Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Lonely Christmas

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 27, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The morning dawned quiet and peaceful. It’s too quiet and peaceful. There was no excitement. There were no shouts of Merry Christmas. No laughter filled the air. The Christmas tree in the living room stood silently with presents all around. But the gifts remained untouched. No one was opening them. The living room was in perfect order, with no torn wrapping paper.

I sighed and thought, “It doesn’t feel like Christmas.” Across the street, cars filled the driveway, and people arrived for Christmas morning celebrations. But our house was quiet. No one would be at our home for Christmas. No bubbly, excited granddaughters to make the day festive. I thought about all the people who would not be with those they love this Christmas and felt empathy for them.

This would be my first Christmas without my Daddy. With no family here, a sadness washed over me. I sat in my chair, feeling just a bit sorry for myself. “What makes Christmas feel special?” I wondered. I decided it is being with people you love and feeling a part of a tradition. Our traditions help Christmas feel special.

Around the world, Christmas traditions vary considerably. I remember spending a Christmas in Puerto Rico in the 70s. Puerto Ricans celebrated Christmas, but there were no gifts on Christmas Day. January 6th, known as Three Kings Day, rather than December 25th, was the day for exchanging gifts. Children would gather grass, hay, or straw in shoeboxes for the horses and camels of the three kings, much like children in the U.S. leave cookies and milk for Santa and his reindeer. Good kids are rewarded with presents and candy on Three Kings Day.

The tradition of Three Kings Day comes from the story in the Gospel of Matthew of wise men from the East who came looking for a baby who was the King of the Jews. “The star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:9-11 (NKJV) This biblical story is the basis for gift giving at Christmas.

In much of Europe, it is Christkind that brings the Christmas presents. The tradition dates to the Reformation and Martin Luther. At this time, it was traditional to give children gifts on December 6th, St. Nicolas’s Day. Does the idea that Saint Nicolas delivers gifts sound familiar to you? But Martin Luther wanted to do away with the veneration of saints and saints’ days, so he started a gift-giving tradition on Christmas Eve. He told the children that the Christ Child had brought their presents. This tradition quickly took hold in Lutheran families. 

While Martin Luther’s original intention was that the infant Jesus bring the children gifts, the image of a baby transformed into an angelic figure with golden hair topped with a crown and golden wings over time. A baby couldn’t deliver gifts, so a female angel with Christ-like qualities did the job. This angelic figure is known as Christkind. In much of Europe, Christkind is a symbol of Christmas along with Santa Claus. In this tradition, children never see Christkind in person. Parents tell them Christkind will not come and bring presents if they try to spot it. Christkind delivers gifts across Germany, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and much of Latin America.

In Scandinavia, an essential tradition during the Christmas season is celebrating Saint Lucia. She was a young Christian girl who was killed in 304 A.D. Her history has been lost, and all we know for sure is that this brave woman lost her life during the persecution of Christians in the early fourth century. Her veneration spread to Rome so that by the sixth century, the whole church recognized her courage in defense of the faith.

Tradition tells us that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head to have both her hands free to carry things. St. Lucia’s Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head. The crown is made of evergreen Lingonberry branches that symbolize new life in winter. Many towns and villages choose a girl to play St. Lucia and lead a procession of carolers.

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

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

Gentle Reader, what are your Christmas traditions? Do they bring you joy? Do they remind you of Jesus and how important He is to you? Jesus wants you to have joy. He says, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:11 (NKJV) I hope you have experienced love and joy this Christmas. “There are three things that endure: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NCB)

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Electric Train

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 20, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The six-year-old boy stood shyly in line with the other boys and girls. It was his first Christmastime in the big city of Denver, and everything seemed exciting, wonderful, and a little bit scary. It had only been a short time since he, his mom, and his little sister moved from his grandparents’ house on the plains of eastern Colorado to live with his daddy, who had found work in Denver.

The little family lived in a motel room as Daddy struggled to save enough money to find a proper house for them to live in. At six years old and having grown up during the Depression, Duane knew that there was not much money for Christmas presents that year. But as he stood in line waiting to see Santa Claus, he knew what he would ask for. He wanted an electric train set. It was all he could think about. He spent hours imagining his train chugging around the track.

When it was his turn to see Santa, Duane timidly walked forward and sat on Santa’s lap. When Santa asked him what he wanted for Christmas, Duane answered, “I want an electric train set.” After a moment of hesitation, Duane continued, “But I know that my Daddy can’t afford one, so a wind-up train would be okay.”

As they drove home, Daddy decided that no matter what happened, there would be an electric train under the tree. On Christmas Eve, Daddy set up the electric train in the little room after the kids were in bed. When morning came, he started the little train chugging around the tracks, blew the train whistle, and yelled, “Merry Christmas.”

That Christmas morning of 1940 is still a precious memory for Duane, even though he is now nearly ninety years old. From that Christmas morning until this day, the electric train has been one of his most prized possessions. When his children and grandchildren were growing up, they had fond memories of the little antique electric train running around the Christmas tree. The train was part of the family’s Christmas tradition.

Today, before writing this story, I called Duane to ensure I had the details correct. I asked him if he still put the train under the tree, and he told me it had been several years since the train had made its Christmas appearance. The family has gotten so large with grandkids and great-grandkids that there isn’t enough room in his small house. But as I was on the phone with him, he got his train out and sent me a photo. The top of the original box is no longer there, but the train is still in good condition in its original box.

When Duane’s daddy heard him ask Santa for an electric train all those years ago, I don’t imagine that he could have had any idea of the impact his decision to buy Duane an electric train for Christmas would have. For every Christmas for eighty years, his love for his son has been on display every Christmas. 

