Wednesday, May 31, 2023


My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 31, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

"Wow, that looks great," I thought as I pulled into the driveway. For the last week, Jason had been building a short retaining wall across the front of our property to create a boundary between our front yard and the street, along with flower beds in front of our house. The stone blocks were replacing old landscape timbers. It was nice to see the project completed.

All the old landscape timbers were stacked in the backyard, and I thought about what to do with them. Could I get anything out of them? Would anyone be interested in buying them? Maybe someone I knew had a use for them, and I would give them away. I would need to do something with them after the holiday weekend.

The weather over the weekend was beautiful, with warm temperatures and sunny skies. It was perfect for driving my 57 Nash Metropolitan convertible. We drove the Metropolitan to Papa's Mexican CafĂ© on Sunday, meeting family for lunch. I took photos of my granddaughters in the Metropolitan when we finished eating. 

After leaving Papa's and going to Wal-Mart, we headed home. When I pulled into the driveway and got out, I heard someone calling my name. I looked up and saw that it was Tim, my next-door neighbor. He was at the end of the cul-de-sac and asked if I could come to help them. I walked to the end of the street to see what he needed.

When I arrived, I saw that my neighbor, Phil, had gotten his riding lawn mower hung up on some exposed tree roots. At first, Tim and I tried to lift the mower to free it, but it was much too heavy. I thought about the landscape timbers in my backyard. Maybe we could use one of the timbers to pry the mower off the root.

I walked back to my house, chose one of the timbers, and carried it back to where the mower was stuck. Tim and I placed the timber under the mower and heaved on it but could not dislodge it. As we pushed on the timber, it snapped in two. I thought about going to my shop and getting my floor jack, but before I did that, we tried another approach.

Placing one of the timber halves in front of the wheel on the stuck side, we attempted to drive up on the timber, raising the height enough to dislodge the mowing deck. But when we tried, it would kick the timber out instead of driving onto it. I took the second half of the broken timber and, finding a root I could pry against, was able to hold the timber in place, and the mower crawled onto the timber, breaking free.

As we helped Phil back on his mower, I thought about how lucky I was to live in my neighborhood. I have wonderful neighbors who are always willing to help each other. As I was thinking about how blessed I was, I thought about a story in the Bible about neighbors.

"Then an expert on the law stood up to test Jesus, saying, "Teacher, what must I do to get life forever?" Jesus said, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" The man answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind." Also, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." Jesus said to him, "Your answer is right. Do this and you will live." But the man, wanting to show the importance of his question, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Luke 10:25-29 (NCV)

Who is my neighbor? It seems like an easy question. For me, the answer would be someone who lives on my one-block-long street. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of neighbor is "one living or located near another." But Jesus did not define neighbor this way.

When God commands us to love our neighbor, who is he talking about? God's people have asked this question for thousands of years. For the nation of Israel, the assumption was that the neighbor was a fellow Israelite who shared the same faith practices. They would eat the same foods and live according to the same laws. While the neighbor may disagree on some things, the neighbors' fundamental beliefs and practices would be similar, if not the same.

I thought about my neighbors on my street. They look very similar to me and have beliefs close to mine. That is what a neighbor should be. It is easy to love your neighbor as yourself when they are wonderful people with similar looks and beliefs. But Jesus did not endorse this understanding of loving your neighbors.

When asked, "Who is my neighbor," Jesus told the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. You know the story. A priest and a Levite, church leaders, see a fellow church member who has been beaten and left by the side of the road. Both leaders see the man but do not stop to help. In contrast, a non-believer stopped and helped the church member. As a supposed enemy of the church, he was the last person expected to help. But he had great compassion for the person in need and helped him even though it cost him a lot of money.

