Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Falls Branch Trail

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 28, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

The warm sunshine filtered through the trees as we made our way from the trailhead to the Falls Branch Trail. It was a beautiful November day with temperatures in the seventies. After the second day of Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat, our family was excited to get outside and get some exercise. We had made plans to visit Garvan Woodland Gardens and see the Christmas light display. Since we were driving to Hot Springs to go to the gardens, we wanted to find someplace to take a short hike while we waited for the sun to go down.

We referred to our book, Arkansas Dayhikes for Kids and Families, by Pam, Tim, and Amber Ernst. We chose to hike the Falls Branch Trail at Lake Catherine State Park. The book told us that the hike to the Falls Creek Falls “is an easy stroll along the lakeshore.” An easy stroll to a waterfall was just the hike that some of us older folks in the group thought sounded good.

The book went on to explain; “There are several trails that take off from the trailhead, but the one that you want is the Falls Branch Trail that goes down near the lake shore. It heads out through some nice big trees, crosses a road near the camping area, and goes over a foot bridge—you are following the white blazes. (There are actually three different trails that share the first part of the route, so you will see different color blazes on the trees).”

When we arrived at Lake Catherine, we followed the road to the campground where the trailhead was located. As we were heading down the path to the trail, I volunteered to run something back to the car. “I will catch up to you,” I said to the others. When I made it back to the place where the trails start, there was a sign that showed Falls Branch Trail with its red blaze taking off to the right along with a yellow blaze for the Horseshoe Mountain Trail. To the left, it showed a white blaze for the Dam Mountain Trail. I studied the sign for a minute and thought about the conflicting information in my mind. I knew that I wanted the Falls Branch Trail, but it went to the right, and I was pretty sure that when I had looked at the map, I needed to go left. I didn’t have a map with me or the hiking book.

As I was standing there trying to decide which way to go, I remembered something from the hiking book quite clearly. It had stated, “you are following the white blazes.” Even though the sign said Dam Mountain Trail, I decided that it had the correct blazes, and it was going the correct direction. I headed down the trail with the white blazes. It wasn’t long before I reached the waterfall. It is less than three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead to the falls. When I arrived, I was puzzled. Where was the rest of my group? I hadn’t seen them on the trail, so I assumed that they were already at the falls.

After waiting at the falls for fifteen minutes, I called to find out where the rest of my group was. I found out that because a part of the trail traveled over steep slippery rocks, some of the group had turned back and were now back at the car. The rest of the group was still hiking. They assured me that they were on the Falls Branch Trail. At the trail marker sign, they had taken the trail to the right with the red blazes. When they had reached the sign, they too were puzzled. They thought that they remembered that the trail to the falls went to the left, but the sign clearly showed that Falls Branch Trail went to the right. So, they choose the trail to the right with the red blazes.

After comparing notes, we figured out what had happened. Falls Branch Trail is a loop trail, and they had taken the long way around to the falls while I had taken the trail in the opposite direction, arriving at the falls much sooner. How could we have been so confused about this simple trail? We had both looked at the trail map. We had both read the hiking book. But we didn’t have either the map or the book with us as we hiked. The information that wasn’t made clear on the sign, or in the book was that from the trailhead to the falls in the direction that I had hiked, Falls Branch Trail and Dam Mountain Trail are the same trail, with the two trails diverging at the falls.

By the time the rest of the group reached the falls, our daylight was fast slipping away. After enjoying the beauty of the falls and taking photos, we had to hurry back to the trailhead before it got dark.
How is it that people who have read the same information can come to different conclusions? In this case, it was which part of the information we chose to emphasize. I chose to focus on the blaze color even though it contradicted with the trail name. The other group felt that the trail name was the most important thing.

