Sunday, August 28, 2016

Luke and Stacey

I was honored to be asked to officiate my niece Stacey's wedding. I love Luke and Stacey. They have such a zest for life. This is their story as I told it during the wedding ceremony.

Once upon a time in a land not so very far away lived a girl with beautiful golden hair. One day a friend of the golden-haired girl suggested a date with the prince of the great land to the north. Although the golden-haired girl wasn’t really looking for a prince, she agreed to a group date. The prince thought a visit to a land not so far away might be nice, but when a mutual friend said the girl with the golden hair would be perfect for the prince, he saw warning flags waving.

The prince arrived fashionably late to the group date at Kennedy School. The golden-haired girl along with some mutual friends socialized late into the night. As the evening was coming to a close, the prince, knowing that he had a long ride home, excused himself to visit the chamber pot. When he returned, he asked, “where did the golden haired girl go?” She had gone without saying goodbye. The prince felt bad that the golden-haired girl had treated him this way.

The very next day, the prince used his alphanumeric communication device to convey his thoughts to the golden-haired girl. The prince suggested a one on one brunch date and the golden haired girl agreed. The prince was gallant and a complete gentleman. It had been a long time since the golden-haired girl had been on a date. She thought about all of the topics of conversation that she should avoid. She wanted to be on her best behavior, but she was so nervous that those topics were all she could think of to talk about.

Although the prince procured the finest brunch in the land at the cost of 47 pieces of silver, the golden haired girl failed to say thank you. The prince valued politeness, and her failure to even say thank you lowered his opinion of her. The golden-haired girl became known as “no thank you girl” to the prince’s friends and family.

Neither the prince or the golden-haired girl felt that there was a future for them. Neither one of them planned on seeing the other one again. But the Creator had different plans. He saw something that neither of them had seen. Their story wasn’t finished; it was only beginning.

Here is where the story takes a magical twist. Somehow one of the messages sent by the prince’s alphanumeric communication device the night before his date with “no thank you girl” got lost for a couple of days in the series of tubes that make up the interwebs. After it had seemed like there was no hope for romance between the prince of the great land to the north and the girl with beautiful golden hair, the Creator directed the lost message to the golden-haired girl’s alphanumeric communication device. 

She was puzzled by the message because she felt that she would never hear from the prince again. She felt that the proper protocol would be to reply to the prince using her alphanumeric communication device. 

When the prince received her message he thought it was a bit strange but he felt that the polite thing to do would be to answer. Messages were sent back and forth, but the prince was not regular or consistent with his messages. The golden-haired girl began to refer to him as “radio silence guy” to her friends and family.

We are all gathered here today because of the story of “Radio Silence Guy” and “No Thank You Girl.” After a “lukewarm” face to face meeting in the great land to the north. (Sorry about the pun, I couldn’t help myself). And what seemed like another false start, “No Thank You Girl” was finally able to get “Radio Silence Guy” to communicate with her by voice transmission devices.  Once they started communicating in this way, they found that they were connecting and that they enjoyed this form of communication. 

There were weeks that “No Thank You Girl” would spend more time communicating with “Radio Silence Guy” by voice transmission device than she spent sleeping. She began to realize that the prince might not have been her prince in shining armor – although when the sun was directly overhead, there was a certain glint of the top of his head – she was feeling something. Was it love? It hadn’t been love at first sight, but there was something about this “Radio Silence Guy.”

The prince of the great land to the north wondered why it had taken him so long to realize that “No Thank You Girl” was the fairest of all the young maidens in the realm. He discerned that the words of the Creator were true where it was written in the Scroll of Ecclesiastes chapter four, “Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. For If they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up.”

And he continued to read the scroll, “If two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone?"

As he pondered these things, he crafted a plan.  He asked the girl with the beautiful golden hair to accompany him to a tropical island paradise that lay far across the Western Sea. While they were enjoying the enchantment of the island, “Radio Silence Guy” asked “No Thank You Girl” if she would marry him. 

Since they are standing in front of you today, I think you know what her answer was. 

Luke and Stacey, I am not here today to give you marriage advice, but I thought it would be OK to mention some advice from the poet Ogden Nash.

"To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup
If you’re ever wrong – admit it
If you’re ever right – shut up."

I want to leave you with one more nugget of wisdom from Ecclesiastes 4, “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.”  The beauty of marriage is that you can look to each other for support and encouragement. You can strengthen and sustain each other. You can uphold and defend each other. 

