Thursday, September 26, 2019

Lake Houston Blessings

An Arkie's Faith column from the September 26, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The stately two-story house stood on the banks of Lake Houston. In the forty years since she had been lovingly built by her family, she has never seen anything like it. Wave after wave of heavy rains batter her. The winds are swirling around her, and she is creaking and groaning as she struggles to withstand the storm. In the yard, trees are swaying madly, screaming as their limbs strain against the onslaught. The house begins to be tested: the roof, the windows, the walls were all under attack. The house worries that she will be damaged and that her family will not be able to live there anymore.

When the winds finally die down, the stately house realizes that she is still standing. She has made it through the storm. Her mind drifts back to the time that the family built her. Dad was a builder by trade, and he built the stately house where he would raise his family. Mom loved the new house, and it’s delightful setting on the shores of Lake Houston. The kids enjoyed bringing their friends home to the stately house. They especially liked the swimming pool in the backyard. Mom was happy when laughing kids were having a good time at her house. The stately house was thankful that she was still standing and that soon the family would be able come back home.

Even though the winds stopped battering the stately house, the rains continued to fall. Over the next two days, over 30 inches of rain fell in the area. The water levels of Lake Houston rise until they are lapping at the front door of the house. But it keeps raining, and the water keeps rising. Soon there are several inches of water on the floor, and the water is rushing in at the front, the sides, the back. To the stately house, it feels like an invasion. By the time the lake reaches its highest levels, deep water covers the entire first floor of the stately house. She is waterlogged and very sad. When the water levels start to recede, the house wonders what will become of her. Will her family ever be able to live in her again.

Inside, there’s at least an inch of mud on the floor, and the mold on the walls is chest high. It looks like someone broke in and ransacked the house. Everything from the shelves covers the floor. The knife block, with the knives still in it, sits in the living room. The refrigerator is full of spoiled food, and the house stinks like an entire army of dirty feet. The front door is blocked by a bookcase so swollen with water that it collapsed in a huge pile of books and shelves. The once stately house is a stinky mess.

Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane that caused this historic, catastrophic flooding in August 2017. The family displaced from the stately house were among 30,000 families in the area that had no place to stay. They wondered if their family home would be able to be saved. When Dad first inspected the damage, his heart sank. There was so much damage. There was debris everywhere. How could they ever make the stately house liveable again?

When the family started the daunting task of cleaning up, friends started showing up to help. Mom was standing at a second-story window and looking out over the mess where there had once been a yard full of laughing children. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She looked out at a group of her kids' friends partying. Her kids had become adults many years ago, but here were their friends, the same kids who had spent so much time at the stately house when they were young, once again having a great time in her yard. There was loud music, laughing and dancing. They were working hard with shovels and brooms cleaning up the debris. It was dirty, smelly, nasty work. But they were having a great time.

Mom couldn’t believe that so many people were there to help with the cleanup. While they were cleaning debris, a carpenter drove up in his pickup, pulling a trailer with his tools. He told Dad, “when I heard that your house was flooded and that you were doing the repair work yourself, I came as soon as I could. I have brought my tools, and will stay and work with you until you are finished.” Many other people donated their time. Before long the house was once again stately; ready for the family to move back in.

When Mom, from the stately house, was telling me the story; she told me, “I have never felt so blessed in my life as I did in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.” I thought, “how can someone feel blessed when they are dealing with such trying circumstances.” I know that the Bible says, “God can give you more blessings than you need.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NCV) But who needs to have their home devastated by a hurricane?

As Mom continued the story, she told me that as a builder, Dad had given many of the people that came to volunteer their start in the business. They loved and respected him, and when they heard that he needed help, they came. Mom had shown love and kindness to her kids' friends. She had let them know that they were always welcome to share in the happiness of the stately house.

Gentle Reader, “give to people and they will give to you. They will fill your cup, press it down, shake it, and let it run over. That is what they will give to you. How much you give to others is how much God will give to you.” Luke 6:38 (WE) Our blessings are based on our willingness to bless others. How we treat others will determine how we are treated by others and by God. God has been gracious with us, so we should share that graciousness with others. If we do, the blessings in our cup will be pressed down, shaken, and running over.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

James and the Sixth Grade

An Arkie's Faith column from the September 19, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

James was nervous as he entered the school building. He was always nervous on the first day of school. James found his way to the sixth-grade schoolroom. As he walked through the door a deep male voice boomed a welcome, asked his name, and directed him to a desk. Now James was more nervous than ever. His teacher was a man. He had never had a man for a teacher before.

After the first week or two of the new school year, James wasn’t so nervous in class. He liked Mr. B (that’s what all the students called him) as a teacher. Mr. B had a way of explaining things that made sense to James. Some teachers are just there for the paycheck, just hanging out until retirement is feasible, but not Mr. B. He cared about each of his students and made time for all of them. In class, his eyes and voice were gentle but with enough assertiveness and confidence to keep the class in order. It wasn’t long before James (for the first time) was happy to go to school every single day.

Sixth graders don’t usually make plans for their future, but by the end of sixth grade, James knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to be a teacher. Throughout the rest of his grade school and high school years, his determination never wavered. He wanted to be a teacher like Mr. B. During his senior year in high school James started making plans for college and becoming a teacher.

Although James enjoyed being at school and learning, things were not as good at home. Throughout his high school years, his relationship with his mother deteriorated. Although he was still planning on becoming a teacher, he began to leave navy recruitment pamphlets around the house in strategic locations where his mother would be sure to see them. One day, during an argument with his mother, she yelled, “why don’t you go ahead and join the Navy and get out of my sight.” Seething with anger, James decided that he would join the Navy. He would show his mother.