Who was the neighbor? Was it the church leaders, or was it the non-believer? When Jesus asked this question, "The expert on the law answered, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Then go and do what he did." Luke 10:37 (NCV) Your neighbor is the person God calls you to love despite your differences of opinion and life choices. According to Jesus, your neighbors are the ones who may be hard for you to love, yet they are the very ones God is calling you to extend mercy to today.

Gentle Reader, we all have neighbors. I hope the neighbors on your street are as wonderful as mine. But Jesus taught that our neighbor is anyone in need of our help. It doesn't matter if they have the same beliefs we do. It isn't easy to show compassion to someone so different from us in opinions and lifestyle. That's because we identify that person as an enemy. 

But Jesus shows us that loving your neighbor shows love and compassion without strings attached, even for a perceived enemy. "My children, we should love people not only with words and talk, but by our actions and true caring." 1 John 3:18 (NCV) Let's ask God for help to love our neighbor, to open our eyes to see the people around us and care for their needs. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Building Renovation

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 24, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The rain beating down on my shop's metal roof was so loud that conversation wasn't possible. The downpour was so heavy that I could not see the highway in front of my shop. A flash river was running down my driveway. Water streamed from the ceiling in several places in the shop bay where I was trying to work. "I hope this downpour will be over soon," I thought. But it wasn't over soon. The deluge continued. After hours of hard rain, an inch of water was on my shop floor. 

By the time the rain ended, nine inches of rain had fallen. Rainwater flooded the floor throughout the shop. I knew that my old shop building had several leaks, but it had never flooded before. I realized that I was going to have to get my roof repaired. But we did not have another heavy rainfall for a few months, and I put it out of my mind. It was the year 2020, and it seemed that there were always more pressing things. 

In November of that year, I had the roof replaced. Hearing the rain on my new roof and no leaks in my shop was delightfully satisfying. While I was reading the book of Ecclesiastes, I found this little gem; "When you are too lazy to repair your roof, it will leak, and the house will fall in." Ecclesiastes 10:18 (GNT) "That is a little bit too close to home," I thought.

I started working on my cold, drafty shop in the spring of last year. The building was old and needed updating. In several places, the ceiling had fallen. Some of the siding had rotted away, and you could see outside. The old, ill-fitting garage doors left significant gaps. I would stuff old blankets into the cracks to try and keep some heat in the shop. It wasn't easy trying to keep the shop warm.

This winter, I worked in a warm, dry shop. After replacing many rotten studs and installing new insulation and siding, the project was complete with new garage doors and foam sprayed on the ceiling. I decided to continue the shop renovation this spring by repairing and remodeling the office and bathroom. 

When Terry began the project, he immediately ran into problems. Every wall was out of square and out of plumb. I jokingly told him, "The original builders must not have had a square or a level." The project proceeded slowly as he dealt with the compromises necessary to deal with the poor original construction. 

When Terry had completed the walls, he and his dad began laying out the tile floor. They did a masterful job of laying the tile to look square even though the rooms were out of square. Watching them work, I thought of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 3:10 (VOICE). "Like a skilled architect and master builder, I laid a foundation based upon God's grace given to me. Now others will come along to build on the foundation. Each serves in a different way and is to build upon it with great care."

Whoever built my shop all those years ago was not a skilled architect or master builder. Whether new construction or renovations, building is a process that requires vision, planning, investment, and time. You must know what you want to build, prepare plans, and use proper construction tools and methods. If you don't, anyone who has to work after you will have problems.

The same principles hold true as we build our lives. "Without the help of the Lord it is useless to build a home or to guard a city. It is useless to get up early and stay up late in order to earn a living. God takes care of his own, even while they sleep." Psalms 127:1,2 (CEV) God wants us to be builders, but without his help, we will do a poor job.

