Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Black-eyed Peas

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 30, 2020, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The young man stood at the counter, ordering a gallon of paint. “I need a gallon of synthetic enamel for a 1971 Oldsmobile,” he said to the man behind the counter. “It is brown, and the paint code is 68.”

“I will get that mixed and bring it to your shop this afternoon, is there anything else that you need?”

“Give me a sleeve of 220 grit wet or dry sandpaper.”

“Let me get that from the back.”

“And get me five gallons of lacquer thinner,” the young man hollered.

The counterman came out carrying the heavy bucket of thinner and set it down along with the sandpaper. Then going back behind the counter, he reached into a box on the floor and took out a can of black-eyed peas. Handing the can to the young man, he said, “Happy New Year.”

“Thank you,” said the young man with a puzzled look on his face. He carried the thinner, sandpaper, and can of black-eyed peas to his car. He took the can home to his wife, who was bewildered by the strange gift from the auto parts store.

In December 1981, I was the young man ordering paint at Southern Auto Supply in Mena, Arkansas. Earlier that year, I had moved to Mena from Colorado with my wife and young daughter. There were still many things about Southern culture that I didn’t understand. I asked another bodyman if the auto parts store had given him a can of black-eyed peas. He said, “yes, why do you ask?” I told him that I thought it was a bit strange. He explained that it was a long-standing tradition to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. I had never heard of such a tradition.

Southern Living magazine says, “according to folklore, this auspicious New Year’s Day tradition dates back to the Civil War, when Union troops pillaged the land, leaving behind only black-eyed peas and greens as animal fodder. Rich in nutrients, these were the humble foods that enabled Southerners to survive.” Like most traditions, this one has many variations. Some say you should eat exactly 365 peas on New Year’s Day. If you eat any less, you’ll only be lucky for that many days. Others say you should leave one pea on your plate, to share your luck with someone else. I have also heard that if you don’t eat every pea on your plate, your luck will be bad.

Traditions are a part of life no matter where you live. Traditions vary from place to place and from one family to another. Our family has many Christmas traditions. Christmas morning, my wife makes the same breakfast every year. The interesting thing about this special meal of egg, cream and sausage casserole, and Christmas Coffee Cake is that we don’t eat those foods on any other day of the year.

My daughter takes Christmas traditions very seriously. A few years ago, we bought new living room furniture that didn’t leave enough room for the Christmas tree to be where it has been for over 20 years. I wasn’t sure my daughter would be able to handle the tree being in a different location. On our first Christmas together, my wife bought a Disney paint by number ornament kit. She painstakingly painted the wood cutouts of Disney characters. They have hung on our tree for over 40 years. When my kids were teenagers, they wanted to know why we had to put those ugly old ornaments on the tree. They didn’t think they were attractive. When I explained how important they were to me and what they represented, they decided that it was okay to use them. Now it is traditional for my daughter to complain, tongue-in-cheek, about those old ornaments.

Last year, my wife started a new Christmas and New Year’s tradition. She purchased all the special baking tins and ingredients needed to make Kransekake, a Scandinavian cake that forms an impressive showpiece. It consists of eighteen different sized rings placed on top of each other, largest on the bottom to smallest on top, with icing between each ring. Because of her Danish heritage, she would like to incorporate Kransekake into our holiday tradition.

When two people get married, they have to blend their families’ traditions or create new traditions. My wife’s family always opened their gifts on Christmas morning. I grew up opening gifts on Christmas Eve. When we were married, we compromised by opening our gifts on Christmas morning. My wife believes very strongly that Christmas morning is the proper time to open gifts.

I have noticed that many Christians believe very strongly in their traditions. Traditions are not inherently good or bad, right or wrong. Some people defend traditions because the church has practiced it that way for years. Other people dislike tradition and want change just for the sake of change.

Christians should be neither “traditional” nor “non-traditional.” They should neither accept nor oppose a practice simply because it is a tradition. It doesn’t matter how long we have practiced something or when it began. What’s important is what God’s word says about it. If God’s word requires it, then we must do it. If God’s word forbids it, then we must oppose it even if it is a tradition. If God’s word is silent, then there is no problem with tradition. But I can’t expect all Christians to follow just because it is my tradition.

Gentle Reader, do you eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day? If you do, that is wonderful. If you don’t, that is okay too. The more important questions are, do you follow the traditions of God? Or are you following human traditions and doctrines that differ from His word? Are you trying to force other Christians to follow your traditions? “Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8 (NET)

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Home for Christmas


It was a cold, windy day in December 1903. Orville Wright stands on the beach in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, staring at the sky. Flying overhead, in the machine that they had built together, is his brother Wilbur. It was their fourth flight of the day in their hand-built flying machine. Wilbur Wright succeeded in flying their homemade machine for 59 seconds, covering 852 feet at a speed of seven miles per hour. Orville had piloted the first flight of the day that lasted just 12 seconds and traveled only 180 feet, but it proved that human flight was possible. 

Orville wrote in his diary about the first attempted flight that morning. “I found the control of the front rudder quite difficult. As a result the machine would rise suddenly to about 10 ft. and then as suddenly, on turning the rudder, dart for the ground. A sudden dart when out about 100 feet from the end of the tracks ended the flight. Time about 12 seconds.”

