Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Queen Elizabeth II

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 28, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Along with many other Americans, my wife and I watched with viewers worldwide as Great Britain paid a final farewell to Queen Elizabeth II with a state funeral and military procession. Her reign of 70 years and 214 days is the longest of any British monarch and the longest verified reign of any female sovereign in history.

Queen Elizabeth II's coffin was taken in a solemn procession to Westminster Abbey on the State Gun Carriage of the Royal Navy, drawn by 142 sailors. King Charles III walked alongside his siblings, Princess Anne, Princes Andrew, and Edward. The Prince of Wales and the Duke of Sussex followed behind. As the funeral procession entered the abbey, world leaders, politicians, and foreign royalty stood as her coffin was carried up the aisle. 

During the funeral service, The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: "People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer. But in all cases, those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten." He also spoke of how the Queen had declared on her 21st birthday "that her whole life would be dedicated to serving the nation and Commonwealth." The Archbishop added: "Rarely has such a promise been so well kept. Few leaders receive the outpouring of love we have seen."

A while ago, I came across a quote by the American author, historian, and Unitarian minister, Edward Everett Hale. He said, "I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will." It is an excellent motto for your life.

Queen Elizabeth II was in a position of power and influence to make a difference in the world. An article in the online magazine The Conversation stated it this way. "Her wisdom and unceasing sense of duty meant she was widely viewed with a combination of respect, esteem, awe, and affection, which transcended nations, classes, and generations. She was immensely proud of Britain and its people, yet in the end, she belonged to the world, and the world mourned her passing." But most people don't feel that they can make a difference. What can just one person do? 

A few years ago. A friend of mine was upset about a situation, and through his actions made a big difference, even though he was an ocean away. I found out what one person can do.

The narrative started back in 1916. The Battle of the Somme was one of the biggest battles of the First World War. Fought near the Somme River in France, it was also one of the deadliest battles in history. On July 1, 1916, 19,240 British soldiers lost their lives. It was the bloodiest day in the history of the British army.

July 1, 2016, marked the 100th Anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. As a tribute to these soldiers, the British Royal Legion issued 19,240 hand-crafted solid brass limited edition golden poppy lapel pins, one for each British soldier who lost his life that day. Each pin came with a certificate featuring details of the individual soldier it commemorated.

The intricate golden pins were made from the brass of melted-down shell fuses found on the Somme battlefields and feature a prominent red center, painted with paint mixed with soil from the same fields. The British Royal Legion sold the pins for £39.99, with all proceeds being used to provide care and support for members of the British Armed Forces and their families. Unsurprisingly the poppies sold out within hours.

My friend, whose Grandfather fought during World War I, tried to purchase one but was unsuccessful. He looked on the British Legion site, but they had all sold out very quickly. He thought, "I bet someone is trying to profit off that," so he looked on eBay and found that there was already one listed, selling for nearly £400.

He said, "one of the sellers I contacted first was so mean and arrogant it just got me angry. It upset him to see opportunists making huge profits off something that had such meaning. He told me, "My Grandfather was in the Cavalry in the great war. The slaughter was incredible as humans fought the first real mechanized war. It was supposed to be the 'War that ended Wars.' Sadly, as we know, this was a forlorn dream."

My friend decided to contact the press in Great Britain. He was nervous when he called the papers, but the British newspaper Mirror published an article about reselling the golden poppy lapel pins, mentioning my friend. He was delighted when the BBC reported on it, and soon eBay removed the golden poppy lapel pins.

One man made a difference. Jude 1:22 (NKJV) says, "And on some have compassion, making a difference." You can make a difference. You can have compassion. You may not contribute to making a change an ocean away, but you can make a difference to someone. John F. Kennedy said, "One person can make a difference, and everyone should try."

In Zechariah 7:9 (GW), God tells us to "be compassionate and kind to each other." Imagine what a difference you could make by simply being kind to others. Several years ago, my young granddaughter walked up to a woman at church and gave her a big hug. This woman lived alone and had a prickly personality. She kept people at a distance. All day long, she kept telling people, "That child hugged me. No child has ever done that before." A simple hug made a difference in her life.

Gentle Reader, small acts of kindness have changed the hearts and minds of others. You can make a difference even if you do not have the power and influence of a monarch. You can influence someone even if you are not a social media influencer. You may be only one, but the power of one can be significant. You can't do everything, but you can do something. Look for opportunities to serve others and find opportunities to thank those that are of service to you. Your gratitude is an act of kindness toward others and can profoundly impact someone. The power of one can change the world! Let kindness and compassion be your superpowers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Chasing Monkeys

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 21, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

As I travel, the landscape seems almost otherworldly. The trees along the road are veiled in wisps of fog, and overhead a crescent moon tries to break through the cirrus clouds. The faint moonlight enhances the ghostly, ethereal scenery of the early morning hours. 

