Wednesday, April 7, 2021

From Ponca to Steel Creek

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 7, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The skies were clear, and sunshine bathed the landscape as we drove down to the low water bridge at Ponca. I was anticipating my first ever float on the Buffalo River. As we unloaded the paddleboards and kayaks out of the van, the air was crisp and cool. There was a flurry of activity as our group worked to air up the five paddleboards and three kayaks. When everything was ready, we headed down the river.

As soon as we knew the dates of my granddaughter’s spring break, we had started planning a Buffalo River float trip. I reserved Leatherwood House, a beautiful secluded cabin near the Steel Creek Campground. All winter, I looked forward to our Easter weekend family float trip. Now the day was finally here, and I was floating down the Buffalo. The scenery is incredible, with towering bluffs like Bee Bluff and Roark Bluff making you feel tiny as you paddle past them. Waterfalls seem to flow right out of the rock face and tumble down the bluff to the river. 

I struggled with pain in my legs as I paddled my kayak, and numerous times, my daughter, son-in-law, or granddaughter had to help me when I got stuck on the shoals. The water was frigid and made you cold to the core. There was even an embarrassing situation where I had to get out of the kayak to free it from the shoals, and the swift current lowered my pants. By the time we pulled out at Steel Creek, I was in a lot of pain, but seeing the stunning views along the float was a bucket list experience for me.

Spending the weekend in God’s wonderful creation was the perfect way for me to spend Easter. We not only floated the Buffalo, but we hiked the Lost Vally Trail back to Eden Falls and also saw the Twin Falls at the Camp Orr Boy Scout Camp. Easter morning, I reflected on the final week of Jesus’ life. One of the stories that I remember from that week is Jesus crying for the city of Jerusalem. If He cried over the city of Jerusalem, can you imagine how He is crying over the world today?

When I was growing up, my family attended a small church in Fort Lupton, Colorado. The small church shared a pastor with another church. Sometimes when the pastor wasn’t there for the mid-week prayer service, those in attendance would take turns reciting a favorite text. Being a smart aleck, I thought it was amusing to say that my favorite verse was John 11:35. “Jesus wept.”

As I have grown older, it has become a favorite verse of mine. I believe the simple words, “Jesus wept,” may reveal as much about Jesus as any other words ever said about Him. I’m sure that you remember the story of Lazarus. When he became ill, his sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, the one you love is very sick.” Jesus chose to wait until Lazarus had died before He came. We read the story in John 11:33-35 (NLT). “When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within Him, and He was deeply troubled. ‘Where have you put him?’ He asked them. They told him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Then Jesus wept.”

Why did Jesus cry? Was it because of his love for Lazarus? He knew Lazarus would be alive in a few minutes. Jesus was crying because his friends were sad. Their sorrow moved him. Jesus is painfully aware of your suffering. Psalms 56:8 (NLT) tells us, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

A few days before he died, “Jesus came near Jerusalem. He saw the city and began to cry for it.”Luke 19:41 (ICB) Why was Jesus crying? Was He crying for a city?  I think that Luke 13:34 (NLT) gives us some insight into this story. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” Jesus was crying for the people of Jerusalem. He had come to save them, but most were not willing to be saved. Even though they had rejected him and his salvation, He had compassion for them.

If we follow the example of Jesus, how should we, as Christians, relate to sinners? We should have compassion. It seems to me that many Christians have lost their compassion. As I look around, I don’t often see Christians dealing with others with understanding. I am more apt to see hate than compassion.

I don’t want to meddle, but maybe I will a little bit. Think about a few hot button topics and see your response toward the following groups. LGTBQ, Muslims, Adulterers, Abortionists, Thieves, Drug Dealers, Illegal Aliens, Prostitutes, Atheists. Do you have compassion for them, or is your response something different? Can you hate someone while you are praying for their salvation? Should we hate someone that Jesus died for because he loves them?

Following the example of Jesus and having compassion for sinners is very liberating. It allows us to leave the judging up to God while practicing the self-sacrificing love He demonstrated on the cross. It will enable us to hold ourselves to a high moral standard without feeling that we must hate those who do not see things the way we do. Daniel Darling writes, “we must not allow our protest against values with which we disagree to overshadow our responsibility to show Christ’s love for the world. It may very well be the person who offends us the most whom God is in the process of saving. And our gracious response might be the bridge that the Spirit uses to usher him from death to life.”