The brothers realized that a successful flight depended on their ability to learn how to handle the machine. Each attempt showed improvement. They were pleased enough with Wilbur’s 59-second flight but knew they could do better. Unfortunately, there was not going to be another flight that day. Orville explains in his diary. “We set the machine down a few feet west of the building, and while standing about discussing the last flight, a sudden gust of wind struck the machine and started to turn it over. All rushed to stop it. Will who was near one end ran to the front, but too late to do any good. Mr. Daniels and myself seized spars at the rear, but to no purpose. The machine gradually turned over on us. Mr. Daniels, having had no experience in handling a machine of this kind, hung on to it from the inside, and as a result was knocked down and turned over and over with it as it went. His escape was miraculous, as he was in with the engine and chains. The engine legs were all broken off, the chain guides badly bent, a number of uprights, and nearly all the rear ends of the ribs were broken.”

That day, Orville and Wilbur became the first to demonstrate a heavier-than-air machine’s sustained flight under the pilot’s complete control. What did the brothers do after their exciting success and then the heartbreak of damaging their flying machine? They had an unhurried lunch and then walked four miles to send a telegram to their father. The telegraph read, “Success four flights Thursday morning all against twenty one mile wind started from level with engine power alone. Average speed through air thirty one miles. Longest 57 seconds. Inform press.  Home for Christmas.” With their machine wrecked by the wind and flying done for the season, the Wrights immediately thought of going home for Christmas. They returned home with their broken machine on the evening of December 23.

According to their niece, Ivonette Miller, who was 7 in 1903, the children were excited that Wilbur and Orville would be home for Christmas. She recalled that they said something like: “Oh, goody, Uncle Will will be home in time to carve the Christmas turkey!”

Amanda Wright Lane, the great-grandniece of Wilbur and Orville, said: “The Wright family was thrilled to learn about that first flight, but they were happier yet to know that meant the boys, great cooks, would be home in time for Wilbur to stuff the Christmas turkey and for Orville to make his cranberry bunny, served at holiday meals.”

Orville and Wilbur Wright had just accomplished something that no human being before them had ever done. What they accomplished that cold, windy December day would change humankind forever. But their thoughts were with their family and making it home for Christmas.

The family is important to God because it is an institution He has created, and it is one of His blessings. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Every family is different, every family is unique, and every person within each family is essential. When God created the family, he simultaneously gave us an extraordinary gift and a unique challenge. Family requires an unshakable commitment to each other even when everyone involved is intimately aware of each other’s flaws.

If you are committed to your family, they should always come first. Even if you are working on something significant, like the first powered, heavier than air flight, you should never forget your commitment to your family.

As a Christian, you are a part of two families, your earthly family, and your heavenly family. 1 John 3:1 (GW) tells us, “Consider this: The Father has given us his love. He loves us so much that we are actually called God’s dear children. And that’s what we are.” And Romans 8:15-17 (ICB) says, “the Spirit that we have makes us children of God. And with that Spirit we say, ‘Father, dear Father.’ And the Spirit himself joins with our spirits to say that we are God’s children. If we are God’s children, then we will receive the blessings God has for us. We will receive these things from God together with Christ.” 

Gentle Reader, there is no doubt that God loves His children. He shows it by His words, His actions, and His promises. He longs for His children to be with him. Like we want our children and grandchildren to come home for Christmas, God wants us to come home and be with Him. Jesus says, “I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together.” John 14:3 (VOICE) There is nothing in this life that is more important than for us to be a child of God and come home for Christmas. Let’s tell God, “I’ll be home for Christmas. You can plan on me.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Book Giveaway

Article by Jeri Pearson from the December 16, 2020, issue of The Polk County Pulse

Local author Richie Lawry has made 150 of his books free, thanks to an undisclosed donor. 

After receiving a check with the memo made out to "ministry," Lawry said he was confused at first. 

"I thought, well I don't have a ministry, per say," he said.” I wondered what I should do with the donation.”

However, Lawry does have a ministry. He has been compiling writings, which have been published into several books, as well as having an active blog since 2008 and contributing to local papers beginning in 2016.

His writings take everyday life and encounters and correlates the meanings he finds in interactions and situations with spiritual truths that are profound and uplifting.

By using his talent of storytelling and creative writing, coupled with his knowledge of scripture and love of people, Lawry has generated a following of people who look forward to his weekly column, An Arkie's Faith, which can be found in the Pulse.

His writing has an appeal that reaches across denominations and appeals to even the most anti-religious person. 

Lawry is the type of person who embodies the love of Christ and shares that love in a humble and genuine way, not only through his writing but also in person.

“After thinking about the donation and how to use it, I thought I'd use it to ship my books, free of charge, to anyone who wants one," Lawry said, noting he would only need to know the address for shipping.

In addition to his column in the Pulse, Lawry's writings can also be found on and Amazon.

Devotional publishings include The Little Things, In the Fog, Causing a Splash, Devotionals from a Small Town and Rusty Treasures, which can be found on Amazon. |

To request a free copy of Richard Lawry's devotionals, send your, or your loved one's, address to Lawry by calling (479) 394-9938, email:, or on Facebook @Richard Lawry.