Gentle Reader, in this age of information overload, your decisions in life are affected by the information you choose to emphasize. Proverbs 2:8-11 (NLT) tells us that God “guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to him. Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy. Wise choices will watch over you. Understanding will keep you safe.” To make the best choices in life, choose to emphasize the information that God has given us in the Bible. “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” Psalms 119:105 (NLT)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Knowledge

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 21, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

Matt McCabe is a tall, muscular man, standing 6-foot-2. He is good-looking, with blond hair and a big smile. He loves to talk about his city, London. McCabe had spent three years of his life thinking about London’s roads and landmarks, and how to navigate between them. In the process, he had logged more than 50,000 miles on a motorbike and on foot. He is studying to become a London taxi driver. To become a London taxi driver, he will need to pass a test called simply, The Knowledge.

The Knowledge has been around since the 1800s. Taxi-driver candidates, known as Knowledge boys and Knowledge girls, are issued a copy of the Blue Book; a guidebook that contains a list of 320 trips around London. To be licensed as an “All London” taxi driver, Matt will need a thorough knowledge of all the streets, parks, hospitals, restaurants, places of worship, sports stadiums, hotels, club, theatres, museums, schools, police stations, and any other places of interest to tourists.

The Knowledge focuses on the six-mile radius from Charing Cross, center-point of London. The area has over 25,000 streets. London cabbies need to know all of those streets; the direction they run, which are one-way, which are dead ends, and where to enter and exit traffic circles. But cabbies also need to know everything on the streets. When Matt takes his test, the examiner may ask him to identify the location of any restaurant in London. Any pub, any shop, any landmark, no matter how small or obscure are all fair game. He may be asked to name the whereabouts of flower stands, of laundromats, of commemorative plaques or statues. Matt understands that the test will be a challenge. That is why he has worked so hard for the last three years learning the streets of London.

The trial a London cabbie endures gaining his qualification has been called the hardest test, of any kind, in the world. It is an intellectual, psychological and physical ordeal, with thousands of hours of immersive study, as would-be cabbies attempt to commit to memory all of London, and demonstrate their knowledge through a very difficult series of oral examinations. The process takes on average four years to complete, and for some, much longer than that. Matt McCabe hopes to pass “The Knowledge” soon and become a London taxi driver.

According to a BBC News article, “the structure of a London taxi driver's brain changes during the grueling process of learning the quickest way around the capital. Dozens of trainee drivers had MRI scans before and after they acquired "The Knowledge," memorizing thousands of journeys and street names.” 79 taxi driver trainees were given brain scans by scientists at University College London just before they started to learn “The Knowledge,” which usually takes four years to complete.

Throughout the learning process, any changes to their brains were mapped by regular MRI scans. Research published in the journal, “Current Biology,” stated; “Compared with similar scans from non-taxi drivers, those who had attempted The Knowledge had increased the size of the posterior hippocampus - the rear section of the hippocampus which lies at the front of the brain.” This is a part of the brain associated with navigation in birds and animals.

"There seems to be a definite relationship between the navigating they do as a taxi driver and the brain changes," said Dr. Eleanor Maguire, who led the research team. She said: "By following the trainee taxi drivers over time as they acquired - or failed to acquire - the Knowledge, a uniquely challenging spatial memory task, we have seen directly and within individuals how the structure of the hippocampus can change with external stimulation. The human brain remains 'plastic,' even in adult life, allowing it to adapt when we learn new tasks. This offers encouragement for adults who want to learn new skills later in life."

When we exercise our brains, we can improve our brains abilities. Are you exercising your brain? Can you exercise just once a year and expect improvement? Thanksgiving is the time of the year that we exercise our feelings of gratefulness and thankfulness for everything in our life. But what about all the rest of the year? Isn't it important to be thankful all year round, and not just one day?

With so much negativity in the world, it can be hard to acknowledge all of the great things going on in life around you. But if we exercise thankfulness in our brains, it can change our perception. Therapist Valeria Moore thinks it’s something that should be routine, something we should teach children to do, too. "We need to make expressing gratitude a daily practice," she says. "It would make us and our interactions, not just our holidays, much more positive." Moore tries to incorporate gratitude in her counseling sessions with patients and makes it a point to teach her 7-year-old daughter about gratitude every day.

