Arkansas Strong https://arstrong.org Tue, 30 Nov 2021 15:31:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.8.2 https://i2.wp.com/arstrong.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/cropped-ar-strong-icon.png?fit=32%2C32&ssl=1 Arkansas Strong https://arstrong.org 32 32 178261342 Gabby, Wielder of Fire and Flames https://arstrong.org/gabby-wielder-of-fire-and-flames/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gabby-wielder-of-fire-and-flames https://arstrong.org/gabby-wielder-of-fire-and-flames/#respond Tue, 30 Nov 2021 15:31:17 +0000 https://arstrong.org/?p=1476 It was August 1, 2019. Just another normal day at work, or so I thought. I arrived early that day. It was hot outside. Sweat beads were already starting to...

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It was August 1, 2019. Just another normal day at work, or so I thought. I arrived early that day. It was hot outside. Sweat beads were already starting to form on my nose. I did not want to go inside the “big metal oven,” my nickname for the building in front of me.

The copper factory where I worked was always a melee of gas torches, smoke, and burning metal. Before I went inside I would always stop and drink in one last breath of fresh air. Every day, as I walked through the back entrance and onto the factory floor, a familiar burning, metallic smell would greet me. I would instantly transform from Gabby, mother of two, to Gabby, wielder of fire and flames. My job was to braze copper. It was fun, and I was very good at it.


Every day, as I walked through the back entrance and onto the factory floor, a familiar burning, metallic smell would greet me. I would instantly transform from Gabby, mother of two, to Gabby, wielder of fire and flames. 
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That day, I remember my boss rushing up to me as soon as she saw me. My shift didn’t start for another twenty minutes, but she was in a panic. There were copper parts that needed to be completed and shipped within the hour. She needed me to start on them right away. I told her yes, but inwardly I was thinking, “Damn. I hope the rest of the day is not like this.” I hadn’t even clocked in yet or gone through my normal routine to prepare for my shift. I didn’t like feeling rushed. I remember feeling anxious about it. And I had no idea this was just the beginning of the worst day of my life.

I remember seeing a wall of fire running from floor to ceiling all around me. I felt the air in the building being violently sucked upward.

As I walked toward my work area, I noticed it was not set up. Everything was a mess. Boxes of spare parts were just ditched there and left for me to clean up. I was pissed. As I set up my station to begin brazing, I saw that the whole configuration of gas pipes that feed my torch had been changed. Yet no one told me. With the pipes changed, I didn’t even know how to start my machine. It felt like a slap in the face. Anger rose up in me, but I shoved it down and continued to work. Eventually I figured out how to start my machine. For a moment, my day seemed finally to be headed in the right direction. I knew the worst was behind me.

That’s when it happened. All I remember is seeing a wall of fire running from floor to ceiling all around me. I felt the air in the building being violently sucked upward. For a split second there was a pause, like the building held its breath. Then a massive explosion. It sent flames and debris flying. It was only later that I found out a leak in the new pipe configuration was the cause of the explosion. When I regained consciousness, I was running. Everything seemed to be in slow motion. I couldn’t hear anything but a low, loud humming in my ears.

I don’t remember much. The doctor said I was in shock. I remember being carted away by the ambulance. But I don’t remember running around and being on fire. I don’t remember the guy who extinguished my flames and burned his own hands in the process. Evidently, I was half-naked in front of my co-workers, because my clothes were burned off of my body. I’m glad I don’t remember that.

What I will never forget is the excruciating pain. The severe burns. The scars I wear every single day remind me: a terrible thing happened. But I survived.

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Thanksgiving Thoughts https://arstrong.org/thanksgiving-thoughts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thanksgiving-thoughts https://arstrong.org/thanksgiving-thoughts/#respond Wed, 24 Nov 2021 15:14:23 +0000 https://arstrong.org/?p=1460 It’s Thanksgiving week. Two days till my university closes for break. I was talking to my students about whether they celebrate the holiday, what their traditions are. The conversation turned...

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It’s Thanksgiving week. Two days till my university closes for break. I was talking to my students about whether they celebrate the holiday, what their traditions are. The conversation turned to gratitude and how the practice of being thankful is good for mental health. We went around the room and shared things that make us thankful.