The Virus Queen

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 16, 2020, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

One of my favorite activities is listening to podcasts. I listen whenever I am driving or have free time. I like those that deal with history and science. Surprisingly Brilliant is a new podcast that started this year. It is a science history podcast that tells the stories of surprising yet brilliant discoveries, ideas, and people. A recent episode told a story that I want to share with you.

In 1930, a girl named June Hart was born in the slums of Glasgow, Scotland. She was very bright and overly motivated, but she had to leave school at 16 and get a job to help her family. She managed to get an apprenticeship to become a lab technician at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Her salary was 25 shillings a week, which would be $160.00 in today’s money. Her job was to look at tissue samples through a microscope. She was exceptionally good at her job, becoming a microscopy expert as a young woman.

When she was 24 years old, she married Enriques Almeida. Not long after her marriage, the couple moved to Canada. The Ontario Cancer Institute hired her as a technician and a research assistant in electron microscopy. Anything smaller than light waves cannot be seen in a regular microscope, no matter how high the magnification. The new electron technology allowed researchers to see things even tinier than the waves of light. When June arrived at the Institute, she had never worked with an electron microscope.

June soon became involved in significant research that established the link between viruses and cancer. It was her imaging using the electron microscope that helped establish that relationship. Another thing that was important about her work in Canada was that she devised a classification system to group viruses through her electron microscope images.

When researchers explored the common cold, they discovered that many different viruses caused it. In 1967, researchers at the Common Cold Research Unit came across some virus strains they had not seen before. They grew in tissue culture in a weird way that the researchers did not recognize. So, they sent some samples to June. When she looked at it under an electron microscope, she saw a little ball with some spikes on it.

June and her colleagues are the ones who named it coronavirus because the things sticking off it look like a halo or a crown, and corona means crown in Latin. At the time, they were excited to have discovered and named a new kind of virus. They found that several different types of coronavirus can cause the common cold. 

June took the first images of coronavirus, showing that it causes cold-like symptoms. But when she submitted a paper on her findings, the journal rejected it. They said, “Oh, these are just very bad electron microscope pictures of something like the influenza virus.” But June and her colleagues persisted. They took better electron microscope photos and were able to get their work published. Eventually, the scientific community accepted their research. 

At the time, coronaviruses were not considered important. But in 2003, when there was the SARS outbreak, researchers studied June Almeida’s original work. SARS is a sudden acute respiratory syndrome caused by a coronavirus. It is a different virus than the one causing the COVID-19 pandemic today, but they are both coronaviruses. When the SARS outbreak happened, that’s when researchers reexamined June Almeida’s work and how her images contributed to the understanding of coronaviruses. Her groundbreaking work has been indispensable in the fight against COVID-19.

So how did June go from a humble girl in Glasgow who could not afford to go to school to becoming recognized as a master of electron microscopy? This uneducated girl laid the foundations for classifying viruses. She provided evidence for the link between viruses and cancer, gave us images of rubella, hepatitis B, HIV, and the first images of human coronavirus.

One biographer said that this was just a confluence of chance moments. She happens to get a job in a lab even though she is 16 and uneducated. Her husband happens to want to move to Canada because he does not like London. The electron microscopy position happens to be the only one open for any microscopist when June arrives at the Ontario Cancer Institute. Researchers happen to send her a sample of coronavirus. All these chance moments end up changing the entire course of her life and her career. 

Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.” When June got her first job at 16, spending hours looking through a microscope for low wages, I am sure that she had no idea that she would one day be the virus queen. It may have been the right place at the right time, but she made the most of it. The dots can all be there, but you must be able to put them together.

Gentle Reader, time is a remarkable gift from God. He wants us to use our time to take the opportunities that he has for us. Sometimes we are looking for the big break that will make us successful. But the Bible says that “if a person waits for perfect weather, he will never plant his seeds. And if he is afraid that every cloud will bring rain, he will never harvest his crops.” Ecclesiastes 11:4 (ICB) Remember to make the most of the opportunity that God gives you today. Do not wait until just the right moment comes along because that moment may never come. “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity. Ephesians 5:15,16 (NIV)

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Leaky Roof

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 9, 2020, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The rain beating down on my shop’s metal roof was so loud that conversation wasn’t possible. The downpour was so heavy that I could not see the highway in front of my shop. A flash river was running down my driveway. In the shop bay where I was trying to work, water streamed from the ceiling in several places. “I hope this downpour will be over soon,” I thought. But it wasn’t over soon. The deluge continued. After hours of hard rain, there was an inch of water on my shop floor. 

By the time the rain ended, nine inches of rain had fallen. Rainwater flooded the floor throughout the shop. I knew that my old shop building had several leaks, but it had never flooded before. I realized that I was going to have to get my roof repaired. Earlier in the year, I had the leaks worked on a couple of times, but now they seemed worse than before. What was I going to do about my roof?

A couple of weeks later, our area had another day of torrential rains. Once again, rain flooded my entire shop. The water flowed through the building and ran out into the driveway. I knew that I was going to have to do something about the leaky roof. But for a couple of months, we did not have another heavy rainfall, and I put it out of my mind. When it would rain, I would have a few small leaks, but I had been dealing with small leaks for several years. It seemed that there were always more pressing things.