The Bible tells us that “every good act of giving and every perfect gift are from above, coming down from the Father of all light.” James 1:17 (NCB) Even though I understand that Christmas has become very commercialized, giving gifts is a way to become more like God, the ultimate gift giver. I know the danger of celebrating Christmas with cultural trappings and commercial glitz. But giving good gifts is a way we honor God, the giver of gifts.

Amy Carmichael, who spent her life as a Christian missionary in India, wrote, “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” When you select Christmas gifts this year, make sure that love is the overriding reason for your gifts. The miracle of giving is that it ripples. Your one small gesture can affect hundreds. The smallest gift given with love and compassion is priceless.

God is the very best gift giver. His love is an extravagant gift to us. God promises us a gift more incredible than we can imagine or ask for. 2 Corinthians 9:15 (VOICE) describes Jesus this way; "Praise God for this incredible, unbelievable, indescribable gift!" With the gift of Jesus and all the other large and small ways we are blessed in this life, God wants to instill in us reciprocal generosity. All we are, all we have, is a gift from God. He is our Provider, Sustainer, Creator, and Good Father. Gift-giving allows us to keep the circle of generosity flowing to people God has placed in our lives.

Gentle Reader, I know you have given good gifts at Christmastime. Jesus knows that, too. In Matthew 7:7-11 (VOICE), Jesus said, "Just ask and it will be given to you; seek after it and you will find. Continue to knock and the door will be opened for you. All who ask receive. Those who seek, find what they seek. And he who knocks, will have the door opened. Think of it this way: if your son asked you for bread, would you give him a stone? Of course not—you would give him a loaf of bread. If your son asked for a fish, would you give him a snake? No, to be sure, you would give him a fish—the best fish you could find. So if you, who are sinful, know how to give your children good gifts, how much more so does your Father in heaven, who is perfect, know how to give great gifts to His children!"

God is the ultimate giver of good gifts. No matter how fantastic the best gift you open this Christmas is, it can't compare to the gift of Jesus we celebrate at Christmas. In Romans 6:23 (KJV), the Bible tells us, "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." God has given you the best gift ever; how will you reciprocate? Who could you bless this Christmastime with your time or attention, with a gift, large or small? Find a way to be a gift to someone today.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The Model A Pickup

My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 13, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

My Daddy grew up in a Ford Model A. By the time he was eight years old he was driving the family Model A. One of the ways that the family earned money was by peddling eggs, fruit, and vegetables door to door. By the time he was eight years old, when the traffic was light, his Momma would send Daddy back down the street to pull the Model A up to where she was. Daddy remembered having to look through the steering wheel instead of over it.

Over the years Daddy owned many antique and special interest collector cars. But the cars he loved the most were Model A’s. In 1992, he drove a Shay Model A on several trips. On one trip he drove the Model A from Arkansas to Dawson City, Yukon in Canada. From there, he traveled on the Dempster Highway toward Inuvik. Driving his Model A above the Arctic Circle was one of his proudest achievements. Later that year he took another vacation, driving the Model A to Key West, Florida. Over the years, I heard him tell the story of driving his Model A to the Arctic Circle and the Florida Keys in the same year to hundreds of people.

The last old car Daddy bought was a 1930 Ford Model A Roadster Pickup. He was no longer driving his old cars and wasn’t interested in purchasing any. But he bought this original Model A pickup when offered it. The Model A had been donated to the TV ministry. It Is Written, by one of the owners of McKee Foods, makers of Little Debbie Snack Cakes. When It Is Written contacted Daddy to see if he was interested in purchasing the Model A, he told them he was no longer buying cars, but he did have a soft spot for Model A’s. 

After negotiating a price and finding transport from Chattanooga to Mena, the day finally arrived when the Model A pickup was delivered. Daddy was excited to see his new purchase. He loved the untouched original look. In its unrestored condition with the cracked and pealing black lacquer paint, the Model A pickup looked the way it would have eighty years ago when Daddy first learned to drive in a Model A.

We moved cars around in our building to accommodate the new acquisition. I asked Daddy if he wanted to try and start the Model A Pickup. He said, “Not today,” and returned to his favorite chair and scrolling through Facebook on his iPad. For the next three years, he loved to show people his Model A Roadster Pickup and tell them that the previous owner was the owner of Little Debbie’s. Several more times over the years, I asked Daddy if he wanted to try and start the Model A, and his answer was always the same. “Not today.”

Two months ago, Daddy passed away suddenly. After the shock and taking care of the necessary things had subsided, I turned my attention to the shop and everything that would need to be done there. I started thinking about getting some of the cars in Daddy’s collection running again. I mentioned to several people that I would like to get the Model A pickup running but didn’t know much about Model A’s. 

One day, a customer came by the shop and said, “I hear you have a Model A that you want to get running.” “Yes, I do,” I replied. He told me he had been working on Model A’s for years, and in the next day or two, he would come by and see what we could do. The very next day, he showed up and was anxious to get to work. He showed me where the fuel shut-off valve was located under the dash. After turning the fuel valve on, he made sure the spark control lever on the left side of the steering wheel was pushed up. Then he pulled the throttle lever on the right side of the steering wheel halfway down.

Pulling the choke control out, he pressed the starter button and pushed the choke control back in as soon as the engine turned over. The Model A pickup that hadn’t been started in years came to life. He pulled the spark control lever down as soon as it started until the engine ran more smoothly. “Hop in,” he said, “let’s go for a ride.”