If we try to build our lives without his help, God asks us, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations? Tell me if you know. Who set its measurements? Surely you know. Who stretched a measuring tape on it? On what were its footings sunk; who laid its cornerstone." Job 38:4-6 (CEB)

Jesus explained the importance of building correctly in Luke 6:47-49 (CJB) "Everyone who comes to me, hears my words and acts on them — I will show you what he is like: he is like someone building a house who dug deep and laid the foundation on bedrock. When a flood came, the torrent beat against that house but couldn't shake it, because it was constructed well. And whoever hears my words but doesn't act on them is like someone who built his house on the ground without any foundation. As soon as the river struck it, it collapsed and that house became a horrendous wreck!"

Here are three areas of construction God has assigned to us. First, the Bible instructs us to build up ourselves spiritually. "But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God's love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ." Jude 1:20 (MSG)

God also calls us to build up the church. "Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church." 1 Corinthians 14:12 (NIV) Today, too many Christians seem to be tearing down the church instead of building it up.

Finally, God wants us to build up each other. "Don't let any unwholesome words escape your lips. Instead, say whatever is good and will be useful in building people up, so that you will give grace to those who listen." Ephesians 4:29 (NTE) "So support one another. Keep building each other up as you have been doing." 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (VOICE)

Gentle Reader, are you fulfilling your responsibility as a builder? Are you building up your spiritual strength, Jesus' church, and the people God has placed in your life? "As others build on the foundation (whether with gold, silver, gemstones, wood, hay, or straw), the quality of each person's work will be revealed in time as it is tested by fire. If a man's work stands the test of fire, he will be rewarded." 1 Corinthians 3:12-14 (VOICE) With God's help, you can be a quality builder.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

National Park Radio

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 17, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

As we drove up Hwy 7 towards Jasper, lush green fields changed to forest as the road became crooked and steep. Occasionally we could glimpse a view of the valleys below as the road climbed to the top of a ridge. I love the "mountains of Arkansas," even if they aren't tall and majestic like the Rocky Mountains. 

Vance Randolph, who spent his life collecting, recording, and writing about Ozark life and folklore, once said about this area, "It's not that the mountains are so high but that the valleys are so deep." As we stopped to take in the views of the Arkansas Grand Canyon just a few miles from Jasper, I had to agree with Randolph. It may not be as deep as the one out West, but the canyon here in Arkansas has some truly breathtaking views.

We were on our way to Harrison to attend National Park Radio's album release concert for their new album, Canyons. As I looked out over the canyon from the Cliff House Inn, I thought about the beauty of Arkansas and how I sometimes compared it unfavorably to the Rocky Mountains I had grown up with in Colorado. National Park Radio's singer/songwriter Stefan Szabo wrote about those feelings in his song "Wander." Each year, the band tours out West during the summer because they love the majestic scenery there. But after coming back home to Arkansas after a tour, Stefan wrote these words that I can relate to. 

"Through the wild, we wander. You can find us there—sounds of distant thunder in the mountain air. Now behold the beauty high above the trees. Golden light reflecting from the snow-capped peaks. Oh, I don't know where I belong, but here I am." The final verse of the song tells the story of returning home. "Headed south from Jackson back to Arkansas. Now those Ozark mountains didn't seem so tall. But I can see the beauty of this place called home. Full of love and family and the Buffalo. Now I know where I belong. And here I am."

Like Stefan, I love traveling and seeing America's wonderfully varied landscapes. Still, when I come home to Arkansas, I realize that I live in one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. Our trip to Harrison and the Buffalo River area reinforced my belief that the Ouachitas and the Ozarks are as beautiful as anything the rest of the country has to offer. 

I first heard National Park Radio when they headlined the Lum and Abner Days Festival in 2018. We planned to attend the band's concert at Steel Creek Campground on the Buffalo River the following year. We arrived at the campground early in the afternoon. So early that we were the first to set out our chairs in front of the stage. We spent the afternoon swimming in the Buffalo River and picnicking while taking in the incredible scenic beauty of the area. When the first strains of music filled the air, the audience cheered as they settled down to watch the band play with the beautiful bluffs above the Buffalo River in the background.