A few weeks ago, I decided that I would have to get something done about the leaky roof. But I had no idea who to call. Two different guys had worked on patching the leaks, but they only seemed to get worse. I called a neighboring restoration services business to see if they had any recommendations. They gave me the phone numbers of a couple of roofers who had worked for them. I made the calls, and when the first roofer came to provide me with a bid, I realized that we had met before. He inspected my roof, and we talked about the possibilities. The old, rusty, corrugated metal roof was in bad shape. He gave me a bid for replacing a few pieces of metal and coating the entire roof with a premium roof coating system. 

The next day I talked to the roofer again and got a separate bid to remove the old corrugated metal from the roof and replace it with new 26 gauge metal panels. I decided that replacement would be better in the long run, so I signed a contract to have to work done. On Tuesday of last week, it was a beautiful sunny day; the crew started working on the project and finished the main section of my building the next morning. There was a light rain falling as they fastened the last few sheets of metal. Later in the day, the rain intensified, but my shop was dry. It was delightfully satisfying to hear the rain on my new roof and not have any leaks in my shop.

While I was reading the book of Ecclesiastes, I found this little gem; “When you are too lazy to repair your roof, it will leak, and the house will fall in.” Ecclesiastes 10:18 (GNT) “That is a little bit too close to home,” I thought. Earlier this summer, I had a new roof put on the four-bay carport in front of my business. The job was much more expensive because I had let much of the roof rot away and fall in. I had to remove all of the old decking before I could install the new roof. My procrastination had made the job much more expensive. 

The primary function of any roof is to offer protection from the elements for people and their possessions. A good roof gives shelter. There is an old hymn that equates God to a shelter. “The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide. A shelter in the time of storm.” Verse two reads, “A shade by day, defense by night. A shelter in the time of storm; No fears alarm, no foes affright. A shelter in the time of storm.” God is our shelter and our refuge. David wrote in Psalms 91:1,2 (NLT), “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.” 

Are you experiencing storms in your life right now? It’s been a year of unexpected rain and storms. 2020 has been a year like no other. Sometimes it is has been just a drizzle, but other times it seems like the storms of life have rattled windows with wave after wave of thunder and bursts of lightning. During these storms, you need to make sure that you have shelter. You need a good roof to protect you from the elements. Isaiah 15:4 (CEV) tells us, “You have been a place of safety for the poor and needy in times of trouble. Brutal enemies pounded us like a heavy rain or the heat of the sun at noon, but you were our shelter.”

Gentle Reader, is there stormy weather in your life right now? Where are you finding shelter from the storms? “If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.” Psalms 91: 9,10 (NLT) When the rains come, make sure that your find shelter under a roof that doesn’t leak. Pray the prayer that David prayed, “I come to you for shelter. Protect me, keep me safe, and don’t disappoint me.” Psalms 25:20 (CEV)

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Lost Windshield

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 2, 2020, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The first orange hued rays of sunrise emerged in the east as I pulled my Chevy S-10 shop truck up to the storage building. My auto glass supplier from Little Rock drops off my order early in the morning each Tuesday and Thursday. I was anxious to get the glass loaded into the truck and head for my shop. I had a busy day scheduled. When I finished loading my truck, I went over my order and found that I was short one windshield. I rechecked the racks in the storage building, but the windshield was not there. “Oh no,” I thought, “this isn’t a good start to my day.” 

When I realized which windshield was missing, my heart sank. How could so many things go wrong with one job? A week and a half earlier, I had ordered a windshield for a Dodge Charger and set up a time for the customer to drop the car off. But when the time came to do the job, I found that my supplier had sent the wrong glass. To make matters worse, they didn’t have the correct windshield in stock, and it would be a week before I could get the one I needed. The replacement windshield was supposed to be on today’s order. I was not looking forward to calling my customer and telling them that we had a problem once again.

When I pulled into my shop’s driveway, I saw that the Dodge Charger was already there. My customer had arranged to drop her car off early in the morning. I was going to have to call my supplier and find out what had happened. “How many things can go wrong with one job,” I thought. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and I would not be getting another shipment of glass this week. It would be another week before I could do the job. As I opened the shop and turned on my computer, I already had a couple of voicemails. It might be just a couple of days until Thanksgiving, but I was not in a thankful mood.

Before I could even listen to my voicemails, the phone rang. The caller wanted to get his backglass replaced. I told him that it would be a week before I could get the glass because of the Thanksgiving holiday. When I got off the phone, I called my supplier to determine what happened to the windshield that was not delivered. They told me they could not find the windshield in the warehouse the night before, but they had located it now. Because it was their mistake, they agreed to make an extra delivery run that night. At least I could tell my customer it would only be one day before I could do the job, instead of one week.

Since I was getting a delivery that night, I called the customer who needed a backglass and told them I could do the work the next day, explaining the extra delivery because of the warehouse’s mistake. Before the end of the day, I had three more customers who needed work done and were happy to get it done before Thanksgiving. Because of my supplier’s mistake and the extra delivery, I could do four jobs that would have had to wait for a week otherwise.

