Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Battle of Franklin

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 12, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

It was 4:30 In the morning when Major General Schofield and Brigadier General Cox rode into the outskirts of Franklin, Tennessee, and commandeered the house belonging to Fountain Branch Carter. Cox’s division was the vanguard of the Federal army under General Schofield’s command. The Federal army had been marching all night after quietly slipping away from the Confederate army in Spring Hill. 

The day before, Confederates seemed to have the upper hand. By 4:30 P.M., they had almost ten thousand troops in Spring Hill with another ten thousand two miles away. The Federal army of around seven thousand men was pinned down, with the nearest reinforcements two hours away. At sundown, the situation seemed grim to the Federal defenders behind their barricades. There was confusion in the Confederate ranks as battle plans changed. Confusion gave way to frustration as night fell. The Confederates started fires, cooked supper, and bedded down for the night. Many of them were only two hundred yards from the main road north out of Spring Hill.

Under cover of darkness, the Federal army was able to make its way past the Confederate positions. After marching all night, they made it to Franklin. General Schofield hoped that the pontoon bridge he had requested from Nashville would be at the Harpeth River. Unfortunately, the pontoon was not there yet, so the Federal army was trapped between the river and the Confederates.

Around the southern edge of Franklin, there were old entrenchments dug by Federal forces a year earlier. General Cox put his troops in the old defenses and ordered them to improve the breastworks. The defenses passed through the property of Fountain Carter. By that afternoon, most of the Federal army was entrenched in a line from riverbank to riverbank of a loop in the river, hoping to retreat across the Harpeth River when it became possible. 

The history came to life for me as we toured the Carter House in Franklin. Our tour guide was able to help us understand the events of that fateful day. Her straightforward, concise storytelling brought the day’s happenings into focus and helped us visualize the battle. As I stood in the exact location, I could imagine the Federal soldiers in their breastworks watching as the Confederates appeared in the open fields to the south around 3:30 in the afternoon. From their vantage point two miles away, it looked like a grand military review, but the Federal soldiers were somber as they watched thousands of Confederate soldiers fall into formation.

Federal division commander, Brigadier General George D. Wagner ordered his men to take their position along an elevation about half a mile from the main Federal works. His three thousand men were between the Federal line and the amassing Confederate army.  Col. Emerson Opdycke led a brigade in George Wagner’s division. When General Wagner ordered Opdycke to join his fellow brigade commanders, he saw the folly of such a position and was in no mood to follow Wagner’s commands. The position was isolated, and already the Federals could see swarms of Confederates appearing on the next ridge. An attack was imminent, and there was no chance for Wagner’s small force to stop the assault. Instead, Opdycke deployed his brigade about two hundred yards behind the Carter House.

Wagner’s decision to move into the field between the two armies was a mistake. The Confederate line overwhelmed Wagner’s men. The Federal defenders stampeded back towards the main line after firing a single volley. The Confederates followed in close pursuit, using their Federal foes as human shields. Afraid of hitting their comrades, the riflemen on the Federal main line held their fire as they watched the intermingled crowd surge towards them. As a result, the last half-mile of the Confederate advance was largely uncontested, allowing the charge to hit the main line with full force.

As the Confederates poured into the breach in the Federal line, Emerson Opdycke’s brigade, instead of being in retreat with Wagner’s other men, was in reserve, about 200 yards north of the Carter House. Opdycke quickly ordered his brigade forward to the breastworks. Opdycke’s counterattack helped seal the breach. Thousands of men surge into a deadly vortex of combat with shovels, bayonets, sabers, and pistols. Hand-to-hand fighting around the Carter House was furious and desperate. Firing continued around the Carter house and gardens for hours. Each side fired through or over the top of the parapets at close range, trying to dislodge the other. After hours of fighting, the call came for the Confederates to fall back. 

Our group listens quietly as the tour guide tries to help us understand the extreme violence and carnage that happened that fateful November day in 1864. There were so many casualties in the area around the Carter House that men died standing up because there were so many bodies that they couldn’t fall. She showed us the farm office, a small clapboard building that is full of bullet holes. The house and outbuildings have hundreds of bullet holes still showing. Of 15,000 Union troops engaged, some 200 died, and more than 2,000 were wounded. The Confederates had 23,000 men at Franklin; around 1,750 died, and 5,500 were injured or captured. Private Sam Watkins of the 1st Tennessee called it “the blackest page in the history of the war.” When recounting the battle, one soldier said, “It was as if the devil had full possession of the earth.”

As I stood on the battlefield in Franklin and contemplated the carnage that happened there, I thought about another great battle. Revelation chapter 12 presents what I feel is a good way for a Christian to view history. It describes a great spiritual war raging behind the scenes. The apostle John saw a vision of war in heaven. He saw the dragon defeated and hurled down to earth. “Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.” Revelation 12:7-9 (NLT)

Gentle Reader, the book of Revelation presents a vivid image of reality. It is the spiritual reality behind the wars that rage around us. Just like Satan whispers temptations in our ears, he also creates dissension among countries and urges them to fight. I love studying history, and history reveals an unending cavalcade of war and struggle. But God has promised that there will come a time when there will be no more war. “The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4 (NLT) I’m longing for that day.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Supply Chain Disruptions

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 5, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Warm hues spread over the landscape as the rosy golden light of sunrise makes its appearance. The sun is just coming up as I pull up to the storage building where my supplier dropped off my glass order during the night. A sense of apprehension comes over me as I roll up the garage door. It has been difficult for my glass supplier to fill my orders for the past couple of months. I am never sure how much of my order will be waiting for me in the storage building. 

My fears were confirmed as I loaded my glass onto my shop truck. Five pieces of glass were missing from my order. Five customers would have to be called and told that I would not be able to do their job until a later date. I would have to reschedule five jobs. I let out a long sigh. “What a way to start my day,” I thought. 

My supplier is in Little Rock, but I can also order glass from warehouses in Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, and Atlanta. When I order from out-of-state warehouses, I never know when I will receive the glass. I have had parts on order for over a month that I haven’t received yet. The wall of my office is covered with post-it notes for jobs. Many notes say, “call when the glass comes in.” I have been in this business since 1973, and I have never experienced supply disruptions like this.