A trendy catchphrase in Christianity is, “What Would Jesus Do?” WWJD is found on jewelry, emblazoned on bumper stickers, and has made its way into popular culture. The only way to determine what Jesus would do is by learning what Jesus did. Romans 5:8 (NKJV) tells us that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Gentle Reader, Jesus cried for a city of sinners who rejected him. He asked his Father to forgive those who tortured and killed him. We should love the sinner as Christ loves us. After all, we are sinners too. Holding a sign that says “God Hates You” is not an effective way to witness to sinners. Let’s follow the example of Jesus and love sinners and hate the sin in our own lives. John, the disciple that Jesus loved, tells us in 1 John 4:8 (NKJV) that “he who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 


Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Village Blacksmith

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 31, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

“Under a spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands.” I can still remember these words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from my high school English Literature class. I never thought about blacksmiths and their role in society and the economy until I was married. My wife’s grandfather was a blacksmith on the plains of Eastern Colorado in the early 1900s. My father-in-law would tell stories about growing up with a blacksmith for a father.

From the Middle Ages until the late 1800s, the blacksmith was considered indispensable in every town. The village blacksmith was skilled in making various tools, household objects, weapons, and repairing any metal item. As Europeans traveled across the Atlantic, blacksmiths came with them. Having a local blacksmith proved crucial in providing tools and building supplies for early settlers.

With the Industrial Revolution came the ability to produce large numbers of goods in a factory. Factory production of firearms, tools, and all types of metal parts made work hard to find for individual blacksmiths. By the end of the 19th century, most blacksmiths found themselves out of a job, and many became the initial generation of automobile mechanics. By the 1930s, the village blacksmith was a thing of the past.

But in the early 1900s, there was still a need for a village blacksmith in small rural American communities. During this time, my wife’s grandfather was a blacksmith in Stratton, Colorado. Her Daddy would tell her stories about the blacksmith shop and her Grandpa. Because he died before she was born, my wife only knew her Grandpa through these stories. 

Everyone in the small town of Stratton knew Winfield, the blacksmith. Whenever he was at work in his shop, they could hear the sound of his hammer ringing against the anvil. Longfellow put it this way. “Week in, week out, from morn till night, you can hear his bellows blow; You can hear him swing his heavy sledge. With measured beat and slow.” While recounting stories of his childhood, my wife’s Daddy, known as Red when he was a kid because of his red hair,  told her, “When the anvil quit ringing, you had better get home. It was time for supper.” 

All of the local children were afraid of Red’s father, the blacksmith. He was always dirty and covered with soot from the fire in the forge at his shop. When kids came by the blacksmith shop, he would run them off. The blacksmith shop was a dangerous place for a kid, and he didn’t want them getting hurt. He could be pretty harsh with them and had a reputation for being disagreeable. 

One day, Red’s buddies wanted to go to the general store and get some penny candy. “I don’t have a penny,” Red told them. “Why don’t you ask your Dad for a penny,” they answered. “I don’t ask my Dad for money,” Red replied. His buddies continued to pester him about the penny. Finally, Red decided that he would ask his Dad if he could do some work to earn a penny. When he went to the blacksmith shop, his buddies stayed on the other side of the street and wouldn’t go near Red’s Dad. When Red asked his Dad if he could work and earn a penny, his Dad asked, “what do you need a penny for?” Red replied, “I want to go get some penny candy with my buddies.” “Here is a nickel,” said Dad, “go get candy for you and your friends.” When Red crossed the street and showed his buddies the nickel, they couldn’t believe their eyes. They were afraid of this disagreeable man, but he had given Red a nickel to treat them to candy.

The story of the penny candy and the blacksmith reminds me of my relationship with God. When we look at God’s law, we sometimes see a harsh God who seems to want to restrict us. Because the blacksmith didn’t want kids to get hurt, he wouldn’t let them near his blacksmith shop. The kids perceived this as being harsh, and they feared him. Many of us look at God that way. But God, in His love for us, has given us His law as a place of peace and safety. “Those who love Your law have an abundance of peace, and nothing along their paths can cause them to stumble.” Psalms 119:165 (VOICE) 

Many times we look at God’s law as a jail. We feel that it creates uncomfortable restrictions. We need to ask God to give us a love for his commandments, to instill in us a desire for the peace and safety of His law. “For this demonstrates our love for God: We keep his commandments, and his commandments are not difficult.” 1 John 5:3 (ISV)

Another lesson we can learn from the blacksmith is the importance of fire. When a blacksmith is working with metal, the only way that he can shape it if he has heated it in the fire. In Isaiah 44:12 (NET), the Bible says, “a blacksmith works with his tool and forges metal over the coals. He forms it with hammers; he makes it with his strong arm.” And in Isaiah 48:10 (NIV), God says, “I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” Have you ever felt like God was testing you in the furnace of affliction? I know I have.

