Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Errant Sheet Music

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 18, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

My granddaughters looked beautiful in their dresses as we made our way out the door and headed to the spring piano recital. They had been practicing their recital pieces, and it sounded great to me. I asked them if they were nervous, and they answered, "a little" and "not really." Seeing their confidence and composure reminded me of the years I took music lessons and was always terrified of recitals. But instead of being scared, they seemed excited.

We made our way inside the sanctuary when we arrived at the United Pentecostal Church of Ringgold. The piano students sat in the first two rows, and my granddaughters found their seats with the other students. When the recital began, the twitter of conversation died down, and the room became silent as everyone listened and hoped that each student would play their best. I sent up a silent prayer for each performer, remembering sweating through recital performances as a kid and hoping that no one would experience the panic that I always felt.

My granddaughter, Elisabeth, was second to play in the recital. As she stepped up to the piano and sat down, I slipped from my seat and made my way up the outer aisle to where I could film her. A few seconds after she started playing, the air conditioning came on in the sanctuary. As I filmed, I watched as the air from the air conditioning vent began to rustle the sheet music on the piano. The left side of the sheet music raised off the piano and looked like it might close. I watched the sheet music with a horrified fascination as it slowly waved back and forth. The page moved almost ninety degrees several times before drifting back down into place.

I feared that the distraction of the moving sheet music would cause Elisabeth to stumble as she played, but she handled the situation with a poise and maturity that amazed me. One time I saw a small expression of alarm on her face when it appeared that the sheet music might blow closed, but the page drifted back down as she played on. As the drama of the errant sheet music continued, I breathed a prayer, "please don't let this sheet music spoil her performance and cause her embarrassment." I let out a sigh of relief when Elisabeth finished the piece with no mistakes. Her following two pieces were played beautifully from memory, so there was no way that errant sheet music could spoil them.

After the recital, I talked to my granddaughters and told them I was proud of them. When I mentioned the errant sheet music, I found out that the audience was unaware of the drama. The way the piano was positioned, the errant sheet music could only be seen from where I was filming. No one listening to Elisabeth play had any idea of the difficulties she was experiencing. I thought about how often we see other people and think we know them well, but we cant see their struggles.

While I watched the errant sheet music and listened to the other piano students, I remembered growing up and taking music lessons. I played the trumpet and was in the band. I didn't mind practicing and could always learn to play my pieces correctly, but my nerves would get the best of me when it was a performance. I have terrible memories of botched performances. Once I was scheduled to play a trumpet solo for a church area youth conference. On the way to the meeting, we had car trouble, making us late in arriving. I was so unnerved that I could hardly make a sound with my trumpet. I wanted the ground to open and swallow me.

Have you ever found that something that you can do, have done, and have practiced many times, fails you when you are under pressure? For me, that was my trumpet. No matter how hard I practiced, I would make mistakes when playing for my music teacher or in front of an audience. In my junior year of high school, I transferred to a larger school and was too intimidated to try out for the band. I eventually stopped taking lessons, telling my parents that the pressure was too much. My trumpet sits forlornly in the garage. Now I can barely make a sound.

I recently heard a story that I'm sure never happened. But I liked the story and its application, so I will share it with you anyway. We will call it a parable.

A famous concert pianist was preparing for a show when a group of admirers came to the concert hall. A little boy was there with his mother. He wandered away from her and found himself on a stage with a grand piano. Suddenly the curtains parted, and a spotlight lit the grand piano. The mother looked around for her son and saw him sitting at the piano on stage. He started playing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." The concert pianist walked up to the boy, put his arms around him, and began playing a counter melody as he whispered, "keep playing; you're doing great." The audience was mesmerized as he played alongside the boy. When they finished, the audience rose in applause.

Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13 (NKJV), "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." What we do for God in our own strength is like playing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" in a concert hall. For us to accomplish anything worthwhile, God will have to be by our side.

Gentle Reader, life is a lot like a piano recital. Whatever we do, people are watching us. While they see our actions, they may never see the errant sheet music that makes us panic. The best thing we can do is ask God to lead our lives. God will sit down beside us and turn our music into something beautiful. Jesus tells us in John 15:4 (NCV), "Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in me."


Watch Elisabeth and the errant sheet music

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

In the Swamp

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 11, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The sun shone brightly as we drove towards Bayou Black in Gibson, Louisiana. Our destination was Bayou Black Airboat Swamp Tours. An airboat swamp tour has been on my bucket list for many years, and today I was going to fulfill that wish. We made our way down a dirt road past the Greenwood Gator Farm with our Hyundai dragging across the tall speed bumps. A gravel parking area and a dilapidated dock were at the end of the road. We parked the car and walked to the pier to wait for our tour.

Even though it was only April, the Louisiana sun beat down on us as we waited. Before the airboat arrived, we could hear it in the distance. The big-block Chevy V-8 and huge propellor were very loud. As the airboat pulled alongside the dock, a ripple of anticipation ran through my body. We climbed aboard the airboat, and the captain handed each one of us a pair of noise-reduction ear muffs. We slowly made our way from the dock through a channel out onto Bayou Black. The bayou looked like a river with cypress trees draped in Spanish moss all along the banks. 

As we made our way down the bayou, suddenly, the airboat veered into a waterway choked with aquatic plants. But the boat skimmed along on top of the plants that completely covered the water. The sensation was almost like boating on land. As soon as I saw the swamp, I fell in love with it. I felt like I was in a surreal dream. The swamp is a magical place filled with unique wildlife, history, culture, and mystery. 

We made our way deeper into the swamp, and the captain would occasionally stop the boat so that he could tell us about the wildlife and plants in the area. He knew where every alligator's territory was and had named them all. Often the alligator was barely visible among the duckweed, and the captain used a long pole to tap the gator so that it would move and everyone could see it. Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Anhinga were often seen silently winging through the swamp. I was excited to see the colorful Roseate Spoonbills. 

We made our way out of the thick swamp, where the captain had to carefully navigate between the cypress trees into a much more open area. Just off to my right were several very tall dead trees. At the top of one of them was a large nest. An osprey soared overhead, and before long, it landed on the nest. We sat quietly for a few minutes and watched the osprey before heading to another part of the swamp. 

The area we are now in is dark and thick and swarming with birds ruffling in the moss-covered cypress trees. The vegetation is so dense that alligators are hard to spot. Suddenly we burst out onto what seems like land and skim over the tops of plants, grasses, and even flowers. Then, suddenly we are out on what looks like an open lake with beautiful blue water. I can hardly believe my eyes. The captain cuts the engine and lets us sit quietly on the water for a few minutes soaking in the beauty. He tells us that next, he is taking us to a special place where hundreds of birds come to nest this time of the year. As we approach, we see the sky filled with birds. Egrets and herons are everywhere, creating a symphony of cacophony. We spend several minutes watching the scenes before us in awe.