We drove to the gas station to put more fuel in the little truck. The old gas that had been in the tank for years smelled terrible, so we filled it with new gas. On the way back to the shop, we changed drivers, and for the first time, I was driving the Model A Roadster Pickup. I felt sad that Daddy wasn’t there to see it.

My friend Chad told me I should drive the Model A in the Christmas parade. So we decorated it with lights and cut down a Christmas tree to haul in the pickup bed. My wife and I enjoyed driving the Model A in the parade.

As I drove in the parade, I thought about those years that Daddy had owned the Model A but had never driven or even started it. I was thankful for my customer and Model A expert, who was excited to help me get it running. 

I thought about how often I needed instructions and someone to teach me things I didn’t know. The same thing happens in my spiritual life. Every day, there seem to be things I don’t understand. But God tells me in Psalms 32:8 (AMP), “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you who are willing to learn with My eye upon you.”

Gentle Reader, God has a specific plan and purpose for our lives. These plans come with individual guidance from God Himself. No one else can direct us into what God has for us except Our Creator, who knows us intimately. In Psalms 32:8, God is reassuring us of His devotion and desire to get us where He designed us to be. He is saying I am here and know exactly what to do; all you have to do is follow me. He wants to instruct and teach us so we will be wise. “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV)

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

I'll Be Home For Christmas

 My An Arkie's Faith column from the December 6, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of my favorite Christmas songs is the Bing Crosby classic, I’ll Be Home For Christmas. The song was written to honor soldiers overseas who longed to be home at Christmas time. The song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II, writing a letter to his family. In the message, he tells his family he will be coming home and to prepare the holiday for him. The song touched the hearts of Americans, soldiers, and civilians, earning Bing Crosby his fifth gold record. 

“I'll be home for Christmas. You can plan on me. Please have snow and mistletoe and presents on the tree. Christmas Eve will find me where the love light gleams. I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Passing the Test

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 29, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Most people don't like to take tests. It makes them nervous. Some occupations such as nursing, law, civil service jobs, and many others, require passing a test before you can be licensed to work. Tests can create a lot of anxiety in people. Waiting to find out if you passed is very stressful.

Recently, a friend was stressed out while waiting for the day she would take the test required to be certified. Without the certification, she could not work in the field she had studied. Even though the worry about taking the test almost made her ill, when the day came, she passed it. 

I remember taking my driving test. I was driving a 1962 Chrysler. For the turn signals to work, you had to hold the turn signal lever in position because it wouldn’t stay if you didn’t. When I had to turn corners during the test, I held the turn signal lever in position with one hand while I steered with the other. When the test was over, the driving examiner took off points because I didn’t keep both hands on the wheel when I turned a corner. He didn’t notice that I was holding the turn signal lever in position with the other hand. I was afraid I wouldn't pass the exam, but after a lecture on the importance of keeping both hands on the wheel, he gave me a passing grade.

When I was in high school, I had a teacher who told us that if we had an A in the class, we wouldn’t have to take the final exam.  I wouldn’t say I liked taking finals, so I worked hard to get an A. On the Monday of finals week, the teacher posted the grades. I looked at the bulletin board and saw that I had an A-.  I was relieved.  I wouldn’t have to take the final exam. Then the teacher told me I would have to take the final exam because only those with an A were exempt and I had an A-. I argued that an A- was still an A but it didn’t do me any good. I still had to take the final exam. I was not happy.

Many Christians go through life like they are in school. They are always worried about their grades. They are concerned about making a passing grade. They spend their lives in anxiety about the outcome. They believe they cannot know if they are saved or lost! Many don't have that assurance of salvation.

The Bible has a lot to say on this topic. You can have the assurance of salvation. Jesus Himself gives assurance to those who believe in Him. In John 10:27,28 (NRSV) Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

While speaking to a group of people on the topic of assurance, I asked, “How many here are married? If you are, raise your hand.” Most of the hands in the audience went up. Then I asked a follow-up question, “How many of you don't know if you're married?” Not a single hand went up. Then I asked, “How do you know you are married?”

Just about everyone knows if they are married or not. A rare issue in the legal system might make someone unsure of their marital status, but most people know whether they are married.

We can be sure of our marital status, but can we know if we are saved? Indeed, we can know. In Philippians 4:7 (VOICE) Paul tells us that we can “know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus.” If we wonder every moment of every day what our score is on our final exam, we do not have peace. But God has promised his children peace. When Jesus was about to leave this earth, he told His disciples, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27 (NLT)

We can be sure of our marital status, but can we be sure what our marital status will be ten years from now? Now that’s a different question. In 2 Peter 1:10 (NLT), the Apostle Peter wrote, “Dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away.”

We can know that we are saved today, but only God knows the future. Only He knows whether we will fall away. But we can know in our heart whether we are in a saved condition right now. We need to know that.

Works-oriented Christians know that they don’t measure up. They know that Romans 6:23 (NKJV) tells us, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” They have a hard time believing that eternal life is a gift of God. They feel that they must score high on the final exam to achieve eternal life.

If we think perfect obedience is the test, we feel that God can’t save us every time we make a mistake. That doubt is intensified by the accusations made by Satan against us. Satan delights in making us doubt our salvation. On the other hand, we can delude ourselves by looking at our works with an overblown view of our own goodness, seeing righteousness in ourselves when there is none.