Gentle Reader, I can’t say that I enjoy the heat, but I’m thankful that God is refining and shaping my life. Steel in the hand of a skilled blacksmith is malleable and not resilient. If the steel was resilient, then it would always bounce back to its original shape and be useless to anybody. I want to be useful, and the only way for a bar of steel to be transformed into something useful is to be put in the fire and shaped on the anvil. Remember that if you are being tried and shaped in the fires of life, “God is working in you to help you want to do and be able to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:13 (NCV) Longfellow expressed this idea in the final verse of his poem. “Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend, For the lesson thou hast taught! Thus at the flaming forge of life, Our fortunes must be wrought; Thus on its sounding anvil shaped Each burning deed and thought.”


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Rescue Me

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 24, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The first day of spring is delightful, with the gentle spring sun warming the landscape. Brilliant blue skies enhance the greenness of the grass that the trees will soon echo. As we drive, cows in the fields munch on luxurious new grass. After the winter months, we are excited to be on an outdoor adventure. On our drive to Oden, we talk excitedly about our upcoming trips. After staying close to home in 2020, my wife and I are ready to travel and explore.

Today we have planned a day on the Ouachita River. We have reserved a two-person fishing kayak from River View Cabins and Canoes. Jessie drove us to the Shirley Creek put-in. The temperature was 57 degrees, and there was a stiff headwind as we headed out on the river. Before long, we came to our first bit of fast water. We chose the line to the right, but the water was so low that our kayak bottomed out on the rocks. I had to get out of the kayak to free us from the rocks. When the kayak was free, there was no way that I could get back in. My wife took the kayak through the swift water and then had to keep paddling in circles until I could swim and catch up. With water temperatures in the low 50’s, my swim was a bone-chilling experience. 

After my first experience in the water, it wasn’t long before I was in the water again. This time I turned the kayak over and put my wife in the water with me. The chill of the water took her breath away. When we were able to secure the kayak and paddles, we made our way to a gravel bank on the shore. We realized that the box with our phones was missing. My wife notices the box bobbing along quite a way downriver. I walked as far as I could down the gravel bank and then dove into the water. After swimming for a few minutes, I was able to retrieve the box. I had a challenging time swimming to a place where I could get out of the water. I am not a good swimmer, and it isn’t easy to swim with a box in one hand.

We were finally on our way again, with the box secured to the kayak. It wasn’t long before I caused the kayak to tip over once more. By now, the cold water experience has gone from being an adventure to being very annoying. We are both soaked, and there is a stiff breeze. Every time we could get underway, it wasn’t long before I would panic and cause the kayak to capsize. I could not get comfortable, and the more I tried to keep my balance, the worse my balance was. I was tired, cold, and hurting. I began to panic. How would we ever be able to finish the four-mile trip? After half a dozen dunkings, pulling the boat to someplace where we could get back in, I was worn out and alarmed. 

When I once again capsized the kayak in deep water, we finally got to a large rock in the middle of the river. My legs were very sore, and I had a tough time getting back in the kayak. Almost immediately, I turned us over once again. Downriver I could see a large gravel bar in the middle of the river. We walked and swam with the kayak until we finally reached the gravel bar. “I can’t go on,” I told my wife. “I don’t know what to do.” I took my phone out of the box. It had a few drops of water on it from all the time it had spent in the water. I wondered if my phone would work and if I would have a signal. My phone worked, and I had enough phone signal to get a call through to River View Cabins and Canoes. “Rescue me,” I said. I told Brandon that I couldn’t go on. He told me that he would head to the river, but it would be some time before he could reach us.

When Brandon pulled up to the gravel bar in a one-person kayak, we wondered how he would rescue us. He had grown up in the area and knew the river. He contacted the landowners of the land along the banks of the river near us. After several phone calls, Brandon arranged for the landowner to drive his small Nissan pickup to the bank near our location. We had to cross the river to get to the bank. We had pretty well dried out by that time, but we would have to get wet and cold again one more time. Once we made our way to the bank, it was steep and very muddy. We had one more obstacle to overcome.