As I made the early morning trip to pick up my glass order, I noticed many branches down from the storm the night before. I breathed a sigh of relief when all my glass was in the storage building. As soon as I reached my shop and opened for business, the phone started ringing. There had been a lot of damage from the storm the night before, and many customers needed glass replacement. By the time the day was over, I had nine jobs scheduled for the week after Thanksgiving. I was thankful for the work and thankful that I could get four jobs done before Thanksgiving because of the lost windshield.

As I was thinking about the lost windshield and how upset I had been when my supplier had not delivered it, I realized that in the end, it had been a blessing. When my Momma was alive, she would call things like this “a God thing.” If something unexpected and providential happened to her, she would say, “it’s a God thing.” Whenever a “God thing” happened in her life, she was eager to tell me about it. We are often totally unaware of how God is looking out for our best interest. When things are not going well for us, we are very aware, but when things are going smoothly, we don’t stop to think about how God is blessing us.

God’s grace often pops up in places that we never expect, such as a lost windshield. I think that the key to understanding grace is to realize that it is unexpected. Christians focus on the fact that God’s grace is undeserved. It is true; grace is undeserved, but it is also unexpected. That is what Paul is trying to get us to see when he wrote in Ephesians 3:8 (NKJV), “to me, who am less than the least deserving of all the saints, this grace was given.” He seems to be almost unable to believe it when God offered grace to him. It was unexpected. Maybe that is why Paul talks about grace more than any other Bible writer.

Gentle Reader, look for the unexpected today. Ask God to open your eyes. Look for grace in unexpected places. I know that you will find it. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1:14 (TPT), “I was flooded with such incredible grace, like a river overflowing its banks.” Like Paul, I am flooded with grace. Some days that grace might be a lost windshield. What unexpected grace will you find today?

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Thankful for Knowledge

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 25, 2020, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

It is the time of year again when the calendar says that we should be thankful. We have so much to be grateful for every single day. But sometimes, the demands and worries of daily life make it easier to feel defeated than to be thankful. You might say, “what can we possibly be thankful for in 2020?” It has been a rough year, and it’s not over yet. In times like these, when each day seems to bring another depressing headline or numbing statistic, it is essential to take the time to be thankful. This year, expressing gratitude is more important than ever. Our focus should be on what we do have, not what we don’t have.

What are you thankful for this year? What things, people, and ideas are you appreciating right now? I am genuinely grateful for my family, friends, country, community, and especially for Jesus and the grace he shows me every day. But another thing that I am thankful for is knowledge. Today, knowledge is much easier to obtain than when I was younger. I have always been a curious person. I remember researching things before I could access the internet. I would go to the library and search through the card catalog. Then I would find several books to check out and read. Now, when I am interested in learning about a topic, I can quickly access the internet on my phone. 

While using the internet to research knowledge, I came across an article about The Knowledge. It piqued my interest, and I had to read further. The Knowledge is London’s legendary taxi-driver test. It has been around since the 1800s. To be licensed as an “All London” taxi driver, the applicant needs a thorough knowledge of all the streets, parks, hospitals, restaurants, places of worship, sports stadiums, hotels, clubs, theatres, museums, schools, police stations, and any other sites of interest to tourists.

The Knowledge focuses on the six-mile radius from Charing Cross, the center of London. The area has over 25,000 streets. London cabbies need to know all of those streets, which ones are one-way, and where to enter and exit traffic circles. But cabbies also need to know everything on the streets. 

The test a London cabbie must pass to gain their qualification has been called the most demanding test, of any kind, in the world. It is an intellectual, psychological, and physical ordeal, with thousands of hours of immersive study. Would-be cabbies attempt to commit to memory all of London and demonstrate their knowledge through a series of challenging oral examinations. The process takes an average of four years to complete, and for some, much longer than that. When they finally pass The Knowledge, they can 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 acquiring The Knowledge, memorizing thousands of journeys and street names. Seventy-nine 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. Compared with similar scans from non-taxi drivers, those who had attempted The Knowledge increased the size of the posterior hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with navigation. “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 The Knowledge, we have seen directly and within individuals how the structure of the hippocampus can change with external stimulation.”

When we exercise our brain, we can improve our brain’s 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 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 the good things in life. But if we exercise thankfulness in our brains, it can change our perception. When you approach life with thanks and appreciation, you acknowledge what you have instead of what you wish you had. 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. We can choose, every day, to be thankful. When we have a thankful heart, our gratitude releases the grip that our problems seem to have over us. 

Gentle Reader, Paul wrote to the Philippians, “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 18, 2020

The Fulda Gap

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 18, 2020, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The Fulda Gap lies just to the east of the West German town of Fulda. During the Cold War, it was one of the most heavily armed places on earth. The gap refers to the local valleys and routes around nearby mountains. Any military action of the Soviets crossing into West Germany would go through these valleys. If an army could reach Fulda, it would be just a quick march to Frankfurt and then to the Rhine River. The Fulda Gap was one of the few places where nuclear weapons were almost certain to be used in a conflict during the Cold War.

The United States Army in Europe had the job of defending Fulda. Just across the East German border was the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany. The Soviet Union did not want to fight another war on its soil. So they kept an imposing military presence in East Germany. In the early days of the Cold War, the U.S. Army directed almost all of its training, equipment, and force development toward the potential day when its troops would face Soviet divisions streaming through the Fulda Gap into West Germany. The Americans had hundreds of high kill rate weapons like nuclear missiles, atomic artillery rounds, nuclear mines, and special atomic demolition munitions.

