Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Whatever the Weather

 Today

I opened my eyes at 7:23 a.m., delighted by the bright light streaming into the master bedroom of the condo. I hurried toward the great room. It, too, was bathed in light so bright that I squinted my eyes when I looked toward the east-facing section of the floor-to-ceiling windows that surrounded the room on three sides. The only sound I heard was the gentle lapping of the surf against the shore.

Last Night

But last night... Oh, my goodness! The wind shrieked around the exterior walls. It shoved two of the lighter-weight balcony chairs against the windows and banged them until my husband fought against it to bring the chairs inside. The wind created white caps on the normally calm waters of our portion of the Gulf of Mexico. Lightning flashed in the inky black sky. Rain pelted the windows. Even the water in the toilet bowls swirled slightly as the storm raged against the high-rise condo--as well as against everything and everyone in its path.

Today

Thankfully, after several hours, the storm passed. By God’s grace, my husband and I are safe and are anticipating a beautiful day here at the  beach.

Reflections

The storm and the stillness, the darkness and the sunshine, the fear and the calm…are part of life, aren’t they? Whichever one we're experiencing at the moment will, at some point, be replaced by its opposite. By God’s grace, we transition from one to the other, trusting Him to be with us no matter life's current “weather.”

As I reflect on that, I remember a quote I'd read the day before the storm released its fury:

 I am not in control, but I am deeply loved by the one who is.

--Glenn Packiam


And I do believe, as I hope you do, that God has everything under control, even the storms of life. And as my mama used to say, “Whether He spares or shares, He will be there.” His presence with us makes ALL the difference—whether we’re experiencing storms or sunshine.

Note: To read my previous posts about storms, click here and here and here.


Monday, October 24, 2022

What If…?

 

Jesus said unto him [a Pharisee], Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Matthew 22:37-38, KJV).

 

Friday, September 23, 2022

In Praise of Mama

My sweet mama died years ago. Even so, I think of her many times each day, especially on her birthday (September 24th). Although I can no longer visit her or give her a gift or even call to chat a bit, I yearn to honor her in some way.


As I thought about what I could do, a familiar verse (Proverbs 31:28) from the Old Testament came to mind. Although the words stored in my memory are from the King James Version (the translation Mama and Daddy used), I also like the words from modern versions that express how I want to honor Mama on her birthday. For example, 




Therefore, I want to use written and spoken words to say I do love Mama, and that I thank God for choosing her to be my mama.


Although she wasn't financially well-off like the woman described in Proverbs 31, Mama did many of the same kinds of tasks she did. For example, she got up early every morning to cook a hot, country-style breakfast on the wood-burning cookstove. She took good care of our family and the farm animals and the garden that provided much of our food.


Mama didn't weave and spin like the Proverbs 31 woman did, but she sewed pretty dresses for my sister and me whenever she had enough money to buy fabric and buttons and lace. She also made beautiful quilts from scraps of outgrown clothes and fabric leftover from sewing projects so that we could stay as warm as possible on cold winter nights in our drafty, uninsulated house that was heated by the living room fireplace. Her stitches were so even and tiny that some folks thought they'd been done on a sewing machine.


Like the Proverbs 31 woman, Mama spoke words of wisdom and was kind to everyone. She had a gentle and quiet spirit and bravely accepted each hardship without complaining.


For these reasons and for the innumerable other ways she showed her love day after day and year by year, I want to take this opportunity to publically praise her and to say, "Mama, you are still much loved, much cherished. Although you are gone from my sight, you'll always remain on my mind and in my heart."

Friday, September 9, 2022

Learning the Lessons

In her book, Write a Poem, Save Your Life: A Guide for Teens, Teachers, and Writers of All Ages, Meredith Heller says, “We can find poetry everywhere, if we know how to look and how to listen. Poetry lives in the simplest things, in the is-ness of an object, in the relationship between people, in nature, in light and shadow…” (p.87). 

As soon as I read those words, I thought, She’s right! And I can prove it. For example:

A week ago,  my writing accountability partner and I challenged each other to write at least one poem--any topic, any length, any form. When we met (via Zoom) one week later, I read a poem (see below) I’d written about new insights regarding my elementary school experiences that had taken place over 60 years ago. Debi read her poem about walking through weeds and climbing over fences the day she searched for (and found!) the long-forgotten grave of an ancestor.


The day we read our poems to each other, I had not come across Meredith Heller’s words I mentioned above. But when I read them a few days later, I knew she was absolutely correct in saying, “Poetry lives in the simplest things.” And, as she also says, “We must know how to look and listen.” In other words, we must learn to observe—-learn to notice things and learn to hear things. And, as I’m also discovering, we must learn to reflect on the information our five senses bring to our awareness. Learn to ask ourselves: What does this additional information mean? How does it relate to something else I already know? How should I use it?