Gentle Reader, Jesus wants you to be saved. 2 Peter 3:9 (NCV) says, “God is being patient with you. He does not want anyone to be lost, but he wants all people to change their hearts and lives.” When you believe in Him and change your heart and life, Jesus wants you to know you are saved. In John 6:47 (NKJV), Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2023


My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 22, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

After years of leg and knee pain, I finally decided to have knee replacement surgery. My left knee had been in bad shape for a long time. Three years ago, my X-rays showed that it was bone on bone. At that time, my orthopedic surgeon told me the answer was a complete knee replacement. I resisted the idea, and he said to me that when it hurt bad enough, I would get it replaced. 

In early October, Dr. Hefley performed a total knee replacement on my left knee at the Arkansas Surgical Hospital. The morning after the surgery, the hospital’s physical therapist came into my room and told me it was time for therapy. After she helped me get out of bed, I fumbled with my hospital gown, trying to maintain at least a small amount of modesty.

As I walked down the hospital corridor with my walker, the physical therapist told me the goals for the session and then explained the importance of physical therapy after I went home. At the end of the corridor was an alcove with a couple of steps leading up to a small platform. She instructed me on the best way to step up onto the platform. I would need to master the skill before being released from the hospital.

After the step therapy, we walked back down the corridor towards my room. As we walked, the therapist explained the importance of physical therapy after knee replacement and told me what to expect. “During the first couple of weeks,” she said, “you will be working on things like bending your knee, stretching your knee straight, restoring normal walking, and doing exercises to help you move through the different stages of recovery.”

“As your therapy progresses,” she continued, “you will work on flexibility, range-of-motion, and muscle-strengthening exercises. The goal is not only to strengthen the knee but to slow the development of scar tissue that can reduce your range of motion. The most important aspect of your physical therapy will be range-of-motion exercises—active knee bending and straightening help to improve pain and swelling. Your physical therapist will safely guide you through exercises to restore your knee range of motion. Movement and flexibility are key to a good recovery.”

After going home from the hospital and starting physical therapy in Mena, it became evident how stiff and inflexible my knee was. I had a poor range of motion in my knee and was not able to bend it easily. Physical therapy and the stretching exercises that I did daily helped me become more flexible. After several weeks of treatment, my therapist was happy with the range of motion restored to my knee.

While doing the stretching exercises, I realized that while my legs are not very flexible, I have other issues with flexibility. My body may not be very flexible, but neither is my mind. We often refer to someone as stubborn or headstrong. In a more flattering way, we may refer to them as uncompromising, determined, or persistent. As Christians, we often see these traits as positive, and they can be. In 1 Corinthians 15:58 (ISV), Paul wrote, “Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, unmovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord.” I believe that the Bible is firm and unchangeable. It contains God’s truth and His principles. But sometimes, that belief can make me very inflexible. 

We may think that we must remain faithful to principles and convictions, regardless of the opinions of others. But many Christians with this mindset bully others or are perpetually angry because they do not like what is going on. I recently heard an acronym I want to adapt and use here. These people are cave people, that is, Christians Against Virtually Everything. There is a time to take a moral stand, but we should still be salt and light, and the only way to do that is to be flexible in how we see things.

Flexibility, the ability to quickly change directions and compromise when appropriate, is admirable. Think what would happen if an airplane pilot refused to be flexible and change altitude or direction when advised of a dangerous weather system. Or think about what could happen if car drivers refused to let other people merge into their lanes. Flexibility is necessary, but how should you decide when to be flexible and when to resist change? 

Maybe, like me, many of you suffer from inflexibility. We have figured out how to live our lives and feel that to be victorious Christians; we must be determined and uncompromising. The backbone of our beliefs becomes rigid rules and regulations. We are stubborn in our determination to control life’s course and outcome.

Often, I have tried to maintain control over my life instead of letting God be in control. I thought I figured out everything and knew how God needed to answer my prayers. Yet, life rarely works how I want it to or think it should. I am too inflexible. I like the answer to inflexibility given by the Christian author Susan Lenzkes. She says, “There is a cure. Each time life throws us a punch, we can do a deep knee bend, forcing our muscles of faith, hope, and understanding to stretch.” She goes on to say, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken. No, that’s not one of Jesus’ Beatitudes, but it is an attitude that makes all the difference in your emotional and spiritual health.”

Gentle Reader, are you a flexible person? Spiritual flexibility comes from exercising our faith and trust in God, not from an unyielding belief. We must be accommodating and eliminate pride in our rigid rules and regulations. “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” James 1:19,20 (NLT)

Inflexible Christians are not good witnesses to the world. Trillia Newbell explains it this way; “What is so strange to me is people believe that by fighting, they are being faithful. It’s hard to convince someone that they may need to be slow to speak and to tame their tongue if they think they’re right. And if they think they’re fighting for Jesus.” Don’t be a cave person. Make it your goal to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023


My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 15, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

During the first part of 1993, our family built our new home. To save money, we would go to the building site every evening and clean up after the workers. Seeing the progress each day was exciting, even though it seemed painfully slow. 

Before the new house was completed, the house we were living in sold, and we needed a place to live while our new house was finished. My parents had an available rental house in Yocana, so we moved to the country. Our new home was nearing completion and would be ready to move into in a few weeks. We enjoyed living in the country, even if the long drive into town several times a day did get old.

The house on the hilltop overlooked the highway, and cows in the field behind the house stood at the fence and watched as we moved in. Before long, the excitement of living in a new home in the country wore off for my kids. There is nothing to do, they complained. My son would let us know that he was “bored, bored, bored, bored, bored.”

We didn't have satellite television because we would only be there for a few weeks. Our only entertainment was a VHS player, a small television, and a few VHS tapes. One of the movies we owned was the Disney film Newsies. My daughter, who was in the eighth grade, loved the movie. It seemed that she watched it every day. 