When I called my supplier to find out about my latest batch of missing glass, I could hear the frustration in his voice. I’m sure that there were many calls that morning similar to mine. He told me that sales were the strongest he had ever seen. In the first quarter of 2021, sales were far higher than in any previous first quarter in the Little Rock warehouses’ existence. But their stock couldn’t keep up with demand. In the auto glass industry, the supply chain moves slow. When the warehouse orders more glass, it can take months to receive. It looks like it could be several months before their stock will meet the demand.

As I talk with customers and try to explain to them why I can’t get the glass that they need, many have told me of similar issues in other industries. I started researching the supply chain problems and found that many sectors followed a similar pattern during the COVID-19 pandemic. Manufacturers slashed orders from suppliers and reduced production when sales plummeted early in the pandemic. When sales started improving in the 4th quarter of 2020 and then took off in 2021, production and delivery could not keep up with demand, producing shortages.

Chris Rogers, a supply chain analyst for Panjiva, says, “the combination of stockpiling activity, a continued surge in goods ranging from electronics to appliances and a lack of air freight capacity has led to heavy congestion at U.S. ports. Also problematic is the shortage of empty containers and other equipment needed to haul products away from port facilities. Meanwhile, consumers are likely to wait longer for deliveries and face higher costs for in-demand items as container shipping rates jump.”

Phillip Sanfield, the spokesperson for the Port of Los Angeles, was recently asked about the supply chain problems. He said, “a total of 34 container ships mostly from Asia are now anchored off the ports of both Los Angeles and Long Beach, waiting to unload cargo including furniture, auto parts, apparel, and electronics. The system is definitely strained. Under normal conditions, it’s rare to have container ships waiting to get into the complex.”

Experts say that retailers are likely to face continued supply chain disruptions and delivery delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic for quite some time. “In 2021, organizations will face a challenge unraveling this complexity,” says Michael Ward, a web developer at Writemyx. “Sophisticated supply chain understanding is essential if organizations are to be resilient in the face of global upheaval.” Nader Mikhail, writing for Supply Chain News, says, “the global pandemic applied pressure to the supply chain in ways not previously seen. Much of the supply chain industry is still hanging on for dear life. Unfortunately, most companies with supply chains are far from where they need to be to deal with large-scale disruptions.”

It looks like we can expect supply chain disruptions for some time to come. I don’t think that there is going to be a quick fix in my industry. But there is a sure supply chain. Writing to the church at Philippi, Paul says, “this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 (NLT) We can be sure that God’s supply chain will not break down.

God’s supply chain works because God gives us the grace and strength to meet every new challenge daily. “God can give you all you need. He will give you more than enough. You will have everything you need for yourselves. And you will have enough left over to give when there is a need.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NLV) The world these days seems to feel almost helpless as everything around us is so unstable. Just watching the news can cause fear and uncertainty. Don’t fill your mind with all of the bad news around you. Instead, focus on God and his promises. Especially the promise that He will supply your needs.

Gentle Reader, “those who look to the Lord have every good thing they need.” Psalms 34:10 (NIRV) God doesn’t promise that you will have everything you want, but he has promised everything you need. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.” Philippians 4:11 (NLT) You can trust God when He says he will supply all your needs. His supply chain will never be disrupted. “We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.” Romans 8:28 (VOICE)

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Inspector Javert vs. Jean Valjean

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 28, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

When we lose a loved one, the pain we experience can feel unbearable. Grief is complex, and at first, we wonder if the pain will ever end. We go through a variety of emotional experiences such as anger, confusion, and sadness. Grief comes in waves. At first, the waves are so strong you feel they will sweep you away. But in time, those waves lessen and let the good memories in. Along with the pain, there are memories of smiles and good times.

This past weekend we had a mini family reunion. Cousins from Kansas and Missouri came to Mena for a visit. We had a wonderful time talking and reminiscing. I enjoyed the day very much, but it was bittersweet. A little over three years ago, my Momma passed away. The bitterness, anger, and pain that I struggled with for months after her death has eased over time. But I missed her on the day of the reunion. As cousins recalled stories from Momma and Daddy’s many visits to Kansas, emotions wafted over me. But the sadness I felt was tempered by the special memories that people had of her.

I thought about the last time I was able to do something special for Momma. When my wife learned that the musical theatre production of Les Miserables was coming to The Robinson Center in Little Rock, we made plans to attend. My wife thought that Momma would like to go with us. When I asked her if she would like to go, she was excited. She told me that she had studied Les Miserables in French class when she was a girl.

The Robinson Center was a bustle of activity as we made our way to our seats. With its towering buildings on either side of the stage, the set made us feel like we were in France in the early 1800s. The audience of the sold-out show waited in eager anticipation for the performance to begin. When the first strains of music started, a hush fell over the theater. For over three hours, the performers held the audience in rapt attention. 

The musical is based on the French historical novel Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. It tells a story of broken dreams, sacrifice, and redemption. It is an examination of law and grace and a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Victor Hugo wrote in the preface; “So long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”

The story revolves around two men; Jean Valjean, imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, and Inspector Javert, who is always looking for Valjean and seeking to arrest him after he breaks his parole. The most intriguing part of Les Miserables’ story is the different ways the main characters deal with law and mercy. The story starts with the release of Jean Valjean after 19 years in jail. Valjean finds rejection every place he seeks refuge until he finds a priest who gives him food and a place to sleep.

Jean Valjean steals all the finest silver from the priest. He is caught and brought back and made to admit his sin in front of the priest. The police are ready to put Jean Valjean in jail when the priest stops them. He explains that he gave all of the silver to the man, but he forgot to take the most precious silver. As the priest hands over his valuable candlesticks, it is clear that his grace is more remarkable than Jean Valjean could have ever imagined. Having experienced such forgiveness, Valjean spends the rest of his life trying to replicate the grace given to him.