According to the magazine Airborne Quarterly, “Atomic weaponry was key to the strategy of countering a Soviet Union threat to the security of western Europe. NATO could not hope to maintain forces equal to the mass of Soviet manpower. Clearly, atomic weaponry comparable to that used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not feasible for Western Europe. Ergo, low yield atomic weaponry was developed that would when used, deny to the enemy key areas of terrain and routes. The ability to deploy and detonate low yield atomic ordnance was the mission of specially trained teams at Division level.”

One of the divisions that worked on this secret atomic demolition munitions project was the 82nd Airborne Division. During World War I, the 82nd was formed and served with distinction on the Western Front in the war’s final months. Even though the 82nd fought valiantly during World War II, it was not sent to the Korean War, as both Presidents Truman and Eisenhower chose to keep it in strategic reserve in the event of a Soviet ground attack anywhere in the world. During the 1950s and 1960s, the focus of the 82nd was intensive training exercises in all environments and locations, including Fulda Gap.

John, a customer of mine, was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division Atomic Demolition Munitions Team in the late 1950s. A few weeks ago, he brought me an article that he had written for Airborne Quarterly magazine. In the article, he wrote, “in 1959, I was selected to work on a secret project that the 82nd was initiating. After obtaining a secret clearance, I became a member of the ADM team.” 

In his article, John tells the story of a war game scenario where Special Forces Team members would try to breach the ADM team’s security. “During one of these night drills, the SF threw a blanket over the wire in an attempt to enter the compound. One of their men got cut up pretty badly when the wire won!” He goes on to tell of an encounter that happened many years later. “I met an ex SF guy, Archie, who had a hot rod shop in Mena, Arkansas, near my home. Talk about a small world; Archie was on that same SF team that night! We had a lot to talk about, to say the least! Til’ the day we met, he never knew what was in that tent; we kept our lips sealed that night.”

As I write this story, it is Veterans Day, and I am thankful for the service of veterans like John and Archie. I’m grateful for all those who have served their country so that you and I can live in peace and safety. I realize the importance of our armed forces. But honestly, I’m not particularly eager to fight. I prefer to run from conflict rather than to fight. But the Bible tells us that the Christian’s life is a life of combat with evil forces. Because this enemy never stops attacking, Christians must learn to be fighters. To be unprepared against such a cruel enemy or to run from the fight is to ensure defeat. 

But many Christians seem to be unsure who or what they are fighting. They fight with people with differing political views. They fight with those who have different religious beliefs. The bottom line is they are fighting with people. But Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12 (ICB), “our fight is not against people on earth. We are fighting against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness. We are fighting against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly world.” Our fight is not with people. 

Paul goes on to explain in 2 Corinthians 10:3,4 (ICB), “We do live in the world. But we do not fight in the same way that the world fights. We fight with weapons that are different from those the world uses. Our weapons have power from God. These weapons can destroy the enemy’s strong places.” Paul reminds us that the real enemy is not the lost and broken, the fallen and sinful human beings who surround us. The real enemy is Satan. 

Gentle Reader, how can we defend ourselves against such a terrifying enemy? “Throw all your worry on him, because he cares for you. Be clear-minded and alert. Your opponent, the Devil, is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him and be firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.” 1 Peter 5 7-9 (ISV)

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Rockport Incident

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 11, 2020, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

It is a beautiful autumn day, and I am in my happy place. With wonder, I look around as brilliant shafts of sunlight illuminate the carpet of softly muted colors spread out around me. Each breath of the fresh woodland air fills me with a sense of contentment and joy. The trail is damp under my feet, and occasionally I have to leave the trail and walk around the mudholes left by recent rains.

Rain is why I am so happy to be hiking the trail to Glory Hole Falls, one of the most unusual waterfalls in the Ozarks. Most times of the year, it is nothing more than a trickle, but it is spectacular after a good rain. The waterfall is formed by a stream that flows through the ceiling of an overhang. Dismal Creek has drilled a hole right through the overhanging bluff, falling over thirty feet. Today I will be able to see and experience Glory Hole Falls firsthand.

I have just set out on the hike with my wife, sister, and brother-in-law, when I hear my wife exclaim, “Oh no!” She is pointing to the Rockport hiking boot on her right foot. The sole has come loose over half the way back and is flopping with every step. After taking a few exaggerated steps, she says, “I’m not going to be able to go on with this boot.” As we wonder what we should do, she asks me to look in her backpack. “I think there is a pink sweatband in the bottom,” she says. I find the sweatband, and we wrap it twice around the toe of her boot, securing the floppy sole enough to let her continue the hike. 

The hike to the falls is about one mile. When the trail nears the waterfall, it follows Dismal Creek. The path here is rough and rocky, and there are many tree roots. As we make our way down to the falls, the loose sole on my wife’s boot contributed to her falling on the trail. I reached for her, but before I could grab her, she rolled down a small embankment and came to a stop with a rock in the middle of her back. A couple who were hiking near us saw her fall and rushed over to help. 