As we leave the birds, we make our way along an area with tall grasses and reeds, then the boat seems like it is traveling on land, and we are following a giant egret as it flies gracefully through the air. The boat stops, and the captain points out a large area of native Louisiana swamp iris. For centuries the iris has been a resident of Gulf Coast swamps and bogs, admired for its airy grace and beauty. The beautiful water iris are in full bloom. 

As the tour is nearing the end and we are racing down Bayou Black, I sit with my noise-reducing ear muffs on, and my mind begins to wander. As I daydream, I think about the general perception that most people have of swamps: Dark, gloomy, creepy, and scary. But I have just spent some of the best hours of my life seeing exquisite beauty in the swamp. "Why are swamps considered so ugly and scary," I wonder? I think back to a comment my wife made. She referred to Pastor John Taylor, who had grown up in Southern Louisiana. He always spoke with such loving memories of the swamp and assured his listeners that there would be a swamp in heaven. "When you get to heaven, find the swamp, and I will be there," he would say. Thinking of what Pastor Taylor had said, my wife remarked, "it is so beautiful; I'm sure there will be swamps in heaven." 

Swamps are necessary and provide a much-needed buffer from hurricanes. Wetlands and barrier islands provide a protective barrier from strong winds and hurricanes: every 2.7 miles of wetlands absorbs one foot of storm surge. Swamps are also natural pollution control. Because swamps remove nutrients, pesticides, and sediments from surface waters, they are called the "kidneys of the landscape" since, like kidneys, they filter out harmful materials. In Job 8:11 (GW), the Bible asks us, "Can papyrus grow up where there is no swamp? Can rushes grow tall without water?

I'm sure that you have heard the political mantra, "drain the swamp." Books and movies depict swamps as spooky, dangerous places. But my wife and I found it to be beautiful. Why the difference? If swamps are so essential and valuable, why are they viewed negatively? The airboat and its captain made the difference between a spooky, scary swamp and a beautiful, bucket list fulfilling tour. If the boat captain had tossed me into the swamp and left me, the swamp would have immediately turned into a terrifying place for me. But when I was seated on the airboat with an experienced boat captain in control, the swamp was beautiful. 

Gentle Reader, the life you have been given is beautiful. But without an experienced guide, it can be scary. You were not created to follow your path through this life alone. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT) says, " Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take." All of us need a guide. There are so many unknown paths in life; we need an excellent guide to help us know which way to go. Today, ask God to be your guide. Then you can say, "though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me." Psalms 23:4 (NKJV) You can feel safe and secure even when life becomes a swamp.


Photos courtesy of Steve Dutcher

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

A-Bear's Cafe

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 4, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

After a long day's drive to Houma, Louisiana, our GPS took us to the corner of Bayou Black Drive and Barrow Street, where we spotted the quaint old building that housed A-Bear's Cafe, where we were meeting my brother-in-law and sister-in-law from Washington state. They were in Houma to attend the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Terrebonne Parish as members of Team Relay Nation. We pulled into the crowded parking lot, and I finally found a place to park behind the old building. 

As we walked into the old house converted into a restaurant, we told the hostess that we were here to meet the group from Relay For Life, and they pointed toward the back room of the crowded restaurant. The room was packed, barely leaving room for the waitresses to serve. We were cramped as people made room for us at the long table. The restaurant was alive, with a down-home, country, family vibe.  

Live music filled the restaurant with the sounds of oldies. The vocalist began singing Neil Diamond's, Sweet Caroline. "Where it began, I can't begin to knowing. But then I know it's growing strong." It seemed like the conversations at our table stopped as everyone listened to the music. There's something about the way the song's bridge builds to a soaring chorus that seemed to grab everyone's attention. "Hands, touching hands, reaching out, touching me, touching you. Sweet Caroline," Then, as if by magic, the group spontaneously filled the musical fill with, "ba, ba, ba," and the vocalist continued. "Good times never seemed so good." And it did seem like good times. The next time the chorus came around, the entire restaurant chimed in with, "ba, ba, ba." 

A-Bear's Cafe has been owned and operated by the Hebert family since 1963. In the 2014 article in the digital magazine Country Roads, Alex V. Cook writes, "Jane Hebert and her husband bought the place that had been the family home of Judge Edward "Jimmy" Gaidry. "I think there were eight or nine kids raised in here," said Hebert. And with a modicum of changes, it remains. A bustling lunch crowd trod the same hardwood floors as have countless hungry Houmans at ABear's for a half a century.

"Fifty-one years, actually," Hebert said. "My husband did all the cooking until about five years back." Hebert is a common enough name in the area that I wondered about the outsider-friendly spelling. "That's what it sounds like," she flatly replied." When Alex asked her how she and her husband got in the business she responded, "My husband was born legally blind, and he was cooking on the quarter boats up in Cameron, around there, and in the early '60s they started enforcing the insurance, and he couldn't pass the regulations. His dad was working at the water plant just around back and saw this for rent, so we took it over. I mean, he could have chosen to settle on disability, but we've always worked."

Albert Hebert cooked in A-Bear's kitchen from the day the cafe opened its doors in 1963 until he was no longer able to in 2010. However, Albert Hebert loved the restaurant so much he continued to visit until 2014 to continue his tradition of sneaking away to talk and joke with the customers.

What is unique about A-Bear's Restaurant is the family-like environment and its relaxed atmosphere. As we were eating, a man in a white shirt walked through the restaurant. He was stopping at tables to visit with people. When he came to our table, I could see that his shirt read, "Mayor of ABears Cafe." As the mayor made his way to our end of the table, he stopped to visit with each person. He asked where I was from, and when I replied, "Mena, Arkansas," he told me of the time he visited Mena and Queen Wilhelmina State Park almost forty years ago. 

As the mayor recounted the story of his visit to the Queen Wilhelmina lodge to attend a truck show, he talked about his wife's fear as they drove up the mountain. The Houma, Louisiana area is very flat, you must drive one hundred miles north to reach an elevation of 100 feet, and she had never experienced a road like the Talimena Drive. As he talked, it was easy to see that he loved his hometown and the surrounding area. His historical knowledge of the area is impressive and he always has an anecdote for any situation. He is proud of his son, Travis, a boat captain who charters fishing expeditions. His clients have included Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, and country music singers Chris Young and Jimmy Allen. 

Along with probably everyone else at our table, I invited the mayor to attend the Relay For Life the following afternoon. When we were ready to leave, I told him that we were now friends since he had visited Mena and I was visiting Houma. He told me, "No, we are more than friends; we are brothers." The next afternoon the mayor, Nat, messaged me, "we will try to head that way in a little while." Nat is the kind of friendly guy to whom it is easy to talk. He is a true ambassador for South Louisiana. He and his wife stopped by the Team Relay Nation booth, and I had another chance to visit and learn more about the area. 