Javert is the legalist, and he holds strictly to the letter of the law. There is only one way to treat others, and it is by strict justice. The story leads up to a climactic scene when Jean Valjean has the opportunity to kill Javert. But instead of retribution for the lifelong struggles and pain Javert has inflicted on his life, Jean Valjean shows him mercy, cuts his bound hands loose, and sends his enemy off as a free man.

The mercy shown to him by Valjean sends Javert, the legalist, into a tailspin from which he cannot recover. For him, mercy proves to be an unsolvable problem. He sings, “I am the law, and the law is not mocked! I’ll spit his pity right back in his face!” And then continues, “my thoughts fly apart. Can this man be believed? Shall his sins be forgiven? Shall his crimes be reprieved? Does he know that granting me my life today, this man has killed me even so?” After experiencing unmerited mercy, Javert, the legalist, jumps off a bridge and kills himself.

The power of Les Miserables is the way it contrasts the life of the merciful with the life of the ruthless. The merciful have faced their guilt, and it has broken them. The ruthless have faced their guilt and hardened themselves like steel.

Gentle Reader, Les Miserables is a story of the contrast in how sinners respond to the offer of mercy and grace. At a profound level, this is the story of two responses to grace: one man is broken and lives, and one man is hardened and dies. Titus 3:5 (NIRV) tells us that “He saved us. It wasn’t because of the good things we had done. It was because of his mercy. He saved us by washing away our sins. We were born again. The Holy Spirit gave us new life.” Don’t be an Inspector Javert and refuse the mercy that God holds out to you, be a Jean Valjean and live a life showing mercy to others because of the mercy God has given you. Who do you need to show mercy to today?

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Charles and His Corn Chips

 My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 21, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

In the summer of 1932, the United States was in the grips of The Great Depression. The stock market had declined by nearly 90 percent since 1929.  Twenty-four percent of the workforce was unemployed. Bread lines and soup kitchens were commonplace in America’s towns and cities. Farmers could not afford to harvest their crops and left them rotting in the fields while people were going hungry. Those that were lucky enough to have steady employment saw their wages cut or their hours reduced to part-time. Many people who had savings lost them as nearly half the country’s banks failed. 

It was July 10, 1932, and Charles Doolin was sitting in his family’s San Antonio café, Highland Park Confectionary. His parents started the business as a candy store and later added ice cream, soup, and sandwiches. Customers were few, and the café was struggling. Charles was looking for something to increase sales and keep the business from closing. As he read the classifieds in the San Antonio Express, he saw a short ad that caught his eye. “Corn chips business for sale. A new food product making good money.”

When Doolin responded to the ad, he met Gustavo Olguin, a Mexican cook who had perfected a recipe for curly chips made by frying corn masa. Gustavo needed cash to move back to Mexico, and Doolin was impressed with the chips. Charles pawned his mother’s wedding ring and paid Olguin 100 dollars for the recipe and a list of 19 clients who had been buying the fried chips. 

Charles and his mother started making the new corn chips every night in their kitchen at home. They could make about ten pounds of chips every evening. The fresh corn chips became a popular side dish to go with the soups and sandwiches in their café. Charles named his new chips, Fritos, and started putting them in wax paper bags to sell in local stores. Within a year, he had invented a machine to increase production. The corn masa came out in ribbons and was cut with scissors as it dropped into the hot oil. The operation moved from his kitchen into his garage, and soon he was producing one hundred pounds of Fritos an hour.

Before long, Charles was driving his Ford Model A all over Texas, selling his Fritos. There was no money for a salesman or even for Charles to sleep in hotels. On his selling trips, he would sleep in his car. He said, “I slept in front of the best hotels in the state of Texas.” Charles innovated new ways to get his product in front of consumers. He invented the clip rack that hung many bags of chips in a small space and talked stores into putting these new racks near the cashier. He understood impulse buying. 

Charles’ new product and his innovations in production and sales made Fritos a success. By 1955, the company owned more than fifty production plants. In 1961, The Frito Co. merged with the H.W. Lay & Company, and the new Frito-Lay Company became the largest snack food company in the United States. Last year, sales for Frito-Lay were up 6.5%, to over 16 billion dollars. Fritos has gone from ten-pound batches made in the Doolin family kitchen to sales all over the world. Frito-Lay sells twenty-nine snack brands in more than 100 countries. 

When you go through a cashier’s line in most stores, you are very aware of Charles Doolin’s impulse buying strategy. Rows of candy, gum and other snacks meet your eye. I’m sure that most of us have bought something that we didn’t intend to because of the strategic impulse buying layout that most retailers use. Impulse buys are relatively universal, with a study from finding that 84 percent of Americans say they have made impulse buys. The same survey found that over 20 percent of Americans have made an impulse purchase of over 1,000 dollars. Being impulsive can have a significant impact on your life. 

Impulsive shopping and impulsive Christian living have a lot in common. Neither one is the best way to approach life. Making a good decision is essential whether you are shopping or making crucial moral life choices. The human tendency to be impulsive is the source of many bad decisions. When we decide quickly with very little thought or planning, we often make a poor choice.

Ideas and actions are continually presenting themselves to our minds. The best approach is to use time, thought, research, advice, and Christian ethics and morals to filter the good ideas from the bad ones. Nearly all of us have sometimes bypassed the usual filters and acted on impulse. The idea seemed so great, the urge so strong, that we immediately jumped at the thought. At times our impulsiveness works out all right, but often we pay a heavy price.