It had been four years since the concert at Steel Creek, and I was excited to hear National Park Radio again. The band has changed with the changes that Covid brought to the live music industry. They no longer tour with a full band but as a husband-and-wife duo. When Kerrie and Stefan took the stage and began playing, It was as if they were old friends playing a few songs for you in your living room. 

The concert was terrific, and Kerrie and Stefan told stories about the music and their lives. I loved every song, but as the show ended, they had not played one of my favorites, "Mighty Mountains." The song has been meaningful to me since I first heard them play, and I was just a bit disappointed. When they returned for the encore, Stefan began a driving beat on his suitcase kick drum, then Kerrie started singing, "I'm gonna fight 'em all. A seven-nation army couldn't hold me back." Everyone in the audience seemed surprised to hear a White Stripes cover, as National Park Radio rarely sings covers.    

As the last strains of Seven Nation Army faded and I assumed the concert was over, Stefan immediately transitioned into another song. "When I was only seventeen, I found myself caught in between what you could say was life and fantasy." A smile spread across my face as I listened to Mighty Mountains. The song's message has resonated with me from the first time I heard it at Lum and Abner Days.

The song reminded me of times when I have been too easily discouraged. In the song, Stefan writes, "That crooked road seemed all too steep. It stretched beyond what I could see." But the song is not about giving in to life's problems. It is about a positive outlook and the determination not to let life pass you by. The music continues, "But at last I saw the future; Every moment that could be. Oh, I found that life was waiting there for me. Only for a moment, I'd forgotten why we came. Not unlike my father, mighty mountains call my name. Oh, the explanations and excuses we could find. But unlike my father, those mighty mountains I will climb."

We are all faced with mountains. Sometimes there are mountains of discouragement. Sometimes there are mountains of hopes, dreams, and aspirations. We often have "explanations and excuses" for why we can't climb those mountains. But God says that you can. In Psalm 18:33 (NLT), David says, "He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights." 

The last verse of the song is powerful. "It's strength we find when we are weak. It's faith that moves the tallest peak. And love that lasts for long after we're gone. But few can truly know the cost. And all who wander are not lost. For love will lead the tired and troubled home. 'Cause, at last, I see the future. Every moment that can be. And I've found that life is waiting here for me."

Gentle Reader, Don't miss out on God's blessings for you because you are too timid to attempt to climb mighty mountains. If you never climb the mountain, you will never be able to see the mountaintop view. God says, "Do not be afraid. I am with you. Do not be terrified. I am your God. I will make you strong and help you." Isaiah 41:10 (NIRV) He wants to climb mighty mountains with you.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Ouachita National Park

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 10, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Even though I have lived in Mena, Arkansas, for over forty years, I am still amazed by the area's natural beauty. I love to travel and see America's wonderfully varied landscapes, but when I come home to the Ouachitas, I realize that I live in one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. 

I recently discovered a bit of history about this area that surprised me. I learned that in the 1920s, Congress introduced legislation that would have created a national park in this area. The proposed Ouachita National Park would have been 35 miles long and 12 miles wide, stretching through the central Ouachita Mountains of Polk and Montgomery counties.

The original proposal for a national park in the Ouachitas came in the early 1920s from business leaders in Mena, Arkansas. Their initial proposal for establishing Mena National Park focused on Rich Mountain, including the area now designated as Queen Wilhelmina State Park. But as the idea for a national park grew, they focused on a much larger area southeast of Mena.

Prominent politicians, businessmen from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, and local leaders from Mena worked hard to promote the idea. They organized The Ouachita National Park Foundation Society to promote the need for a national park in the South. The society published a promotional booklet that extolled the area's scenic beauty. It described the wide variety of vistas found in the proposed park. "There are steep, timber-covered peaks rising to 2,500 feet, long ridges of mountains, with peaks separated only by narrow green valleys with streams of pure, cold, spring water in abundance."