In Ephesians 5:1,2 (AMP), Paul writes: "Therefore become imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]; and walk continually in love [that is, value one another—practice empathy and compassion, unselfishly seeking the best for others], just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God [slain for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance." It is possible for us to imitate Christ, to represent and communicate His desires and will while we are here on earth. "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ." 2 Corinthians 5:20 (KJV)

Gentle Reader, as a Christian, you are an ambassador for Christ. You represent Christ in your sphere of influence. Your actions speak volumes more to people around you than what you say. We can think that we represent Christ if we often speak of Him to others. But our lives, decisions, what we do, and what we don't do in daily situations speak to others the most. Be an ambassador like Nat, the mayor of A-Bear's Cafe. Be an ambassador for Christ.


Photos taken at A-Bear's Cafe are used courtesy of Steve Dutcher

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Little Studebaker

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 27, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Bob and Leo stood in front of their shop, watching the sunset spread across the western sky. The yellow ball of fire changed to hues of red blended with oranges, purples, and crimsons. The workday was over, and the business they owned, Tri-Town-Service, was closed for the day. But the workday seemed never to be over. They were getting into their 1953 Studebaker pickup and heading from Frederick to Denver. They had vehicles that they needed to bring home.

Each month Bob and Leo attended the Denver Police impound auction. The City of Denver would auction off impounded vehicles. They sold the cars in lots of twenty, with the high bidder buying all twenty cars. All the vehicles purchased had to be removed from the impound lot before the next sale. Bob and Leo had quite a few cars that they needed to get back to the shop, but they could do it only after they had closed for the day. They planned to put one car on a tow bar behind the six-cylinder Studebaker pickup and see if they could get one of the cars to run to drive it home. On this trip, Bob’s Daddy, Ben, was going along. They were going to have Ben steer a car on a chain behind the Studebaker and the car it was towing.

When they arrived at the impound lot, they were able to get an old Mercury started. Bob attached a tow bar between the Mercury and a Buick while Leo hooked his tow bar up to another Buick. By the time they had hooked up and were ready to leave, it was late in the night. The Mercury wasn’t running very well, so Bob said to Leo, “I will go first in the Mercury, so if I have any trouble, you will be behind me and able to help.” The Mercury was sputtering away in the lead with a Buick behind on a tow bar. Next came Leo in the six-cylinder pickup with another Buick in tow, followed by Ben, in an old Chevrolet, pulled on a chain. They were quite a sight as they left the impound lot around one o’clock.

They headed home under the summer night sky luminous with starlight and a full moon. Traffic was light on the Valley Highway, and the little group made their way quickly down the road. Bob had hoped that the Mercury would smooth out and run better while driving, but that didn’t happen. It began to run worse instead of better. When they were still over ten miles away from their shop, the Mercury’s engine sputtered, then stopped. Bob tried to start it again, but the Mercury was done for the night. Bob was still on the highway, moving slowly. He put his arm out the window and motioned for Leo to pull up. Leo downshifted to first gear and pulled forward until the bumper of his Studebaker pickup tapped the Buick that the Mercury was towing. He then slowly accelerated, and the whole group picked up speed. Pushing the Mercury and the Buick, and pulling another Buick and the Chevrolet, the little six-cylinder Studebaker made it the rest of the way home. Leo claimed that he drove in high gear and even shifted the Studebaker into overdrive.

Do you ever feel that, like the little Studebaker, you are pulling more than your weight? I know that many of us think that way. When we are pulling more than our weight, it can drag us down. The little Studebaker made it home, even with four other vehicles depending on it. But the Studebaker wouldn’t hold up under long-term use like that. The website How Stuff Works says, “although you may not see the effects of exceeding towing capacity at first, the gradual wear and tear will lead to eventual failure. The best-case scenario is repeated trips to the repair shop; the worst is a major wreck.” I think that it can be the same way with us. The gradual wear and tear can be detrimental.

I have a customer who always seems to care for her extended family. When she came by to pay for another family member’s windshield, I told her that I noticed she was always taking care of someone. She appreciated that I saw she was pulling more than her weight. When we carry someone else’s heavy loads, we are doing what God has asked us to do. “Carry one another’s heavy loads. If you do, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 (NIRV)

Often, others have heavy loads that are too big to bear alone. They don’t have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need our help. Doing for others what they can’t do for themselves shows them the love of Jesus. On the other hand, Galatians 6:5 (NIV) says that “each one should carry their own load.” God wants us to carry one another’s heavy loads, but that doesn’t mean that we should be a burden to others by not being responsible. The Bible ideal is that you help me with my heavy loads, and I help you with yours.

Gentle Reader, the story of the little Studebaker is true, and the names have not been changed. Bob is my Daddy; Leo is my cousin, and Ben is my Grandpa. On that night in Colorado, the little Studebaker pushed and pulled four cars for over ten miles. When situations arise and people need your help, be like the little Studebaker. But you don’t have to do it alone. Psalm 55:22 (MSG) says, “Pile your troubles on GOD’s shoulders— he’ll carry your load, he’ll help you out.” “Cast all your care upon Him, because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 (MEV)

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Domira's Gratitude

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 20, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The Facebook Messenger notification popped up on my phone. I opened the app to read the message. It was from Domira, the Ukrainian girl who had spent time in our home back in the 90s. After learning that Domira had made it out of Ukraine and was safe in Germany, she and I had been in contact through Messenger. The message read, “Thank you, Richard, so much for your prayers and support. It means a lot. I can’t even express my words of gratitude.” 

As we messaged back and forth, Domira reminisced about her time in Mena. “Wow, Thank you for your support. I had a flashback of when I came to visit you. I didn’t speak much English, and you gave me so much support and love, and care. I will never forget it. I ate my first Ben and Jerry’s ice cream; it’s still my favorite. Your wife is the kindest woman in the world, who took care of me and even made a red dress for me and bought red shoes. I still remember how they looked. They were the best presents in my life. The shoes were the first new shoes that I ever had. It’s all stayed in my memories, your beautiful house, and movie nights. Your daughter was so loving and caring. That gave me the strength to go through all difficulties in a new country without family, friends, and barrier of language. Thank you, God, for showing me how much he loves me through such a lovely family like yours. May God Bless You in Many Ways!”

Once Domira made it out of Ukraine and into Germany, although a refugee herself, she began helping other refugees find places to stay. When I asked her how my wife and I could help, she said, “the best way to send money is Western Union. I just checked that the system is working. I have online banking in Ukraine, so that means, I can transfer money to people that volunteer. My dear friends and some of my family also there, help with the evacuation and bringing people food and medicine, so I can transfer right away the money to people that I trust, and I know what they do, and they send also video or photos.” 