When you approach life with thanks or appreciation, you acknowledge what you have instead of what you wish you had or what you want. Research has shown that people who regularly practice gratitude are more relaxed, more resilient, have a more positive outlook on life. Being grateful can impact every part of your life.

Gentle Reader, when Paul was writing to the Philippians, he told them, “I thank God every time I remember you. And I always pray for all of you with joy.” Philippians 1:3,4 (ICB) Thankfulness was a daily part of Paul’s life. He wrote about being thankful dozens of times. He believed that thankfulness should be exercised every day, not just once a year. “Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:20 (NCV) Even when the Thanksgiving holiday is over let’s resolve to follow Paul’s advice found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV); “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Daddy's Guestbook

An Arkie's Faith column from the November 14, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

I could hear the distinctive throaty rumble of Harley-Davidson motorcycles as they pulled up the driveway to my shop; an uneven, syncopated rhythm that sounded like potato, potato, potato, potato. The two bikers had been traveling on Highway 71 when they spotted the old cars at my shop and stopped to look at them. They enjoyed looking at the cars and visiting with Daddy and me. They were especially excited to see our right-hand drive 1954 Ford Popular that had been imported from England. As we visited with them, we learned that they were from the United Kingdom; one was from London, and the other from Belfast, Northern Ireland. 

The bikers spent almost an hour admiring our old cars and visiting with us. When they were ready to leave, my Daddy asked them to sign his guestbook. Several years ago, he started asking visitors to our shop to sign his guestbook. Since that time, we have had visitors from all around the world sign the book.

One day a visitor was looking at our cars. As I visited with him, I wondered what type of accent he had. I asked him where he was from, and he replied, “Texas.” I didn’t press the issue, but I knew that he had not been born and raised in Texas. After visiting with him for a few minutes, he became more comfortable with me, and he said, “earlier you asked me where I was from. I told you Texas because I now live in the Dallas Fort Worth area. But I was born and raised in Iran.” He told me that because of the hate and prejudice that he has experienced, he usually doesn’t tell people that he is Iranian. I told him that with his accent, I was sure that he wasn’t a native Texan. He went on to tell me that he was a young man when he and his family were able to escape from Iran during the Iranian Revolution of the late 1970’s.

We have had visitors from all over the world stop by our shop. I remember one man and his story very clearly. As I visited with him, he told me how he came to the United States as a child. His father was a high-ranking officer in the Laotian Army who cooperated with the Americans during the Secret War. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. engaged in a “secret war” in Laos. During that time U.S. forces dropped more than two million tons of bombs on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions. The bombings were part of the U.S. Secret War in Laos to support the Royal Lao Government against the Pathet Lao and to prevent the movement of traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. When the U.S. was pulling out of Vietnam, his family was able to get out of Laos with the help of clandestine U.S. operatives. No one from his family has ever been able to return to Laos because there is a price on their heads. He was very emotional as he told us his story even though we had just met.

Over the years we have had people from all over America and the world sign Daddy’s guestbook. There was the young man from Switzerland who flew to New York City and purchased a Ford Transit Connect Van and was driving across America even though he didn’t own a car back in Switzerland. And the German man who purchased the old Mena Fire Truck. There was the Australian who was purchasing cars, trucks, and motorcycles to ship back home. People from South Africa, Mexico, Norway, Canada, The Netherlands, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Romania have also signed the guestbook.