Relief flooded over me as we rode back to River View. Gratitude for Brandon, Jessie, and the landowner filled me. When you are in trouble, it always feels good to be rescued. Lauren Daigle’s song Rescue is a favorite of mine. The lyrics say, “I hear the whisper underneath your breath. I hear you whisper; you have nothing left. I will send out an army to find you in the middle of the darkest night. It’s true; I will rescue you. I will never stop marching to reach you in the middle of the hardest fight. It’s true; I will rescue you

Gentle Reader, David wrote about his near-drowning experience in Psalms 69:1-3 (NIV). “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.” Every one of us has experienced the need to be rescued. God has made a promise to us. “Call to Me, and I will answer you.” Jeremiah 33:3 (NKJV)  When God answers our call, he will bring us to a place of safety. “He led me to a place of safety; he rescued me because He delights in me.” Psalms 18:19 (NLT) When you call on God, you can count on Him to answer you, rescue you, and save you.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Outstanding Women in Business

In honor of Women's History Month, the Polk County Pulse asked community members to nominate Women in Business. Eight women were selected by a third party to be honored as outstanding women in business. 

My wife, Regina, was chosen as one of the Outstanding Women in Business. This is the article from the March 17, 2021. issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Regina is the Manager of USEM Mena Federal Credit Union, which serves the employees at Nidec, Sterling Machinery, Polk County Employees, and Rose Aircraft Companies.

"We hope to expand our field of membership in the near future," she said. "Our credit union is not for profit and owned by our members. Soon we are going online with virtual credit union. We are very excited about this."

In 2001, Regina became an empty nester when both of her children went off to school. "I told someone that I guessed I was going to have to go back to work. The next thing I know, I got a call asking me to come in for an interview with Larry Stewart and Judy Jones. They hired me and I started the next day," she said, noting that she only received one day of training when she began the job.

"The woman whose place I took never came back. So I turned to the Arkansas Credit Union League and Sherry Humphries for help. I knew the accounting, but the ins and outs of the banking industry are never-ending. Both they and the other credit union managers helped me through it," she said.

"I think that what led to my success is that I love what I do and I love the people I serve. They are what the credit union is about. I try hard to take care of their needs as quickly as I can."

Regina said that in her time in the position, the credit union's assets have doubled. “I’ve gotten grants from the National Credit Union Administration and updated programming that enabled us to better serve our members.”

What she loves most about her job is the members. “The people I serve work so hard and really appreciate what you do for them. Seeing them get into the new car or travel trailer they wanted is so fulfilling. After helping one man get a new Harley-Davidson, he told me, “You made all my dreams come true.” What woman doesn’t want the hear that,” she said.

The most challenging thing to overcome for her was the mindset that this is the way we have always done it. “I like the statement, ‘While all changes do not lead to improvement, all improvement requires change.,’” she said. “Over the past few years, younger people have come on to the board of directors, and they have seen the necessity of change to stay relevant in this fast-changing time.”

Regina suggests, “Do what you love and love who you do it for.” “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Ecclesiastes 9:10. “If you do those things, you will be recognized for your character and work ethic, and success will follow,” she said.

The sidebar to the article states; Regina Lawry owned and operated a fabric store in Mena, The Golden Thimble, for a number of years in the early 90s. She closed the store to homeschool her son. She has run the USEM Credit Union for over twenty years. She provides exceptional personalized service to all of her customers. In the past, she has volunteered at the hospital. She is a Hero of Hope and has traveled all over Arkansas speaking on behalf of the American Cancer Society.



The Great Storm

 My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 17, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

On September 5, 1900, the Galveston Daily News ran a notice in its weather section: A tropical disturbance was moving over western Cuba and heading for the south Florida coast. The message was datelined “Washington, D.C.,” September 4. 

At 6 a.m., September 6, Isaac Cline, the Weather Bureau’s chief Galveston, Texas observer, took the morning readings. Barometric pressure within the normal range with light winds. The sky over Galveston and out to the calm gulf was as clear and blue as it could be. At 8 a.m., the bureau confirmed the prediction it had telegraphed to Galveston the day before regarding Cuba’s disturbance. The storm is not a hurricane, and the course of this non-hurricane would not affect Galveston. The system, said the bureau, was “attended only by heavy rains and winds of moderate force” that could damage moored ships and shoreline property along the Florida coast.