We had difficulty getting her up, and the rock under her back made it painful for her to move. Once she was up, she tried taking a few steps and realized that she had sprained her ankle. After resting awhile, she gingerly made her way to the top of the falls, watching the creek rush over the smooth sloping rock and disappear into a 4-foot-wide hole. The trail to get down below the falls included crossing a small stream and climbing over boulders. I urged my wife to rest at the top while the rest of our group climbed down below. Just as I glimpsed the waterfall gushing through the rock, I turned and saw her slowly making her way down to the bottom of the falls. “I’m not going to miss seeing this, no matter how much it hurts,” she said.

Shortly after we started climbing back up the trail, the sole came loose on her left boot. By this time, I have a very negative opinion of Rockport boots. My wife took the ponytail holder out of her hair, and after I sawed through it on a sharp rock, we were able to tie it around her boot. We slowly made the one-mile hike back to the road, often stopping to adjust the makeshift repairs on both boots. When we arrived at our cabin, my wife was ready to take off the offending Rockport hiking boots. As soon as she removed them, we could see her badly swollen ankle. 

My wife didn’t sleep much that night. She was sore all over, and her ankle was painful. But she knew that she had done her best and had completed the hike even though she had significant adversities. She knew that she had persevered. She had endured to the end. I admired how she had taken all of the difficulties of the hike in stride. I remembered something that I had read once on a hiking blog. The trail doesn’t care about the terrain; you have to deal with it. The trail is the trail. So whatever comes, you have to keep going. When you get knocked down, you have to get up because there’s no other way.

In 2 Corinthians 4:8,9 (CEV), Paul wrote, “We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again.” While Paul realizes that trials and difficulties will cause Christians to suffer, he teaches that we should not focus on our problems. He tells us that no matter what trouble we are going through, God is with us. He even goes so far as to say, “But that’s not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us hope.” Romans 5:3,4 (CEV)

Gentle Reader, endurance means putting one foot in front of the other no matter how things are going. If your Rockport boots come apart, you keep putting one foot in front of the other. If you sprain your ankle, you keep putting one foot in front of the other. When you have confidence that God knows, plans, and directs your life for the good, it gives you the ability to endure. “We also pray that you will be strengthened with all His glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father.” Colossians 1:11,12 (NLT)

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Your Legacy

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 4, 2020, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The smartphone in my pocket buzzed, alerting me that I had received a message. The text from my cousin read, “John just told me that Mama is essentially gone; that she will not wake up again.” As we texted back and forth, she let me know she was heading out on the three-hour trip. Shortly after she arrived, she sent me a text. “I’m in the room with Mama. The one nurse I have seen was in tears, but she said, ‘I’ve seen people come out of it.’” I didn’t receive another text until the next morning. It was a short text that read, “She passed this morning. Thank you for your prayers.”

When I read the text, many memories of my aunt filled my mind. The last time that I had seen her, she didn’t recognize me. Alzheimer’s Disease caused memory loss and confusion for her, but my memories were vivid. She could be quite loud and opinionated, but underneath that occasionally harsh exterior was a heart of gold. She would do anything in her power for those she loved. My memories darted from place to place, remembering games of 42, fresh garden veggies, and a weekend trip to Eureka Springs. I felt empathy for my cousins as I remembered the emotions I felt when my Mama passed away.

Rain and cloudy skies were forecast the day of the graveside service at the Nunley Cemetery, but the sun shone during the service. Family and friends gathered around the gravesite. During the service, my cousin read an email from her daughter, who couldn’t be there. As she read, she struggled with her emotions. The words she read were so profound, personal, and beautiful that the experience deeply touched me.

After the service, I asked for permission to share the words with you, my readers. The author of those words, Abby Carney, a freelance writer living in New York, graciously allowed me to use her tribute to her grandma.

“My grandma Ellen was hardscrabble, pious, and so bold, I doubt she ever wavered or second-guessed a single thing in her life.

As you know, we lost her without warning, so I apologize that these words are formed quickly, and maybe they are simple, but since I cannot be present with you all today, at least my words can be. I can tell you about Grandma through my eyes, the best parts I remember. 

I remember crawling into our guest room on mornings when she and Papa were visiting my family—how my brother and sister and I would crowd the bed for a snuggle, and she’d give us gentle, open-handed slap slaps all over. “Do you know what that is? That’s what we call a love pat,” she’d say, and laugh. 

I remember afternoons watching Big Brother with her at the old Arkansas house and playing Skip-Bo, Phase 10, Rummikub, Dominoes, or some card game in the defunct thrift store across from Papa’s auto shop. It was a thrill to experience hot pockets, corn dogs, and popsicles from the freezer—treats we didn’t often have at home. I’d watch her in that back office, steady at work, quilt-making. Or otherwise cross-stitching, mending, crafting rag rugs or those pot holders, always industrious. One summer, she paid me to pull weeds, and when we went to wade at the low water crossing and eat watermelon, she sat apart from us for the entire outing, counting the weeds one by one, to determine my pay rate. She was studious, guided by strong principles, and it was so plain on her face, her desire to love and be loved. 

