Wednesday, March 29, 2023

A Hard Rain

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

In 1962 Bob Dylan wrote one of his most famous protest songs, A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall. The song opens, as most older Dylan songs do, to the mellow strumming of an acoustic guitar and an introduction to that iconic voice of his. The song's first two lines are questions, "Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?" and "Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?"

By opening verses with questions like these, Dylan sets up a response to what he has seen, who he has met, what he has heard, and what he will do now. The song is full of dense imagery that suggests injustice, suffering, pollution, and warfare. Because the world focused on the atomic realities of the Cold War at the time Dylan wrote the song, some have suggested that the refrain of the song, "it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall." refers to nuclear fallout. However, Dylan said, "No, it's not atomic rain, it's just a hard rain. It isn't the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that's just gotta happen".

Two lines particularly move me, "I met one man who was wounded in love," followed by, "I met another man who was wounded with hatred." I think that we have all, at some time, been wounded by someone we love. But I am even more sure that we have all experienced the wounds inflicted by those who hate us. Describing those who don't acknowledge God, the Bible says, "their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip." Romans 1:29 (NLT)

Dylan's song came to my mind as we were experiencing torrential rain here in Arkansas. Daddy and I were driving to Hot Springs for a doctor's appointment. As we left Mena, the rain fell so hard that the streets began to flood. Visibility was abysmal as wave after wave of rain seemed to crash to earth. The windshield wipers slapped at the rain in a vain attempt to keep the windshield clear, but it was a losing battle.

As we cautiously made our way through the Arkansas countryside, every stream was out of its banks, and often it was hard to tell where the stream was supposed to be. Ponds were overflowing, and rivers of rushing water flowed down driveways. Occasionally we would drive through a section of road with water standing on it and had to slow down to prevent hydroplaning. The sound of hitting those patches of water and the feeling of losing control of the car was unnerving.

The rain was relentless as we drove on toward Hot Springs. Water rushed through the ditches like a mighty river, flowing over driveways as the culverts were overwhelmed with more water than they could channel away. My head hurt from the tension of straining to see in the onslaught of rain. My hands gripped the steering wheel so tight that I had to remind myself to relax. But then we would hit another patch of water on the road, and the stress would return. 

A few miles from Hot Springs, the rain finally let up enough so that my windshield wipers no longer had to be on high, furiously trying to keep the windshield clear. I was thankful for the reprieve. The rain was heavy as we returned home, but nothing like the torrential rain we had experienced earlier. I was grateful when we made it back to Mena.

Because I had cleared my work schedule for the doctor's appointment, I decided to drive to De Queen to pick up a load of glass. The rain was just a drizzle as I went south on Highway 71. But before long, another band of torrential rain came through. I was second-guessing my decision to drive to De Queen.
When I arrived at my storage unit, I had to carefully pick my way through the driveway because it had washed out, and there was a gaping channel that my little S-10 pickup could not cross. I loaded my truck in the pouring rain and was soaked to the bone by the time I finished. As if on cue, the rain let up as soon as I finished loading my truck. Thankful for the reprieve, I headed back to Mena. Everywhere I looked, I could see the evidence of the hard rain. It would be a day I wouldn't forget for a long time.

All day the area had been under a Flood Warning, meaning that conditions were ripe for possible flooding. I thought about Job 12:15 (AMPC), which says, "He sends forth rains, and they overwhelm the land or transform it." I had seen hard rain overwhelm and transform the landscape.

Most of us have had life experiences when it seems that troubles come in like a flood. It may be a health crisis, accident, job loss, or relationship breakdown. The truth is, life is hard. It beats you down, wears you out, and disappoints you. One of the things you can be sure of in life is that, in the words of Bob Dylan, "a hard rain's a-gonna fall." But just as sure as a hard rain falling are God's promises. "When the enemy comes in like a flood, The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him." Isaiah 59:19 (NKJV)

Our enemy is powerful. He is a roaring, rushing flood with the intent to destroy us. He rushes about with deceit, distraction, discouragement, and destruction. Like flood waters, he values nothing, nor does he play favorites or give anyone a break.

But there is a way to withstand the enemy. When Satan tries to erode our faith with the brutal rains of trouble and discouragement, we can trust in God. When the spiritual flood waters come, God has promised us safety. But just like an earthly flood, recognizing the warnings and seeking shelter is critical.

