Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The BMW

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 19, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.



Jim, a friend of mine, used to work as a used car manager at one of the first Lexus dealerships in the United States. One of the responsibilities of a used car manager is to appraise cars. When a customer is considering trading in their car, someone has to look at the car and complete an evaluation in a matter of minutes. It is even a bigger challenge when dealing with luxury cars. Most of the trade-ins at the Lexus dealership were big European cars such as Mercedes Benz, BMWs, and Jaguars. On these expensive cars, making a mistake on the appraisal could be costly.

People who buy high-end luxury cars do not go to a local body shop for repairs; even when there is only a minor door ding. They go to a luxury car specialty shop that repairs cars at a level that it is virtually undetectable to the untrained eye. Having a body repair done on a luxury car causes the car’s value to plummet much more than a repair to an entry level car. That makes it even more important for the used car manager not to miss repaired body panels on a luxury car when he is appraising the vehicle.


Jim told me a story about appraising a BMW 700 series sedan. He said that when he first looked it over, it looked very nice. But to make sure that he didn’t miss anything, he carefully inspected the car; opening each door, the trunk, the hood, and even the gas filler door looking for tape lines, overspray, and checking body panel gaps.

The car looked great, but Jim still felt uneasy. He looked even closer, and couldn’t find so much as a scratch or a paint chip. He still wasn’t able to shake the feeling that he had missed something. As Jim walked inside to his office to write up the appraisal, the longtime used car manager from the neighboring Porsche dealership was waiting for him. He was taking in trade a Toyota Supra and wanted Jim to look at it to see if he was interested in buying it.

He had been watching as Jim inspected the BMW. He asked Jim why he took so much time looking at it and wanted to know what he had been inspecting so closely. Jim told him that he just had a feeling about the car and was concerned that he had missed something. The old experienced used car manager told him, “you did miss something.”


Jim asked him how he could be so sure when he was inside the building over one hundred feet away from the car? He answered, “you spent most of your time looking for hidden damage or inferior paintwork, which was good, but you failed to step back and look at the car as a whole.”

As Jim had walked up to the car, he saw the whole thing, but his mind was already in detail mode. His focus was on thoroughly inspecting each panel up close, not missing a single detail. It was about noon on a bright day. That kind of sunlight hides all sorts of paint issues. But the old veteran used car manager was looking at the car from inside the building over one hundred feet away and out of the bright noon sunshine.

He said to Jim, “now look at it from here and tell me what you see.” Sure enough, they both could see the slight difference in the right front fender which had mismatched paint. He told Jim that on all cars, but especially high-end luxury cars, he should inspect them up close but make sure to step back and take one final look at a distance; removing yourself from bright lights or midday sunshine. Details are important, but after studying the detail, stepping back and taking one more look at the whole is equally important.


Christians tend to focus on the small details of their life. I know that I do. My family has been going through some difficult times. I have thoughts like, “I cannot believe this is happening to me.” “Things like this are not supposed to happen to good people.” “Why is God allowing this to happen?” I’m sure that you have had similar thoughts when you were going through difficult times. If you have, like me you probably focused on the details of your setbacks. When you go over those details, life can seem devastating. But when you face difficult situations, what should you do?

I don’t have the answers, but I think that it is important to step back and take a look at the whole picture. In Proverbs 3:5 (NIRV) Solomon tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding.” Difficult times call for complete trust in God. It is in these times that Satan will try and get you to focus on the details of your problem. When we do, Satan can plant seeds of doubt. Don’t let this happen. Trust God, and He will get you through.


Gentle Reader, when we are going through difficult times, we must remember to step back and take a look at the whole picture. God knows what we are going through. In Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) He tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God sees our entire life, start to finish, from beginning to end. He sees the whole picture, and He asks us to trust Him even if we can only see the little details of our current situation. “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NKJV)


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

April Fool's

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 12, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.



This year, April 1st passed by without much notice on my part. There was an announcement that a local man was running for governor, but other than that no one I knew tried to play any April Fools pranks. I have never been much of a prankster, but last year I did fool a lot of people.