After the story of Domira’s harrowing escape from the war in Ukraine was published in the Polk County Pulse, several people asked how they could help. While I was in The Coffee Vault in Cove, Tom came up to me and said, “I read about the Ukrainian girl in the paper. Here is some money I would like to get to her.” I told him that I would be sending her some money soon and make sure that she got it. Allen contacted me and wanted to know how to donate. I gave him the information on how to send money to Domira via Western Union. Because of the Western Union fees, Allen sent the money to me, and I added it to Tom’s money and other donations I had received before sending it to Domira.

Earlier, I had sent money from our family to Domira. I messaged her to give her the Western Union information so that she could pick up the money at her location. After picking up the money, she replied, “Thank you so much! Everything went through just fine. I received the money and will send it to my good family. They are in Kyiv, where they volunteer and bring bread and other things to people in need. And now they even have a chance to help the ones who evacuated from Bucha, Irpin and Gostomel, the small towns that were destroyed completely. They are now in Kyiv, and random people took them to their places. I will keep you posted. Thank you for being a blessing to many! Many people didn’t eat bread for forty days because of occupied territory, and all of them had to stay in the basement.”

After sending the money to those still in Ukraine, Domira sent me information and photos showing how the money was used. She wrote, “my close friend stayed in Kiev with his three kids and parents. He stays there and helps many people that are really in need. Yesterday, he went with some friends outside of Kyiv, and all small towns Bucha, Irpin, Gostomel and many others, that were occupied by the Russian army for almost 40 days. They are almost destroyed and many civilians were killed when they were trying to leave, so bodies are all over, just laying on the streets. Just a small percentage of people stayed in their houses in their basements, till the Ukrainian army showed up. So, my friend brought bread, water (they don’t have clean water) and rest of the things. People were just hugging and kissing the bread, especially kids and older people. I can’t watch it without tears.”

After receiving donations for Domira from Tom, Allen, my Daddy, and others, I messaged Domira to tell her that I would be sending the money via Western Union. She replied, “I’m reading it and crying. God answers our prayers. Some German churches delivered food to the Romanian border, but we needed to find money for gas in order to deliver it to Kyiv and now you are sending this message. God does the miracles. Thank you for being such a blessing to our country.”

Domira’s gratitude has been a blessing to me but has also opened my eyes to my own weakness. When I look at my life, I realize that I become ungrateful whenever I am inconvenienced. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (AMPC), “Thank God in everything, no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks, for this is the will of God for you who are in Christ Jesus.” I need to work on being thankful no matter what the circumstances may be.

Gentle Reader, “give thanks to the Lord, because he is good. His faithful love continues forever.” Psalms 106:1 (NIRV) One of the ways we can demonstrate our thanks to God is to be compassionate and caring towards those here on Earth. Even small gestures can mean a great deal. “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16 (NIV) Good intentions only go so far. To truly help others, you must act in some way. You must be active in your faith for it to be meaningful. Show your faith and gratitude to God by helping someone today.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022


My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 13, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

It was a beautiful fall day in 1994, and we were sitting on the front porch of our new home enjoying the evening. We heard the phone ringing, and my wife got up and went inside the house to answer the phone. Picking up the brick-sized cordless phone, she pushed the talk button and said, “hello.” Our daughter replied, “Mama, I need to talk to you about Thanksgiving. Can I bring someone home with me?”

Our daughter was attending a boarding school in northwest Arkansas. That evening, the dean had come to her with a request. “Domira, a new foreign exchange student from Ukraine, has just arrived at school and doesn’t know anyone yet,” the dean said. “Do you think she could spend the Thanksgiving holiday with you and your family?” “I will ask my parents,” my daughter replied.

When our daughter told us about the foreign exchange student and her need for a place to stay over Thanksgiving, we told her the girl was welcome at our house. Domira spent Thanksgiving with us, and we enjoyed getting to know her and learning about Ukraine. She experienced her first shopping experience in the U.S. at the Mena Wal-Mart. She told us that she would have to go to separate shops for milk, bread, fruit, etcetera at home. When Domira first saw our home, she wanted to know how many families lived there. She was surprised when we told her that only our family lived there.

When Russian troops invaded Ukraine and headed for Kyiv, we were concerned for Domira’s safety. We had kept up with her through social media, but there was no information from her. We were relieved when Domira posted a video telling her harrowing story and letting us know she was safe on the seventh of April. I wanted to share her story with you, my readers. Here is Domira telling her story in her own words.

“Thank you, my dear family and my friends, so much for your support and prayers. It means a lot to me and helped me go through what I went through. I’m sorry I couldn’t answer all your phone calls and messages. I know that it’s not easy to understand everything going on now.

My apartment is located on one of the main streets where everybody gets into the city and gets out. Most of the time, between 6:30 and 12:00, we have a traffic jam because people outside of Kyiv are trying to get to Kyiv to get to work. At 6:30 in the morning on the twenty-fourth of February, everything stopped. Not a single car was trying to get here. But at the same time three lines were just packed; Three lines that wanted to get out of Kyiv. All those cars and buses, everything was just full, and I knew that it was impossible to get out of here by car or bus.

I went to the train station, and it was also full. At the same time, our bank system was shut down, so that means that you cannot buy any tickets online, you cannot pay by card, and you cannot buy any food or anything if you don’t have cash. So everybody was trying to get cash from the bank and we had lines of about 20-30 people who were trying to stay in the line to get some cash.

On the first day, I heard my first sirens. I’ve never heard in my life such a crazy sound. When I was trying to get home, I was almost there. I just needed a couple of minutes to get to my apartment when I heard the sirens; that meant that the bombing was starting the second time. When I looked around, everybody was just in panic, running around trying to find the safest place. Since that time, we have had sirens almost every hour. Sirens mean that somewhere there was a bombing and there were explosions. I could not get home that day. I couldn’t get home to get the most important things. That means that everything you packed in five minutes, everything that you can take with you in just one suitcase or one bag. You pack all your life in five minutes in one bag and just try to go somewhere in a safe place.

I knew that in the same day it was impossible for me to get out of here, and I went to see my friend. She stayed by herself, and she was also scared and panicked, so we stayed overnight there. The next day at 7:30 in the morning, we tried to get out of Kyiv. We heard sirens all night and shooting. We knew that we could not stay here; we had to get out. We knew that it was impossible to get out on the Main Street and the main highway. So we needed to find the small roads and get through the small towns, somehow, someway, to the place where it’s going to be not so far from Romania where it’s safe. We don’t know how we’re going to get there. We don’t have any plan, I guess nobody had, we just needed to go.

We got in the car and started to drive. It took us twenty hours to get to Chernivtsi. We went through small villages and towns on the way. We saw many tanks and military, and sometimes we didn’t even know if it was Russian military or Ukrainian. We drove through small towns and villages, and we drove through the forests and places that had no lights at all. We heard explosions all the time, but we had no idea when we were going to get to Chernivtsi or if we would get there. Because every time you hear an explosion, every time you see a tank somewhere, you don’t know if that’s your last minute, or if you’re going to make it, or if you’re going to still be alive. For twenty hours, it seemed like it was just impossible.