Society members wrote many articles praising the beauty of the Ouachitas and the proposed national park. In November 1926, K. E. Merren published an article titled "Ouachita National Park Will Be a Dixie Paradise." In the article, he wrote, "Few countries can surpass Arkansas in the beauties of its mountain landscape. The hills are wooded with evergreens and broadleafs, the pines appearing as bands of deeper green. Along some of the streams are mighty cliffs with tousled cedars and straggly pines clinging to their unfriendly sides. Everywhere are springs, the purity of whose waters are unsurpassed. In the valleys are streams, broken by rapids and falls."

But not everyone was in favor of a national park in the area. Roger W. Toll, the superintendent of the Rocky Mountain National Park, inspected the proposed park and asserted that the region did not meet the national park standards. He explained that the "Ouachita mountains are beautiful, attractive, luxuriant, verdant, friendly, and peaceful. They are not grand, spectacular, unique, nor superlative." He concluded by saying, "The Ouachita area does not contain features nor scenery on a scale equal to, or even approaching, the majority of the national parks that have been established by Congress. The area would not add any new feature of importance to the national park system that is not already represented, in a higher degree, in the existing parks. In my opinion, the National Park Service cannot consistently recommend consideration of this area for a proposed national park."

On December 5, 1927, Congressman Wingo introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to create the Ouachita National Park, with a similar bill being introduced in the Senate by Senator Robinson. Despite the reservation of the National Park Service administrators, the prospects for passage looked good. On February 17, 1929, the U.S. Senate passed the bill without a dissenting vote. A few days later, the House passed the bill by a vote of 164 to 71. It looked like there would be a new National Park, with Mena being the main town near the park.

The supporters of the Ouachita National Park were excited when their hard work was rewarded by Congress passing the bill, but then were devastated when President Calvin Coolidge, at the last moment of his presidency, pocket-vetoed the legislation by refusing to sign the bill. Senator Robinson declared, "The failure of the bill is a distinct disappointment. The measure will be reintroduced in the senate when Congress convenes again." 

Congressman Wingo appealed to supporters of the Ouachita National Park, "Do not get discouraged, forget the disappointment caused by the pocket veto of the bill, and keep in the fight until victory is won." He finished his appeal by stating, "I have greater faith now that the Ouachita National Park will be established than I ever had before."

The economic turmoil of the Great Depression put plans for a national park in the Ouachitas on the back burner. The idea has never been resurrected, and what might have been is now buried on the dusty shelves of history. When I think of all the hard work, planning, promoting, and lobbying the Ouachita National Park Foundation Society did to make the national park a reality and how close they came to success, I remember what I read in Proverbs 16:9 (NIRV) "In their hearts human beings plan their lives. But the Lord decides where their steps will take them." 

As much as I feel for those who worked so hard to make a national park in our area a reality, I'm glad they were unsuccessful. Maybe I am selfish, but I love driving through the area that would have been a national park and still finding secluded places to enjoy the peaceful beauty of the Ouachitas. I can't imagine what the area would be like if a national park had existed here for almost 100 years.

Gentle Reader, everyone experiences times of frustration over unfulfilled plans or dreams. When things don't go how we hope, feeling disappointed is normal. We all have times when we aren't where we want to be or where we think we should be. But in those times, remember that "God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan." Romans 8:28 (VOICE) "People may make plans in their minds, but only the Lord can make them come true." Proverbs 16:1 (NCV)

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Petersens

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 3, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I love music and have for as long as I can remember. As a young boy, I would sit in front of the record player and watch the platter spin around as I listened. I still remember my parent's records by Perry Como, Brook Benton, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Billy Vaughn, and Trini Lopez. 

When I bought my first radio, a small black portable transistor radio, I turned the dial to 950 KIMN and listened to what I was sure was the best radio station in the world. Ode to Billie Joe, Pleasant Valley Sunday, All You Need is Love, Heroes and Villains, and many other songs streamed through my head as I drifted off to sleep with my very own transistor radio under my pillow. I spent every moment I could listening to my radio.