God wants us to be thoughtful and intentional in our relationship with Him. “Do not be hasty with your mouth or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter before God. For God is in heaven and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few.” Ecclesiastes 5:2 (AMP) God also wants us to temper our impulsiveness in our dealings with other people. “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, But he who is impulsive exalts folly.” Proverbs 14:19 (NKJV) 

Gentle Reader, the reason that impulsive decisions often work out so poorly is that our sinful self is louder than God’s Spirit. When you are confronted with options and must decide, the first voice you will hear will be that of your selfishness. The Bible tells us that “our sinful selves want what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit wants what is against our sinful selves. The two are against each other, so you cannot do just what you please.” Galatians 5:17 (NCV) And Peter writes, “Dear friends, since you are immigrants and strangers in the world, I urge that you avoid worldly desires that wage war against your lives.” 1 Peter 2:11 (NCV) He does not say you will never experience worldly desires. He does not say those bad ideas will never enter your mind. He says we must avoid these desires and not give in to our impulses. Taking the time to think through our decisions allows reason and spiritual insight to take over. Don’t be an impulse buyer.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

I Can See Clearly Now

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 14, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

“I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day.” Whenever I hear these words and the lively, reggae-inspired music, I am transported back to my high school days. In the fall and winter of 1972, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing the beautifully fuzzed-out guitar, the lithe, supple bassline, and Johnny Nash’s effortless voice singing lyrics, full of life and joyous redemption. The song spent four weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts and gave us hope that there were better things ahead.

Johnny Nash was 32 when he hit #1 with “I Can See Clearly Now,” and he’d already had 15 years in the music business. Nash came from Houston, and he grew up singing in church. As a teenager, his beautiful tenor was compared to Johnny Mathis’s voice. In the 60s, he moved to Jamaica while co-running a record company and helped launch his friend Bob Marley’s career. He enjoyed some success in 1968 with the song “Hold Me Tight,” but “I Can See Clearly Now” was his most successful single.

The obituary that ran in the Associated Press when Johnny Nash died in October 2020 referred to his biggest hit this way. “‘I Can See Clearly Now” was a story of overcoming hard times that itself raised the spirits of countless listeners, with its swelling pop-reggae groove, promise of a “bright, bright sunshiny day” and Nash’s gospel-styled exclamation midway, “Look straight ahead, nothing but blue skies!”, a backing chorus lifting the words into the heavens.”

Seeing clearly is essential in life. A few weeks ago, I had a bad experience while floating the Ouachita River. During one of my unintentional swims in the river, I lost my glasses. I could no longer see things clearly. That week, I called my ophthalmologist, Dr. Ennen, and made an appointment to get my eyes tested.

On the day of the appointment, I checked in at the front desk, and then a technician led me to an alcove where there was an OCT Imaging System. The machine captures images of the eye, allowing Dr. Ennen to see certain diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration years in advance. Next, the doctor performed a refraction test. If you’ve ever had an eye exam, you’re familiar with the refraction test. You place your face up to the machine, and then the doctor flips down the first lens, then another, while you say which of the two helps you see the letters on the eye chart more clearly. Is it lens one or two, lens three or four? Which one is better? 

After the refraction test, the doctor dilated my eyes. Pupil dilation increases the pupils’ size during an eye exam so that the doctor can thoroughly examine the health of the optic nerve and retina. The exam is critical to preventing and treating eye conditions that could potentially lead to vision loss. Next, I picked out frames and paid my bill. My glasses would be ready in about a week.

As I reflected on the vision test, it made me wonder if I was looking at my life through the correct lens. Was it possible to flip down a different lens and see a better story? 

The Apostle Paul seems to have had problems with his eyesight. Many biblical scholars point to Galatians 6:11 (NLT) as evidence. Here Paul wrote, “Notice what large letters I use as I write these closing words in my own handwriting.” Even if Paul had poor eyesight, his spiritual sight remained exceptionally clear. During his time preaching the gospel, he was flogged, whipped, and stoned many times. He had been shipwrecked, bitten by a snake, outcast, and ridiculed. Several times, he was imprisoned, and some of his life was spent under house arrest in Rome, all for preaching the gospel. And yet he was still able to write, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NLT)

While he was in prison, Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” Philippians 1:12-14 (NIV)

Which lens helped Paul see more clearly? Was it lens one or two? Paul didn’t see himself as stuck in prison because of Jesus; he saw himself as stationed in jail for Jesus. He didn’t see himself as chained to a Roman guard; he saw the Roman guard as chained to him. The guards had to listen to Paul talk about Jesus day in and day out. Paul had time to write letters to the churches.

Who put Paul in prison? From the outside looking in, it appeared the Roman rulers put him there. But from the inside looking out, Paul knew God had positioned him there. He didn’t see himself as imprisoned; he considered himself stationed. And because he was looking through the right lens, he had joy even in a difficult situation.

Gentle Reader, I wish that I could see as clearly as Paul did, but I can’t. When things go wrong, I pout, I get angry, and I become discouraged. But I try to remember to flip the lens and look at my circumstances through the eyes of God instead of the lens of my selfishness. And that gives me a better outcome. Not because the storyline changes, but because my perspective does. When I allow God to help me see through the correct lens, I can sing: “I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day.”


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

From Ponca to Steel Creek

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 7, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The skies were clear, and sunshine bathed the landscape as we drove down to the low water bridge at Ponca. I was anticipating my first ever float on the Buffalo River. As we unloaded the paddleboards and kayaks out of the van, the air was crisp and cool. There was a flurry of activity as our group worked to air up the five paddleboards and three kayaks. When everything was ready, we headed down the river.

As soon as we knew the dates of my granddaughter’s spring break, we had started planning a Buffalo River float trip. I reserved Leatherwood House, a beautiful secluded cabin near the Steel Creek Campground. All winter, I looked forward to our Easter weekend family float trip. Now the day was finally here, and I was floating down the Buffalo. The scenery is incredible, with towering bluffs like Bee Bluff and Roark Bluff making you feel tiny as you paddle past them. Waterfalls seem to flow right out of the rock face and tumble down the bluff to the river. 

I struggled with pain in my legs as I paddled my kayak, and numerous times, my daughter, son-in-law, or granddaughter had to help me when I got stuck on the shoals. The water was frigid and made you cold to the core. There was even an embarrassing situation where I had to get out of the kayak to free it from the shoals, and the swift current lowered my pants. By the time we pulled out at Steel Creek, I was in a lot of pain, but seeing the stunning views along the float was a bucket list experience for me.