Friday morning, September 7, everything stopped making sense. The Weather Bureau abruptly reversed its forecast and ordered Cline to raise the storm-warning flag. In Galveston Friday afternoon, a heavy swell formed southeast of the long Gulf beach. And it arrived with an ominous roar. A severe storm was on the way. While officials in Washington had recognized they were wrong about the storm’s track, on one point, they remained insistent: This could not be a hurricane.

4 a.m. Saturday, September 8, Isaac awoke with a start. He had a sudden feeling that water had flowed into the yard. From a south window, he peered down. The yard was underwater. The gulf was in town. Isaac sprang into action, urging beach residents and business owners to head for higher ground. At 3:30 Saturday afternoon, Isaac sent a cable to the Weather Bureau in Washington. “Gulf rising rapidly,” it read. “Half the city now underwater.”

Fifty people sought refuge in Isaac’s brick house, but the storm knocked it off its foundation Saturday night. All but 18, Cline wrote later, “were hurled into eternity,” among them his wife, Clara, pregnant with the couple’s fourth child. Across Galveston, the devastation was unimaginable. A Category 4 hurricane leveled the city and claimed at least 10,000 lives. The unnamed storm is still the deadliest natural disaster in American history.

Several years ago, a friend loaned me the book Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson, which told about the hurricane by telling Isaac Cline’s story. Isaac was the chief meteorologist at the Galveston, Texas office of the U.S. Weather Bureau from 1889-1901. I used stories from the book as the basis for a sermon. After hearing the stories, Dave and Fay Wiebe brought me a hand-typed account by a relative who survived the storm. The statement was dictated and signed by Carrie M. Hughes and copied by Irby B. Hughes on August 9, 1957, in Palestine, Texas.

Carrie Hughes tells what happened that awful day. “The tremendous wall of broken houses and debris had struck our house, like a battering ram and crushed the underpart, letting the upper part into the water. As it settled down, I felt the ceiling touching the back of my head with the water just under my chin. Instantly, the house’s roof seemed to blow over from the south, throwing little Mattie and me into a corner of it. The next thing I knew, I felt ourselves slipping out. I clutched at the ceiling or walls but could catch hold of nothing as we slipped into the water. My hand was grabbed by Eliza Williams, a colored woman whom I knew well. She drew me partly onto the raft upon which she and her daughter Hattie Banks were floating.”

Five members of this family made it through the ordeal, and two did not. As I read the story, waves of emotion swept over me. I have read many survivor stories before, but this one seemed different, as it was a remembrance recorded so that family members would know what happened that night. Because of my friendship with the Wiebe’s, it seemed like I knew the person telling the story.

On the hand-typed pages, Carrie finished telling her story. “How gladly would we have lost every dollar we possessed could we have kept dear Mattie and Stuart with us, but we do not morn them as one without hope, knowing we shall meet them again. It is such a comforting thought that they were Christians. We do not know where their beloved remains are resting. It may be in one of the numberless unknown graves that dot the whole face of beloved Galveston. It may be they are resting in the depths of the bay or gulf, or their ashes may have mixed with the earth from which they sprung. Whatever may have become of them, we know they are safe in the arms of Jesus.”

More than 10,000 men, women, and children lost their lives during the Great Storm. It was the deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States. I can’t imagine what the people of Galveston went through. Reading the story of her family as written by Carrie Hughes gave me an idea of the terror that people experienced. 

Gentle Reader, although it has been nothing like the devastation and terror that the people of Galveston experienced, the past year has been a difficult one for many of us. Last week, I attended two funerals in five days, one for a friend that I have known for forty years and one for my cousin, the best man at my wedding. When I attend a funeral, the words of Paul found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NKJV) always come to my mind. “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Ed's Calling

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 10, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

My favorite place in Arkansas is the Buffalo River area. The Buffalo River starts in the Boston Mountains and flows in an easterly direction. Along the river are multi-colored bluffs of eroded sandstone, limestone, and dolomite, with some towering to heights over 400 feet. In 1972, Congress named the Buffalo River as the country’s first national river. It is one of the few remaining free-flowing rivers in the lower forty-eight states. 