In one of my classes I have a group of CAMP (College Assistant Migrant Program) students from Myanmar. Their people group is Karen, pronounced like the girl’s name “Corinne.” Like their parents who work in the poultry industry, they are some of the kindest and hardest working people I have ever known. They all want to make their families proud by doing well in college. As so often happens in the classroom our roles reversed and they taught me something new about what Thanksgiving means, a lesson I hope I will hold in my heart forever.

May I be so thankful it keeps me mindful, and spurs me to work that brings freedom, safety, bounty, and joy to others here, and everywhere.

Most of my CAMP students were born in a refugee camp. Their parents fled across the border into Thailand when soldiers came to their jungle villages and burned their houses to the ground. All of them have stories of loved ones who didn’t survive, or didn’t make it into Thailand. Many still have relatives living in fear inside Myanmar, where government forces hunt and kill Karen people. The stated goal of the Burmese military commander is to wipe the Karen from the face of the Earth. As an American citizen from a small town in Arkansas I can only try to imagine any of these things.

Some of them lived as refugees their entire lives before coming to the US in their teens. They are thankful for things like a house with a strong roof, plenty of food to eat, and clean water to drink. A young woman describes what it was like to haul buckets to a river for water, how her mother boiled it over a fire. A young man talks about how thrilling it is to learn, fulfilling the longing he had all of those years to go to school in a place with no trained teachers, no books, no school supplies. Another tells how thankful he is to have more than one shirt. He remembers when he only had one shirt, a free t-shirt given out to everyone in the refugee camp. He wore it until it was way too small and just rags, but now he has a clean shirt every day. 

My eyes fill with tears as they go on and on: thankful for a bed, a room, a phone. Thankful for a car, shoes, the internet. Thankful for a table. A floor that’s not made of dirt. Meat to eat. A bathroom. Plumbing. A desk. They never had these things before.

I think of myself as a patriotic American but it dawns on me that I know nothing of the riches of my country, how lucky I was just to be born here. As a kid I never realized school was a privilege. I thought it was just something everyone does. There were teachers and classes and everyone had pencils and books and a desk.  Water was not a treat. I was never afraid when I saw a soldier; I was proud. I knew soldiers were good people who fought for us. They were there to protect us. To keep our country safe and free.


As so often happens in the classroom our roles reversed and they taught me something new about what Thanksgiving means, a lesson I hope I will hold in my heart forever.
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My husband and I have a list of things that need repairing in our home: the handle came off the microwave, there’s a problem with one of the burners on our stove, the shower in the master bedroom drips and it’s annoying when we’re trying to go to sleep at night. A puppy has chewed the trim in our laundry room. The agitator in our washer is not just right. Sometimes the internet is slow. There are bigger things, like that the hardwood floor needs refinishing, but it will be so hard to keep dust out of my grand piano. We decide to put that off. 

These are the sorts of things we discussed at the breakfast table this morning, over eggs, toast, and bacon. Stone turned on the faucet and clean water came out, just like it does every day. He poured a little into a machine and then stuck a pod in the machine—one of the pods that gets delivered to our door every month by subscription. As it dripped he poured milk into another machine that swirled the milk into a foam. He added vanilla, honey, and cinnamon—all out of tidy containers–then spooned the froth into a cup now full of hot, dark espresso. Our house was warm.

After choosing clothes out of a big closet, and a pair of shoes out of many, I left my house in a car. It has leather seats. It starts on the first try. Warm air blows on my feet and heated seats keep me comfortable as I take the nice paved roads to my office. My office has a phone and comfortable chair. A computer with fast internet. A printer. It even has cute little red fridge where I keep my lunch, and a case of Diet Dr. Peppers. In my office I grab books, pen, and paper—all provided—and then I walk into a warm classroom. I have freedom to teach stories and poems and plays I love to students I also love. I get paid money for doing this.

This essay would never end if I kept listing all of the things I have to be thankful for. But this year what I’m especially thankful for is the perspective my Karen students have given me. The reminder of what a miracle it is just to be alive in this place, this time. The gift it is to have my particular set of problems to solve. There are people all over the world who would trade places with me, just to be safe. To keep their kids safe. Clothed. Fed. To send them to a free public school with brilliant teachers and books and programs to help them grow in every way. May I be so thankful it keeps me mindful, and spurs me to work that brings freedom, safety, bounty, and joy to others here, and everywhere.

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A Thankful Reflection https://arstrong.org/a-thankful-reflection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-thankful-reflection https://arstrong.org/a-thankful-reflection/#respond Mon, 22 Nov 2021 16:18:34 +0000 https://arstrong.org/?p=1450 The post A Thankful Reflection appeared first on Arkansas Strong.