Those are essential skills to develop--whether or not we write a poem.




(Written by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill on February 2, 2022, in response to the writing prompt: "I remember…")


Note: I doubt I’ll ever be a poet laureate, but I do have such fun and gain new insights when I write poetry!


Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Landscapes

Even though I don’t tend to use fresh phrases when I write or speak, they delight me. Therefore, I felt intrigued when I discovered one (“the landscape of life”) someone else had written.

Although I hadn't thought about associating the word landscape with life, I suddenly saw the connection. 

Physical Landscapes

Some of the features in a physical landscape are natural—boulders, mountains, bodies of water, cliffs, etc. Others are added by humans. For example, property owners create whatever “look” pleases them (or they can choose to do nothing).

Case in point: when my husband and I vacationed in Arizona several years ago, we noticed striking differences between the green lawns that were as irrigated and well-tended as golf courses and those that were left in their natural desert-like state. The contrast was even more evident when the lawns were adjacent to each other. Each “look” was beautiful and reflected the preferences of the owners.

Life Landscapes

I suppose some folks, when asked to describe the “landscape of their lives,” might use a fresh phrase such as: 

  • “My life looks as barren as the desert.” 
  • “My life is as bleak as the Arctic in winter.” 
  • “My life is as interesting as the rainforest.” 
  • “My life is as lush as an island paradise.” 

Whatever the landscape of our life looks like, we can choose to leave it like it is or enhance it, even if we can’t completely change it. How?

There are some things we could do. 

  1. Take a close look at what our life currently looks like.
  2. Dream a little about what we’d like it to look like.
  3. Calculate the cost involved in changing it. Do we want to invest that much? Will the ROI (Return on Investment) be worth it? 
  4. If so, then set to work making the changes we envision. 
  5. Enjoy the results of our hard work.

But... the BEST PLAN is to ask God to transform the landscape of our lives. After all, He is the one who can do far more than we can imagine (Ephesians 3:20), even turn wildernesses into gardens (Isaiah 51:3).

Photo by Johnnie Ann Gaskill.




Monday, June 13, 2022

Flag Day



Flag Day is celebrated annually on June 14th to commemorate the adoption of the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777. 
 

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Bittersweet

 Mother's Day is bittersweet for me. How is it for you?

I'm missing my own precious mother, who departed this life eleven years ago. I'm missing my sweet mother-in-law, who was like a mother to me. She left us on Mother's Day weekend six years ago. I'm rejoicing in my two daughters and their families who bring me such joy (and call me "Nana"). I'm feeling thankful for all the good and godly women who have  "mothered" me in ways too numerous to mention. 

As I searched the Internet for a poem to share with you, I came across several that impacted me, including the two below. Then I remembered one I'd written about my mother in 2006 but hadn't shared with you. 

As you read the poems below, I encourage you to find a way to express the thoughts in YOUR heart. Write them out. And, if you feel comfortable, share them with someone else as a gift from your heart to theirs. But even if no one sees your words except you, expressing your feelings will be cathartic--better than a session with a therapist! Even better: always do as Psalm 62:8 says, "Pour out your heart before God." He loves you. He hears you. He will help you.





https://rachelwojo.com/a-prayer-to-empower-moms-3/




The following is an excerpt from a poem written by a mother's son as he imagined what she would say and feel as she coped with his death. The link below the excerpt contains the entire poem, a letter he wrote to his mother, etc. But even if you have time to read only this portion of the poem, I'm sure you can feel the bittersweet emotion it expresses.

But I will speak their names to my own heart
In the long nights;
The little names that were familiar once
Round my dead hearth.
Lord, thou art hard on mothers:
We suffer in their coming and their going;
And tho' I grudge them not, I weary, weary
Of the long sorrow - And yet I have my joy:
My sons were faithful, and they fought.

https://www.irishamericanmom.com/the-mother-by-patrick-pearse/




Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Greatly Loved

Ever since I first heard Fernando Ortega sing How Deep the Father's Love, the words and the worshipful way he sings them have touched my heart. I listen to it often via YouTube. In fact, I recently learned how to set it on autoplay/loop so that I can hear it again and again as I go about my daily duties. 

As I listen, I sing along, for the words express more beautifully than I ever could the thoughts and feelings in my heart. For that reason, I have added that song to the list of the ones I want to be sung during my funeral service. The messages in all the songs I have chosen are, in effect, my "final words" to family and friends who attend. 