Gentle Reader, you know that hard rains are a part of life. When the rains come, hold on to the promise that God has given us in Isaiah 43:2 (NLT); "When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you." A hard rain's a-gonna fall, but "be satisfied with your present circumstances and with what you have; for God Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let you down." Hebrews 13:5 (AMPC)

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

A Rare Quality of Light

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

I found what seemed like the last parking space and hurried into the Ouachita Center. The program would start in five minutes, and I had difficulty finding a seat. I was excited to see Tim Ernst's presentation and happy that so many in my community had come to see him.

I have been a fan of Tim's work for many years. I have several of his hiking guidebooks. Thousands of people have used his hiking guides to find the best that Arkansas offers as the natural state. His iconic photos of the beauty of Arkansas have appeared in hundreds of national, regional, and local publications. They hang on many homes and businesses' walls, including mine.

Jerry Butler in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette describes Tim this way. "Ernst is to Arkansas' wilderness what painter John James Audubon was to America's birds and what journalist David Attenborough is to the nature of the planet. Like them, Ernst has created visual images that inspire awe for the beauty of the natural world."

As Tim began his presentation, he said, "people want to know what I'm looking for. It is great light! You can take an ordinary subject, and if you have great light on it, it can be a very interesting image. You can take a picture of an icon like Hawksbill Crag, and if the light is just kind of ordinary, so is the snapshot." In my mind, I could see so many photos I have taken that are just ordinary snapshots. Nothing eye-catching about them, even though the scenery is beautiful. It is the light that makes the difference.

As the room darkened and Tim's presentation of Arkansas Nightscapes began, I was in awe. The stunning nighttime photographs began appearing on the screen. Many of the photos had a recurring theme, the Milky Way. "It is easy to see the Milky Way if you can get away from city lights," Tim explained. "Go out after midnight when there is no moon. Sit out for 10-15 minutes so you can acclimate to the darkness. Then look towards the southern sky."

I have experienced the majesty of the Milky Way in a very dark sky several times. My brother-in-law's cabin in the mountains above Leadville, Colorado, sitting at an elevation well over 10,000 feet, has amazingly crisp, clear night sky views. I have seen the sky there with incredible clarity, as no light source is visible when the cabin lights are off. 

Last year, I was able to experience the darkest night skies I had ever seen. I was in the Big Bend Ranch State Park, miles away from any light source. It is hard to describe the night sky in a place with no light. The darker the night, the brighter the stars. The sky seemed to expand with more and more stars. As I sat in the darkness and my eyes adjusted to the velvety blackness, I saw a blanket of stars stretching into infinity. The Milky Way rushed across the sky, looking like a bold brush stroke from the hand of a divine painter. As I looked up into the night sky, countless stars and constellations welcomed me into their world. The serenity and quietness of the moment enveloped me. The starry night sky seemed to wrap me in comfort and peace with its immense canopy and brilliant pinpricks of light.

Another place I have seen the majesty of the Milky Way in the night sky is on The Buffalo River. One night at Tyler Bend is still vivid in my memory. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, it seemed that more and more stars exploded into view, with the Milky Way dominating the sky. The Buffalo National River is an International Dark Sky Park, one of 201 certified Dark Sky Places worldwide.

Today less than 10% of Americans can enjoy a view of our galaxy, the Milky Way. That means more than 90% never see a picture of the sky taken for granted for almost all of human history. Stargazing has been a human pastime since ancient times. This night sky view inspired countless artists, poets, musicians, mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers. Something about the vastness of the night sky leads to thoughts of how our universe came to be and how insignificant we are. David wrote, "When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?" Psalms 8:3,4 (NLT)

There is something magical about witnessing the night sky and reflecting on the beauty of the universe and its Creator. A dark night sky with its starry brilliance is the perfect way to shut out all the distractions of the world around us. "Look at the myriad of stars and constellations above you. Who set them to burning, each in its place? Who knows those countless lights each by name? They obediently shine, each in its place, because God has the great strength and strong power to make it so." Isaiah 40:26 (VOICE)

Most of us lead such busy lives that we never fully realize how much we need to spend time alone with our Creator. Mother Teresa said, "Listen in silence because if your heart is full of other things, you cannot hear the voice of God." I know that I need quiet times in my life. The Bible tells us that Jesus would often seek quiet times with his Father away from the distractions of his busy life. "Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed." Mark 1:35 (NKJV)

Gentle Reader, I would encourage you to find a place away from the artificial light of this world and experience the night sky the way people have experienced it throughout most of history. Stargazing has been a human pastime since ancient times. The ancients interpreted constellations and arrangements of the stars and planets they saw in the night sky to have essential meaning for themselves and their families. Look up at the night sky and think about the majesty of the universe and its Creator. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies announce what his hands have made." Psalms 19:1 (NCV)


For more information on the books and photography of Tim Ernst, go to

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

A Brilliant Night of Stars and Ice

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

"Captain Rostron rushed into the chart room and worked out the Carpathia's new course. As he figured and scribbled, he saw the boatswain's mate pass by, leading a party to scrub down the decks. 