Shortly after graduation as James was on a bus heading to boot camp and wondering what he had done. As he looked out the window and watched the scenery pass by, he regretted that he had let his mother goad him into a decision that he wasn’t sure was right for him. Why had he let his anger towards her change his goals for the future? Regret washed over him as he realized that the plans that he had been working on since the sixth grade were now in shambles. Even as he lamented over the choices he had allowed himself to be pushed into, he determined to make the best of his situation and be the best sailor he could be.

As James was telling me his story, I could see that the emotions were still fresh in his mind even though the events had happened many years ago. He had recently retired from a career in teaching. Even though his plans were sidetracked when he joined the Navy, he was still able to reach his goals in life. When he got out of the Navy he went back to school and became a teacher. James left me with a nugget of wisdom. He told me, “don’t ever let someone else push you into making decisions that you wouldn’t have made otherwise.”

Too often in life, we let other people affect our decisions. Whether because of anger, peer pressure, desire, friendship, intimidation, or even love, when we let someone else dictate our decisions, things can often go wrong. King Solomon wrote, “a man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24 (ESV) “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)  And Isaiah tells us that even when we make a bad decision If we ask God, he will help us make the right decision. “If you go the wrong way—to the right or to the left—you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the right way. You should go this way.’” Isaiah 10:31 (NCV)

Each one of us makes thousands of choices every day. For some of us, making decisions is difficult. We second guess ourselves all of the time and are never quite sure about the choices we make. It is okay to ask for advice when facing decisions. “Plans fail without good advice, but they succeed with the advice of many others.” Proverbs 15:22 (ESV) But be careful about allowing others to dictate the path of your life. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Proverbs 3:5,6 (NLT)

Gentle Reader, we have all made poor choices at times and have suffered the consequences of those choices. We have all let other people influence us to make choices we shouldn’t have made. The good news is that no matter what poor choices we may have made in the past, there is always hope for a better future. God knew that we would make some bad choices, but he loves us so much that he sent Jesus to pay the price for our sin and to provide a way for our relationship to him to be restored. “Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:14-17 (NKJV)

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Easy Eddie

An Arkie's Faith column from the September 5, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The bright sunlight glistened off of the bright white buildings along bathhouse row in Hot Springs. As we walked along the street, I tried to imagine what it was like during the heyday of bathhouses. I am intrigued by the history of Hot Springs.

The first permanent settlers came to the Hot Springs area in 1807. They were quick to realize the area’s potential as a health resort. By the 1830s, log cabins and a store had been built to meet the needs of visitors to the springs. By the 1880s bathhouses were lining the streets of Hot Springs. The health resort industry led to Hot Springs becoming known as the "American Spa."

Along with the bathhouses, there were gambling establishments. From the Roaring ’20s until the end of World War II ten major casinos and numerous smaller houses operated in Hot Springs. Hot Springs became a haven for notorious criminals and mobsters, including Owen “Owney” Madden, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Al Capone. Word spread that Hot Springs was the perfect hideout for criminals running from police investigations. Al Capone and his bodyguards would rent out entire floors of hotels.

During that time, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone rose to infamy as the leader of the Chicago mafia during the Prohibition era. A gangster needs a good lawyer, and Capone hired one nicknamed "Easy Eddie." Eddie's skill at legal maneuvering kept Al Capone out of jail for a long time.

Capone paid Eddie very well. He and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block. Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and paid little attention to the vicious crimes committed by his mob friends.

Easy Eddie had a son that he loved dearly. He saw to it that his son had the finest clothes, the fastest cars, and a good education. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was. One day, Eddie made a difficult decision. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son a name with some integrity. He knew that he would have to testify against Capone, and he knew that the cost would be great, but he testified anyway. Within the year, Easy Eddie's life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago street.

In his eyes, Easy Eddie had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay. When the police found his body, they removed from his pockets a religious medallion, and a clipping from a magazine. It read: "The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time. For the clock may soon be still."

Let’s fast forward to World War II. Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to refuel the plane. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. He dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet. As he was returning to the ship, he saw a squadron of Japanese aircraft flying toward the American fleet.

The American fighter planes were all gone on a mission, and the fleet was defenseless. Commander O'Hare couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. He had no way to warn the fleet of the approaching danger. He decided that he must somehow divert the Japanese planes from the fleet. With no thought for his safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. His wing-mounted 50 caliber guns blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Commander O'Hare wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until his ammunition was gone.

Even though he couldn’t fire his weapons, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible. Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction.

Commander O'Hare and his tattered fighter plane barely made it back to the carrier. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the story. It showed the extent of his daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had destroyed five enemy aircraft. This action took place on February 20, 1942, and because of his heroism, Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare became the Navy's first Ace of World War II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Medal of Honor.

A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town of Chicago would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade. O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named for Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare in tribute to the courage of this great man.

Gentle Reader, Butch O'Hare was "Easy Eddie's" son. No matter what your past has been, it’s never too late to make a change. The Bible tells us about a gangster, a criminal, who made a change. “There were also two criminals led out with Jesus to be put to death.” Luke 23:32 (NCV) As he was hanging on the cross waiting to die, one of the criminals turned to Jesus and said, “‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’” Luke 23:42,43 (NCV) God says, “‘At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.’ Indeed, the ‘right time’ is now. Today is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:2 (NLT)