I hope the words in How Deep the Father's Love resonate with you, as well. I'm sharing the link to it now because I want you to be blessed by it and because I consider it especially timely as Christians around the world are reflecting on Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. We're remembering--and giving thanks for--the indescribable gift of salvation Jesus gave us. Because He shed His blood on Calvary's cross on our behalf, we are forgiven of all our sins. Because He lives, we who believe in Him will also live with Him eternally. Because He deeply loves us, we deeply love Him in return--and yearn all the more for our lives to be characterized by love, just as His was.



Click here to listen: https://youtu.be/jKdbN3GiL4E





Wednesday, March 16, 2022

An Invitation

Dear Reader,

Because I’m being so blessed by a series of messages I’m listening to, I want to share the source with you. I pray that you, too, will be enlightened and inspired by the truths Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth shares about the names of Jesus, names we’ve heard so often but may have limited understanding of their meanings and their importance to us. 

Click here: https://www.reviveourhearts.com/

  • When the page opens, click on the three short, horizontal lines in the upper right area of your screen.
  • When a pop up menu appears, click Audio.
  • Click Revive our Hearts.
  • Scroll down.
  • Click the graphic that contains the title of the series, that looks like this: 

  • Click the individual message you’d like to listen to. They are listed in order, from first to last. 
Enjoy!

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Opportunities to Love

For several years, my daughter Jena donated blood regularly. Then she started donating platelets instead. One day, someone from the donation center called to ask if she'd come in and donate platelets again since Jena's blood matched that of a patient who needed surgery but could not have it until there was an adequate supply of blood products on hand.

Jena gladly donated. Afterward, she posted these words on Facebook:

The last few times I have donated platelets it has been for a specific person in need. I am an HLA match for them. In short, that means there is something rare about their blood, and they can’t receive help from most donors; but I am a match for them. Whenever I donate, I always think about it helping someone and pray it will be a blessing, but this has been different. [I'm] more acutely aware there is another person on the other end. Someone counting on me. A connection. A person going through a major trial and having a need they are relying on a complete stranger to meet. A family desperately wanting their loved one to be ok.  

I am giving platelets every time I am eligible… but I can do more than that to help! I believe in the healing power of my God and in the power of prayer. I believe God hears his children and that we can take everything to the feet of Jesus. I do not know this person. I do not know the situation or all of their needs, but God does. GOD DOES! Please add this person and their family to your daily prayers. Pray for healing, comfort, peace, and that God would make HIS presence undeniable. Let’s lift them up! 

If you have questions about how to give blood products and eligibility of donors please visit: www.lifesouth.org

There is always a need, but the need is currently emergent.  

After I read her post, I gave thanks (yet again!) for having a daughter with a heart like hers! A heart that loves, not only in words but also in deeds [actions]. A heart that loves God and people. A heart that knows the power of prayer--and, thus, prays! 



May we, like Jena, welcome every opportunity to share God’s love with others. Even though we can't solve every problem for everybody, we can each do what we can to love and support one another. Even if we can’t donate blood or platelets, we can do something else. Even if we can’t do anything physical, we can pray for those who are struggling to make it through another day.













Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Lessons from the Flowers

One afternoon in late February, I lingered in the yard, enjoying the springlike weather and the sight and sound of many birds. When I saw the daffodils blooming profusely by the sidewalk, I decided to take a photo of them to text to my friend who loves flowers and grows pretty ones in her yard, as well as inside her house. But since it’s been snowing in recent days where she lives, and morning temperatures have been well below freezing, I knew it’d be a while before she’d have flowers in her yard.

After taking several photos, I sat down on a nearby bench to look at them. I chose my favorite one and considered cropping it in order to draw more attention to the blooms. But I hesitated, sensing there were lessons to be learned from the flowers.  


For example, one daffodil, once standing tall like the others, was now bent way over. By the wind? By an animal? Yet, it was still lovely, still very much a daffodil despite its droopy appearance. 


Close by the clump of yellow and white daffodils, a cluster of tender shoots stood about six inches above the pine straw. Soon they'd be in full bloom and adding bright splashes of color to the landscape.


Although some of the daffodils were more eye-catching than others, all were lovely in their various stages of growth. All were very much alive. All were a vital part of the environment.


Might that be true of people as well?


Thursday, February 24, 2022

Search My Heart

Does having to answer a probing question cause you to think more deeply? It does me. For example, while reading a book for writers, I came to the question: “Why do you write?” 

I jotted down quick, rather obvious answers in my journal.
  • To obey God’s call to be a writer.
  • To minister to others.

Those are the two main reasons I write, but as I pondered the “why?” question, I listed several other reasons, ones I hadn’t considered prior to having to articulate them. 