As I drive through what seems like a sublime fairyland, I listen to a book on the stereo in my little S-10 pickup. The story appears predictable as a boy in the Ozarks of northeast Oklahoma reminisces about the summer he turned fourteen. But the story heads into bizarre territory when the boy, Jay Berry, and his hound dog, Rowdy, are out looking for the family’s crazy old milk cow, and Rowdy trees an animal in a large oak tree. 

Jay Berry tells the story, “At first, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was a monkey—an honest to goodness monkey.” Although it was hard to believe a story about finding a monkey in northeast Oklahoma, I wasn’t surprised. After all, the title of the book is Summer of the Monkeys.

I first heard about the book Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls when I read about the Mena School District’s reading program, One District One Book. I thought, “The title is interesting; I should read the book.” According to a Polk County Pulse article, “the idea is that the school district, sponsors, households, and community all read the same book, giving them something in common in addition to promoting reading and literacy.”  

The story is written from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy named Jay Berry. His life is full of adventure, exploring the river bottoms near his family’s farm. In the late 1800s, his family had moved from Missouri to Oklahoma to be near his grandparents. His twin sister, Daisy, has a crippled leg, but the family doesn’t have enough money to pay for the surgery she needs.

From the day Jay Berry discovers monkeys in a nearby river bottom and learns that they have escaped from a traveling circus, which has offered a large reward for their capture, he is obsessed with capturing the monkeys. He aims to claim the reward and use the money to fulfill his dream of owning a pony and a .22 rifle. He attempts to capture them using traps and a net borrowed from his grandfather, but the monkeys outsmart him at every turn. After one incredibly intense encounter, the monkeys attack Jay Berry and Rowdy, and they limp home covered in scratches and bites. Daisy spends several days nursing them back to health.

Jay Berry and his grandpa go to a nearby town to visit the library and see if there is a book there that can help them learn how to catch monkeys. They hatch a plan to catch the monkeys using coconuts, but as they return home, the monkeys steal the coconuts. Jay Berry wonders if he will ever be able to capture the monkeys. 

One night, not long after the monkeys stole his coconuts, Jay Berry was sleeping soundly when an earth-jarring clap of thunder awakened him. As the storm intensified, Jay Berry started worrying about his monkey nemeses. The following day, he told his Mama, “I’m going down in the bottoms and see about the monkeys. They could’ve drowned or blown away in the storm. I’m worried about them.”

His Papa asked, “If you find the monkeys, are you going to try to catch them?” Jay Berry answered, “no, I just want to see if they are all right.”

Jay Berry found the monkeys huddled together in a washout in the riverbank, wet, cold, and almost dead. When the monkeys saw that he was trying to help them, they followed him home. From this point on, the story follows a happy ending path. Jay Berry returns the monkeys to the circus and gets the reward. Instead of buying a pony and a rifle, he uses the reward money to pay for his sister’s surgery. But somehow, in the end, he still ends up with a pony and a rifle.

Although the premise seems a bit silly on the surface, the book has an excellent moral. It is about family and what matters most in this life. The book examines broad themes such as not giving up on your dreams, kindness, and love.

As I thought about the book, my mind kept returning to what I feel is the turning point in the book. Jay Berry had compassion for the monkeys on the night of the terrible storm. Instead of viewing them as enemies he must subdue; he worried about them and had compassion for them. From that point on, everything in his life changed from disappointments to all his wishes coming true. The book wraps everything up just a bit too neatly but points out that compassion and kindness are the best approaches.

In Psalms 112:4 (VOICE), the Bible tells us that “when life is dark, a light will shine for those who live rightly— those who are merciful, compassionate, and strive for justice.” Unfortunately, most Christians are not known for their mercy, compassion, and desire for justice. We shout in the public arena, “Everyone should keep God’s law as I see it.” But Paul tells us, “The entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galatians 5:14 (NIV)

In his book Grace for the Moment, Max Lucado offers a pledge that we could all make our own: “Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice, may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.”