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The American holiday of Thanksgiving is new to me. My homeland is Myanmar, and my people are Karen. We are hated by the Burmese government so the military hunts us, burns our villages, and tries to destroy us. Because of this danger, my family fled our home and escaped over the border of Thailand. I was born in a refugee camp there. My whole life was in that refugee camp until I was ten years old. One day we got the chance to come to America and that is how I ended up in Clarksville, Arkansas. We don’t really celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey like everyone else, but my heart is full of thankfulness.

I am thankful to have plenty of fresh water and to have enough food to eat so I don’t go hungry.

When I hear the word thankful, I immediately think of the simplest and most basic things we might be grateful for, such as health, friends and family, food, time, and a variety of other things. To me, being grateful also entails being grateful for the fact that I am alive. When you are Karen, that is a significant reason to be thankful. 

We can always be grateful for simple things when time are tough. Henrik Edberg stating that “Because even if things look tough today or for the next 3 or 6 months, I can always find something or several things to feel very grateful for about my life.” There are many things to be thankful for. These are the things I am thankful for: my family and friends, they are the people I need when life gets tough, as well as all the love, support, and kindness they show me. I am thankful to have plenty of fresh water and to have enough food to eat so I don’t go hungry. Having internet access is important to me as well. It’s incredible how we can learn about anything from what other people share online, because when I was in refugee camp, we only had books, a blackboard, and chalk. We never have access to the internet.


I am grateful for my parents' sacrifices in order to give the best life for us, because coming to America for us without understanding the language was quite brave.
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One of the things I am most thankful for is having a roof over my head and a warm home, because when it is cold, windy, and raining outside, I can safely return inside the house without fear of being soaked or freezing to death. Many people do not have a home and wish to have one. We should always be thankful that we have a beautiful home and we’re living in it. 

The second thing I am thankful for is my parents. I am grateful for my parents’ sacrifices in order to give the best life for us, because coming to America for us without understanding the language was quite brave. My parents encouraged me to value education and taught me how to create goals, which helped me build ambition. Paul Hudson stating that “Parents were the teachers before teachers were teachers.” Having a caring mom that cares about me and supports me is absolutely precious, and I should be grateful for it. “Parents should support their children until they can support themselves.” I am thankful for who my parents are. They are deserving of praise, gratitude, or credit, as well as being pleasing, acceptable, appreciative, and agreeable.

 I am so thankful I came to America and to Arkansas where I can have a better life.

The last thing that I am most thankful for is having a good education. I am grateful that I was able to attend Clarksville high school in Arkansas because there were so many individuals in the Thailand refugee camp who wished to attend school. They are unable to attend school due to financial constraints. Instead, they have to go work with their parents at such a young age. When I was in Thailand refugee camps, schools were not free, and school supplies were not provided. For example, I wanted to go to the expensive private school in the refugee camp which offered a much higher and more decent education, but I was forced to attend the refugee school, which provided very little instruction. I recognize that life is more about appreciation in a refugee camp. I have been encouraged and driven to make every effort to achieve an education.

In conclusion, it’s important to be thankful for what we have. I’m thankful to have a loving and supporting family, a good education, and a lovely home to call home. Robert M. Miller stating that “The month of November brings us Thanksgiving and a chance to take stock of our lives and consider all the things we can be thankful for.” I am so thankful I came to America and to Arkansas where I can have a better life.

left: Myanmar; right: Arkansas

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Beautiful Me https://arstrong.org/beautiful-me/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beautiful-me https://arstrong.org/beautiful-me/#respond Fri, 19 Nov 2021 15:59:25 +0000 https://arstrong.org/?p=1438 The post Beautiful Me appeared first on Arkansas Strong.

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All of my life I have struggled with my appearance. It was always that I was too tall, too big, or not beautiful enough. I tried to fix myself to no avail, until one day I realized I was not broken.

In elementary school I remember always being bigger than most of my classmates. I grew faster in height and weight than most of them. I never could quite understand why I was so different.  I am sure you could imagine little me already comparing myself to my peers at such a young age. It is sad to think about honestly.

From there, things just got worse for me. In 5th grade there were some kids making fun of me because I could not run as fast as everyone else. I was always one of the last to finish in PE. I dreaded the days where we had to do tasks to test our strength like running, jumping, climbing, and pull-ups. I was never able to do well on those tasks and the other kids would judge me.

