Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The First Thanksgiving

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

Golden threads of morning light announce a new day. It is our first Thanksgiving Day in Arkansas. The weather is unusually warm for November, and I am thankful for it. My wife and I are hosting Thanksgiving this year, and there will be more than twenty people here. There isn’t room for that many in our small house, so we have cleaned the garage and mopped the floor several times. We have set up borrowed tables and folding chairs in the garage. Cooking is already underway in the kitchen. I’m thankful for the warm weather because our garage isn’t heated.

There is a bustle of activity as everyone arrives. I’m thankful to be surrounded by family and friends. My parents and both sets of grandparents are here. After a bountiful meal, my Grandpa Lawry asks if he can sing a song. He loves to sing, and even though he doesn’t have a good singing voice, some of my favorite memories are of him singing. Grandpa chooses the song, The Love of God. His voice wavers and his words slur a bit as he sings acapella, “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell. It goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell.”

His voice is filled with emotion, and I do not doubt that he believes every word with his whole heart. He continues singing, “Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made. Were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade. To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.” As the last words of the song rolled off his lips, I felt warm and cozy, surrounded by the love of God and family.

At the time, I didn’t realize how special that Thanksgiving would become in my memory. But in just a couple of weeks, my Grandpa passed away suddenly. I’m thankful for that first Thanksgiving in Arkansas and the memory of Grandpa singing. Even though it was forty years ago, my memories are vivid, and I can still hear him sing. 

I remember learning in school that the Pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving in 1621. But since my boyhood school days, I have discovered that there were Thanksgiving celebrations held in America before the 1620s. The people of El Paso, Texas, claim that the first Thanksgiving was held in Texas in 1598. Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Oñate led an expedition north of the Rio Grande into an area now known as Texas, where he and his colonists joined Native Americans in a feast on April 30, 1598.

The King of Spain sent Oñate to colonize the area north of the Rio Grande. His journey started from Santa Barbara, Chihuahua. The 50-day trip across the Chihuahua Desert, was unforgiving to the expedition. There were 400 men, 83 wagons, and thousands of horses, sheep, and goats. Their provisions ran out quickly, and the desert provided no running water or rainfall. After days without water, the party finally spotted the banks of the Rio Grande. Capt. Villagrá, who provided a written record of the expedition, wrote, “Our men threw themselves into the water and drank as though the entire river did not carry enough to quench their terrible thirst. Then satisfied, they threw themselves upon the cool sands, deformed and swollen and more like toads than men.” They rested under the cottonwood trees on the banks of the Rio Grande for ten days, spending their time swimming, fishing, and hunting.

On April 30, 1598, Oñate requested that the friars traveling with them say a Mass of Thanksgiving to celebrate their deliverance from death in the desert. “We built a great bonfire and roasted the meat and fish, and then all sat down to a repast the like of which we had never enjoyed before,” Villagrá wrote. “We were happy that our trials were over, as happy as were the passengers in the Ark when they saw the dove returning with the olive branch in his beak, bringing tidings that the deluge had subsided.”

Although the people of El Paso have an excellent historical claim to the first Thanksgiving in America, the people of St. Augustine, Florida, believe that they have a better one. On September 8, 1565, hundreds of Spanish settlers, under Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, landed at what is now St. Augustine, Florida. Blaring trumpets and thundering artillery accompanied Avilés as he waded ashore. The Spanish admiral kissed Father Francisco Lopez’s cross, then claimed Florida for God and Spain. As curious members of the indigenous Timucua tribe looked on, the newly arrived colonists gathered around a makeshift altar as Father Lopez performed a Catholic Mass of Thanksgiving for their safe arrival. At the invitation of the Spanish, the Timucuans then joined the newcomers in a communal meal.

Florida historian Michael Gannon feels that this feast was America’s first Thanksgiving. In his book “The Cross in the Sand,” he wrote, “It was the first community act of religion and thanksgiving in the first permanent settlement in the land.” But Texas holds an even earlier claim to the first Thanksgiving. An official Texas Historical Commission marker near the Palo Duro Canyon acknowledges that Fray Juan De Padillo conducted thanksgiving services there on May 29, 1541, for the army accompanying Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado.

Gentle Reader, the location of the first Thanksgiving in America is not what is essential. God wants us all to live as though each day was Thanksgiving. But too often, we forget to give thanks for what God is doing for us. We have a choice, every day, to give him thanks. And with a heart of thanksgiving, we realize that no matter what we face, God doesn’t just work to change our situations and help us through our problems. He does more. He changes our hearts. Paul wrote, “in every situation be thankful and continually give thanks to God; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (AMP) “Clothe yourself in love. Love is what holds you all together in perfect unity. Let the peace that Christ gives control your thinking, because you were all called together in one body to have peace. Always be thankful.” Colossians 3:14,15 (NCV) Look for things to thank God for every day. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Perception of Time

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

The air has the crisp feel of fall, and the stars are bright overhead as I load windshields into the back of my little S-10 shop truck. I have a full load this morning, with every slot in my rack filled. When I have loaded everything into my truck, I drive to the gas station to fill up and then head back to Mena.