Spending the weekend in God’s wonderful creation was the perfect way for me to spend Easter. We not only floated the Buffalo, but we hiked the Lost Vally Trail back to Eden Falls and also saw the Twin Falls at the Camp Orr Boy Scout Camp. Easter morning, I reflected on the final week of Jesus’ life. One of the stories that I remember from that week is Jesus crying for the city of Jerusalem. If He cried over the city of Jerusalem, can you imagine how He is crying over the world today?

When I was growing up, my family attended a small church in Fort Lupton, Colorado. The small church shared a pastor with another church. Sometimes when the pastor wasn’t there for the mid-week prayer service, those in attendance would take turns reciting a favorite text. Being a smart aleck, I thought it was amusing to say that my favorite verse was John 11:35. “Jesus wept.”

As I have grown older, it has become a favorite verse of mine. I believe the simple words, “Jesus wept,” may reveal as much about Jesus as any other words ever said about Him. I’m sure that you remember the story of Lazarus. When he became ill, his sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, the one you love is very sick.” Jesus chose to wait until Lazarus had died before He came. We read the story in John 11:33-35 (NLT). “When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within Him, and He was deeply troubled. ‘Where have you put him?’ He asked them. They told him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Then Jesus wept.”

Why did Jesus cry? Was it because of his love for Lazarus? He knew Lazarus would be alive in a few minutes. Jesus was crying because his friends were sad. Their sorrow moved him. Jesus is painfully aware of your suffering. Psalms 56:8 (NLT) tells us, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

A few days before he died, “Jesus came near Jerusalem. He saw the city and began to cry for it.”Luke 19:41 (ICB) Why was Jesus crying? Was He crying for a city?  I think that Luke 13:34 (NLT) gives us some insight into this story. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” Jesus was crying for the people of Jerusalem. He had come to save them, but most were not willing to be saved. Even though they had rejected him and his salvation, He had compassion for them.

If we follow the example of Jesus, how should we, as Christians, relate to sinners? We should have compassion. It seems to me that many Christians have lost their compassion. As I look around, I don’t often see Christians dealing with others with understanding. I am more apt to see hate than compassion.

I don’t want to meddle, but maybe I will a little bit. Think about a few hot button topics and see your response toward the following groups. LGTBQ, Muslims, Adulterers, Abortionists, Thieves, Drug Dealers, Illegal Aliens, Prostitutes, Atheists. Do you have compassion for them, or is your response something different? Can you hate someone while you are praying for their salvation? Should we hate someone that Jesus died for because he loves them?

Following the example of Jesus and having compassion for sinners is very liberating. It allows us to leave the judging up to God while practicing the self-sacrificing love He demonstrated on the cross. It will enable 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 writes, “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.”

A trendy catchphrase in Christianity is, “What Would Jesus Do?” WWJD is found on jewelry, emblazoned on bumper stickers, and has made its way into popular culture. The only way to determine what Jesus would do is by learning what Jesus did. Romans 5:8 (NKJV) tells us that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Gentle Reader, Jesus cried for a city of sinners who rejected him. He asked his Father to forgive those who tortured and killed him. We should love the sinner as Christ loves us. After all, we are sinners too. Holding a sign that says “God Hates You” is not an effective way to witness to sinners. Let’s follow the example of Jesus and love sinners and hate the sin in our own lives. John, the disciple that Jesus loved, tells us in 1 John 4:8 (NKJV) that “he who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Village Blacksmith

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 31, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

“Under a spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands.” I can still remember these words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from my high school English Literature class. I never thought about blacksmiths and their role in society and the economy until I was married. My wife’s grandfather was a blacksmith on the plains of Eastern Colorado in the early 1900s. My father-in-law would tell stories about growing up with a blacksmith for a father.

From the Middle Ages until the late 1800s, the blacksmith was considered indispensable in every town. The village blacksmith was skilled in making various tools, household objects, weapons, and repairing any metal item. As Europeans traveled across the Atlantic, blacksmiths came with them. Having a local blacksmith proved crucial in providing tools and building supplies for early settlers.

With the Industrial Revolution came the ability to produce large numbers of goods in a factory. Factory production of firearms, tools, and all types of metal parts made work hard to find for individual blacksmiths. By the end of the 19th century, most blacksmiths found themselves out of a job, and many became the initial generation of automobile mechanics. By the 1930s, the village blacksmith was a thing of the past.

But in the early 1900s, there was still a need for a village blacksmith in small rural American communities. During this time, my wife’s grandfather was a blacksmith in Stratton, Colorado. Her Daddy would tell her stories about the blacksmith shop and her Grandpa. Because he died before she was born, my wife only knew her Grandpa through these stories. 

Everyone in the small town of Stratton knew Winfield, the blacksmith. Whenever he was at work in his shop, they could hear the sound of his hammer ringing against the anvil. Longfellow put it this way. “Week in, week out, from morn till night, you can hear his bellows blow; You can hear him swing his heavy sledge. With measured beat and slow.” While recounting stories of his childhood, my wife’s Daddy, known as Red when he was a kid because of his red hair,  told her, “When the anvil quit ringing, you had better get home. It was time for supper.” 

All of the local children were afraid of Red’s father, the blacksmith. He was always dirty and covered with soot from the fire in the forge at his shop. When kids came by the blacksmith shop, he would run them off. The blacksmith shop was a dangerous place for a kid, and he didn’t want them getting hurt. He could be pretty harsh with them and had a reputation for being disagreeable. 

One day, Red’s buddies wanted to go to the general store and get some penny candy. “I don’t have a penny,” Red told them. “Why don’t you ask your Dad for a penny,” they answered. “I don’t ask my Dad for money,” Red replied. His buddies continued to pester him about the penny. Finally, Red decided that he would ask his Dad if he could do some work to earn a penny. When he went to the blacksmith shop, his buddies stayed on the other side of the street and wouldn’t go near Red’s Dad. When Red asked his Dad if he could work and earn a penny, his Dad asked, “what do you need a penny for?” Red replied, “I want to go get some penny candy with my buddies.” “Here is a nickel,” said Dad, “go get candy for you and your friends.” When Red crossed the street and showed his buddies the nickel, they couldn’t believe their eyes. They were afraid of this disagreeable man, but he had given Red a nickel to treat them to candy.