Rostron told him to forget the decks and prepare the boats for lowering. The mate gasped. Rostron reassured him, 'It's all right; we're going to another vessel in distress.' In a few moments, the new course was set—North 52 West. The Carpathia was 58 miles away. At 14 knots, she would take four hours to get there. Too long."

It was early morning, and the stars shone brightly in the moonless sky. As I traveled to pick up a load of auto glass, I listened to the audiobook, A Brilliant Night of Stars and Ice by Rebecca Connolly. The book tells the story of the fateful night of April 15, 1912. Most of us know the story of that night the Titanic sank or have at least seen the movie. But A Brilliant Night of Stars and Ice tells the story from a perspective I have not read before.

In alternating chapters, the book follows the captain of the Carpathia, Arthur Rostron, as he attempts a heroic rescue, and Kate Connolly, a third-class passenger on the Titanic, as the survivors try to stay alive. The book tells the stories of heroes like the captain, and others who did little or nothing to help. It salutes a man who did what he could to bring others to safety. It is a unique and inspiring look at the rescuers from the Carpathia who managed to get over seven hundred people to safety. It is also a tragic and heartbreaking look back at that terrible night. 

Shortly after midnight, Captain Rostron of the Carpathia wakes to a distress signal from the Titanic, which has struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage. Though information is scarce, Rostron is determined to answer the call for help. He begins to strategize the response of his ship, which is over four hours away. Although the captain is unsure of the amount of damage, he is determined to aid the Titanic's passengers. Braving icebergs himself, he pushes the Carpathia to the limit.

With the Carpathia four hours away, there are more questions than answers: Will the ship hold together if pushed to never-before-tested speeds? What if he also strikes an iceberg? And with the freezing temperatures, will there be survivors by the time the Carpathia arrives?

Kate Connolly, a passenger on Titanic, is enjoying her time in third class with newfound friends. But in the middle of the night, strange sounds lead her out into the corridor, looking for answers. She eventually learns that the ship is in trouble and has little time to escape. The third-class passengers are not warned or helped, but Kate manages to board a lifeboat in the chaos. But after seeing the Titanic sink into the abyss and hearing the cries of hundreds of people still in the water, she wonders if rescue is possible.

As the Titanic sank, her wireless operators tried heroically to find another ship near enough to come to its rescue. They contacted the Carpathia about 58 miles away a little after midnight. The Titanic's message said: "SOS--SOS. Come at once. We have struck a berg."

The radio operator of the Carpathia reported the message to his first officer. Together they barged into the room of Captain Arthur Rostron, waking him from a sound sleep. When he heard the news, the captain said, "All right, tell him we are coming along as fast as we can."

The captain gave every command he could think of to prepare for a rescue mission. The crew rigged lights along the ship's sides and opened all gangway doors. They readied block and tackle to hoist boats aboard and slings to lift the injured.

The captain had ordered full speed ahead, but the Carpathia had a top speed of 14 knots. At that speed, it would take 4 hours to reach the Titanic. Captain Rostron was determined to do better. He ordered all off-duty stokers to the engine room to get every ounce of steam the boilers could make. All power went to the engines. From its top speed of 14 knots, the Carpathia kept increasing speed. Traveling 3 knots faster than her top speed, the Carpathia sped to rescue the perishing.

The captain ordered extra lookouts in the crow's nest, the bow, and the bridge. He steamed faster than full speed into a field of icebergs at night to rescue a ship that had already struck an iceberg. He called the stewards together and explained the plight of the Titanic and the mission of the Carpathia.

One thousand five hundred people from the Titanic died that night because they could not get into the lifeboats. Of those who could get into the lifeboats, the Carpathia rescued over 700. No other ship arrived in time. The leadership of Captain Arthur Rostron in the hours following the sinking of Titanic remains to this day, a masterpiece of crisis management. From the moment Captain Rostron was informed of the distress messages received from Titanic, every order he issued was intended to get to the stricken ship as quickly as possible while preparing his ship to receive survivors and give them the care they needed.

Gentle Reader, It was no doubt that many survived due to Rostron's quick thinking, preparations, and the speed with which he got to the scene. Like Captain Rostron, we can make a difference when people around us need help. 