The movie Newsies is based on the true story of the Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City. Thousands of homeless children try to make a living selling newspapers. Newsboy Jack "Cowboy" Kelly, played by Christian Bale, is a newsboy selling newspapers for Joseph Pulitzer and his paper, the New York World. The newsboys must purchase the newspapers for fifty cents per hundred and make money by selling them for a penny each.

Early in the film, Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst agree to raise the price of newspapers for purchase by the newsboys to sixty cents per hundred. Feeling they cannot bear the added cost, Jack organizes a strike with the aid of fellow newsie David. Along the way, the boys are aided by a newspaper reporter and hindered by the warden of “The Refuge,” a juvenile detention facility.  

Jack and the newsies gain the cooperation of rival newsboy groups from New York and Brooklyn to team up and strike against the big-shot newspaper owners. They eventually win their hard-fought demands after distributing a self-published newspaper flier and gaining the support of other non-union child workers around the city.

As I heard the music and dialogue from Newsies in the house almost daily for several weeks, the story became embedded in my brain. After our new home was finished and we moved in, Newsies faded into the background as we now had many more cable television options. But I never forgot the story.

A few weeks ago, the girl next door invited us to see the Mena High School production of the musical Newsies. She was excited about her role in the play and wanted us to see the show. I hadn’t thought about the Newsies for quite a few years, but the memories of our Yocana house and Christian Bale singing and dancing as the VHS tape of Newsies played almost daily came flooding back.

As the play began, there was a good crowd in the audience at the Mena High School Performing Arts Center. The energetic ensemble cast kept the crowd entertained as the story progressed. I was impressed with the quality performances by the young cast. 

The musical was light-hearted and entertaining, with lively and spirited choreography. But as I reflected on the performance, I realized that the underlying true story was anything but light-hearted. The complexities of the newsies’ struggle could never be explored in a movie or a musical. The historical reality was one of homelessness and child exploitation. 

As I tried to put myself back in 1899, I wondered how I would have seen the situation. As a businessman living in a lovely home, how would I have viewed the rag-tag children standing up to respected community leaders and causing trouble? Would I have been able to see the injustice of their situation?

God’s view of injustice is clear: he hates and renounces it. Yet injustice can be found in almost every area of human relationships. So, what should the Christian do when he sees injustice? Isaiah 1:17 (VOICE) says, “Learn to do good; commit yourselves to seeking justice. Make right for the world’s most vulnerable— the oppressed, the orphaned, the widow.”

Unfortunately, I don’t see much of Christianity following this council. Often, Christians side with the oppressors or are the oppressors. Jesus called out the religious leaders of his time for neglecting justice.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” Matthew 23:23 (NASB)

Seeking justice is central to understanding Jesus. In his teaching and healing work, Jesus ministered to the sick, the poor, foreigners, and outcasts. He overturned unjust social structures between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, and more.

Micah 6:8 (NIRV) tells us: “The Lord has shown you what is good. He has told you what he requires of you. You must act with justice. You must love to show mercy. And you must be humble as you live in the sight of your God.” Jesus’ life teaches us that these three characteristics mentioned in Micah 6:8 should be embodied and reflected in our lives as we relate to our neighbors.

Gentle Reader, Jesus is telling His people today to walk humbly, act with justice, show mercy, and love all of humanity. Will we listen to His voice and instruction? “Open your mouth for those who cannot speak, and for the rights of those who are left without help. Open your mouth. Be right and fair in what you decide. Stand up for the rights of those who are suffering and in need.” Proverbs 31:8,9 (NLV)

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Lost Valley

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 8, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Abraham Clark settled near the Buffalo River in Arkansas sometime in the 1830s or 40s. Records from those early days in Arkansas are scarce. He built a small cabin near a tributary of the Buffalo. Families who settled in the Buffalo River region had to work hard to make it. The land could provide food, but it wasn’t easy to make money. Some families grew cotton and some harvested plants like goldenseal, ginseng, sassafras, and slippery elm to sell to dealers. The rugged terrain made it difficult to move goods.

We don’t know much about Abraham Clark, but the tributary of the Buffalo River, where he first settled, is named for him. This intermittent stream, called Clark Creek, plunges 1,200 feet in the 3-mile stretch from its source to its confluence with the Buffalo River.

It was one of Abraham’s descendants who guided a group of government surveyors up the creek in 1898. He led them to an enormous rock shelter. Deep in its dry interior, they noticed bushel upon bushel of tiny corn cobs left centuries earlier by Native Americans. The locals named the rock formation Cob Cave. 

In 1931, archeologist Samuel C. Dellinger led an expedition from the University of Arkansas to the cave, looking for Native American artifacts. He spent three weeks digging in the deepest section of the Cob Cave. Dellinger and his team uncovered many corn cobs, and an assortment of gourds, sunflower seeds, and woven baskets. The artifacts had been preserved due to the site’s arid conditions. The collections, made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, are still used today by researchers examining the food and fiber practices of Native Americans.

In the spring of 1945, Arkansas state publicist Avantus Green arranged for a National Geographic staff photographer, Willard Culver, to visit the Buffalo River area. Green had heard rumors of Cob Cave and decided to take his guest to the remote location. Not only did they find Cob Cave after a strenuous hike, but they also found a series of waterfalls beyond the rock shelter and another cavern with an underground cascade. Even though National Geographic decided not to use any of Culver’s photographs taken that day, Green was impressed with the area’s spectacular beauty and named it The Lost Valley.