As a teenager, I spent most of my money on music. I bought a stereo for my room. I installed a stereo in every car I drove. I purchased one of the first boom boxes I saw at my local Alco store. When I went to college, I had to study on my bed because my entire desk was covered with the hundreds of albums I owned.

My tastes in music have always been eclectic. During my high school years, I listened to the hard rock of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and Black Sabbath, but I also loved The Carpenters, Bread, John Denver, and Melanie. My favorite music is still pop music from the 60s and 70s.

I spend hours on YouTube listening to music, so the algorithm suggests lots of new music in my favorite styles. As I have gotten older, my favorite music genres are folk, bluegrass, and Americana. One of my favorite YouTube artists is Reina del Cid. Reina posts a new video most Sunday mornings on her series, Sunday Mornings with Reina Del Cid. Each week I look forward to a new video. 

Reina often collaborates with other artists on her Sunday morning videos. One Sunday in early 2020, the new video was the song, Delta Dawn. Reina was playing with a group of musicians that I had never seen before. In the notes for the video, she wrote, "I've been a big fan of The Petersens ever since I saw their cover of Jolene, and I was so thrilled it worked out to do a couple of songs with them while we were both in Dallas earlier this week on tour. They are as nice and genuine as they are talented, and it was a total honor to make music with them. I hope there will be more opportunities to jam in the future! Check out our cover 'Southern Nights' with the Petersens on their channel!"

I checked out The Petersens channel, and I loved it. Before too long, I had watched every video on their channel. I found out they had regular concerts in Branson, Missouri, and hoped I could go to a show, but it never worked out. Then one day earlier this year, a post popped up on my Facebook feed with a photo of The Petersens. One short sentence accompanied the photo. "The Petersens are coming to Mena April 28th."

When the tickets went on sale for The Petersens concert at Avalon Keep, I was among the first to purchase tickets. I contacted Michael and suggested a promotion for the concert. Richie's Discount Auto Glass would give away two tickets while promoting the concert. I eagerly waited for the night of the show.

It was a cloudy and dreary evening with a light mist falling as we pulled into the packed parking lot at Avalon Keep and tried to find a place to park. The show was sold out, and the beautiful Avalon Hall was bursting at the seams. The crowd eagerly waited for the concert to begin. 

The dobro followed a few bars of solo banjo, then the rest of the band joined in. "Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, I'm begging of you, please don't take my man." The music filled the room as the group's tight harmonies captivated the audience. The Petersens played a wide variety of traditional, pop, and country music. Matt, guitarist, and vocalist with the band, entertained the crowd with his quick wit and humor as he announced the songs.

As the evening progressed, the rain began to fall. Matt told the audience they had learned the next song for a concert in Portland, Oregon, but he thought it was appropriate for Mena. As the rain beat down on the roof, they began to sing, "It rains everywhere I go. Storms appear, and the winds they blow. I got nothin' but trouble to show, 'cause it rains everywhere I go." The heavy rains seemed like a cozy backdrop to the music.

A hush fell over the room when the dobro began quietly playing the first few bars of Amazing Grace. "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind, but now I see." There is something about the song that touches people's hearts. It is so familiar and yet so meaningful. It is the gospel in a nutshell. As the music continued, the audience reverently joined in. "When we've been here ten thousand years, bright, shining as the sun. We've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun."

Gentle Reader, God doesn't love you because of who you are or your actions. He tells you, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV) God made you. He loves you. You can't make God love you more. You can't make God love you less. He loves you just as much on your bad days as on your good ones. The Bible has a word for this: grace. And it's amazing. "God's mercy is great, and he loved us very much. Though we were spiritually dead because of the things we did against God, he gave us new life with Christ. You have been saved by God's grace." Ephesians 2:4,5 (NCV)