In the process, I realized anew the value of asking myself why I do many things I do, not just why I write. For instance:
  • Why do I feel so passionate about photography? 
  • Why do I choose to stay busy? 
  • Why do I procrastinate?
Since I’m perceiving the value of asking myself “why?” questions, I want to encourage you to do that too. As greater awareness comes, we may see the need to spend less time and energy on some of the things we habitually do. Perhaps we’ll even stop doing them in order to focus on those we sense are more important. Perhaps we'll consider doing them differently or at a more appropriate time.

Because "why?" questions are hard to answer, I realize, as did David (the writer of Psalm 139), that I need more understanding than I possess within myself. 

Like David, I often say, "Lord, You have looked deep into my heart. You know all about me. Nothing about me is hidden from You. Continue to search my heart." 

Many times, I add, "And, Lord, will You reveal to me what You find? Will You also forgive my sins and shortcomings? And, going forward, will You help me to change in order to be well-pleasing to You?"



Sunday, February 13, 2022

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Yellow. Yellow. Yellow.

I smiled as I prepared a greeting card to mail to Linda, who has been my friend for over 50 years. (I’d chosen that card for her because it had so much yellow on it--and also came with a yellow envelope.) Below my signature, I wrote: “I remember how much you’ve always loved yellow. (You even did your bathroom in that color!) I’m hoping that this card will bring a smile to your face and add a bright spot to your room.”

That card triggered “yellow” memories. For instance, during the four years Linda and I attended the same college, the yellow rose was our class flower. Consequently, we and our fellow classmates sent and/or received yellow roses on special occasions.

I also love the sight of yellow daffodils that often bloom as early as mid-January. I think they add such a beautiful splash of color to winter’s drab landscape.

Although I seldom wear yellow clothing, I do love having that color nearby. Yellow leaves in the fall. Yellow corn on my plate. Yellow lemons on the trees in our yard. Yellow bananas in the fruit bowl. Yellow bell peppers in the garden. Yellow finches at the bird feeders.…

Why? According to Internet sources, most people associate yellow with happiness and spontaneity and gentleness. Some, however, associate yellow with jealousy and cowardice and greed. As for me, yellow helps me feel cheerful (and sentimental). So, I’ll continue to delight in splashes of yellow everywhere God graciously allows me to see them.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Guard and Guide

A friend told me that her daughter-in-law's cancer had come back and, thus, required another round of chemo. Then she said, "I'm praying for God's mercy and grace as He walks with her through this."

Her words triggered a memory of a painting that was on the wall of my Aunt Delia and Uncle Howard's bedroom when I was a child. Enthralled, I'd gaze at that lovely picture of a beautifully-robed angel hovering over two young children as they crossed a narrow, rickety footbridge that spanned turbulent water. I hadn't thought about that painting in years, but I'm glad I remembered it. 

As I reflected on it, I realized anew that many people, like the children depicted in the painting, are walking a scary part of their journey. The daughter-in-law who's battling cancer---again. The parents whose 10-year-old son was killed in a rodeo accident. An 85-year-old who's facing major surgery. A widowed wife and her young children....

I felt prompted to read Scriptures that speak about God's presence with us in times of trouble. Psalm 23:4 was especially comforting.

After reading that verse and several others, I prayed:

Oh, Lord God, thank You for the love that motivates You to walk with us along life's journey.

I lift up all those who need extra watching over while they're traveling through dark and scary places. Do give them the strength to carry on. Guide their steps. Comfort them with Your presence. Help them to realize they do not walk alone.



Friday, January 7, 2022

Simplify!

Each year, I choose one word to focus on. My word for 2021 was action. Previous words have been lovefinish, and focus


This year, I’m feeling drawn to the word simplify. Apparently, I’m not the only one. Each day I receive multiple emails on that topic. The bottom line of most of the messages is “Less is more,” an idea I first encountered in Greg McKeown’s excellent book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

Although I tend to love my stuff and like having an abundance of the things I enjoy, I’m beginning to realize that when I have less stuff to deal with, I have more time to rest, more time to do the things that are truly a priority, and more calmness in my mind, as well as my environment. 

When I say “stuff,” I’m not just talking about things like books, clothes, digital devices, etc. Stuff also includes activities, commitments, hobbies, and so forth. If I wish to simplify my life--and I do--I need to let go of whatever is no longer adding to the quality of my life. 

I’ll keep the essentials (and a moderate number of non-essentials that bring me joy, like notes from dear friends, a meaningful magnet on the fridge, etc.) Although I'll want to keep boxes of perfectly good Christmas ornaments and decorations that I haven’t used in many years, as well as articles and newsletters I’ve saved for years, intending to read them “when I have time,” I'll need to let them go.

Do you want to simplify your life? If so, what will you let go?