I have been making two or three trips a week to DeQueen to pick up my auto glass for the past several months. My supplier no longer delivers to the Mena area but does deliver to DeQueen. During the night, they drop off my order at a storage unit that I have rented. On the days I make the trip to pick up my glass, I leave early in the morning to be back at my shop in time to open before 8:00 A.M. 

Today as I leave DeQueen, it is already twilight. Even though the sun isn’t up yet, its light filters through the atmosphere and gently illuminates the landscape. As I drive, a rosy hue begins to creep across the morning sky. Golden fingers of sunlight begin to appear. As I round a corner, there is a large open pasture to the east. Suddenly the sky is ablaze with the fire of the rising sun, casting long shadows on the ground. Soon the sun peaks out from behind the tree line. I see the first rays of the sun fall on the earth. Before my eyes, the clouds become lit with a fabulous, colorful light as the rising sun announces the coming of a new day. I pull over to the side of the road and get out to take a photo. 

It is the first sunrise I have seen for a while. My schedule hasn’t changed, but my perception of time has. Daylight Saving Time has ended until next spring, and last Sunday, we turned our clocks backward one hour. The intriguing thing about Daylight Saving Time is that we aren’t changing time. It is simply our perception of time. We aren’t changing how long the sun remains in the sky, and we aren’t changing the 24 hours in a day. We’re simply changing what answer the clock gives us.

The new time on my clock means that I witnessed the sunrise on my morning drive back from DeQueen instead of driving back in the dark. With the time change comes a new perception of my surroundings. I can see everything clearly as I go through the countryside. With the sunrise, the leaves of the trees glow in the warm morning light. The branches of each tree spread out with glorious fall colors. I had made this drive just a few days ago and had seen nothing. But today, the beauty of the sunrise and the magnificent fall colors speaks to my soul. “The God of gods, the mighty Lord himself, has spoken! He shouts out over all the people of the earth in every brilliant sunrise and every beautiful sunset, saying, ‘Listen to me!’” Psalms 50:1 (TPT)

I am happy to be driving in the warmth of the morning light and am enjoying the beauty of the landscape around me, but in the back of my mind comes the nagging realization that tonight when I leave work, it will already be dark. As much as I enjoyed this morning, I am not looking forward to it getting dark so early.

It’s interesting when you think about it. My perception of time changed. Because of a predetermined concept, we all turned our clocks back an hour and began to function in this new time. And our perception changed. We didn’t change any physical thing. “It is the Lord who created the stars, the Pleiades and Orion. He turns darkness into morning and day into night.” Amos 5:8 (NLT) The sun comes up at the same time, but we perceive that time differently. We arrange our schedules around this new perception of time. 

I am often frustrated by my lack of control over my life. It makes me wonder how my life would become more enjoyable if I changed my perception. What if I looked at my situation in a new light? What would happen if I turned back the clock of my perception?

Changing our perception does not mean ignoring the hardships of this life. We all have difficulties. We all spend time driving in the dark. But Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows Me will no longer walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 (TLV) We will still grieve over things lost and fight against injustice. We will still have troubles in our lives. But we can look at these things in a way that does not destroy our emotions or our stability. When we change our perception of this life in terms of God’s love for us, we see our struggles in a new light. This idea takes time to become a reality. Like our bodies adjusting whenever there’s a time change, our minds and spirits need time to grow used to new perceptions. It won’t happen overnight.

You can start changing your perception by remembering that God is in control. We aren’t in charge of the sun or the earth, but God is. He won’t leave you forsaken when you feel things are beyond your reach. Trust in God’s plan when you struggle with desiring a situation to turn out a specific way. Trust in His goodness. You can have the same security as the Psalmist who wrote, “When I felt my feet slipping, you came with your love and kept me steady. And when I was burdened with worries, you comforted me and made me feel secure.” Psalms 94:18,19 (CEV)

Gentle Reader, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NLT) We can have peace and joy trusting God instead of trying to control everything ourselves. We may not have the power to change all things, but we can change our perception of all things. Changing our perception can help us remember that God is in control. He says, “Stop your striving and recognize that I am God. I will be exalted over the nations! I will be exalted over the earth!” Psalms 46:10 (NET)

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Shine Eye Surprise

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

There is a chill in the air as I load the luggage into the back of our SUV. I can see my breath as I scrape away the thin layer of ice that covers the windows. After a busy week, I am looking forward to our trip to the Buffalo River. I'm hoping to relax and see beautiful fall colors. 