Gentle Reader, maybe, like Jay Berry, we need to change how we view those we oppose. Instead of viewing them as enemies we need to subdue, we need to consider them with compassion and kindness. As a Christian, kindness can go a long way. It can show others the character of the God we serve. We can show people they are important and created in God’s image through a smile, kind words, and compassion. You may never know the positive impact of your kindness, but “let love and kindness be the motivation behind all that you do.” 1 Corinthians 16:14 (TPT)

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Lincoln Navigator

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 14, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I was busy installing a windshield when the phone rang. It seems that if I am applying the urethane to a vehicle or setting a windshield in place, there is a good chance that the phone will ring. I laid down my urethane caulk gun and picked up the phone. "Last night, I broke the window in my Lincoln Navigator, and it has shattered into a thousand pieces," said the voice on the other end. "I need to get it replaced before it rains. How much will it cost?" "Let me get into the office where I can look it up," I answered. After getting all the information and pricing the glass, I told him, "That is an expensive piece of glass. It will cost $550.00 for the glass and installation. My supplier has the glass in stock, and I can have the glass here on Tuesday." "Well, I have to have it," he answered. "Go ahead and order it, and I will bring the Lincoln in on Tuesday to get the work done. Do you want me to come by and pay for it before you place the order?" I told him that it wasn't necessary to pay for it before I completed the job.

About an hour later, the customer with the Lincoln Navigator drove up to my shop. "I want to pay you for the glass," he said. I told him that it wasn't necessary, but he insisted. "Thank you," I said. "That is very thoughtful of you." He wrote me a check, handed it to me, and drove away.

My supplier delivered the Lincoln glass to my storage unit in DeQueen, and on Tuesday morning, I drove to DeQueen and picked up the glass. We had scheduled the job for Tuesday, but the customer didn't show up to get the glass installed. It was a busy day, and I didn't have time to think about it until late that afternoon. I called the customer but only got his voicemail. I left a message telling him that the glass was in and asked him to give me a call to reschedule. I thought it was unusual because it had been so important to him to replace the glass before it rained, but I didn't worry about it because he had prepaid for the job. I didn't hear from him for the rest of the week.

Two weeks went by before I heard from the customer. Finally, he called, and we made an appointment to install the glass. I was glad to have the job completed, but I was surprised that he waited so long to have the work done, especially since he had already paid for it.

In my warehouse, there are quite a few pieces of glass that customers have special ordered over the years but never came to get the work done. It is a frustrating and costly part of the business. But I also have several pieces of glass that customers have paid for but have never picked up. I am puzzled that someone would pay for a piece of glass and then never pick it up.

I am also puzzled that more people don't accept God's grace since the price is already paid. The Bible is clear that God's grace is a gift. Why don't more people take advantage of the gift? If you were to ask one hundred random people, "how do you get to heaven?" you would hear many different answers. Things like "try to be good and do your best," "work hard at being a good moral person," or "do more good things in life than you do bad things." The basis for each of these ideas is reliance on our abilities and actions. These ideas are not based on the idea that heaven is a gift. People who think they have earned their way and don't need the gift see no need to accept God's grace. 

Many Christians fall into this way of thinking. They believe they can do it themselves and don't need a gift. A survey conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University finds that fifty-two percent of Americans who describe themselves as Christian believe they can earn their salvation through good works. Because of this mindset, some feel strongly that no one should receive assistance. 

In 1 Corinthians 6:20 (NCV) Paul tells us, "You were bought by God for a price. So honor God with your bodies." God paid the price of his Son to purchase your salvation. "He suffered the things we should have suffered. He took on himself the pain that should have been ours. But we thought God was punishing him. We thought God was wounding him and making him suffer. But the servant was pierced because we had sinned. He was crushed because we had done what was evil. He was punished to make us whole again. His wounds have healed us." Isaiah 53:4,5 (NIRV)

Jesus suffered for you. He took on himself the pain that should have been yours. Your sins were the ones that pierced him. He paid the price to heal you and make you whole. He has paid your debts—all of them. Jesus died for you. If you accept the gift of grace, the stain of sin on your life is washed white as snow.

John 19:28-30 (NCV) tells the story of the last moments of Jesus' life on the cross. "After this, Jesus knew that everything had been done. So that the Scripture would come true, he said, 'I am thirsty.' There was a jar full of vinegar there, so the soldiers soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a branch of a hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' mouth. When Jesus tasted the vinegar, he said, 'It is finished.' Then he bowed his head and died."

Gentle Reader, Jesus said, "It is finished" on the cross. He paid in full all the costs required to forgive our sins. And when we place our trust in him, our sin debt is forever wiped off the books! We all need the gift of grace. We all need to have the penalty paid for our sins. The Bible says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" Romans 3:23 (NIV) and that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23 (NKJV) We all need the gift of God, eternal life. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." Ephesians 2:8 (NRSV) Don't be too proud to accept the prepaid gift of grace.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Most Beautiful Rainy Day Ever

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 7, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I opened the weather app on my phone and checked the weather for Gulfport, Mississippi. There was an 80 to 100 percent chance of rain every day. We would be traveling to Gulfport for a long weekend in a couple of days. We had been planning our trip for two months. It looked like our weekend at the beach was going to be rainy.