We got to the safe place at about 4:00 o’clock in the morning, and I just wanted to check the news to see what was going on in Kyiv. I saw that just a couple of minutes from my apartment, in the same place where I walked just a few hours before, Russian tanks had destroyed everything that’s around there. I know that I am one of the blessed people; that had a chance to get out and be in a safe place.

I know so many kids and women that were just trying to get out of Kyiv or many other places, and they were shot. They didn’t have a chance. It’s hard to understand and explain what’s going on and why kids were killed, why women were killed, and why they were raped. It’s especially hard to understand why some family members and some of your friends don’t believe you when you tell them what’s going on. I am not going to lose my energy explaining to somebody who doesn’t believe that the war is going on, that people were killed and I was one of them who could have been shot.

I’m just praying with everybody else that Ukraine will survive. We are praying and dreaming about the day when the war is going to stop. We are dreaming about the time when families can reunite. We’re dreaming about the time when Ukraine is going to be rebuilt. But so many people were killed, and you can’t forget that. I know that I can do as much as I can from my side, and I’m trying every single day to support and help people who stayed in Kiev and different parts of Ukraine. If you have a chance to help in any way, if you want to support, you can write me or you can call me. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you that you believe. God bless you.”

Gentle Reader, those affected by the war in Ukraine are not just nameless people. Please pray for Domira and all of the Ukrainians. “First and foremost, I urge God’s people to pray. They should make their requests, petitions, and thanksgivings on behalf of all humanity. Teach them to pray for kings (or anyone in high places for that matter) so that we can lead quiet, peaceful lives—reverent, godly, and holy.” 1 Timothy 2:1,2 (VOICE)

Saturday, April 9, 2022

A Matter of Time

I own an auto glass company in Mena, Arkansas, and two or three times a week, I get up early and drive one hundred miles to pick up windshields and auto glass. There are no suppliers who will deliver to Mena, but there is a company that delivers to DeQueen. I rent a storage unit in DeQueen, and my supplier delivers to my storage unit and I drive to DeQueen early in the morning to load my truck and be back in Mena in time to open my business.

On the mornings that I pick up my auto glass order, the alarm rings at 4:30 am; I never worry about the alarm going off. My cell phone knows what time it is and always wakes me up, even if the electricity has been off during the night. But it hasn't always been so easy to measure time.

Since Creation, we have measured time by observing the natural world. Ancient men watched the change of the seasons and tracked the heavenly bodies across the sky. In Genesis 1:4, God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years."

Thousands of years ago, men and women in what is now central Europe tracked the moon and stars by carving notches into mammoth tusks. From Stonehenge to Mayan Temples to the ancient Chinese Observatory at Shanxi, ancient people used these structures to observe the sun and use it to mark the different seasons of the year.

The measurement of time began with the invention of sundials in ancient Egypt before 1500 B.C. The time the Egyptians measured was not the same as today's clocks measure. For the Egyptians, the basic unit of time was daylight. They broke the period from sunrise to sunset into twelve equal parts, giving us the forerunner of today's hours. As a result, the Egyptian hour was not a constant length of time, as is the case today; instead, as one-twelfth of the daylight period, it varied with the length of the day. So, summer hours were longer than winter hours. Time wasn't able to be measured during the hours of darkness.

The need to measure time independently of the sun eventually gave rise to various devices, most notably sandglasses, waterclocks, and candles. Though their accuracy was never great, these devices provided a way to measure time without the need for the sun to be visible. 

For most of history, ordinary people did not have regular and easy access to any time measuring device whatsoever, other than to glance at the sky on a sunny day and see where the sun was. For them, time, as we understand it today, did not exist. Mechanical timepieces existed as far back as 1000 A.D. By the 14th century, public clocks appeared across Europe. Between 1371 and 1380, public clocks were introduced in over 70 European cities. These clocks were not very accurate. Christiaan Huygens made the first pendulum clock in 1656. His timepiece had an error of less than 1 minute a day, and his later refinements reduced his clock's errors to less than 10 seconds a day.

With accurate clocks, people could correlate their activities to a far greater degree. The ability to measure time mathematically helped prepare the way for the scientific revolution. During the 16th and 17th centuries, people's lives began to be influenced by mechanical time. Most of the population would continue to look to the sun to tell the (approximate) time, but the clocks provided the definitive time. 

Time measurement was still haphazard well into the 19th century, with time being kept differently in each community. In the United States, there were over 140 local times in 1883, resulting in slight time differences between adjacent towns and cities. Around this time, influential business leaders, politicians, and scientists wanted to replace the world's impossible patchwork of local times with a universal system of territorial mean times. At the 1884 Prime Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C., diplomats envisioned a world divided into 24 zones, each with a single mean time determined by astronomers at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. The world was beginning to get a handle on standardized time.

But it still wasn't easy to coordinate with Greenwich Mean Time. One enterprising London family had a solution. Every Monday, Ruth Belville stood at the entryway of a London watchmaker. Ruth was in the unusual business of selling time with her watch named Arnold. When the door opened, the storekeeper greeted the weekly visitor with "good morning, Miss Belleville; how is Arnold today." Ruth replied, "good morning. Arnold is one-tenth of a second fast." Then she reached into her handbag, grabbed a pocket watch, and passed it to the watchmaker. He used it to check the store's central clock and then returned the pocket watch to her.

Once a week, Ruth would get up early and take the three-hour journey from her cottage west of London to the Greenwich Royal Observatory, reaching its gate by 9:00 am. She rang the bell and was greeted by the gate orderly, who formally invited her inside. There she would hand over her watch, Arnold, to an attendant. The officials compared Arnold to the observatory master clock, then returned the timepiece to Ruth with a certificate stating the difference between its time and their central clock. Ruth walked to the Thames and caught a ferry to London with the official document in her hand. She then began making the rounds, visiting her customers.

The Belville family fell into this business accidentally. In the 1830s, Ruth's father, John Belleville, worked at the Greenwich Observatory as a meteorologist and astronomer. The observatory leadership grew frustrated by the many interruptions caused by local astronomers desperate to know the precise time for their observational work. Instead of having unannounced visitors coming to the Observatory and disrupting their scientific activities, they devised a plan to bring the time to those who needed it. They gave John Belville the task of providing time to nearly 200 customers.

Each morning, John went to Greenwich Observatory and set his watch, a very accurate timepiece he nicknamed Arnold, to Greenwich Mean Time. He would then set off in his buggy and set the clocks correctly for clients subscribed to the service. The watch he called Arnold was formerly known as John Arnold number 485 and named after its maker. It was a highly accurate pocket watch built in the late 1700s. John Arnold originally designed Number 485 as a gift for the Duke of Sussex. The Duke thought the timepiece was too large and refused it. The watch ended up at the Greenwich Observatory.