For the last several years, we have made plans with my sister each fall to spend a long weekend somewhere in the Ozarks. We try to pick a weekend when the fall colors will be on display. This year I rented a cabin from Buffalo River Outfitters near St. Joe, Arkansas. I love the Buffalo River, but this was our first time to visit this area of the river.

The drive from Mena to the Buffalo River area is always beautiful, and today is no exception. In Danville, we turn onto Highway 27. In Dover, Highway 27 splits off from Highway 7 and heads towards Marshall. I have never been on this section of the road before and find it intriguing. The leaves are beginning to change, and muted colors cover the hillsides with patches of golden splendor and occasional oranges and reds. The road twists and winds its way through the countryside, but I am not in a hurry. I soak in the beauty of the area, and the tension of the week melts away.

Our cozy cabin is just a short distance from the Buffalo River, with easy access to Grinder's Ferry and Tyler's Bend. We spent the weekend exploring from Spring Creek to Dillard's Ferry and Buffalo Point to Rush. The weather was perfect, with crisp cool mornings and warm sunny afternoons. Each new location that we explored impressed us with its beauty.

At night we visited Tyler's Bend to view the night sky. The Buffalo National River is an International Dark Sky Park, the only dark sky park in Arkansas. It was a new moon, the humidity was low, and the skies were cloudless, providing perfect conditions for observing the night sky. From our vantage point at the pavilion, there was no artificial light visible. The sky was ablaze with stars, and the milky way dominated our vision. 

Our time went by much too fast, and soon it was time to check out of our cabin and make our way back home. We planned to eat breakfast at Ferguson's Country Store and Restaurant and then take a short hike to the Collier Homestead at Tyler's Bend before heading home. Our meal at Ferguson's was excellent, and the staff was friendly. As we visited with our waitress and told her the places we had explored over the weekend, she told us about a nearby location that is not well known. 

We decided that we had time to explore one more place before leaving the area, so we found the place our waitress had told us about. We took the unmarked gravel road just before the bridge across the Buffalo River. The road was called Shine Eye Road. At the end of the road, there is a small parking area and one picnic table. We headed down the path to the river. As I stepped out of the trees onto the gravel bar, the beauty of the river and the bluffs spread out in front of me. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I had seen all weekend. 

We took our time soaking in the beauty, slowly walking along the large gravel bar as far as we could. A group on horseback came riding by, and we saw several canoes and kayaks floating down the river. The views were breathtaking, and I said a little prayer, thanking God for the recommendation of our waitress and the soul-cleansing beauty of the area. As I walk along the river, I hear one of my favorite songs running through my mind. The lyrics to "Creation Calls" by Brian Doerksen seem perfect for the moment. "Listening to a river run, watering the earth. Fragrance of a rose in bloom. A newborns cry at birth. How could I say there is no God? When all around creation calls."

We took lots of photos, but finally, we had to leave. I know that I will be back to Shine Eye someday when I can spend more time. I am amazed that there is an area of such beauty that so few people have seen. I'm thankful that I was able to see it. As I reflected on the beautiful relaxing weekend and how much of God's incredible creation I had seen, I thought of David's words. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies announce what his hands have made. Day after day, they tell the story; night after night, they tell it again. They have no speech or words; they have no voice to be heard. But their message goes out through all the world; their words go everywhere on earth." Psalms 19:1-4 (NCV)

The surprising beauty of a place like Shine Eye speaks to our hearts. Something about the majesty of river bluffs or admiring beautiful fall colors reminds us we are not accidents but are here by design. God uses his creation to show us His power, His grace, and His love. He uses the beauty of nature to tell us who He is, who we are, and how much He loves us. As you go about your day, look for the beauty in your surroundings. Notice the beauty of the flowers in your garden or the birds as they sing. God's creation is all around us.

Gentle Reader, God has given us his creation to show us His grace and love. How often does God give us a beautiful sunset or paint a rainbow in the sky at just the right time to remind us of His love and promises? The next time you're enjoying the beauty of nature, thank the Lord for all He created.  God knows each star in the night sky and each bird in the air. How much more does He care for you? "Ask the animals what God does. They will teach you. Or ask the birds in the sky. They will tell you. Or speak to the earth. It will teach you. Or let the fish in the ocean educate you. Are there any of these creatures that don't know what the powerful hand of the Lord has done? He holds the life of every creature in his hand. He controls the breath of every human being." Job 12:7-10 (NIRV)

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Memories of Buffville

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 3, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

A couple of years ago, I made a trip to southeastern Kansas with my Daddy. He had grown up in the area, and we visited places filled with nostalgia. I had a wonderful time reliving old memories. My cousin, Don, drove us around the countryside, showing us the places where family members had lived. I had a wonderful time reminiscing and hearing family stories.