In the forty-plus years that we have lived in Mena, we have never been to the Gulf coast. We decided that we would go to the beach this summer. The Gulfport and Biloxi area was the closest to us, just eight hours away. Two months earlier, I had rented a cute little beach cottage just a few blocks from the beach. We planned a long weekend and looked forward to our beach vacation.

As we left early Friday morning, the forecast hadn't improved. There was a ninety percent chance of rain both Saturday and Sunday, and Gulfport was under a flood watch. It didn't look good for our beach vacation. Our beach cottage rental was nonrefundable, so we decided we would make the best of it. If it rained all weekend and we had to stay inside, we would still have fun.

We stopped on our way through Louisiana to pick up our granddaughter. We had invited her to go with us to the beach, and she was excited about the trip. We told her it would probably rain all weekend, but it didn't dampen her spirits. 

My granddaughter loves listening to books and can often be found with headphones on listening to books on her iPad. We listened to the Audible book Lemons by Melissa Savage as we traveled. The book Lemons is the story of Lemonade Liberty Witt. Her mama always told her: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But Lem can't make lemonade out of her new life when she goes to live with her estranged grandfather after her mother passes away.

Then she meets eleven-year-old Tobin Sky, the CEO of Bigfoot Detectives Inc., who is the sole Bigfoot investigator for their small town. After he invites Lem to be his assistant for the summer, they set out on an epic adventure to capture a shot of bigfoot on film. As the story unfolds, Lemonade Liberty Witt is finally able to once again make lemonade from the lemons that life has given her. 

My granddaughter was engrossed in the book and didn't like it when the GPS would talk over the narrator. Every time the GPS came on, we would hear a deep sigh from the back seat. Time passed quickly as we traveled, and soon, we drove into Gulfport. Dark, nasty clouds loomed overhead, but there was no rain


We found our beach cottage, and as soon as our luggage was inside, my granddaughter wanted to walk to the beach. As we stepped onto the beach, there was a large flock of seagulls on the sand. As grandma and granddaughter ran towards the gulls, the flock took off with flashes of white and grey filling the sky, their wings beating the salty air. The cries and squawks of the gulls and hundreds of beating wings created an uproar of sound. But soon, they were gone, and the only sounds were the waves lapping on the beach. My granddaughter began searching for shells as we listened to the rhythmic percussion of waves on sand. 

I got up early the following day and drove to a good vantage point to watch the sunrise. Large banks of clouds covered the eastern sky, and there was not much color in the sky. But to the north, there were some breaks in the clouds, and most importantly, there was no rain. I checked the weather app on my phone, and there was still an eighty percent chance of rain, and we were under a flash flood warning. The morning had lower rain chances than the afternoon, so we planned to visit the beach if the weather permitted.

Over breakfast, we talked about our options, and my granddaughter said that she wanted to go to the beach even if it rained. "You get wet in the water," she said, "so what does it matter if we get wet with rain." By the time we got to the beach, the sun was shining, and the sky was bright blue. There were some fluffy white clouds but nothing that was threatening. 

After coating ourselves with sunscreen, we spent the next couple of hours enjoying the beach. My granddaughter spent most of her time building sandcastles and looking for shells. As I swam in the ocean, fish were jumping all around me. Sometimes the fish barely broke the surface, but sometimes they jumped two feet straight into the air. Not far from me, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron fished from a drainage pipe. I watched it catch several fish.

When we were ready to leave the beach, black clouds formed far off to the west. But we had experienced nothing but bright blue skies. We spent the afternoon exploring Biloxi and Ocean Springs but never saw a single drop of rain. After a delicious meal at Salute Seafood and Italian Restaurant in Gulfport, we drove back to our beach cottage. As we drove along the beach, my granddaughter exclaimed, "this was the most beautiful rainy day ever!"

Pastor Charles Swindoll writes, "the longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past; we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes."

Gentle Reader, our attitudes about our circumstances can help us make lemonade from lemons. Every one of us experiences disappointments and hardships. But how we react makes a huge difference. In Proverbs 17:22 (AMP), the Bible tells us, “A happy heart is good medicine and a joyful mind causes healing, But a broken spirit dries up the bones." Don't let a rainy forecast break your spirit. You might experience the most beautiful rainy day ever.