Don’t ever forget or neglect your friendship with each other. Continue to share in each other's lives. Spend time talking to and with each other. You are no longer “No Thank You Girl” and “Radio Silence Guy.” You are the awesome and formidable team of Luke and Stacey. I can’t wait for new chapters in your story.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Helping Hand

My An Arkie's Faith column from the August 24, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

I have always enjoyed watching the Olympics. I have passed on my Olympic passion to my daughter. When she was five years old, her hero was Olympic hurdles gold medalist, Edwin Moses. She would set things up in the hallway and practice jumping over them.

This year is the first time that I haven’t been spending every evening watching the Olympics. Earlier this year we made the decision to do away with our satellite television. I’m still interested in the Olympics, but now I keep up with it by reading articles on the internet. Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles, and Usain Bolt are top performers in these games, and there have been lots of articles about their medal winning performances.

As I was reading Olympic news, a story grabbed my attention. It didn’t involve any well-known names. It wasn’t about an American medal winner. It was a story about lending a helping hand.

During a qualifying heat of the women’s 5,000 meters, Abbey D'Agostino, a 24-year-old from Topsfield, Massachusetts, was involved in a chain-reaction wreck with New Zealand's Nikki Hamblin, and they both went down with about 2,000 meters to go. Hamblin fell on her right shoulder. D’Agostino got up, but instead of running in pursuit of the others, D’Agostino leaned down and put her hand on the New Zealander’s shoulder. Hamblin was just lying there. She appeared to be crying. D’Agostino helped her up and urged her not to quit. Hamblin said, “Yup, yup, you’re right. This is the Olympics Games. We have to finish this.”

As they started to run again, D’Agostino soon realized she’d hurt her ankle in the fall. Even though she was in a lot of pain, she refused to give up, running nearly half the race with the injury. Hamblin did what she could, hanging back with D’Agostino for a while to offer encouragement. “She helped me first. I tried to help her. She was pretty bad,” Hamblin said. She eventually had to leave D’Agostino behind and was certain that the American would have to stop. But she didn’t.

“I didn’t even realize she was still running. When I turned around at the finish line and she’s still running, I was like, wow,” Hamblin said. She waited for D’Agostino to cross the line and they hugged. This time, it was D’Agostino who was in tears. As she was about to be taken away in a wheelchair, D’Agostino offered her right hand to Hamblin, and the two runners gripped each other’s forearms for a few moments.

In an Olympics that has seen a number of unsportsmanlike incidents, Hamblin and D’Agostino provided a memory that captured the Olympic spirit. “I’m never going to forget that moment,” Hamblin said. “When someone asks me what happened in Rio in 20 years’ time, that’s my story ... That girl, shaking my shoulder, saying ‘come on, get up.'” Abbey D'Agostino was quoted saying, "Although my actions were instinctual at that moment, the only way I can and have rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way. This whole time here, He's made clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance — and as soon as Nikki got up, I knew that was it."

Abbey D'Agostino can say with the apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV)

Most people spend their lives worrying about their own plans and aren’t looking out for the interests of others. Most people don’t focus on how someone else is doing. Most people are concerned with their own problems. And most people are unhappy with their lives.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians explaining the role that Christians should have when those around them have trouble. “He comforts us every time we have trouble, so when others have trouble, we can comfort them with the same comfort God gives us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NCV) When people that you know have trouble, are you a comfort to them? Or are you too busy worrying about your own plans?

“Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”  Philippians 2:4 (MSG)

Gentle Reader, look to the example of Abbey D'Agostino who instead of focusing on herself, first gave a helping hand to another. There is happiness in serving God through serving others.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Mena iPhone Photos

During the past few weeks, I have been able to photograph some interesting skies around town. Because my iPhone is always with me I have been making an effort to take photos when I see something that interests me.

One day as I was pulling into the Wal-Mart parking lot, I noticed that the sky had some very dark clouds.

When I came out the sky was even darker. As I was driving home I saw a break in the clouds that made an interesting photo.

On another evening the sunset color was so bright that I could hardly believe it. As I was stopped at the red light, I took a quick photo.

I have taken several sunset photos in town in the last couple of weeks. This one was taken while my wife and I were taking an evening walk at RMCC.

One evening as I was going home, the clouds to the south were reflecting the colors of the sunset. I stopped by the Old Bank Antique store to take this photo.

Evening color made an interesting backdrop for the flags at Janssen Park.

Anytime is beautiful on the Talimena Drive, but the views are spectacular at sunset.