The story of the penny candy and the blacksmith reminds me of my relationship with God. When we look at God’s law, we sometimes see a harsh God who seems to want to restrict us. Because the blacksmith didn’t want kids to get hurt, he wouldn’t let them near his blacksmith shop. The kids perceived this as being harsh, and they feared him. Many of us look at God that way. But God, in His love for us, has given us His law as a place of peace and safety. “Those who love Your law have an abundance of peace, and nothing along their paths can cause them to stumble.” Psalms 119:165 (VOICE) 

Many times we look at God’s law as a jail. We feel that it creates uncomfortable restrictions. We need to ask God to give us a love for his commandments, to instill in us a desire for the peace and safety of His law. “For this demonstrates our love for God: We keep his commandments, and his commandments are not difficult.” 1 John 5:3 (ISV)

Another lesson we can learn from the blacksmith is the importance of fire. When a blacksmith is working with metal, the only way that he can shape it if he has heated it in the fire. In Isaiah 44:12 (NET), the Bible says, “a blacksmith works with his tool and forges metal over the coals. He forms it with hammers; he makes it with his strong arm.” And in Isaiah 48:10 (NIV), God says, “I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” Have you ever felt like God was testing you in the furnace of affliction? I know I have.

Gentle Reader, I can’t say that I enjoy the heat, but I’m thankful that God is refining and shaping my life. Steel in the hand of a skilled blacksmith is malleable and not resilient. If the steel was resilient, then it would always bounce back to its original shape and be useless to anybody. I want to be useful, and the only way for a bar of steel to be transformed into something useful is to be put in the fire and shaped on the anvil. Remember that if you are being tried and shaped in the fires of life, “God is working in you to help you want to do and be able to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:13 (NCV) Longfellow expressed this idea in the final verse of his poem. “Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend, For the lesson thou hast taught! Thus at the flaming forge of life, Our fortunes must be wrought; Thus on its sounding anvil shaped Each burning deed and thought.”

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Rescue Me

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 24, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The first day of spring is delightful, with the gentle spring sun warming the landscape. Brilliant blue skies enhance the greenness of the grass that the trees will soon echo. As we drive, cows in the fields munch on luxurious new grass. After the winter months, we are excited to be on an outdoor adventure. On our drive to Oden, we talk excitedly about our upcoming trips. After staying close to home in 2020, my wife and I are ready to travel and explore.

Today we have planned a day on the Ouachita River. We have reserved a two-person fishing kayak from River View Cabins and Canoes. Jessie drove us to the Shirley Creek put-in. The temperature was 57 degrees, and there was a stiff headwind as we headed out on the river. Before long, we came to our first bit of fast water. We chose the line to the right, but the water was so low that our kayak bottomed out on the rocks. I had to get out of the kayak to free us from the rocks. When the kayak was free, there was no way that I could get back in. My wife took the kayak through the swift water and then had to keep paddling in circles until I could swim and catch up. With water temperatures in the low 50’s, my swim was a bone-chilling experience. 

After my first experience in the water, it wasn’t long before I was in the water again. This time I turned the kayak over and put my wife in the water with me. The chill of the water took her breath away. When we were able to secure the kayak and paddles, we made our way to a gravel bank on the shore. We realized that the box with our phones was missing. My wife notices the box bobbing along quite a way downriver. I walked as far as I could down the gravel bank and then dove into the water. After swimming for a few minutes, I was able to retrieve the box. I had a challenging time swimming to a place where I could get out of the water. I am not a good swimmer, and it isn’t easy to swim with a box in one hand.

We were finally on our way again, with the box secured to the kayak. It wasn’t long before I caused the kayak to tip over once more. By now, the cold water experience has gone from being an adventure to being very annoying. We are both soaked, and there is a stiff breeze. Every time we could get underway, it wasn’t long before I would panic and cause the kayak to capsize. I could not get comfortable, and the more I tried to keep my balance, the worse my balance was. I was tired, cold, and hurting. I began to panic. How would we ever be able to finish the four-mile trip? After half a dozen dunkings, pulling the boat to someplace where we could get back in, I was worn out and alarmed. 

When I once again capsized the kayak in deep water, we finally got to a large rock in the middle of the river. My legs were very sore, and I had a tough time getting back in the kayak. Almost immediately, I turned us over once again. Downriver I could see a large gravel bar in the middle of the river. We walked and swam with the kayak until we finally reached the gravel bar. “I can’t go on,” I told my wife. “I don’t know what to do.” I took my phone out of the box. It had a few drops of water on it from all the time it had spent in the water. I wondered if my phone would work and if I would have a signal. My phone worked, and I had enough phone signal to get a call through to River View Cabins and Canoes. “Rescue me,” I said. I told Brandon that I couldn’t go on. He told me that he would head to the river, but it would be some time before he could reach us.

When Brandon pulled up to the gravel bar in a one-person kayak, we wondered how he would rescue us. He had grown up in the area and knew the river. He contacted the landowners of the land along the banks of the river near us. After several phone calls, Brandon arranged for the landowner to drive his small Nissan pickup to the bank near our location. We had to cross the river to get to the bank. We had pretty well dried out by that time, but we would have to get wet and cold again one more time. Once we made our way to the bank, it was steep and very muddy. We had one more obstacle to overcome.

Relief flooded over me as we rode back to River View. Gratitude for Brandon, Jessie, and the landowner filled me. When you are in trouble, it always feels good to be rescued. Lauren Daigle’s song Rescue is a favorite of mine. The lyrics say, “I hear the whisper underneath your breath. I hear you whisper; you have nothing left. I will send out an army to find you in the middle of the darkest night. It’s true; I will rescue you. I will never stop marching to reach you in the middle of the hardest fight. It’s true; I will rescue you

Gentle Reader, David wrote about his near-drowning experience in Psalms 69:1-3 (NIV). “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.” Every one of us has experienced the need to be rescued. God has made a promise to us. “Call to Me, and I will answer you.” Jeremiah 33:3 (NKJV)  When God answers our call, he will bring us to a place of safety. “He led me to a place of safety; he rescued me because He delights in me.” Psalms 18:19 (NLT) When you call on God, you can count on Him to answer you, rescue you, and save you.


