of stepping-stones separated the two sections and led visitors to his backyard where he grew vegetables--and more flowers. 

I thought about those stepping-stones recently when I read a devotional in Amy Carmichael's book, Thou Givest...They Gather. Amy says that God has given us abilities and resources (including time and the Bible) that we will use to "build ere work be done, a stumbling block or a stepping-stone" (p.141). 

She says that with every thought, word, and deed, we create either a stepping-stone (that will help others find their way heavenward) or a stumbling block (that will hinder them on their spiritual journey.)

I learned that the man who had placed the stepping-stones in his garden was also laying spiritual stepping-stones (lots of them!) for others. For example, when the children in the neighborhood gravitated to his home, he provided snacks for them. He let them help him care for the plants. As they worked together, he taught them about life and about the Lord.  

Oh, may we build lots of stepping-stones for others, as that good man did!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

His Amazing Love

While attending a funeral service one afternoon, I listened carefully to the words in a familiar song* about the death of Jesus on the cross. When I heard the words, "He knew me, yet He loved me," my mind fixated on them instead of those in the rest of the song.

As the truth in those seven words grabbed my attention, it seemed as if I'd never heard them before. Jesus knew all about me--including all my sins and my failures; yet, He loved me enough to die for me. I'd heard that truth all my life, but it had never impacted me as it was doing at that moment.

He loved me, knowing that many times I would disappoint Him, that I would ignore Him, that I would often think and talk and behave in ways uncharacteristic of and unbecoming for a child of God. 

The words "He knew me, yet He loved me" are still stuck in my mind. I realize that He knew me then; He knows me now. He loved me then; He loves me now! 

My response continues to be like that of Charles Wesley who wrote these words immediately following his conversion in 1738: "Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, should die for me?" 

He died, not just for me, but for you, too! Why? Because He loves us more than we can ever comprehend.

*When He Was on the Cross, 1983, by Michael Payne and Ronny Hinson

Monday, February 4, 2019

Waiting On God

David's words in Psalm 25 provide guidance for you and for me when we're in a difficult situation.

David acknowledges he is needy and sinful. He knows full well that if God doesn't come through for him, he is "undone." 

As David waits for God to intervene, he does more than moan and groan. He talks to God about the crisis--without going into great detail (since God already knows all about it!). Rather than just beg God to get him out of the current mess, he says to God: "Lead me in Your truth, teach me Your paths, show me Your ways, guard my soul," etc. 

He also praises God by saying things like, "Good and upright is the LORD...He teaches the humble His way....All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth to those who keep His covenant and His testimonies..."

Reminding himself of who God is and how mercifully and lovingly He deals with His children increases David's faith, enabling him to trust God even more as he waits expectantly for God to do what He knows is best for all concerned.

Like David, we do need to talk with God about our troubles and/or those of others. As we wait to see what God does, we can experience greater calm, comfort, and confidence if we'll repeatedly remind ourselves of God's goodness and power. 

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Seek to Serve

Employees at a fast food restaurant I enjoy smile at every customer and say, “Thank you for choosing Chick-fil-A. How may I serve you?” 

As I reflect on that, I realize that the “How may I serve you?” question is an excellent one you and I can ask as we encounter people throughout the day. What does this person need? Assistance? Encouragement? Rest? Money? Am I able to provide that? Do I know someone who can?

Although choosing to serve others requires something of us, it is the right thing to do. Jesus taught us that. He temporarily gave up the glories of heaven to come to this earth to live among needy and sinful people like you and me in order to show us how to love and serve while we're here and to provide the way for us to live eternally in Heaven with Him. 

The Bible says, “He came not to be served, but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

His mission was to serve others, and He did. So should we.