A couple of days ago I was intrigued with the wisps of clouds coming down to the ground during a rainstorm.

Last Monday night there was a beautiful rainbow over Mena. I wasn't able to get to a good location to take a photo but was able to get this shot while sitting at a traffic light.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Don't Tell God No

My An Arkie's Faith column from the August 17, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

Recently the Relay For Life of Polk County held their fifth annual Celebrity Waiter fundraiser. As a member of the planning committee, I spent many hours on the phone asking people if they would like to participate. As I contacted person after person, I started feeling rejected because I wasn’t getting any positive responses.

As I was making calls, an old song from the fifties came to mind. Travis and Bob sang the song “Tell Him No.” The lyrics said, “Tell him no, oh-oh-oh. Tell him no, oh-oh-oh. When he asks for a date, tell him no, oh-oh-oh. Tell him no.” After each call, the song went through my mind. After dozens of calls with no success I started to feel like the story found in the Bible in Luke 14:16-20 (NLT), “Jesus replied with this story: ‘A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, “Come, the banquet is ready.” But they all began making excuses. One said, “I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.” Another said, “I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.” Another said, “I just got married, so I can’t come.”’

I understand that people lead busy lives; I know that I do. I also know that people have many charities and organizations asking for their time and money. As a business owner, I have to say “no” to many people myself. Even though I understand the reasons, it is a bit depressing to hear the word “no” so many times.

I wonder how God feels when we say “no” to Him. Jesus told a parable in Matt 21:28-31 (NLT). “But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. “Which of the two obeyed his father?” They replied, “The first.”

There could easily have been a third son in this parable: The father says, "Go work in my vineyard." The son says, "No." There's a discussion between father and son and in the end, the son says, "Fine! I'll go and work in your stupid vineyard. Now quit pestering me."

He's the son who gives grudging obedience, half-hearted obedience. The Bible has several examples of this half-hearted obedience. We have all heard the story of Jonah.  He was swallowed by a whale and lived to tell about it.

The Lord called Jonah to Nineveh, but instead, he runs away to Tarshish, a great and wealthy city on the coast of Spain. It is about as far to the west as most Israelites have ever ventured, while Nineveh is about as far to the east as most Israelites have ever gone. Nineveh is a great city and the fiercest enemy of Jonah’s people, so Jonah is afraid and wants to be completely away from this calling and from anyone who may be inclined to go on this ill-fated adventure.

Why did Jonah disobey God and take a voyage to Tarshish?  Jonah was a prophet and received messages directly from God.  You would think that when God said, “Get up, go to the great city of Nineveh,” that Jonah – the prophet – would obey.  So why didn't Jonah go?

Ninevah was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, Israel's direct enemy. If there was one nationality that Israel hated and wanted to wipe off the face of the Earth, it was the Assyrians. The Assyrians were powerful, destructive, and ruthless with any nation getting in their way.

Why did Jonah run? Why didn't he obey God? It was because he was guilty of passing judgment. Jonah set himself up as a judge against Assyria. He had a message of warning from God, but he determined that the Ninevites are not worthy of this message. Assyria was not worthy to be saved.

The command that God gave Jonah is the same message that we find in the great commission given by Jesus. In Matthew 28:19,20 (NKJV) Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus has told us to get up and go. Where are you going? Are you on the road to Nineveh or a voyage to Tarshish?  We have a message to spread around the world, but we have failed. We have passed judgment on many of those around us. We say "they don't deserve the love of God; they don't deserve my time because they are no good.”

Gentle Reader, when we decide that certain people groups aren't worthy of our time, aren't worthy of the good news of salvation, we are boarding a boat for Tarshish.  When we hate any people groups, we are saying that they aren't worthy of God’s love or his salvation. Jesus has told us to, “go make disciples of all nations.” Don’t tell Him “no.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


My An Arkie's Faith column from the August 10, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

My wife recently spent a week in Chicago. She traveled to Chicago by train, and while she was there, she relied on public transportation. Being without a car was a new experience for her. There were significant delays on her train trip to Chicago, and she arrived several hours late.

As she waited for her train back home in the downtown Chicago train station, my wife began to worry about getting on the correct train in the crowded and extremely busy terminal. Over the public address system, a service was advertised that gave you access to a lounge with drinks and snacks and a personal escort to your train. Wanting to make sure she got on the correct train, my wife used the service. The train trip back was on time and uneventful.

