Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Talimena Vistas

An Arkie's Faith column from the July 31, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The mountain road wound along the ridge, stretching on ahead, hugging the land, and taking each turn in easy stride. It was a beautiful drive with the forest, alive with green, lining the road for as far as the eye could see. Occasionally, Black-eyed Susans along the road created a profusion of yellow that beautifully complimented the deep green of the trees. When there was a break in the trees, there was a glimpse of soft blue haze shrouding distant mountains.

We were on our way to The Rock House in Talihina, Oklahoma, to celebrate birthdays. This month, my wife and my cousin had birthdays, but we had not been able to be together to celebrate. The Rock House is a restaurant in a remodeled 1920’s era rock home that sits in the middle of Sam and Tami Balzanna's 280-acre rural property near Talihina. The restaurant's reputation for great steaks and pasta has spread to a three-state area with customers from Arkansas and Texas making their way to Talihina for a great dining experience. We had been talking about trying the Rock House for some time but had never made the trip. Celebrating birthdays gave us the perfect reason to make the drive.

We decided to take the slower, scenic route to Talihina. The Talimena Scenic Drive, from Mena to Talihina, winds 54 miles in Arkansas and Oklahoma along the crest of Rich Mountain and Winding Stair Mountain in the Ouachita National Forest. It had been a long time since any of us had driven the entire 54 miles. We often make the drive from Mena to the Queen Wilhelmina State Park but had not gone very far past the park for some time. A favorite drive of ours is to take the Talimena Drive just beyond the state park and turn onto County Road 100 which snakes it way down the mountainside to Hwy 8 in the valley below.

As we drove along, we stopped at many of the numerous vistas on the drive. We are well acquainted with the breathtaking panoramic vistas on the Arkansas side of the drive, but it had been some time since we had seen the vistas on the Oklahoma section. Although the Oklahoma vistas have amazing scenery, we noticed that they were very unkempt. Some were so grown over, and the view was so obstructed that it was difficult to see anything. When we arrived at the Robert S. Kerr Memorial Arboretum, we drove off of the highway to check it out. When our children were young, we would often drive to the arboretum to walk the trails there. But now, the place was so overgrown that you could barely see lovely buildings there. It looked like it had been a very long time since anyone had maintained it.

As we pulled off the road and parked at another overgrown vista, I was disappointed. Why wasn’t someone taking care of these beautiful areas? There was a breathtaking panorama, but it was almost impossible to see because of the condition of the vista. I was reminded of the fact that in our lives, sometimes things are so overgrown that we can’t see the beauty of God and what he has done for us. Things clutter up our lives. Life gets so busy; we have appointments to keep, business to attend to, meetings to go to, kids to pick up, and a thousand other things. If we don't do these things, who will? Sometimes it seems like it is all up to us. In the busyness of life, however, we sometimes fail to see God.

That's what happened to Martha. She knew that Jesus was right there in her house. That's why she was so busy. She wanted the best for him. But in all her busyness, she failed to see that sitting in her family room was God himself. So she missed out on what was most important.

We read the story in Luke 10:40-41 (TPT) “But Martha became exasperated by finishing the numerous household chores in preparation for her guests, so she interrupted Jesus and said, ‘Lord, don’t you think it’s unfair that my sister left me to do all the work by myself? You should tell her to get up and help me.’ The Lord answered her, ‘Martha, my beloved Martha. Why are you upset and troubled, pulled away by all these many distractions? Are they really that important? Mary has discovered the one thing most important by choosing to sit at my feet. She is undistracted, and I won’t take this privilege from her.’”

It happens all the time. And we excuse ourselves by saying that if we don't do it right now, it won't get done. But in the process, we sometimes walk right by Jesus without even noticing. Don't let it happen to you. Don’t allow the cares, problems, and distractions of life to block out the beauty of life with Jesus. Don’t get distracted. Distraction is shifting our attention from something of greater importance to something of lesser importance. No matter how important something is in your life, it is not as important as your relationship with God.

Martha was distracted from Jesus. What distracted her? She was anxious about feeding everyone and anxious about what everyone would think of her and her if she didn’t do it well. But Martha didn’t recognize her distraction until Jesus helped her see it. She thought she was doing the right thing by anxiously wanting to do her best serving her guests. But Jesus pointed out to Martha that her values were out of order. She had shifted her attention from the greater importance to the lesser.

Gentle Reader, Don’t let your life get so overgrown with cares and worries that you miss the beautiful vistas that God has for you. Don’t let your attention be drawn from things of greater importance to things of lesser importance. In your busyness, ask yourself, what is the real distraction? What is keeping you from seeing God’s vistas? King David wrote, “I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet.” Psalms 27:4 (MSG) In the movie, City Slickers, Curly asks Mitch, “do you know what the secret of life is? One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that.” “But, what is the "one thing?” Mitch asks. Curly smiles and says, “that's what you have to find out.” Are you looking for the “one thing?” Make sure that God is the one thing; the thing of the greatest importance in your life.

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