John Belville continued this service until he died in 1856. His widow, Maria, continued the business until her retirement in 1892, when she was in her eighties. Ruth Belville then took over the business. She continued the business until 1940. Ruth was in her eighties when she retired. At 86, Ruth could still make the twelve-mile journey and arrive at the Observatory by 9 am.

When Ruth and Arnold were retiring from the time business, a clock was installed in the United States that consistently drew a crowd. In 1939, New Yorkers headed downtown to get the precise time at 195 Broadway in Manhattan. The art deco clock sat in the window of the AT&T corporate headquarters. It was not just any clock; it was the most accurate public clock in the world. A unique piece of quartz crystal provided its accuracy. Every day, hundreds of pedestrians stopped in front of the clock and held their fingers on their watch stem, waiting for the sweeping second hand to reach the top so they could set their watch accurately. Quartz clocks and watches were sold in large quantities during the 1970s when technological advances made them affordable.

But before long, there were even more accurate clocks. Lord Kelvin first suggested using atomic transitions to measure time in 1879. Louis Essen and Jack Parry built the first accurate atomic clock in 1955 at the National Physical Laboratory in the U.K. Atomic clocks are highly accurate, with an error of only 1 second in one hundred million years. Today we can all have the accuracy of an atomic clock by purchasing a clock that automatically synchronizes itself to the atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado. I have one in my home, and you probably do too.

Why do we place such emphasis on measuring time? Some 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Dost thou love time? Then use time wisely, for that's the stuff that life is made of." Being able to measure time helps us to use it wisely. Because of the fragile nature of time, Moses prayed, "So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart." Psalm 90:12 (NRSV) That is another way of saying it is the use, not the length, of our days that counts.

Ephesians 5:15-17 reads,  "Consider carefully, then, how you walk, not as unwise people, but as wise people. Make the most of your time, because the days are evil. For this reason, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." These verses seem to be in the back of my mind a lot. Maybe it's because I feel guilty for spending too much time on the Internet or watching T.V. Obviously, these words apply to everyone. We will all be held accountable for the way we spend the precious time God has given us, but I feel like these words have special meaning for me.

In a prayer of Moses recorded in Psalms 90, we find this plea, "Teach us to use wisely all the time we have." How can we use our time wisely? Let me suggest four steps I have found helpful.

ONE – Look at each day as a gift from God. Instead of seeing each day as a burden, see it as another opportunity God has given you to serve Him. Time isn't inexhaustible, nor can we assume we'll always have more; someday, our time on earth will end. The psalmist said, "My times are in your hands" Psalm 31:15. The first thing we should do when we awake is to thank God for the gift of another day.

TWO -- Commit your time to God. God gave it to you: not to be wasted or mishandled, but to be used for His glory. We are accountable to Him for how we use our time, and once a minute passes, it can never be reclaimed. How can we put this into action? Ask God to help us schedule our time more wisely and efficiently. It may mean rethinking how we spend our time and adjusting it to reflect God's priorities. We may also need to examine why we're so busy. Is what we are doing necessary – or are we simply trying to impress others? We can't do everything -- sometimes, we need to say no.

THREE -- Set aside time for God and others. No Christian would say, "I'm too busy for God," but how often have you gone through a whole day without thinking about Him? How often have you ignored someone who needed your encouragement or help? Why is this? One reason is that we relegate God to our spare time – but never have any spare time! In other words, we mentally list everything we must do and put God at the bottom of the list. But the opposite should be the case. Jesus said, "more than anything else, put God's work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well." Matthew 6:33 (CEV) 

FOUR -- Take time for your own needs. We all need rest and recreation; God made us this way. Some people feel guilty if they take a vacation or even a few hours off, but they shouldn't. During a hectic schedule, Jesus told His disciples, "Let's go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile." He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn't even have time to eat. Mark 6:31 (NLT) If Jesus required rest, don't we also? Someone chronically exhausted from lack of sleep is much more susceptible to Satan's attacks.

I want to close today with a story. The winter day was cold, and even though it was freezing outside, a crowd was gathering. You could feel the anticipation in the air. A young man named Louis was standing in the crowd. He was so excited that he could hardly contain himself. He thought that he might witness history in the making.

The newspapers had been speculating about the event. They questioned whether a man could go that fast on land and survive. They wondered if the vehicle could go that fast without falling to pieces. Everybody seemed to have an opinion; engineers, scientists, doctors, and the man in the street. Today was the day that the questions would all be answered. Louis was excited that he was going to see it.

A gasp rose from the crowd when the machine was introduced. Louis had never seen such an incredible machine. It looked like it was from the future. He watched the driver get into the machine. He couldn't believe what he was witnessing. Louis felt the ground shake when the engine in the machine roared to life. Soon the machine took off, accelerating to an unbelievable speed. Louis and everyone else watching were amazed by how fast the machine went.

When the demonstration was over, both the machine and the driver were fine. When it was announced that a new world speed record had been set, the crowd cheered. The machine had just reached the speed of 39 miles an hour. Wow! That doesn't seem very impressive today. If somebody ahead of us on the highway is creeping along at 39 miles per hour, we're ready to pitch a fit and scream, "Let's go, come on! I don't have all day."

But back in 1898, the world was amazed when somebody went 39 miles per hour. Can you imagine what Louis would think of the latest record for land speed, set by a jet-powered car blasting across the Black Rock Desert in Nevada at more than 763 miles per hour? And, of course, it's only a matter of time before someone will break that record.

In this modern world, no matter how fast we get, no matter how efficient we become, it's just never enough. There's just no question about it; we're doing things faster and faster and faster, at speeds our ancestors couldn't even imagine. Even though we're moving at speeds that our ancestors would think were miraculous, even supernatural, most people still complain about the same thing. No matter what we do or how fast we do it, the complaint is always the same. We don't have enough time.

That's a problem God anticipated. Thousands of years ago, God gave us a commandment specifically created to protect us from the tyranny of time. If you study the fourth commandment, you'll find it comes to us right from the opening chapters of the Bible, right in the story of Creation. At the beginning of our human history, the Lord carved out a refuge called the Sabbath.

Let's go back to the beginning, right after God created the world. The Bible says in Genesis 2:1-3, "Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which he had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made."

The Sabbath is good news because it gives you this block of time that can be dedicated to God and to the people you love. Shaun Boonstra of The Voice of Prophecy says that "to devote one-seventh of our lives to rest is just as much a commandment of God as the prohibitions against murder, adultery or stealing." With the Sabbath, God is giving us a special place in time, a sacred place, where the things of this world—our job, the bills, the chores—are not allowed to intrude because this is a sacred and holy time.

I ask you today, is the Sabbath a day of rest for you? That is what God designed it to be. He was afraid you would forget, so he said to remember the Sabbath day. Remember that God wants to spend time with you. Remember that he wants you to spend time with your family. Remember that God wants you to take the time to rest from your work and your worries. Hebrews 4:9-11 says, "So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. Anyone who enters God's rest will rest from his work as God did. So let us do our best to enter that rest."