While my wife had a great trip, not every traveler has that experience. A while ago, I received a phone call shortly after I arrived at work. A caller from Minnesota was asking if I could help a young woman who was stranded in Mena. She had traveled from Lafayette, Louisiana to Minnesota by bus to attend a wedding. On her return trip the bus she was riding on stopped in Mena in the early morning hours. The young woman along with several other women got off the bus to use the restroom. She was last in line, and as soon as she finished and walked outside she saw that the bus was pulling away. She chased the bus waving her arms frantically but the bus drove off.

The young woman didn't know what to do. She was stranded at a gas station in a strange town. Her first call was to Greyhound Bus customer service. They were not helpful at all. It was no concern of theirs that the bus had left her. Since she was not on the bus that her ticket was written for, the ticket was no longer valid. If she wanted to continue her journey by bus she would have to go to a Greyhound terminal and purchase a new ticket. The nearest terminal was nearly 100 miles away, and there was not another bus until the next day. The customer service rep suggested that she take a taxi. There is not a taxi available in Mena.

When I arrived at the gas station, I found the young woman very upset. We talked about her options in between phone calls from friends and family trying to find a solution. After some time we finally worked out a plan to get her home. Her family started driving north from Lafayette and my parents drove her to Texarkana where her family met up with her. She was no longer stranded.

I could empathize with the stranded young woman. On a trip that we took back in 2008, we ended up stranded three times. We were on our way to Belize. We had boarded our plane at DFW when the announcement was made that we had to wait in line for our plane to be de-iced. After three hours on the plane, it was announced that due to snow all flights were grounded. We were stranded in the airport along with thousands of other passengers.

We spent a very uncomfortable night in the airport, and it was the next afternoon before we were able to fly to Belize. When we got to the airport in Belize, our small plane wasn't able to fly to San Pedro because of a thunderstorm. We were once again stranded. On our way home we were once again stranded. Because of bad weather in Dallas the airline flew us to Miami instead. When we arrived in Miami, we found that flights there were canceled due to the weather. We had to wait until the next day to get a flight out of Miami.

As nice as the DFW or the Miami airports are, I don’t want to live there. I don’t mind passing through the airport on my way to my destination, but I don’t want to be there full time.
Jesus told us in John 15:19 (GNT), “If you belonged to the world, then the world would love you as its own. But I chose you from this world, and you do not belong to it; that is why the world hates you.”

Gentle Reader, we as Christians are stranded here on this earth, but we don't belong to it. It is not our home. Jesus tells us about the home He has for us in John 14:2,3 (NKJV), "In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” We are stranded. This world is not our home, but Jesus has prepared a home for us and wants us to be there with Him.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Local Celebrities Raise $15,000

More than $15,000 was raised during the 5th annual Relay For Life of Polk County Celebrity Waiter Event held on August 5th. Lou and Denni of Mena Mountain Resort prepared a delicious meal, and 11 local celebrities waited tables for tips. The room looked beautiful as each celebrity decorated their table.  The tables had themes such as Salsa Night, Vintage Aviation, Honoring Those Who Serve, Gilligan’s Island, Roaring 20’s, Survivors, and Masquerade. Many of the waiter’s guests dressed according to the theme.

Farrell Cole with help from Loyd Shrum auctioned off donated items. The local celebrity waiters who participated in the event were; Oscar Sanchez sponsored by Papa’s Mexican Cafe, Regina Lawry and Barbara Holdeman sponsored by USEM Federal Credit Union, Jim and Joyce Stroope  sponsored by Nidec, Christy Green and Paula Jewell sponsored by Bear State Bank,  Cassondra Gortemiller and Teresa Bates sponsored by Union Bank and Five J Electric, Amanda Spoon sponsored by Genesis Cancer Center, and Elizabeth Baker sponsored by Relay For Life of Polk County.

While the tips were being counted, the guests enjoyed dancing to the tunes of DJ Hollywood. The Celebrities who received the most tips were Regina Lawry and Barbara Holdeman sponsored by USEM Federal Credit Union. Second Place went to Cassondra Gortemiller and Teresa Bates sponsored by Union Bank and Five J Electric. The award for the Best Theme went to Jim and Joyce Stroope for Nidec’s Honoring Those Who Serve.The award for Best Dressed Waiter went to Amanda Bates as Gilligan. The award for the Best Dressed Table went to Christy Green and Paula Jewell for Bear State Bank’s Roaring 20’s. The Sneakiest Waiter award went to Regina Lawry and her chocolate cake. The Most Spirited Waiter award was presented to Jim Stroope. The Best Dressed Guest award went to Kayla Wells as Lady Liberty. The 2016 Celebrity Waiters of the Year were Jim and Joyce Stroope. The Waiter of the Year is determined by the total amount of money raised for the event. The runners-up were Cassondra Gortemiller and Teresa Bates.