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Outstanding Women in Business

In honor of Women's History Month, the Polk County Pulse asked community members to nominate Women in Business. Eight women were selected by a third party to be honored as outstanding women in business. 

My wife, Regina, was chosen as one of the Outstanding Women in Business. This is the article from the March 17, 2021. issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Regina is the Manager of USEM Mena Federal Credit Union, which serves the employees at Nidec, Sterling Machinery, Polk County Employees, and Rose Aircraft Companies.

"We hope to expand our field of membership in the near future," she said. "Our credit union is not for profit and owned by our members. Soon we are going online with virtual credit union. We are very excited about this."

In 2001, Regina became an empty nester when both of her children went off to school. "I told someone that I guessed I was going to have to go back to work. The next thing I know, I got a call asking me to come in for an interview with Larry Stewart and Judy Jones. They hired me and I started the next day," she said, noting that she only received one day of training when she began the job.

"The woman whose place I took never came back. So I turned to the Arkansas Credit Union League and Sherry Humphries for help. I knew the accounting, but the ins and outs of the banking industry are never-ending. Both they and the other credit union managers helped me through it," she said.

"I think that what led to my success is that I love what I do and I love the people I serve. They are what the credit union is about. I try hard to take care of their needs as quickly as I can."

Regina said that in her time in the position, the credit union's assets have doubled. “I’ve gotten grants from the National Credit Union Administration and updated programming that enabled us to better serve our members.”

What she loves most about her job is the members. “The people I serve work so hard and really appreciate what you do for them. Seeing them get into the new car or travel trailer they wanted is so fulfilling. After helping one man get a new Harley-Davidson, he told me, “You made all my dreams come true.” What woman doesn’t want the hear that,” she said.

The most challenging thing to overcome for her was the mindset that this is the way we have always done it. “I like the statement, ‘While all changes do not lead to improvement, all improvement requires change.,’” she said. “Over the past few years, younger people have come on to the board of directors, and they have seen the necessity of change to stay relevant in this fast-changing time.”

Regina suggests, “Do what you love and love who you do it for.” “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Ecclesiastes 9:10. “If you do those things, you will be recognized for your character and work ethic, and success will follow,” she said.

The sidebar to the article states; Regina Lawry owned and operated a fabric store in Mena, The Golden Thimble, for a number of years in the early 90s. She closed the store to homeschool her son. She has run the USEM Credit Union for over twenty years. She provides exceptional personalized service to all of her customers. In the past, she has volunteered at the hospital. She is a Hero of Hope and has traveled all over Arkansas speaking on behalf of the American Cancer Society.

The Great Storm

 My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 17, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

On September 5, 1900, the Galveston Daily News ran a notice in its weather section: A tropical disturbance was moving over western Cuba and heading for the south Florida coast. The message was datelined “Washington, D.C.,” September 4. 

At 6 a.m., September 6, Isaac Cline, the Weather Bureau’s chief Galveston, Texas observer, took the morning readings. Barometric pressure within the normal range with light winds. The sky over Galveston and out to the calm gulf was as clear and blue as it could be. At 8 a.m., the bureau confirmed the prediction it had telegraphed to Galveston the day before regarding Cuba’s disturbance. The storm is not a hurricane, and the course of this non-hurricane would not affect Galveston. The system, said the bureau, was “attended only by heavy rains and winds of moderate force” that could damage moored ships and shoreline property along the Florida coast.

Friday morning, September 7, everything stopped making sense. The Weather Bureau abruptly reversed its forecast and ordered Cline to raise the storm-warning flag. In Galveston Friday afternoon, a heavy swell formed southeast of the long Gulf beach. And it arrived with an ominous roar. A severe storm was on the way. While officials in Washington had recognized they were wrong about the storm’s track, on one point, they remained insistent: This could not be a hurricane.

4 a.m. Saturday, September 8, Isaac awoke with a start. He had a sudden feeling that water had flowed into the yard. From a south window, he peered down. The yard was underwater. The gulf was in town. Isaac sprang into action, urging beach residents and business owners to head for higher ground. At 3:30 Saturday afternoon, Isaac sent a cable to the Weather Bureau in Washington. “Gulf rising rapidly,” it read. “Half the city now underwater.”

Fifty people sought refuge in Isaac’s brick house, but the storm knocked it off its foundation Saturday night. All but 18, Cline wrote later, “were hurled into eternity,” among them his wife, Clara, pregnant with the couple’s fourth child. Across Galveston, the devastation was unimaginable. A Category 4 hurricane leveled the city and claimed at least 10,000 lives. The unnamed storm is still the deadliest natural disaster in American history.

Several years ago, a friend loaned me the book Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson, which told about the hurricane by telling Isaac Cline’s story. Isaac was the chief meteorologist at the Galveston, Texas office of the U.S. Weather Bureau from 1889-1901. I used stories from the book as the basis for a sermon. After hearing the stories, Dave and Fay Wiebe brought me a hand-typed account by a relative who survived the storm. The statement was dictated and signed by Carrie M. Hughes and copied by Irby B. Hughes on August 9, 1957, in Palestine, Texas.

Carrie Hughes tells what happened that awful day. “The tremendous wall of broken houses and debris had struck our house, like a battering ram and crushed the underpart, letting the upper part into the water. As it settled down, I felt the ceiling touching the back of my head with the water just under my chin. Instantly, the house’s roof seemed to blow over from the south, throwing little Mattie and me into a corner of it. The next thing I knew, I felt ourselves slipping out. I clutched at the ceiling or walls but could catch hold of nothing as we slipped into the water. My hand was grabbed by Eliza Williams, a colored woman whom I knew well. She drew me partly onto the raft upon which she and her daughter Hattie Banks were floating.”