The Flood Control Act of 1938 included the Buffalo River in its plans for dams on the White River. The threat of a dam on the Buffalo worried Arkansas conservation groups and those who used the river for recreation. Decades of political maneuverings, including a canoe trip on the Buffalo by Supreme Court Justice Douglas, came to a head in December 1965, when Governor Orval Faubus said he could not support a dam on the Buffalo River. Naming the River a National River put an end to the controversy.

In 2017, The Buffalo River National Park Service brought Still on the Hill, an Arkansas folk duo, to the Ouachita Little Theater. I had heard them in concert once before and made plans to attend. They sang songs from their Still a River CD.  The songs told the stories of well-known landmarks along the Buffalo River, such as Bee Bluff, Sam’s Throne, Tyler Bend, Granny Henderson’s cabin, and the zinc mine at Rush Creek. I loved the music, but one part of the concert made an impression on me. Kelly Mulhollan picked up the strangest guitar I have ever seen and began telling Ed Stilley’s story. The guitar looked rough and homemade. With its butterfly shape and the words “True Faith, True Light, Have Faith in God” inscribed on the body, the guitar didn’t seem real.

I was fascinated as Kelly told the story of his friendship with Ed. He first met Ed in 1995. His wife, Donna, was visiting friends who had been Ed’s neighbors and had received a guitar from Ed. Donna knew her folk-art-loving husband would appreciate the strange piece. “She ran home to me and said, ‘You’ve got to see this to believe it,’” He continued, “from the very start, we both felt like we had stumbled into one of the great folk artists of our time,” The Mulhollans developed a beautiful friendship with Ed, spending a lot of time with him. As he strummed a few chords on the strange guitar,  Kelly said, “Ed gave me this wonderful instrument in 2004. It was among the last instruments he built. Its proportions are undeniably dramatic, and it’s a fine-sounding instrument as well. I have been using it for years in live performances.”

Ed’s story is remarkable. The Still on the Hill website tells it this way. In 1979, he led a simple life as a farmer and singer of religious hymns in Hogscald Hollow, a tiny Ozark community south of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Life was filled with hard work and making do for Ed, his wife Eliza, and their five children, who lived simply, as if the second half of the twentieth century had never happened.

But one day, Ed’s life was permanently altered. While plowing his field, he became convinced he was having a heart attack. Ed stopped his work and lay down on the ground. Staring at the sky, he saw himself as a large tortoise struggling to swim across a river. On his back were five small tortoises—his children—clinging to him for survival. And then, as he lay there in the freshly plowed dirt, Ed received a vision from God, telling him that he would be restored to health if he would agree to do one thing: make musical instruments and give them to children.

And so he did. Beginning with a few simple hand tools, Ed worked tirelessly for twenty-five years to create over two hundred instruments, each a crazy quilt of heavy, rough-sawn wood scraps joined with found objects. A rusty door hinge, a steak bone, a stack of dimes, springs, saw blades, pot lids, metal pipes, glass bottles, aerosol cans—Ed used anything he could to build a working guitar, fiddle, or dulcimer. On each instrument, Ed inscribed, “True Faith, True Light, Have Faith in God.”

As a craftsman using only basic woodworking tools, a fertile imagination, and materials available to him from the forests of the Ozark Mountains, Ed Stilley made hundreds of guitars that he gave away to neighbors and children.

When an interviewer asked Ed why he never signed his guitars, he replied, “because I done it for the glory of God. I never done it in my name. I wasn’t smart enough to make ’em and I shore wasn’t gonna put my name on ’em. I had some people try to get me to and I said you just get yourself a piece of paper and put my name on that. I said, “I’m gonna tell you why.” I said, “Now whenever God tells you to do something, He wants you to do it exactly like He gave the order.” 

The calling that Ed felt reminds me of a verse found in 1 Corinthians 7:17 (NIV) “Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.” And the Apostle Peter tells us, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)

Gentle Reader, sometimes we may feel that God calls only pastors. In Christian circles, the word “calling” feels like a name saved only for special people and those paid to do ministry. But God calls every one of us. Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (NLT) Our first calling is to be near Jesus. When we are, everything else begins to fall into place. What is God calling you to do today? It may not be building handmade guitars, but He has a calling for you. Ask Him what he wants you to do.


Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Fourteen Below Zero

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 3, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

As I walked out the front door and headed to the driveway to clean the snow off my car, the snow crunched under my feet. I had not heard that sound since I moved to Arkansas from Colorado almost forty years ago. It takes very dry snow and frigid temperatures to produce that crunching sound. When I arrived at my shop, the thermometer showed -11 degrees. Because of the historic low temps, the working conditions at my shop were chilly. My old, drafty, uninsulated shop building has only space heaters for heat. On this bitterly cold day, the heaters could do little more than keep the temperature above freezing. Like many other people in the area, I had water pipes that were frozen. As I worked, I longed for warmer weather.

An arctic airmass and two winter storms brought several inches of snow and record cold temperatures. Mena’s official low temperature of -14°F on February 16 came close to breaking the all-time cold temperature of -15°F recorded on February 12, 1899. I’m not too fond of cold weather, but for some reason, I have always been fascinated by the stories of Antarctic explorers like Ernest Shackleton and Robert Scott. Today I enjoy watching YouTube channels by vloggers who live in some of the coldest places on the planet. I love watching Life in Yakutia, Maria Solko’s vlog about her life in the world’s coldest permanently inhabited place. Another favorite is Cecilia Blomdahl, a Swedish girl living on Svalbard, the world’s northernmost town. And I also watch Survival Russia, a vlog by Lars, who is from Denmark but now lives in Siberia.

I grew up in Colorado and experienced lots of snow and cold weather. I can still remember the day that I experienced a Colorado blizzard. It was a lovely winter day with temperatures in the forties. But as I listened to the radio while I worked, every few minutes, there was a bulletin warning of a significant winter storm that was fast approaching. I decided that because I had a twenty-nine-mile drive home, I should head home early. By the time I headed home in my little Ford Pinto, the snow was coming down. 

Soon the snowfall was so heavy that visibility was almost zero. The snow was already so deep that the ditches were full of snow, and I couldn’t tell where the edge of the road was. As I inched my way along, I frequently stopped the car and got out to find the edge of the road. I knew that if I slipped off the road in my little Pinto, I would never be able to get out. My progress was slow, and the storm was intensifying. I regretted not grabbing a coat that morning. 

While I was driving slowly down the road, I noticed my wheels starting to slip. I soon realized that I wasn’t making any progress. I was on a steep hill, and the little Pinto couldn’t make it to the top. I carefully backed down the hill and tried following my tracks with all of the speed that I dared. I made it a bit farther but still couldn’t get over the top. When I got out of the car to survey my situation, I noticed a driveway just off to my left. I pulled into the driveway and sat there for a while. I didn’t know what to do. After about a half-hour, I shut the car off because my gas gauge showed almost empty. In my hurry to get home, I had forgotten to gas up. Before long, it was quite cold in the car. I began to get worried and prayed to God for a way out of my situation.

When the blizzard let up a bit, I could see a house off in the distance at the end of a long driveway. Walking up to the house, I knocked on the front door. No one answered. I went around to the back door and rapped again. Still no answer. After standing in the snow and shivering for a bit, I checked the door and found it unlocked. I opened it and stepped into a mudroom with boots, coats, a sink, and a couple of old metal chairs. After a few minutes, I took one of the coats off the hook and put it on. I hoped the owners would understand.

I sat there, a bit more comfortable because of the coat, and thought about my situation. I knew that my wife was worried about me, but I had no way to let her know what was happening. The door into the house from the mudroom had three small windows. I looked through the windows and noticed a phone hanging on the wall. I tried the doorknob, and it opened. I felt terrible about going into the home of a stranger, but I didn’t know what else to do. I made a quick call to my wife to tell her that I was safe but had no idea when I would get home. Then I went back into the mudroom.

Over the next hour, I made several trips back to my car to see if the conditions had changed. The snow wasn’t coming down as hard, and visibility had improved. On one of these trips, a four-wheel-drive pickup drove up the hill, leaving tracks to follow. I got in my little Pinto and backed down to the bottom of the incline. Going as fast as I could, I made it over the top. In a few minutes, I was able to make it safely home. I’m sure that the owners of the home never knew that they had been my salvation.

Gentle Reader, that memorable scenario happened over forty years ago. I don’t think I have ever been colder or more concerned about my safety. While He was talking to His disciples about signs of His coming at the end of the world, Jesus said, “sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:12,13 (NLT) Don’t let your love grow cold. Jesus has promised to save those who endure to the end. Whenever you feel the cold of the world surrounding you, remember the promise found in Isaiah 41:10 (NLT). “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” God promises that he will not leave you out in the cold.