I remember riding in the old station wagon with the faux wood paneling and hearing her sing along to her choir practice tapes; she was never self-conscious. I really do believe she was just singing for her Savior, belting out ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ in a falsetto, then fading to a hum. One of the things I most looked forward to when I visited in the summer was the singing nights at Salem Baptist Church—we’d flip through the hymnal pages together, excited to put in our requests. Grandma made me feel bold and unafraid, too. I’m pretty sure I requested that we sing a duet together, and maybe once a solo in front of the congregation.  

I remember road trips with the two of them, especially the one they took me and my sister to Niagra Falls, and through Lancaster, Pennsylvania, visiting Amish country. We’d munch on giant Tupperware tubs of Chex Mix and a cooler full of snacks she packed, and gorge ourselves at buffets along the way. 

I didn’t see her as often in recent years, so you can see that many of my memories are faded. I wish I could have made it to see her one more time, and that I could be with you to share stories now. She was complicated, a survivor, a true believer, a clever strategizer, and a dedicated penpal to me over the years. I loved her dearly.”

Abby’s heartfelt tribute made me think about the legacy that each one of us will leave. Billy Graham said, “the greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.” And American novelist, Dara Horn, wrote, “every person has a legacy. You may not know what your impact is, and it may not be something that you can write on your tombstone, but every person has an impact on this world."

Gentle Reader, what will your legacy be? In 2 Timothy 4:7,8 (NLT), the apostle Paul stated his legacy. His turbulent life was coming to an end, but he had indeed made a difference. Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.” You and I are running a race. Keep running. Fight the good fight. It will be your legacy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Will Your Vote Matter?

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 28, 2020, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

It was shortly before noon when we pulled up to the old armory building. Outside was a sandwich board sign with the words “vote here” written above a rippling American flag. When we walked into the large open room, a couple of people were in line ahead of us. I was thankful to be avoiding a large group by voting early. We stood on our circles that were placed on the floor to help us stay six feet apart. The people working the polls were friendly and helpful. Before long, both my wife and I were standing in front of our respective voting machines.

After voting, I carefully reviewed the ballot before giving my final approval. I was now one of the more than fifty million voters who have cast early ballots. Most people are expecting an above-average turnout for this year’s elections. Political pundits on both sides consider this election crucial and try to convince those on their side to be sure and vote. The rhetoric has been scathing, harsh, and bitter. 

In the past weeks and months, ugly, hateful, and often downright false political posts have filled my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Most of the time, they are reposts of someone else’s memes or articles. I wonder if the hateful vitriol has ever changed anyone’s mind. Do Christians want to be known for such anger?

One of the best-known sayings of Christianity is the Golden Rule; “Do to others what you want them to do to you.” Matthew 7:12 (NCV) Most Christians believe this. They would agree that it’s correct to treat others right and believe in showing respect and kindness. But there’s one area of life where it seems that Christians forget the Golden Rule, and that’s politics. I am amazed by how many Christians become downright uncivil when it comes to discussing politics. 

They are polite in everything else, but they become vicious once they start talking about politics or politicians. It seems that they forget that the Bible says in Romans 12:10 (NIV), “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”

When we, as Christians, are tempted to fire back when confronted with beliefs that we disagree with, we need to listen to the advice given in Romans 12:2 (NLT). “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

When we feel that our beliefs are under attack, the primary human response is to fire back. We let our natural, carnal, human emotions dictate our behavior. Anger consumes us, and we want to lash out. We feel fear and want to defend our beliefs or attack perceived wrongs. But, is that how a Christian should handle conflict? In Proverbs 15:1 (NET), Solomon wrote these words of wisdom; “A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” And James wrote in James 1:19,20 (ISV), “You must understand this, my dear brothers. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. For human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

I am not suggesting that there is never a time when Christians should speak up for their beliefs, but I have noticed that often we as Christians are slow to listen but quick to speak and get angry. Angry Christians fill my social media feeds. Some answer every difference of opinion by angrily returning fire. Political views do matter, and your vote counts. But your political ideas and thoughts should not be the primary things in your life. As Christians, our ultimate hope does not rest on political candidates or political power or political initiatives. Speaking of voting in elections, John Piper wrote, “Its outcomes do not give us the greatest joy when they go our way, and they do not demoralize us when they don’t. We deal with the political system. We deal with the news. We deal with the candidates. We deal with the issues. But it is not the great thing in our lives. Christ is. And Christ will be ruling over his people with perfect supremacy no matter who is elected and no matter what government stands or falls.”

I’m thankful to live in a country where your vote matters and my vote matters. I’m grateful that we can be a part of the political process. By all means, vote. But remember that the Bible informs us that “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” 1 John 2:17 (TLV). Don’t let politics consume you and cloud your judgment. Don’t be complicit when others condone slander. Winning arguments isn’t more important than truthfulness.

Gentle Reader, your vote matters. When you vote for someone to represent you, whether in the local, state, or national government, it is crucial to vote for someone who shares your principles. But your vote this year is not the most important vote you will cast. Every day you have to vote for who you want to represent you that day. Do you want Jesus to represent you, or are you willing for Satan to be your representative? “If you don’t want to serve the Lord, you must choose for yourselves today whom you will serve… As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15 (NCV)  National elections only happen every four years, but we have the opportunity to vote every day. Who will you choose to vote for today? Will your vote matter?