On April 1, 2016, I posted the following on my blog, An Arkie’s Musings, under the title Brilliance in Blogging Award. “I was shocked and surprised to receive the Spring 2016 Brilliance in Blogging Award. Over 150,000 blogs were nominated this year, so it is a huge achievement that An Arkie's Musings won this prestigious award. The award celebrates great writing, great photography and great commitment to storytelling.

I am thrilled to win the award. I'm still in shock that my blog has been recognized for its brilliance. It feels like a dream come true. Who knew that a little blog from Mena, Arkansas was being noticed? This is a big deal for me. Winning this award has confirmed that what I am doing is important. All those late nights busily tapping away at the keyboard were not wasted. I'm just a bit worried about the date of the award, April 1, but any day is a good day for an award.”


Many people congratulated me and told me how much I deserved the award and how happy they were for me. Not one person who talked to me or contacted me caught on to the prank. I intended the post to be tongue in cheek and thought that most people would understand that it was an April Fool’s post. I felt that I had to respond to all of the nice things people were saying to me, so in the evening I posted the following comment on the Brilliance in Blogging Award post. “It's been a great April Fool's Day, but tomorrow I have to go back to being a blogger who has never won an award.”

Over the years there have been many April Fool’s Day hoaxes perpetrated by the media. The tradition goes back a very long time. The earliest known instance that I could find of an April Fool's Day hoax reported by the media was in the London paper, Dawk’s News-Letter in 1698. On April 2 of that year, they reported, “several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed.” There were no lions being washed in the moat of the Tower of London. For more than one hundred years after this, getting people to go to the Tower of London to see the "washing of the lions" was a favorite April Fool's Day joke. In the mid-nineteenth century, official-looking tickets were distributed around London on April 1st, promising admittance to the annual lion-washing ceremony.


In modern times, newspapers, radio, television, and internet media outlets have used April Fool’s Day to report stories that have fooled their audiences. On April 1, 1957, the British Broadcasting Corporation broadcast a segment on Swiss farmers and their record spaghetti crop. The segment showed footage of the farmers harvesting spaghetti from trees. The BBC seems to enjoy April Fools Day hoaxes. On April 1, 2008, they announced that the camera crew of the nature show, Miracles of Evolution had photographed Adélie penguins flying through the air. It even offered a video clip of these flying penguins, which quickly became one of the most viewed videos on the internet. Presenter Terry Jones concluded that “instead of huddling together to endure the Antarctic winter, these penguins took to the air and flew thousands of miles to the rainforests of South America where they spend the winter basking in the tropical sun."


Other media hoaxes include the Sports Illustrated article from the April 1985 issue about a New York Mets pitching prospect named Sidd Finch who could throw a baseball at 168 mph. Supposedly Finch had never played baseball but had learned to throw in a Tibetan monastery. On April 1, 1996, a full-page ad appeared in major newspapers announcing that Taco Bell had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. BMW has a long history of April Fool’s Day hoaxes. In 2004, ads touted the new "Retina-evaluating sensory technology" (R.E.S.T.) option available in its cars. This system scanned the eyes of the driver to detect sleep. When sleep was detected, the system took control of the car, allowing the driver to sleep peacefully. "Lose consciousness, not control," was the ad tagline.

There are always people who are trying to deceive you. The Apostle John wrote to the believers in the first century, “these things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you.” 1 John 2:26 (NKJV) God has given us the Bible to keep us from being deceived. In Colossians 2:4 (NLT) Paul wrote, “I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments.” Christians need to be on the lookout for those who would deceive them. Things haven’t improved since the first century. In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” 2 Timothy 3:13 (NKJV)


Gentle Reader, Satan is the great deceiver. He wants you to believe lies about God and his character. In John 8:44 (NLT) Jesus is referring to Satan when he said, “he has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” In the Garden of Eden, God asked Eve, “What is this you have done?” She answered, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Genesis 3:13 (NKJV) Humanity has known from the beginning that Satan is a deceiver and yet we consistently fall for his deceptions. Don’t be fooled by Satan. April Fool’s Day comes just once a year, but when we fall for Satan’s hoax, it is for eternity.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sierra Hull


Back in January my wife and I attended a concert at South on Main in Little Rock, Arkansas. Our favorite band, Smokey and the Mirror, was opening for Dylan LeBlanc. South on Main is a restaurant and performance venue featuring the best of Southern cuisine and culture. The food was amazing and the music venue is great. We enjoyed the venue so much that I checked out the concert schedule to see who would be appearing at upcoming concerts.