Eighth grade was the worst year of all. There was this one guy in my class who was always so mean to everyone because he thought it was funny. He would always comment on my size and call me names, and there were many instances where I went home and cried. It got so bad in one of my classes that the teacher had started talking to my mom about it. She could see how much it was affecting me. This teacher wanted to help. She would always get onto this kid for saying things like that but that just seemed to make him want to do it more. 

I decided to start working on loving myself.

On one occasion, the teacher asked me to help her hang stuff up because I was the tallest kid in the class. However, I still had to get on a chair to reach. When I grabbed the chair and went to stand on it the guy said, “Are you sure you want to stand on that? Your fat ass might break it”. After that, I told the teacher I could not do it and went to the bathroom and cried my eyes out. 


All of my life I have struggled with my appearance. It was always that I was too tall, too big, or not pretty enough. I tried to fix myself to no avail, until one day I realized I wasn’t broken.
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Believe in Beautiful

That very summer after school let out, I decided to start working on loving myself. My mom kept drilling it into my brain that it does not matter what these irrelevant people think, that the only opinions that I should take to heart are the ones from those I love and I actually care about. I had to keep telling myself that for a year before I actually started believing it. 

The summer after ninth grade, I bought my first two-piece swimsuit. It did not show much but just the fact that it was a bikini made me feel great. I was finally able to show off my body without being afraid of what someone might say. I did not really care what others thought. I decided it’s my body and I could do and wear whatever I want. 

I still struggle sometimes but that is just normal. It is nowhere near as bad as it used to be and for that, I am thankful. I realized how beautiful I am on the inside and out. It did not matter what others thought; all that mattered was what I thought about myself. I fought that battle in my head for years until it became an outright war—but I won. And no one can ever take that victory away from me.

 

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Face-to-Face with Hunger https://arstrong.org/face-to-face-with-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=face-to-face-with-hunger https://arstrong.org/face-to-face-with-hunger/#comments Wed, 17 Nov 2021 20:21:36 +0000 https://arstrong.org/?p=1428 The post Face-to-Face with Hunger appeared first on Arkansas Strong.

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I recently left a grocery store on a Friday when teachers were in conference and children were out of school.  As I walked out with my bags of groceries, I saw a family.

This family included a mother, father and five small children.  All appeared to be malnourished.  They were very quiet as they walked to their vehicle.  I thought to myself “I wish I had checked out behind those people, I would have given them money or bought some fresh fruit for those children.”

Donating to charities for those less fortunate than ourselves is a good thing, but seeing hunger face-to-face is very different.

As I opened my car door, I noticed the woman using a windshield cleaner to wash the side of a very old looking SUV with a dent in its side.  I thought to myself, “I really need to go to the carwash to get my own car cleaned.”  As I drove away, I saw the little children looking out the windows watching their mother.  I immediately chastised myself, thinking I had missed an opportunity to offer help to people in dire need.

My initial thought was to help that family, but very soon, thoughts about myself took precedence.  We read about hungry children and families, but many of us might not see them in our lives.  Donating to charities for those less fortunate than ourselves is a good thing, but seeing hunger face-to-face is very different.  I found it shocking, and for a few minutes, I could only look.  It was as if my mind could not process what I was seeing.


As I drove away, I saw the little children looking out the windows watching their mother.  I immediately chastised myself, thinking I had missed an opportunity to offer help to people in dire need.
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I have worried about that family ever since.  Because it was a Friday, with school not in session, I suppose those children did not get food that weekend they usually get in school on Fridays and maybe snacks to take home as I hear some schools provide. 

Why didn’t I stop when she was cleaning their vehicle and offer help?  Why didn’t I act quickly?  I may never see them again in person, but I will think of them continually as well as others who are poor and hungry.

I ask all readers to be alert for help you might offer and act quickly as I did not.  I plan to do so in the future.  Some people might refuse our help but I know, by their appearance and demeanor, the family I saw that Friday would have welcomed it.

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Born to Ride: a Bull Rider’s Tale https://arstrong.org/a-bull-tale/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-bull-tale https://arstrong.org/a-bull-tale/#respond Tue, 16 Nov 2021 00:45:27 +0000 https://arstrong.org/?p=1397 The post Born to Ride: a Bull Rider’s Tale appeared first on Arkansas Strong.