Five members of this family made it through the ordeal, and two did not. As I read the story, waves of emotion swept over me. I have read many survivor stories before, but this one seemed different, as it was a remembrance recorded so that family members would know what happened that night. Because of my friendship with the Wiebe’s, it seemed like I knew the person telling the story.

On the hand-typed pages, Carrie finished telling her story. “How gladly would we have lost every dollar we possessed could we have kept dear Mattie and Stuart with us, but we do not morn them as one without hope, knowing we shall meet them again. It is such a comforting thought that they were Christians. We do not know where their beloved remains are resting. It may be in one of the numberless unknown graves that dot the whole face of beloved Galveston. It may be they are resting in the depths of the bay or gulf, or their ashes may have mixed with the earth from which they sprung. Whatever may have become of them, we know they are safe in the arms of Jesus.”

More than 10,000 men, women, and children lost their lives during the Great Storm. It was the deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States. I can’t imagine what the people of Galveston went through. Reading the story of her family as written by Carrie Hughes gave me an idea of the terror that people experienced. 

Gentle Reader, although it has been nothing like the devastation and terror that the people of Galveston experienced, the past year has been a difficult one for many of us. Last week, I attended two funerals in five days, one for a friend that I have known for forty years and one for my cousin, the best man at my wedding. When I attend a funeral, the words of Paul found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NKJV) always come to my mind. “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Ed's Calling

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 10, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

My favorite place in Arkansas is the Buffalo River area. The Buffalo River starts in the Boston Mountains and flows in an easterly direction. Along the river are multi-colored bluffs of eroded sandstone, limestone, and dolomite, with some towering to heights over 400 feet. In 1972, Congress named the Buffalo River as the country’s first national river. It is one of the few remaining free-flowing rivers in the lower forty-eight states. 

The Flood Control Act of 1938 included the Buffalo River in its plans for dams on the White River. The threat of a dam on the Buffalo worried Arkansas conservation groups and those who used the river for recreation. Decades of political maneuverings, including a canoe trip on the Buffalo by Supreme Court Justice Douglas, came to a head in December 1965, when Governor Orval Faubus said he could not support a dam on the Buffalo River. Naming the River a National River put an end to the controversy.

In 2017, The Buffalo River National Park Service brought Still on the Hill, an Arkansas folk duo, to the Ouachita Little Theater. I had heard them in concert once before and made plans to attend. They sang songs from their Still a River CD.  The songs told the stories of well-known landmarks along the Buffalo River, such as Bee Bluff, Sam’s Throne, Tyler Bend, Granny Henderson’s cabin, and the zinc mine at Rush Creek. I loved the music, but one part of the concert made an impression on me. Kelly Mulhollan picked up the strangest guitar I have ever seen and began telling Ed Stilley’s story. The guitar looked rough and homemade. With its butterfly shape and the words “True Faith, True Light, Have Faith in God” inscribed on the body, the guitar didn’t seem real.

I was fascinated as Kelly told the story of his friendship with Ed. He first met Ed in 1995. His wife, Donna, was visiting friends who had been Ed’s neighbors and had received a guitar from Ed. Donna knew her folk-art-loving husband would appreciate the strange piece. “She ran home to me and said, ‘You’ve got to see this to believe it,’” He continued, “from the very start, we both felt like we had stumbled into one of the great folk artists of our time,” The Mulhollans developed a beautiful friendship with Ed, spending a lot of time with him. As he strummed a few chords on the strange guitar,  Kelly said, “Ed gave me this wonderful instrument in 2004. It was among the last instruments he built. Its proportions are undeniably dramatic, and it’s a fine-sounding instrument as well. I have been using it for years in live performances.”

Ed’s story is remarkable. The Still on the Hill website tells it this way. In 1979, he led a simple life as a farmer and singer of religious hymns in Hogscald Hollow, a tiny Ozark community south of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Life was filled with hard work and making do for Ed, his wife Eliza, and their five children, who lived simply, as if the second half of the twentieth century had never happened.

But one day, Ed’s life was permanently altered. While plowing his field, he became convinced he was having a heart attack. Ed stopped his work and lay down on the ground. Staring at the sky, he saw himself as a large tortoise struggling to swim across a river. On his back were five small tortoises—his children—clinging to him for survival. And then, as he lay there in the freshly plowed dirt, Ed received a vision from God, telling him that he would be restored to health if he would agree to do one thing: make musical instruments and give them to children.

And so he did. Beginning with a few simple hand tools, Ed worked tirelessly for twenty-five years to create over two hundred instruments, each a crazy quilt of heavy, rough-sawn wood scraps joined with found objects. A rusty door hinge, a steak bone, a stack of dimes, springs, saw blades, pot lids, metal pipes, glass bottles, aerosol cans—Ed used anything he could to build a working guitar, fiddle, or dulcimer. On each instrument, Ed inscribed, “True Faith, True Light, Have Faith in God.”

As a craftsman using only basic woodworking tools, a fertile imagination, and materials available to him from the forests of the Ozark Mountains, Ed Stilley made hundreds of guitars that he gave away to neighbors and children.

When an interviewer asked Ed why he never signed his guitars, he replied, “because I done it for the glory of God. I never done it in my name. I wasn’t smart enough to make ’em and I shore wasn’t gonna put my name on ’em. I had some people try to get me to and I said you just get yourself a piece of paper and put my name on that. I said, “I’m gonna tell you why.” I said, “Now whenever God tells you to do something, He wants you to do it exactly like He gave the order.” 

The calling that Ed felt reminds me of a verse found in 1 Corinthians 7:17 (NIV) “Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.” And the Apostle Peter tells us, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)

Gentle Reader, sometimes we may feel that God calls only pastors. In Christian circles, the word “calling” feels like a name saved only for special people and those paid to do ministry. But God calls every one of us. Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (NLT) Our first calling is to be near Jesus. When we are, everything else begins to fall into place. What is God calling you to do today? It may not be building handmade guitars, but He has a calling for you. Ask Him what he wants you to do.