Sierra Hull was scheduled to appear on April 6th. I listened to her music on Spotify and decided that we would enjoy hearing her in concert. When the tickets went on sale I was able to purchase tickets at the table directly in front of the stage.


We enjoyed the concert more than we could have ever imagined. Sierra and bassist Ethan Jodziewicz are simply the best at their instruments. Even though they both are virtuoso's on their instruments, the mandolin and the bass, the live show takes on a minimalist approach. Being in the audience felt more like sitting in a living room listening to friends play music for you than being at a concert.



The sound quality of the concert was phenomenal. Every nuance of the music could be easily heard, but the sound was acoustic - never sounding amplified. Acoustic music that is over amplified is a pet peeve of mine. Sierra and Ethan played a wide range of music focusing on her Grammy-nominated album Weighted Mind but also including some traditional bluegrass numbers, classical music, and covers such as People Get Ready, the Tears For Fears song Mad World, and an amazing encore - Prince's 1999.

It is hard to pick a favorite song from an evening where every number was extraordinary but Sierra's song Lullaby from the Weighted Mind album is not only beautiful, but is achingly personal.



Sierra played for two hours and the time flew by. I didn't want the concert to end. It was obvious that she and Ethan were enjoying themselves as much as the audience was. When they came back out for an encore they partied like it's 1999.



After the concert, Sierra visited with anyone who wanted to talk to her, signing autographs and taking photos. When I posted a comment on her social media about the concert, she replied, remembering specifics of our conversation. If you ever have a chance to see Sierra Hull live, I highly recommend it.


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More music from the South on Main Concert










Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Wall

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 5, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.



While The Wall That Heals was in town at the high school stadium, my wife and I stopped by to see the exhibit. The traveling memorial wall is a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Since 1996, the mobile wall has visited more than 400 communities throughout the United States. According to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the sponsors of The Wall That Heals, “bringing The Wall to communities across the country spreads its healing legacy to millions.” This year The Wall will be displayed in over forty communities. I feel very fortunate that I was able to visit the exhibit and help honor the over 58,000 Americans who gave their lives for their country in Vietnam.

As my wife and I viewed the mobile Education Center that is part of the exhibit we were carried back to our childhoods. The exhibits told the story of the Vietnam War, The Wall, and the American experience in Vietnam in a historical and cultural context. Both my wife and I were in school during the Vietnam Era. Although neither one of us had any close family members that were casualties of the Vietnam War, anyone who lived through that period knew people who were affected. Every Vietnam veteran that I have met has been profoundly changed by their Vietnam experience.


While we were viewing The Wall, there were people of all ages at the site including a busload of senior citizens from an assisted living retirement community and families with children and teenagers. Everyone viewed The Wall quietly and respectfully. Many of the people there were looking for specific names. I overheard parents talking to their children about friends and loved ones who had died in Vietnam.

The local VFW Post hosted the exhibit, and many of the volunteers on site were veterans. I could see how meaningful the memorial was to them and how much they appreciated those who were respectfully viewing The Wall. The exhibit has an impact on those who visit it. Many people find the visit a healing experience. To be able to honor someone, to be able to reach out and touch their name is cathartic. Just knowing that these names will never be forgotten because they are permanently etched in stone is important to those who remember them.

As I experienced The Wall, I was reminded of a traveling spiritual memorial that anyone can visit. Just a few hours before Jesus was captured, tortured, and sentenced to die by the humiliating and painful method of crucifixion, He established a memorial for our benefit. He sat down for the Passover meal with His closest friends. “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, He broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’” Matthew 26:26 (NRSV) And then the Bible says that “He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” Matthew 26:27,28 (NRSV)


We are told the purpose of this memorial service in 1 Corinthians 11:26 (NKJV) where we read, “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” Just like many who visited The Wall, those who partake of this spiritual memorial service are remembering someone who sacrificed their life.