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Red, Red, Robin

My An Arkie's Faith column from the April 6, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The weather alert blared on my phone as I ate my breakfast. A tornado warning was in effect for areas of Polk County. I pulled chairs into our downstairs hallway safe place, the only place in our house without exterior walls and windows. We sat in the hallway, watching the live feed from KATV. The path of the storms seemed to be heading right towards us. With the memories of experiencing two tornadoes in the back of our minds, tornado warnings are always a stressful time.

As the winds intensified, lightning flashed, and heavy rain began to fall, we could hear the tornado siren wailing in the distance. The storms were very fast-moving, and before long, they raced through Mena and pushed on to the northeast. We breathed a sigh of relief when the weatherman assured us that the storms had moved past us and we were in the clear. When the tornado warnings expired, I headed to work, arriving a few minutes late.

When I heard a crash that seemed to rattle the sheet metal on my shop building, my nerves were still a bit on edge from the morning's storms. "What could that be," I wondered. "Did a branch from a tree hit the shop?" I walked outside but couldn't see anything that could have caused the sound. A few minutes later, I heard it again. It sounded like a dull thud that rattled the tin siding. "That is very strange," I thought, but I was too busy to investigate.

The mystery was solved when I walked past the shop window just as a robin crashed into it. The crash was so violent that I looked out the window to see if the robin was hurt, but he was sitting on a branch near the window. He would fly from the tree and crash into the window every so often. 

When I arrived at work the following day, the robin was sitting in the tree just outside the shop window. He spent the day repeatedly flying into the glass. All through the day, I heard the robin hitting the window. Four days later, he was still sitting in the tree outside the shop window and attacking the glass.

When I researched the reason for the robin's behavior, I found that "the root of this behavior is territorial," according to the Mass Audubon website. "When birds select a nest site, the surrounding area becomes their territory, and they defend it vigorously. Bird territories vary in size depending on the bird species and available resources. A typical suburban songbird such as an American Robin needs only a small backyard. When a bird, searching for a nesting site, accidentally sees its image in a reflective surface on its territory, it mistakes it for a rival and tries to drive the "interloper" away. This activity may continue throughout the breeding season."

As I watched the robin battering the window day after day, I thought about my own experience and the times that I have attacked a phantom menace repeatedly. Anger and bitterness seem to make me irrational. I beat myself up by constantly crashing into the window of these emotions. It feels like my life is spinning out of control, and I can't make sense of it anymore. When I feel like I have been wronged, my feelings often intensify as I dwell on the situation. The more I think about it, the angrier I become. Bitterness begins to consume me if I can't get my feelings in check.

When I find myself crashing into the window of anger, bitterness, and hatred, I remember Paul's counsel found in Ephesians 4:26,27 (NIRV). "When you are angry, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. Don't give the devil a chance." Some things make us angry. People mistreat us. We witness injustice in the world. But when we dwell on these things and hold a grudge, it gives the devil a foothold in our lives. When we continue to bash into the window of our anger, it can consume us, and if we can't control it, it will destroy us. Paul continues his counsel in Ephesians 4:31,32 (NIRV); "Get rid of all hard feelings, anger, and rage. Stop all fighting and lying. Don't have anything to do with any kind of hatred. Be kind and tender to one another. Forgive one another, just as God forgave you because of what Christ has done."

People hurt us, and life can be unfair. Sometimes anger is justified. But when we hang on to the anger and bitterness, it can be like repeatedly bashing our head against a window. God asks us to forgive to help us heal. But too often, we perceive forgiveness as condoning the behavior. Does forgiveness eliminate accountability or the need for restitution? If I have forgiven, can I still hold the person accountable for their actions? Some Christians teach that forgiveness and accountability are mutually exclusive. That holding someone responsible means that I haven't forgiven them. But that is not the message of the Bible. Even when God forgives us, there are still consequences. He still expects us to make things right as best we can.

Forgiveness doesn't mean you're obligated to stay in a relationship with someone who has destroyed the foundation of everything you've built. Forgiveness doesn't mean you keep a close friendship with the person who betrayed you. Forgiveness doesn't mean you continue to engage with people who have repeatedly proven their disloyalty.

Forgiveness means you accept the wrongs against you, let go of those wrongs, calm your heart with God's love and patience, and begin again—with or without that person, it's up to you. You are no less of a person for knowing when you need distance from people who have broken you. You are not spiteful, hateful, bad, or evil for removing yourself from a toxic relationship and taking time to heal. You are not wrong for setting boundaries and leaving that person in your past.

Gentle Reader, "try to understand other people. Forgive each other. If you have something against someone, forgive him. That is the way the Lord forgave you." Colossians 3:13 (NLV) God wants us to let go of our anger and forgive. He doesn't want us to hold a grudge because he knows it is toxic. But he permits us to remove ourselves from unhealthy relationships and situations. Don't be like the robin and continually crash into the window of anger. "Walk away from the evil things in the world—just leave them behind, and do what is right, and always seek peace and pursue it." 1 Peter 3:11 (VOICE)

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Unknown Treasure

My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 30, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The old woman sat quietly in her kitchen as she ate her breakfast. Thoughts and memories from ninety years of life pressed in on her as she looked around the room. There were so many memories in this house. The pretty young French girl who had seen firsthand the horrors of war gave way to a strong resilient woman. But now her body was failing her, and she would no longer be able to stay alone in the house that she loved. How would she be able to let it go?

La tartine, a quarter baguette sliced horizontally and toasted, was on the small table in front of her. She spread butter on the tartine absent-mindedly and reached for the sour orange marmalade. She would spread marmalade on one piece of tartine, but she would save the other piece to "dunk" into her cafĂ© au lait. This was her breakfast almost every morning. 

As she sat there, deep in thought, her eyes rested on the miniature painting hanging above the hotplate in her kitchen. For many years, she had looked at the tiny eight by ten painting depicting a scene from Christ's passion and crucifixion every day as she prepared her meals. She thought it was an old knockoff of a medieval painting, but she liked it, and it gave her comfort. It reminded her of her faith and what Jesus had suffered for her.

Today the appraiser from the auction house will be meeting with her. She knew that she would have to sell her house and many of her belongings, but tears welled up in her eyes as her emotions wrapped around her. The thought of leaving her home of so many years was devastating. How could she leave so many memories? Why did life have to be so complicated?

When the appraiser from the auction house arrived, she walked through the house, making notes. When she saw the miniature painting hanging in the kitchen above the hotplate, she was intrigued. Art wasn't her area of expertise, but she suggested bringing the painting to experts and performing a series of tests using infrared light to determine its age and worth. She told the old woman, "If it is as old as I think, your painting may be worth more than 100,000 dollars.