Memories of the trip came flooding back last week when I received a large manilla envelope in the mail. When I opened it, there were several photocopied pages along with a handwritten note that said, “Richie, I am sending you a copy of this I found in my mom’s things. Thought you might like it.” It was from my cousin Darlene. The photocopies were of my Uncle Lloyd’s letter to my cousin Elsie, dated November 8, 1992. The title, neatly written across the top of the first page, was Memories of Buffville. One of the places Daddy and I visited on our trip to Kansas was the ghost town of Buffville, where he had been born. 

In his letter, Uncle Loyd wrote, “the north shale pit was a thing close to paradise for me when I first came to Buffville in June 1928. It had been abandoned when springs of water made it impossible to take any more shale out of it. All of the boys in Buffville swam in the north pit, and in summer, we would go swimming several times a day. Even after school started, we would go swimming before school in the morning. Since we didn’t have indoor plumbing, it was a very convenient way to take a bath. We boys did a lot of fishing there too; sometimes, we could sell the perch to people for a penny each. The water was so clear we could watch the little fish take hold of the bait and drag them in.”

The history of ghost towns is not always easy to trace. Most ghost towns originally grew up around some business venture. Buffville, Kansas, is not any different. In 1903 the Kansas Buff Brick Company opened their plant just a couple of miles south of Altoona. Buffville’s history starts with an identity crisis. It was first known as Buff City, but in February 1910, the name changed to Buffton. Starting on September 2 of that year,  it was known as Buffington for ten days, then back to Buffton for one day, and finally it was called Buffville from September 13, 1910, until the post office closed on October 31, 1943.

Even though the town’s birth can be pinpointed to either 1903, when the Kansas Buff Brick Company started operation, or 1910 when the Post Office opened, the death of the village was not quite so clear cut. Kansas Buff Brick sold out to the United Brick & Tile Co. in 1929, and the plant closed not long after. The Post Office closed in 1943, and the last students went to school there in 1950. By the 1970s, there was no evidence of the thriving community of Buffville.

In her book, Opal Lawry Vega’s Memories, my Aunt Opal wrote, “Grandma and Grandpa moved to Buffville. Grandpa Reeve went to work at the brickyard. All the people who lived there worked at the brickyard. There was a small store and a rooming house. My father stayed at the rooming house. Mom and Aunt Lola delivered milk to the boarding house, and Daddy began talking to them and then walked home with them and then would sit on the porch and talk. Mom and Daddy were married on September 30, 1927. Daddy had been married before and had a son, Lloyd, about nine years of age. 

We lived in Buffville until the brickyard closed down. I was born there. Daddy did whatever he could find to do, mostly on farms. Of course, it was the depression years, and no one had much. We lived in a farmhouse near Buffville when Delbert was born. Daddy and Grandpa were in Colorado harvesting broom corn at that time.

That house burned down while we were all away. I was barefoot, and my shoes burned up. We lived with Grandpa and Grandma in Buffville for a while. Daddy and Uncle Pete made a living by driving to Joplin, Missouri, to buy fruit and vegetables to sell door to door. We later moved back to Buffville. Grandpa and Grandma still lived there and a few other families and Fred’s Store. We had a cow, and sometimes Daddy would let me ride her when he took her to the shale pit for water. Bob was born there. We called him Bobby Bill as they couldn’t decide what to call him, Bobby or Billy.”

My Daddy’s family was part of the Buffville community for several years. My Grandpa and Great-Grandpa worked at the brickyard. In Uncle Lloyds letter, he wrote about the work. “The south pit was used to supply shale to make brick. My Daddy, Ben Lawry’s job was to load small metal cars with shale and push them on a narrow-gauge track to the bottom of an inclined ramp where a power cable would pull them up to the place they could be dumped. Each car held one half cubic yards of shale, and Daddy got twenty-five cents for each one he loaded. It was hard brutal work. Grandpa Urban Reeve ran the dry pit where the shale was ground to a powder for brickmaking.”

Buffville holds so many memories for my family, but today there is nothing left to identify the community other than the shale pits. Even though there is nothing physical left, the memories live on as long as there is someone to keep them alive. Civil rights activist Rosa Parks wrote, “memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.” 

Gentle Reader, be grateful for the places and people who have been special to you. Cherish your memories and take nothing for granted. Remember that many things, like the community of Buffville, disappear from view. But memories are the only thing that no one can destroy. Lucy Maud Montgomery put it this way, “nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.” But if we don’t remember, things can be lost. It is vital to exercise our memories. “So be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you don’t forget the things which you have seen with your own eyes. Don’t let them fade from your memory as long as you live. Teach them to your children and grandchildren.” Deuteronomy 4:9 (GW)