Green’s press releases about The Lost Valley caught the attention of Margaret Maunder, a feature writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. In April 1946, she traveled to Little Rock, where she met Green and Harold Foxhall, an Arkansas state geologist. The trio drove to Harrison and then to the valley of Clark Creek the following day. The Sunday, June 2, 1946, edition of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat included a full-page article describing the adventure, along with six photographs.

The first paragraph of Margaret Maunder’s article read, “Oddly enough, in a country combed by the wandering footpaths of 140,000,000 people, there still exist spots of rugged yet ethereal beauty, virtually unknown to present-day Americans. One of these is the newly discovered Lost Valley in the verdant, rocky wilderness of northwestern Arkansas, scarcely more than 325 miles from the heart of St. Louis. Here, as recently as one year ago, mighty waterfalls cascaded over cliff-like palisades as tall as 40-story buildings and pounded on ancient slabs of pure marble many feet below all without their thundering roar touching the eardrums or their sun-glistening beauty catching the eye of modern man.”

In the early 1950s, students from the University of Arkansas began making the arduous trip from Fayetteville to explore this special place they kept hearing about. One of them was Kenneth L. Smith, who, in the summer of 1958, wrote two articles on Lost Valley for the Sunday Magazine published by the Arkansas Gazette. 

In 1960, commercial logging within sight of Cob Cave galvanized public support for protecting the property. In 1966, Gov. Orval Faubus announced a 200-acre purchase establishing Lost Valley State Park. In 1973, this park was given to the National Park Service for inclusion in the Buffalo National River.

Today, Lost Valley is a popular destination with an easy-to-moderate trail leading to Cob Cave and Eden Falls. The round-trip hike of a little over 2 miles is jam-packed with fascinating photo ops: caves, springs, waterfalls, bluffs, a rock shelter, and a natural bridge. When Margaret Maunder described Lost Valley as “one of the most scenically beautiful spots between the two oceans,” she wasn’t exaggerating.  

I have made the beautiful hike along Clark’s Creek to Cob Cave several times. I spent last weekend in the Buffalo River area. We had family visiting from Oregon and wanted to show them some of the beauty that Arkansas has to offer. The weekend was rainy and gloomy, but we didn’t let the weather dampen our spirits.

On Sunday, the group decided to hike the Lost Valley Trail in the rain. I couldn’t do the hike because of my recent knee replacement surgery, but those who went had a great time, even in the rain. They took flashlights with them so they could explore the cave. I’m so thankful that this beautiful location is now easily accessible to so many. A friend told me, “I guess if they named it, it isn't really lost anymore.”

There was a time when the Bible wasn’t easily accessible. Only a select few could read it. The Church discouraged people from reading the Bible on their own. This policy intensified through the Middle Ages and later, with the addition of a prohibition forbidding translation of the Bible into native languages. The Council of Toulouse (1229 C.E.) declared, "We prohibit also that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old or New Testament; but we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books."

Although much of the world now has easy access to the Bible, in over 50 countries, it is either illegal to own or challenging to get Bibles. I’m thankful that I can easily purchase Bibles and access many translations for free over the internet.  

Gentle Reader, if you are looking for a beautiful hike in Arkansas, I recommend the Lost Valley Trail. And if you are looking for hidden gems of wisdom, I recommend The Bible. God says, “Listen to what I say, and treasure my commands. Tune your ears to wisdom and concentrate on understanding. Cry out for insight and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures.” Proverbs 2:1-4 (NLT) 

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Poor Vision

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 1, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Four-year-old Molly is at her neighbor Nicole’s house. She likes to go with her big brother when he plays with the neighbor boys. And Nicole loves having Molly around. Being the mother of three rambunctious boys, she liked spending quiet girl time with Molly.

Molly’s favorite movie is Pocahontas. This evening, while the boys are playing, she is in Nicole’s dimly lit bedroom, and Nicole is putting braids like Pocahontas’ in Molly’s long, dark brown hair. When she finishes, Nicole sets Molly on the vanity in front of the mirror and holds a mirror behind Molly’s head. “How do you like it?” Nicole asks. “Oh, I can’t see it,” Molly says. Nicole starts tilting the mirror in different ways. “I still can’t see it,” Molly says.

Molly’s family and friends know she has poor vision, but no one knows she is night blind. She has already had one surgery and many exploratory tests, but people think she sees more than she does. Molly would try to tell adults that she couldn’t see when it was dark, but they always assumed it was just a typical childhood fear of the dark. They didn’t realize that she couldn’t see anything. Night blindness is one of the first symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa.

One night, when Nicole was taking Molly back to her house, they began walking down the porch steps when Molly started clinging to her and saying, “I can’t see. I can’t see.” Nicole said, “I know you can’t see the same as you can during the day, but you can still see outlines, shadows, and shapes. See? Look at the stairs; you can still see the line of the edge of the stairs.” But Molly told her, “No, I still can’t see.” When Nicole got Molly home and told her parents what had happened, it was the first time they realized how severe her vision loss was.

When Molly started school, the other kids picked on her. Bullying was part of Molly's life from first grade until she graduated from high school. One day, Molly’s mom was picking her up from school. As they walked through the hallway, kids started throwing garbage at Molly and giggling. One of them slid a french fry container filled with ketchup in front of her feet to see if Molly would step in it. Molly’s mom couldn’t believe they were doing that right in front of an adult. Mom told Molly, “These kids are throwing things, so you’ll trip. They think it’s funny, and they’re looking at me with absolutely no respect.” Molly told her, “Yeah, Mom, that’s my life. That’s what it’s like. Just ignore it.”