Christians have several different names for this memorial service such as The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Breaking of Bread, Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and The Eucharist. The Lord’s Supper is a ceremony in which we remember what Jesus has done for us through His grace, and give thanks. Eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharistia which is translated in the English Bible as thanksgiving. The root word in eucharistia is charis. The most common translation of the word charis is grace. Whenever Christians celebrate The Lord’s Supper, they are thankfully accepting the grace made possible by Jesus.


The Lord’s Supper is the most important memorial ever established. Its beauty is its simplicity.  It doesn’t cost thousands of dollars to transport across the country. It doesn’t involve an elaborate ceremony reserved for just the elite. It can be celebrated inexpensively and easily by anyone. You can participate anywhere.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin took communion on the moon. In his book Magnificent Desolation, he recalls the message he radioed to NASA just before he and Neil Armstrong were to step out onto the surface of the moon. "I would like to request a few moments of silence … and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way." Then he ate the bread and drank the wine.


In an article in Guideposts magazine, Aldrin wrote, "I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements."

Gentle Reader, The Lord’s Supper is the most effective memorial ever created. I hope that you find it meaningful. Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of Me.” Luke 22:19 (NKJV) The next time you participate in The Lord’s Supper, remember what Jesus has done for you through His grace, and give thanks.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Self Promotion


I am brand new to self-publishing, having just published my first book. I have learned a lot in the last month; at least I hope that I have learned from my mistakes. One of the first things that I discovered was how hard it is to self-edit. By the time that I have written and re-written a story, I am so familiar with it that it is hard to see typos and poorly written elements. My mind sees the page as it should be instead of how it actually is.

The second thing that I discovered is how uncomfortable I am with self-promotion. There is a line from the movie Field of Dreams that says, "if you build it, he will come." In popular culture, the line is more often misquoted as "if you build it, they will come." I must admit that I had that mindset when I published my book. I now have a book, surely people will come and purchase it.


The reality that every author, musician, artist or other creative person faces is that if you don't promote yourself, nobody will. Self-promotion is a necessity even if it is an uncomfortable one. No one likes a braggart, and self-promotion seems a bit like bragging. Look at me! Look what I have done!

I think that the reason that many authors, musicians, etc. are uncomfortable with self-promotion - and aren't very good at it - is a lack of self-confidence. Should anybody care about what I have created? Is it worth anyone's time or money? What will people think about what I am trying to promote? Just about anyone who creates something has doubts about how good it is.

If you are confident that you have a good product, it is a fine line between having confidence in what you are promoting and appearing to be full of yourself. I am trying to walk that fine line as I promote my new book.

I am quite aware that I have a lot of room for improvement as a writer, but in this book, The Little Things, I believe that I bring a unique perspective to a very crowded genre. There are lots of people writing about spiritual things. I use personal experiences, local events, and national news as a way to bring out spiritual truths in the short devotionals included in my book. Each story ends with a simple, uncomplicated point and is less than 1,000 words in length so that the book can be read a few minutes at a time.



As a part of my promotion for the book, The Little Things, I am offering a download of the kindle version on Amazon for free through April 6, 2017. You can read it at no cost to you other than time. Don't let my uncomfortable self-promotion have been in vain. Go to Amazon and download your free copy of The Little Things. If you would like a paperback copy it is available for just $3.58.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sophie's Journey

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 29, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.


A few weeks ago I self-published my first book. It is titled An Arkie’s Faith and includes over twenty-five articles from this column. After learning the process of self-publishing, I started thinking again about a project that I have been considering for some time. A few years ago my wife started doing some genealogy research. Early on in her research, she ran across the incredible story of her great-great-grandmother, Sophie. The story is compelling and fascinating. It needs to be told.

Sophie and her children emigrated from Denmark in 1856. She traveled from Denmark to England where she sailed from Liverpool to New York City. From New York, she traveled by train to Iowa City, Iowa where she became a part of the Willie Handcart Company.