Specialists at the Turquin gallery in Paris initially examined the painting and concluded it was around 700 years old. Further tests indicated that the painting was by the famous pre-Renaissance Italian painter Cimabue. The piece is part of a series of paintings created in 1280, depicting Christ's crucifixion. Cimabue is widely considered the forefather of the Italian Renaissance. He broke from the Byzantine style popular in the Middle Ages and began to incorporate elements of movement and perspective that came to characterize Western painting. 

The painting's discovery sent ripples of excitement through the art world. Philomène Wolf, the auctioneer who discovered the painting, recounted, "I had a week to give an expert view on the house contents and empty it. You rarely see something of such quality." She continued, "I immediately thought it was a work of Italian primitivism. But I didn't imagine it was a Cimabue." 

The auction house estimated the sale price of the painting to be 4 million to 6 million dollars. But when the hammer came down and the painting was sold, the final price was over 26 million dollars. Dominique Le Coent of Acteon Auction House, who sold the masterpiece to an anonymous buyer, said the sale represented a "world record for a primitive, or a pre-1500 work. It's a painting that was unique, splendid, and monumental. Cimabue was the father of the Renaissance. But this sale goes beyond all our dreams." Experts were off the mark because it was the first time a Cimabue had ever gone under the hammer. "There's never been a Cimabue painting on sale, so there was no reference previously on how much it could make," Le Coent explained. "When a unique work of a painter as rare as Cimabue comes to market, you have to be ready for surprises."

I'm sure that the morning the old woman reminisced as she ate her breakfast and waited for the appraiser to arrive, she had no idea what was in store. She was completely unaware of the value of the simple painting hanging above her hotplate. For many years, millions of dollars were hanging on her kitchen wall. I can't imagine the emotions that ran through her when she discovered the value of the painting.

In Psalms 119:162 (NCB), David wrote, "I rejoice in your word like one who discovers a great treasure." Movies, books, and television programs about pirate treasure excite us. Pirates amassed fortunes of gold, silver, and jewels, and some of those riches still have not been found. My wife is intrigued by the mystery of Oak Island. Treasure hunters have been digging on this small Canadian island for over two hundred years, looking for pirate treasure. Many tantalizing clues have been found, but no actual treasure.

But there are far more valuable treasures than anything you can find in a buried treasure chest, sunken pirate ship, or unknowingly hanging on your wall. Those treasures are in the Bible. "Your teachings are worth more to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver." Psalms 119:72 (NCV) If you are like most English-speaking people, you probably already own at least one Bible. A 2015 survey commissioned by the American Bible Society found that 88 percent of Americans own at least one Bible, and 79 percent consider the Bible sacred or holy. About 36 percent of those surveyed said they read the Bible at least once per week. 

However, merely owning a Bible is not enough. Even though most Americans own one or more Bibles, their knowledge of Scripture is sadly lacking. A 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center demonstrated that only 45 percent of Americans knew the names of the four Gospels. 

Gentle Reader, you have a priceless work of art in your home. It is the Bible, and what it contains is very literally the difference between eternal life and eternal death. Don't fail to recognize the value of that one ordinary book. It's the most valuable thing you own. "My goal is that your hearts may be encouraged and strengthened. I want you to be joined together in love. Then your understanding will be rich and complete. You know the mystery of God. That mystery is Christ. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him." Colossians 2:2,3 (NIRV) paraphrased. You have a treasure in the Bible "worth more than thousands of pieces of gold and silver." Psalms 119:72 (NCV) Don't let it remain an unknown treasure.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

So Did I

My Grandpa Lawry loved to tell stories, sing, and recite poetry. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood were spending time with my Grandpa and listening to him. One of my favorite poems that he would recite is "So Did I." Recently I found a digital copy on the internet of the book, Uncle Charlie's Poems, written by Charles Noel Douglas that includes the poem. Reading "So Did I," and reminiscing about my Grandpa made me miss him.

SO DID I - Charles Noel Douglas

That long, lank dude as sparks our Sue was to the house last night,

An' talk of having fun, well, say, I thought I'd die outright.

Laugh, well, I'm a-laughing still, I guess I'll never quit;

I've only got to think, an' then I durned nigh have a fit.

He came to supper, an' we had, o' course, a dandy spread.

Sue trotted out her chocolate cake, an' Mom her fancy bread.

An’ that long dude he stuffed hisself with cake, preserves an' pie,

An' then drank sixteen cups o' tea, an' so did I.

Jim Snaggs he eat, an' eat, an' eat; my, how that dude did stuff,

Till every plate was cleared, then Jim he guessed he'd had enough.

Most folks in love don't eat at all, but Jim ain't one of such,

For he allowed love always made him eat just twice as much.

Up from his chair Jim staggered, you could almost see him swell.

He'd eat so much, how he got up that's more than I can tell.

I saw him beckon Sue, an' she just answered with her eye,

Then to the parlor off they sneaked, an' so did I.

They made for that old settee in the corner by the door,

An' I crawled in an' hid behind, where oft I hid before.

An' then I heard him whisper: "Sue, just let me give you one!"

An' Sue, she said: "Jim, if you do, I'll get right up an' run”

An' then she giggled foolish-like; you know how young folks spark

A-fore the parlor lamp is lit, an' things is kind 'er dark.

Well, Jim he kissed her good an' hard, an' Sue, she said: "Oh, fie,”

Then jabbed her fist in Jim Snagg's neck, an' so did I.

I bobbed down quick, Jim didn't see, for love, you know, is blind;

An' then with cord I started in Jim's swell coat-tails to bind.

He'd on his new Prince Albert, for Jim was quite a card,

An', 'fore you knew a thing, I'd got him tied up good an' hard,

An' 'neath the settee then I crawled, an' laid flat on the floor,

With Sue's steel hatpin in my band, six inches long, or more.

Then, just as Jim was kissing Sue, I jabbed it in his thigh;

He yelled an' rolled in fourteen fits, an' so did I.

You should have seen the circus, when that pin got busy - you

Must know Jim hit the ceiling, an' the settee went there, too,

An' 'round the room he dragged it, like a mule hitched to a truck,

Till both his coat-tails they tore off, an' Jim just cussed his luck.

An' stamped an' yelled till all the folks rushed headlong through the door

An' stumbled over Sue, who lay unconscious on the floor.

Pop dashed right off for water; say, you should have seen him fly;

He soused ten buckets in Sue's face, an' so did I.

At last they got Sue on a chair, poor gal, she couldn't stand,

While Jim stood there an' rubbed hisself, a coat-tail in each hand.

An' Sue no sooner saw him than she started in to grin,

Then flopped down on the floor, an' chucked another fit again.

We soused her "to" with water, then an argument arose

Just as to what old animal had bit Jim through his clothes.

Sue guessed a snake, Ma said she thought 'twas lightning from the sky,

But, last, they blamed it on the cat, an' so did I.