After a special appeal towards the end of the evening and the promise that the members of the planning committee would jump into the swimming pool if over 15,000 dollars were raised, the final total was over 15,200.00. The committee members jumped into the pool to celebrate the successful evening.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Let Them Eat Cake

My An Arkie's Faith column from the August 3, 2016, issue of The Mena Star

Recently my wife celebrated her birthday. A friend of hers baked her a cake and decorated it beautifully in my wife’s favorite color. There was quite a bit of the cake left over after the birthday meal celebration. My wife and I have been trying to limit our sugar intake, but this cake and the frosting were so good that I wasn’t able to resist. I did limit myself to a small piece of cake each evening until I had finished all of the leftover cake.

As I was eating cake, an old proverb came to mind that I’m sure you have heard, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” The use of this proverb goes back hundreds of years. A 1546 collection of proverbs by John Heywood has the entry, “Would ye both eat your cake, and have your cake?” In his Yale Book of Quotations, Fred Shapiro included a John Davies quote from 1611: “A man cannot eat his cake and have it still.”

“Let them eat cake” is another well known saying that came to my mind while I was enjoying the cake. Even if you know very little about French history, you have probably heard that when the peasants of France were starving from lack of bread, Queen Marie Antoinette proclaimed, "let them eat cake."

Actually, Marie Antoinette never said it. She was an intelligent woman who donated generously to charitable causes and, even though she led a lavish lifestyle, displayed sensitivity towards the poor population of France. There are records of her taking care of a peasant who'd been gored by a wild animal as well as taking in an orphaned boy.

The “Let them eat cake” story had been around for years before Marie Antoinette became Queen of France. The story was first told in a slightly different form about Marie-Thérèse, the Spanish princess who married King Louis XIV in 1660. Over the next century, several other 18th-century royals were also said to have made the remark. The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau included the story in his book, Confessions, that was first published when Marie Antoinette was ten years old under her mother's care in Austria.

The expression isn't as harsh as it sounds. What Rousseau wrote is "qu'ils mangent de la brioche," which doesn't mean "let them eat cake," it means "let them eat egg based bread." Brioche, egg-based bread, was a more expensive bread than the typical flour and water bread of the French peasants. A French law required bakers to sell their brioche at the same price as their inexpensive bread if they ran out. What has been translated as "let them eat cake" actually meant, "if they have no inexpensive bread, let them eat the more expensive brioche.

In the late 18th century, much of the French population was living in desperate poverty, while the upper classes were living a life of decadence. As a result, dissatisfaction quickly spread throughout the city of Paris. Why should people go hungry when the King and Queen had enough to feed everyone? Why should people live in abject poverty, when those inside the palace had more than they could consume in a thousand lifetimes? The contrasts between the palace and the streets were so strong that it led to widespread anger. The people knew from experience that the current government was not a solution to their problems.

The person who drew the most criticism was Marie Antoinette. Her foreign birth and extravagant lifestyle made her an easy target for public anger. It was easy to fabricate stories about her extravagances. Very likely, someone attributed the words to her, and the story seemed true enough.

Here in the 21st century we still see these same feelings.  Frustrated people through the centuries have felt there has got to be better government. Is there any hope for something better, or do we just have to learn to live with unjust human government? Maybe if we just had new leadership things would be better. There is a longing for a system we can trust.

The good news is that there is something better.  There is a kingdom coming that is entirely free from corruption. We can't expect honest human government, but God gives us this promise in the Bible, “In the days when these kings of iron and clay reign, the God of heaven will set up another kingdom, a kingdom that can never be destroyed, a kingdom that will never be ruled by others. It will crush all the other kingdoms and bring them to an end. This kingdom will last forever.” Daniel 2:44 (VOICE)

Jesus said in John 18:36 (CEV), “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Hebrews 12:28 (NCV) says, “let us be thankful, because we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken.”

Gentle Reader, I'm ready for a change in government. I'm ready for a kingdom that can't be shaken. The Bible ends with these words, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” Revelation 22:20,21 (NIV) I am looking forward to the return of Jesus and His kingdom. Are you?