"Go and rescue the perishing! Be their savior! Why would you stand back and watch them stagger to their death? And why would you say, 'But it's none of my business?' The one who knows you completely and judges your every motive is also the keeper of souls—and not just yours! He sees through your excuses and holds you responsible for failing to help those whose lives are threatened." Proverbs 24:11-12 (TPT)

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Spring Renewal

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

It was almost three years ago that I received the phone call. The salesman from my glass supply company in Little Rock was on the other end. "I don't know quite how to tell you this, so I am going to come right out and say it," he said. "Corporate headquarters has decided we will no longer deliver to your area." I stood in silence, not knowing what to say. It was like a vehicle coming out of nowhere and running over me. After I hung up the phone, thoughts were swirling in my head. What was I going to do?

How could I stay in business if I didn't have a supplier to deliver to my area? I had customers scheduled for glass replacement. How would I get the glass I needed? The only solution I could see was driving to Little Rock to pick up my glass. After calling my salesman back and discussing the situation with him, I developed a plan. Someone was supposed to open my supplier's warehouse at 6:00 a.m. every workday. Suppose I left Mena at 3:00 a.m. I could be at the warehouse when they opened at six. After loading my truck, I would drive back to Mena and be able to open by 10:00 a.m.

Over the next several months, I got used to the routine. Two or three times a week, I would get up at 2:30 a.m. to leave the house by three and drive to Little Rock to pick up my auto glass order. It seemed like I was always tired. I wondered if anything would ever change or if I would make this drive for years.

Over the months I drove to Little Rock, I got to know the early morning shift at the warehouse. They did their best to have my order pulled and ready for me when I arrived. One day they had exciting news for me. They told me that the corporate route manager had decided to reopen one of the routes that had been closed earlier. They wouldn't be coming to Polk County, but they would be delivering to De Queen. "I wonder if there is some way that I can take advantage of the De Queen route," I thought.

I called my salesman to see if there was some way to get my glass delivered to DeQueen, but he couldn't think of a situation that would work. "Maybe you can arrange something with one of the shops we will deliver to," he suggested. On my next early morning trip to the warehouse, I talked with one of the workers and told him how disappointed I was that we couldn't work something out with the De Queen route. "It would be so much easier for me," I said.

The guys in the warehouse told me about another shop that had rented a storage unit and had their glass delivered to the unit. When I discussed the idea with my salesman, he didn't offer much hope. The company resisted the idea for some reason, but I kept pressuring them. Finally, they decided to give it a trial run. I rented a storage unit in De Queen and bought glass racks. On my next trip to Little Rock, I left a key to the storage unit. There were several hiccups and days that they didn't deliver my glass, but after a few weeks, things started working smoothly.

I have been making several weekly trips to my storage unit in De Queen for two years. On these trips, I notice the subtle changes in the scenery as the seasons change. I enjoy the rare occasions that I have company on the trip. This Sunday, my wife and I drove to DeQueen to pick up my glass. As we went along, I commented on how green everything was and how fast it had changed. 

My last trip had been early Wednesday morning, and the change was striking. Lots of rain followed by warm sunny days had ushered in Spring. The grass was turning green, and a soft green glow covered the trees as the first buds appeared. The first flowering trees were in bloom. Looking at the beautiful countryside, I thought about how much I enjoyed the coming of Spring.

I love the color and freshness of Spring each year. I love seeing green fields with baby calves reaching up for a drink from Mama. Cheery yellow daffodils seem to forecast better days. Everything about Spring breathes life and renewal. 

As I took in the beauty of the warm spring day, I thought about creation and renewal, about how God created dormant plants to survive the harshest storms and emerge after springtime rains. He tells us, "as long as the earth exists, seedtime and harvest, cold and hot, summer and autumn, day and night will not cease." Genesis 8:22 (CEB) 

The beauty of Spring is a yearly reminder of the resurrection story. What was dead comes back to life. Each year, springtime should give us new hope. We may have experienced a harsh winter of discouragement, but Spring always gives us the courage to go on. Even when our circumstances bury us and we face heartbreaking situations, the hope of springtime tells us that our problems won't last forever. In her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Ann Jacobs wrote, "The beautiful spring came, and when nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also." 

Gentle Reader, Spring shows us that we can put the past behind us and start over again. "Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence." 2 Corinthians 5:17 (GW) "The winter is past, and the rains are over and gone. The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air. The fig trees are forming young fruit, and the fragrant grapevines are blossoming." Song of Solomon 2:11-13 (NLT) 

As the springtime season begins, I hope it is a blessing. There is a right time for everything, and now is the time for a springtime renewal of faith, hope, and love.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Rocky Mountain High

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

In the spring of 1981, my wife and I and our 22-month-old daughter made the 900-mile trip from Loveland, Colorado, to Mena, Arkansas, in our red, white, and blue 1967 Toyota Stout pickup with our Shetland Sheepdog curled up on the floor under my wife's feet. As we drove through heavy rain most of the way, water trickled down behind the dash and pooled on the floor where our dog lay. After a miserable two-day trip, we finally arrived in Arkansas.