By the eighth grade, Molly noticed that her vision was fading fast. Within six months, she lost what little remaining sight she had. During her high school years, Molly suffered from crippling depression. Still, with very supportive parents and counselors, she was able to overcome and become a successful motivational speaker and author.

In her book, “It’s Not What It Looks Like,” Molly writes, “The first voice I hear most days is Niamh, my amazing mom, coming into my room to wake me up. She opens the blackout curtains in my LA apartment, so just a little bit of light comes in. Yep. I already know what you’re thinking: You’re 25, and your mom still wakes you up? What? Is that because you’re blind? Nope. News flash: Blind people can, and many do, live alone. In fact, back home in Toronto, I lived in my own apartment for two years.

Most blind people go through years of training and, in the case of those who were not born blind, rehabilitation to make sure that we can be capable and independent. We go through orientation and mobility training, take life skills classes, and many other things to make sure we don’t walk into things, that we’re confident, and that we can navigate safely without hurting ourselves or others. I rely on my mom and others, not because I’m disabled, but because anybody with a business like mine doesn’t do it alone. Blindness just adds an extra layer of challenge to what I do daily. ‘Molly,’ my dad said, ‘You can do a lot of things, but what you can’t do is be this independent, hard-working, and successful unless you have people to support you. No one, no matter who they are, gets to achieve their goals without support from others. No one is 100% perfect at 100% of what they try. That’s why it takes a team to achieve what you were put on this earth to do.’ So, that’s why my mom is waking me up. And someday, when she does go back home, I’ll get a really loud alarm clock. But for now, it’s her and me. And I’m loving this morning ritual we share. So, good morning, Mom.”

In Ecclesiastes 4:9,10 (NLT), King Solomon wrote, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” We need to rely on others and be willing to reach out and help. We, as Christians, often have the wrong idea of what it means to reach out and help. A blind person isn’t helped by being informed that they are blind.

Gentle Reader, “It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus, and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others.” Ephesians 2:10 (TLB) God has planned for you to spend your life helping others. The choice is yours. Either you can point out the faults of others and criticize them, or you can help and encourage them. I hope that your choice will be to support and inspire others. When we encourage and help others, we are showing God’s love. Show someone today how much you value them for who they are. Help and encouragement can make a big difference in a person’s life!

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Keeping Your Word

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 25, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Last Saturday, family and friends gathered to say goodbye to my Daddy. He was one of the most interesting people you could ever meet. His life revolved around his love for God, family, and cars. Anyone who knew him knew that he had a passion for cars. I drove one of my Daddy’s unique car creations to the memorial. It had started as a Chevrolet El Camino, but Daddy had grafted the front end of a 1950 Studebaker to the front of it. He called his creation a Studemino.

As I was driving the Studemino to the memorial, it started to lose power, and soon after, it quit as I went up a steep hill. I had to call my cousin to rescue me. As my daughter and I were waiting to be rescued, she started laughing. “It is so appropriate to be having car trouble on the day of Grandpa’s memorial,” she said. Through the years, Daddy had broken down on the highway too many times to count. It was almost a trademark. And he often ran out of gas trying to get to that next gas station that was a couple of cents cheaper. 

At the memorial, people remembered their experiences with Daddy, almost all centered around a car. So many people in attendance remembered Daddy giving them rides in his old cars or even letting them drive them. Daddy loved showing his cars to people and sharing them. Another theme was his trustworthiness. You could count on Daddy to keep his word. As people shared stories, I remembered one he had told me about his childhood. When Daddy told me the story, he said he learned the importance of keeping your word from his Daddy.

When he was young, his family called my Daddy Bobby. The cold Kansas winter wind blew as the young boy walked down the icy country road. The gravel road was coated in sleet and ice. “Be careful, Bobby,” Daddy said, “you don’t want to slip and fall like I just did.” “Yes, Daddy,” Bobby answered. They had already been walking for more than a mile and still had several more. Bobby had never seen a road that was so slick. There had been several inches of sleet the day before, followed by heavy freezing rain. The ice coated everything, making it impossible to travel the country roads by car.

Earlier that morning, Daddy had said, “Bobby, why don’t you come with me to take care of the neighbor’s cattle.” Daddy had promised the neighbor that he would feed the cattle while the neighbor had to be out of town for a few days. He hadn’t gone to feed the cattle the day before because of the ice storm, and he knew the cows would be hungry. “We can’t take the Model A; it’s frozen solid, and the roads are too slick,” Daddy said, “we will have to walk.” “But the neighbor's house is five miles from here,” Bobby said. “Yes,” Daddy answered, “but I promised I would take care of the cattle, so if the only way we can get there is by walking, then we will have to walk.”

Along the country road to the neighbors’ house were several long, steep grades. Daddy and Bobby struggled to make it up the slippery slopes, and Daddy fell multiple times. “How long will it take us to get there,” Bobby asked. “However long it takes,” Daddy answered, “I promised that I would take care of the cattle, and I must keep my word no matter how bad the conditions are or how long it takes.” Bobby put his hands in his pockets to warm them as they continued walking down the icy road.

After walking for three and a half miles, Daddy and Bobby came to the state highway. As they were walking down the highway, a truck spread sand on the road. The driver stopped and asked where they were going. Daddy told him they were heading to the neighbor’s house about a mile and a half down the highway. “Hop in and get warmed up,” the driver said, “ride with me while I’m sanding the road, and I will take you there.” Bobby was happy to crawl up into the cab of the truck and sit between the driver and Daddy.