My Daddy would love to have you stop by and sign his guestbook, but having your name written in it isn’t very important. There is a book where it is important to have your name listed. Writing about the New Jerusalem, the Apostle John said that “only what is pure will enter the city. No one who causes people to believe lies will enter it. No one who does shameful things will enter it either. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will enter the city.” Revelation 21:27 (NIRV) and in Revelation 3:5 (NKJV) Jesus tells us; “he who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”

In Bible times, the Israelites kept records of the names of the citizens of their cities. Genealogies were important to determine legal rights and social and religious functions. To have your name deleted from those records was a severe legal punishment. The book of life shows that those who belong to Christ are citizens of heaven. Their names are already written in the heavenly ledger, and they are considered citizens of that kingdom, with all its privileges. God’s forgiving grace makes it possible for the believer to have his name listed in the book, and if they confess and ask for forgiveness, their names will not be blotted out. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, if you would like to have your name in my Daddy’s guestbook, then come by and visit him. He would be happy to have you sign his guestbook. But ask yourself the question that is asked by the old hymn; “Is my name written there, on the page white and fair? In the book of Thy kingdom, is my name written there?” In Luke 10:20 (NKJV) Jesus told His disciples: "Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." The most important place to have your name listed is in heaven in the Book of Life.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Thank You, Veterans

Veterans Day is a day to honor the men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces.  In 1954, President Eisenhower published a proclamation in the Federal Register, instructing citizens to recognize Veterans Day on Nov. 11. He wrote: “On that day, let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.” The Department of Veterans Affairs has broadening that tradition of observance and appreciation to include both Veterans and Military Families for the entire month of November.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs Suicide Data Report, the veteran suicide rate averages 22 per day. Many more come home with significant problems as they try to return to non-military society. On this Veterans Day, please don't forget our veterans and the sacrifices they have made.

One of my ancestors who served his country is my great great great great grandfather, James Vowels.

According to a document that I found, James Vowels was a soldier in the Army of the Revolution.  James was born in Virginia in 1738. He enlisted in 1776 under Captain George Slaughter of the 8th Virginia Regiment.  He fought in the Battles of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, Germantown on October 4, 1777, and several others.  He wintered with his regiment at Valley Forge and served out the time of his enlistment faithfully.

When his enlistment was up, he came home to Virginia and married Anne Fields in April 1781.  After the wedding, he again joined the Army and was at the siege of Yorktown.  After the surrender of Cornwallis on October 19, 1781, he returned home to Culpepper County Virginia where he lived until his death on April 17, 1815.

My great great great great grandfather was a part of some of the most important events in American history.  He experienced the hardships of Valley Forge.  He was part of the Army that forced the English General Cornwallis to surrender and end the war.  He helped America gain its independence.  He was a true patriot.  I’m proud to be a descendant of James Vowels.

James Vowels served valiantly and did more than he was asked to do.  After the hardships he had gone through, I find it amazing that he left his new bride and re-enlisted in the army.  He was a man who definitely believed in what he was fighting for.

A local hero that we remember in Mena is Herbert A. Littleton.

Littleton was a United States Marine who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for falling on a grenade during the Korean War.

He was born on July 1, 1930, in Mena, Arkansas. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve on July 29, 1948, for a one-year term. After the outbreak of the Korean War, Littleton reenlisted in the Marine Corps. He went to Korea with the 3rd Replacement Draft, fighting in South and Central Korean operations from December 17, 1950, until his death.

Littleton earned the nation's highest award for valor on April 22, 1951, at Chungehon. At the time he was serving as a Radio Operator with the First Marine Division. Littleton was standing watch when a large well-concealed enemy force launched a night attack from nearby positions against his company. PFC Littleton quickly alerted the forward observation team and immediately moved into position to assist in calling down artillery fire on the enemy force. When an enemy hand grenade was thrown into his vantage point shortly after the arrival of the remainder of the team, he threw himself on the grenade, absorbing its full impact with his own body. By his prompt action, he saved the other members of his team from serious injury or death and enabled them to repulse the enemy attack. For his valor in the face of certain death, Herbert A. Littleton was awarded the Medal of Honor.

At the Polk County Courthouse here in Mena, Arkansas there is a Polk County War Memorial that honors the fallen. The names of the Polk County citizens who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country are engraved on it.

Here are the names as they are engraved on the Memorial.