Our lives had changed dramatically in the previous six weeks. After visiting my family in Mena in February, we encountered a blizzard as we drove back to Colorado. When we arrived home, I asked my wife, "What do you think about moving to Arkansas?" "Well, I suppose, if we can sell our house," she answered, feeling that was a safe answer. Within two weeks, we sold our house, and six weeks later, we were pulling into the driveway of our new home on Karen Drive.

Even though I was excited to start a new life in Mena, I missed the mountains in Colorado. When we lived in Loveland, our favorite place to spend time was Rocky Mountain National Park. We would visit the park at least twice a month. Some of my favorite memories are of the beauty and majesty of the Rocky Mountains. 

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the highest national parks in the U.S., with elevations over 14,000 feet. Sixty mountain peaks over 12,000 feet tall result in breathtaking scenery. The park includes broad glacier-carved valleys and gorges, numerous alpine lakes, and plunging streams along with the mountain peaks. I loved the meadows and rolling moraines with their views of the peaks. 

The spectacular grandeur of the Rocky Mountains gives me a feeling of awe and wonder that John Denver described this way. "Now he walks in quiet solitude, the forest and the streams, seeking grace in every step he takes. His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand the serenity of a clear blue mountain lake and the Colorado Rocky Mountain high." The song Rocky Mountain High by John Denver became a hit worldwide, and in 2007 it was officially recognized as a state song of Colorado.

An exceptionally awe-inspiring night in Colorado inspired the song. That night, John witnessed a Perseid meteor shower while camping with friends at Williams Lake. The singer wrote about the experience in his autobiography. "I remember, almost to the moment, when that song started to take shape in my head. We were working on the next album, and it was to be called Mother Nature's Son, after the Beatles song, which I'd included," he wrote. "It was set for release in September. In mid-August, Annie and I and some friends went up to Williams Lake to watch the first Perseid meteor showers. Imagine a moonless night in the Rockies in the dead of summer, and you have it. I had insisted to everybody that it was going to be a glorious display. Spectacular, in fact."

Denver says that he went out onto the lake for a while and when he came back, his group had returned to their tents. But soon, the meteor shower started, just as spectacular as John thought it would be. "I went back and lay down next to Annie in front of our tent, thinking everybody had gone to sleep, and thinking about how in nature all things, large and small, were interwoven, when swoosh, a meteor went smoking by," wrote Denver. "And from all over the campground came the awed responses 'Do you see that?' It got bigger and bigger until the tail stretched out all the way across the sky and burned itself out. Everybody was awake, and it was raining fire in the sky."

Many of the visuals you hear in the Rocky Mountain high lyrics come from this night. Lines such as "I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky," "the shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullaby," and "serenity of a clear blue mountain lake" are inspired by this experience. The song impacted John Denver so much that he changed the album title from Mother Nature's Son to Rocky Mountain High.

As the song took shape over the next few weeks, John thought about his life up to this point. Moving to the mountains of Colorado and escaping the smog, chaos, and superficiality of Los Angeles had changed his life and perspective. He poured his heart into the meaning of the Rocky Mountain high, and his writing became very personal. 

John Denver wrote in the third person about how the mountains transformed the song's protagonist and said it was like being born again and finding the key to every door. Even though Rocky Mountain High was a diary expressed in the third person, it portrayed John Denver's new life, love of nature and the mountains, and ecological manifesto.

In one of my favorite lines from the song, John Denver sings, "You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply, Rocky Mountain high, Colorado." Spending time in nature has profoundly affected my spiritual life. Something about a towering mountain, a colorful wildflower, a rushing waterfall, or a starry, moonless night reminds me that my God is incredible! The more time I spend in God's wonderful creation, the better I know Him. 

Nature can show us God's beauty, glory, power, presence, and creativity if we pay attention. In Psalms 19:1,2 (NLT), David wrote, "the heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known." In Romans 1:20 (NLT), the Bible tells us that "ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God."

Gentle Reader, whether you are into hiking, camping, kayaking, or just sitting on the porch of a cabin, take the time to explore God's creation and connect with the amazing God who created it. "Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or ask the birds of the air, and they will tell you. Speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea tell you. Every one of these knows that the hand of the Lord has done this." Job 12:7-9 (NCV)