When they reached the neighbor’s house, the truck stopped, and Daddy and Bobby crawled down out of the truck. “Thank you so much,” Daddy told the driver as they waved goodbye. Bobby gave grain to the cattle, and Daddy pitched hay. The cows were very happy to see them and get something to eat. When they had finished feeding the cows, Daddy chopped a hole in the ice so the cattle could get a drink. When they had finished, Daddy said, “We had better get started back home. We have a long way to go and want to get home before dark.”

Shortly after they started walking down the highway, someone gave them a ride to the country road that led to their house. They still had three and a half miles to walk. Daddy slipped and fell several times as they walked down the icy road. When they could finally see the home place, it was almost dark. They had walked miles and miles of treacherously slick roads to feed some cows. “Why did we have to feed the cows when the roads were so icy?” Bobby wondered.  “A man’s word is important,” Daddy answered. “If you make someone a promise, you should do everything you can to keep it.” When they opened the door to their house and felt the warmth of the wood stove, Bobby was happy to be home.

Gentle Reader, I have had many promises made to me that were broken. I’m sure that you have, too. And I have broken promises that I have made. But unlike our promises to each other, God keeps every promise he makes to us. God does not go back on His word. “God is not a human being, and he will not lie. He is not a human, and he does not change his mind. What he says he will do, he does. What he promises, he makes come true.” Numbers 23:19 (NCV) When you read your Bible, look for God’s promises to you. A favorite promise of mine is found in Isaiah 41:10 (NLT): “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” You can count on God to keep his word!

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

I'll Meet You at the River

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 18, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

My Daddy had looked forward to his Madison College reunion for six months. I told him I would take him, and he was so happy. Over the years, he kept in touch with friends from college. This year’s reunion was to be the final reunion, and Daddy didn’t want to miss it. Madison College closed in the early 60s, so there are few remaining alumni. As the reunion neared, he talked about it to everyone he met.

A few weeks before the reunion, my orthopedic surgeon scheduled my knee replacement surgery just a few days before the college reunion. When I told Daddy, he was very disappointed. I felt terrible, but there was nothing I could do. I asked my daughter if there was any way that she might be able to take him, and she was able to arrange her schedule so that she could.

Daddy was excited when I told him she would take him to the reunion. They packed the car with snacks and headed out on a road trip to Nashville, Tennessee. While at the reunion, Daddy had a great time reconnecting with old friends. He also enjoyed showing off his beautiful granddaughter. Nine college alumni who, along with Daddy, graduated in the 50s were in attendance.

The morning after the reunion, Daddy and some friends ate breakfast at Cracker Barrel. After a wonderful visit, it was time to head back home to Mena. When they said their goodbyes, Daddy told his friends, “I probably won't see you again, but I will meet you at the river.”

The evening that Daddy and my daughter returned from Nashville, we had a wonderful time visiting as they told us stories of the weekend. Daddy was happier and more engaging than he had been for quite a while. He told anyone he talked to about his reunion experiences. He told stories from his boyhood that I had never heard before. 

While recovering from knee surgery, Daddy stayed at my business daily to let customers know I could not work for a few weeks. Last Wednesday, while he was at the shop, my wife and I made two trips there and visited with him for a few minutes. On Thursday, a friend helped me pick up a load of glass and make deliveries. My Daddy wasn't there when we stopped by the shop to pick up the glass delivery truck. “He is usually here by this time,” I thought. “I wonder what is happening with him.”

When we returned to the shop with a load of glass on the truck, he still wasn’t there. “Let’s go check on Daddy before we make our deliveries,” I told my friend. When we arrived at Daddy’s house and went inside, we found that he had slipped away during the night. That scene will be forever etched in my memory.

The shock of that experience is still with me as I make funeral arrangements. Sadness and grief have come in waves as I cope with everything that must be taken care of. But between those waves of intense emotion are thoughts of comfort as I think about Daddy’s last words to his friends, “I’ll meet you at the river.”

One of his favorite hymns was Shall We Gather at the River. “Shall we gather at the river, where bright angel feet have trod, with its crystal tide forever flowing by the throne of God? Yes, we'll gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river; Gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God.”

My Daddy had spent his life serving God in the best way he knew how. He loved Jesus and believed fully that he would spend eternity with him. He loved studying his Bible and took to heart the passages that read, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13 (ESV) “Endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” Romans 5:4 (NLT) He was confident he would meet at the river.

The hymn’s final verse proclaims, “Soon we'll reach the shining river, soon our pilgrimage will cease. Soon our happy hearts will quiver with the melody of peace. Yes, we'll gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river; Gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God.”

Robert Lowry wrote this hymn in 1864 after meditating on a picture of heaven found in Revelation 22:1-2 (ESV), “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.”

I’m comforted that Daddy has fallen asleep and is resting peacefully. He is no longer fighting the daily battles of life. In 2 Timothy 4:7 (NLT), Paul’s words could be Daddy’s. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” I’m comforted that God has promised that if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we can be sure that those who sleep in Jesus will live again. When the Lord Himself descends from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, the dead in Christ will rise again.

Gentle Reader, if you have experienced the loss of a friend or family member, remember that God does not want you to be ignorant “concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NKJV) God has said that they are blessed. Revelation 14:13 (NIV) says, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”’ 

I’m confident that Daddy believed the words of the Psalmist found in Psalms 17:15 (NASB); “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” I’m looking forward to the day that Jesus returns and Daddy will awake and look into the face of Jesus, his Savior. I’m looking forward to the day “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NKJV) I hope to meet Daddy and you at the river one day.