In 1856, the Willie Handcart Company made the thousand-mile journey from Iowa City to Salt Lake City on foot, pulling handcarts. Although Sophie and her children arrived safely in Salt Lake City, over sixty members of the Willie Handcart Company died on the trail.

As these pioneers pulled handcarts across the plains and over the Rocky Mountains, they faced starvation, hypothermia, frozen limbs, and death. Jens Nielsen, who traveled with Sophie in the Willie Handcart Company wrote, “No person can describe it, nor could it be comprehended or understood by any human living in this life, but those who were called to pass through it.”


I have started researching Sophie’s story and am in the process of writing a book about her experience. As I was researching the early part of Sophie’s story while she was still living in Denmark, I came across information that sent a chill up my spine when I read it. I knew that Sophie was a widow when she made her amazing journey. I was trying to learn more about her husband, and their life together before he died.

I discovered that during the summer of 1853, a cholera epidemic struck Gentofte, the area of Denmark where Sophie and her husband Peter lived. Peter became ill and died on August 8, 1853, leaving Sophie a widow at age twenty-nine with four small children. At the time of Peter's death, Sophie was not aware that she carried her and Peter's last child. Baby Otto was born eight months and eighteen days after Peter died.


Baby Otto was my wife’s great-grandfather. He was conceived just a short while before his father died. That is how close my wife, who is my best friend and soulmate, came to never having a chance to be born.

I’m thankful that all those years ago baby Otto was conceived. I’m sad that he grew up never knowing his father, but I’m thankful that he was born and that as a toddler, he survived the long journey from Denmark to Salt Lake City. I imagine God telling Otto; “I am your Creator. You were in my care even before you were born.” Isaiah 44:2 (CEV)

Otto’s birth was no mistake or accident, and your life isn’t either. Your parents may not have planned you, or your birth may have been part of a carefully thought out plan. But God planned for you. He was not at all surprised by your birth. In fact, he expected it. God says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart for my holy purpose.” Jeremiah 1:5 (NOG)


Before you were conceived by your parents, you were created in the mind of God. It is not by chance or coincidence that you are alive right now. You are alive because God wanted to create you! Not only did God want to create you, but He also had a plan for your life. In Psalms 139:16 (NIV) we read, “your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Knowing that God knew us, and formed us, and gave us life, helps us to make sense of our world. We are all looking for a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. Not only did God know us before we were born, He knows everything about our present situation. He knows everything about you. The Bible says that “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Matthew 10:30 (NKJV) God cares about your personal journey because he cares about you. No one has ever loved you more or ever will.

Gentle Reader, God wants you to know how much He loves you. He created a plan for your life before you were even born. That is how special you are to God! What a wonderful thought, to know that the God of the universe knew us intimately and set us apart for His purposes even before we were born! Not only did God have a plan for you before you were born, but He also promises to help you fulfill that plan. Won’t you join me in claiming the promise found in Psalms 138:8 (ESV); “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.”
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Albert and Sophie Smith


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Guest Writer - Katherine Keys

Because I have written about Mesothelioma in the past, Katherine Keys contacted me and asked if I would post her story on An Arkie's Musings.


My name is Katherine Keys and I have been fighting mesothelioma cancer for the past 9 years. If you don’t know, mesothelioma is a cancer caused by asbestos exposure. My exposure came from doing years of wiring work for Texas Power and Light Company.

At the age of 49 I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Pleural Mesothelioma and was told I had less than two years to live. But I was determined to stay positive and beat this cancer against all odds! My treatment included having my right lung and the lining of the lung removed--a major surgical procedure. Soon after, I began several months of radiation therapy.

I am overjoyed to say that my fight paid off and now 9 years later I am still cancer free! But I know I did not face this battle alone. The doctors and staff at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center are true miracle workers and I am forever grateful to them.

I was also helped greatly by the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma Lawyer Center. Not only did they help me obtain financial compensation which helped with my treatments and quality of life, they genuinely care about my well-being. I am proud to call them my friends and they continue to stand by my side as I fight mesothelioma.

I feel it is my duty to give back to the community--to let people with asbestos diseases know they are not alone. There is help available!
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If you would like to contact Katherine you may do so at katherine1@katherinekeys.com