On this Veterans Day I will remember the men and women, such as Herbert A. Littleton and all the rest of those whose names are engraved on the Polk County War Memorial, who died while serving their country and I will also remember my great great great great grandfather, James Vowels, and the multitude of other men and women who have sacrificed so much serving their county.  Thank You to our men and women who served, are serving, and especially those who sacrificed their lives.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Balloons over Branson

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 7, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

“Look over there,” my wife exclaimed, “there is a hot air balloon.” We were driving back to the house we had rented in Branson for the weekend. I pulled into a parking lot so that we could get a better view of the balloon and take some photos. As I got out of the car I noticed another balloon, and then two more. As the balloons drifted by, they were close enough to the ground that we could hear when the pilot activated the propane burner.

The balloons seemed to be headed in the same direction that we were going, so we followed them. When we pulled into the driveway of our rental, we saw that a balloon was flying right over us. The balloon was low enough that the people in the basket saw us taking photos and waved to us, yelling “hello.” The balloon was made of brightly colored rectangles with a vertical yellow strip with the bold letters WWJD. After the balloons had passed over us, we got back in the car to see if we could follow them.

We wound around the streets of Branson trying to keep the balloons in sight. Before long, we saw them landing in an open field between the local hospital and the Yakov theater. One of the balloons came in so low that the basket with its occupants brushed the tops of the trees. I imagine that was an interesting ride. We could see the basket being knocked around as it went through the treetops. We watched for a few minutes as the people got out of the baskets, and the balloons slowly collapsed to the ground.

We watched as the WWJD balloon slowly deflated, and its handlers started preparing to put it into the enclosed trailer they were pulling behind a van. I thought about the popular catchphrase, WWJD; "What Would Jesus Do?" WWJD is found on jewelry, emblazoned on bumper stickers and has made its way into popular culture. In any situation in our lives, it is important to ask ourselves, “what would Jesus do?” But I don’t think that most of us ask the question.

As I watched the WWJD balloon land, I noticed that one side said WWJD, but the other side was slightly different. It said, WDJD. That puzzled me for a moment until I realized that it stood for “What Did Jesus Do?” The only way to determine what Jesus would do is by learning what Jesus did. 2 Peter 3:18 (KJV) says, “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Whatever decisions we make in life, whether large or small, can best be made by asking ourselves what Jesus would do. But before we can do that, we must know what Jesus did.

As Christians our example is Jesus.  If we are to follow the example of Jesus, how should we relate to others? In Matthew 9:35,36 (NLT) the Bible tells us that “Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

What did Jesus do? He had compassion on others. If we follow the example of Jesus, we will have compassion. It seems to me that many Christians have lost their compassion. As I look around, I don’t always see Christians dealing with others with compassion. I am more apt to see hate than compassion.

I don’t want to meddle, but maybe I will just a little bit. Just think about a few of the hot button topics of our day and see what your response is toward the following groups. Gays, Muslims, Adulterers, Abortionists, Immigrants, Welfare Recipients, Thieves, Drug Dealers, Socialists, Prostitutes, Atheists, etc. Do you have compassion on them, or is your response something different? Can you hate someone when you are praying for their salvation?  Should we hate someone that Jesus loves and was willing to die for?

Following the example of Jesus and having compassion on others is very liberating. It allows us to leave the judging up to God while we practice the self-sacrificing love He demonstrated on the cross. It allows 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 states, "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.”

Jesus cried for a city that rejected him. He asked his Father to forgive those who tortured and killed him. We should love the "sinner" as Christ loved us sinners and, by our conduct and words, show a better way. When we uplift the right and the good, sin will appear in its true colors. However, if we do not model the love of Christ and give no evidence of His power in our lives, no amount of argument will induce the "sinner" to give up his sin. Holding a sign that says “God Hates You” is not an effective way to witness.

Gentle Reader, we as Christians are called to follow the example of Jesus. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:21 (NIV) “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Paul told the Corinthians to “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV) Our goal should be to follow the example of Jesus and treat others with compassion every day.