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I am going to tell you about my first time getting on a bull. This experience made me who I am and who I always will be! It is a lifestyle of no regrets. Every weekend I am in another town on another bull. The way this all started is a nice tale to tell.

I had been working on a ranch for about a year and a half when I turned sixteen. I had been telling my dad I wanted to ride a bull in a rodeo for about seven months before this, but he kept telling me no. I was bound and determined, so I asked my cousin if there was any way that he would let me use his gear to get on a bull at the next buck out. He said yes, so we started planning it out.

“I crawled down onto my bull’s back to let him know it was almost show time. I remember the way he snorted and threw his head back. I was terrified, but at the same time, I had never been so comfortable and never felt so alive.”

I went and talked to my dad again the next day to enlighten him that on January 6, 2018, I was going to get on my first bull, whether he approved or not, because my cousin (who was a bullfighter at the time) said he would sign the paper. This paper states that if you are seriously injured or killed, you or your family members cannot sue the rodeo company. Well at this point, my dad decided he wanted to go with me to the bull riding!

The day came. It was a crisp, cold, Arkansas morning in January. Frost on the ground, sun in the sky, and my family in the car on the way to the buck out. I can still remember shaking inside on the way there. Butterflies floating in my stomach with every mile we came closer to the arena. We finally got there after what seemed like an eternity. I drew a bull and started to get ready. First, I put on my long sleeved shirt, then my vest. Then I rosined my rope up and got it real sticky. Once I put those spurs on the heel of my boots, I knew I had to mean business.

When I got on the back of the chute and said my prayer, everything seemed surreal—like my wildest dreams unfolding in front of my eyes. I crawled down onto my bull’s back to let him know it was almost show time. I remember the way he snorted and threw his head back. I was terrified, but at the same time, I had never been so comfortable and never felt so alive. They pulled the rope tight in my hand and he jumped real hard and almost threw me into the chute head first. I stayed with him though and did not let it intimidate me. I put my hand in my bull rope and felt it pull tight. I slid up on my rope and nodded my head.

“I know that every time I turn a bull outside could be the last time. I am willing to risk that to be the best at every rodeo.”

I heard the gate latch clink and all at once, I felt a huge explosion of power. The bull was slinging his head and throwing slobber everywhere. I stayed with him the best I could trying not to let the feeling fade away but after about five seconds all I felt was the dirt and a set of horns in the facemask of my helmet. I had used my cousin’s gear so after I got out of the arena I was fine and I had loved it so I turned to my cousin and said “How much to buy the gear right now?” He said sixty dollars, and I bought it.

I have been chasing rodeos for three years now. I get better every time I nod my head. This is a very dangerous sport; I experience many injuries. I have had my sternum crushed, three concussions, two torn medial collateral ligaments, and my left shoulder jerked out of socket multiple times. I know that every time I turn a bull outside could be the last time. I am willing to risk that to be the best at every rodeo.

Bull riding gave me a whole new dream. I never would have seen myself where I am, but now I could not imagine being anywhere else in this life! I eat, sleep, and live bull riding, and that is the kind of attitude you have to have to last in this sport. It’s a very mental sport. The late Lane Frost said, “It’s 90% mental and 10% in your head!”


That first ride made me who I am; it opened the chute of my life.
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I believe life takes people in multiple different directions, and it shows people what they need to know. That first ride made me who I am; it opened the chute of my life. I would not change a single thing about that day.

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Arkansas Family Ties That Bind https://arstrong.org/arkansas-family-ties/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arkansas-family-ties https://arstrong.org/arkansas-family-ties/#respond Sun, 14 Nov 2021 21:39:13 +0000 https://arstrong.org/?p=1380 “We can disagree about something and still move on together. Still be a family. This is my dream for Arkansas and our country.” Gwen Faulkenberry Whether it’s the classroom or...

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“We can disagree about something and still move on together. Still be a family. This is my dream for Arkansas and our country.”

Gwen Faulkenberry

Whether it’s the classroom or the virtual space, Gwen Faulkenberry, Arkansas Strong’s curator and featured writer, knows a thing or two about bringing people together. Where Gwen’s gift shines brightest? It’s at FFF Ranch, named for her family, where her Ozark kinfolk share life.

In a piece for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Gwen ponders Arkansas’s familial makeup, complete with family spats and disagreements (Thanksgiving dinner, anyone?) that can lead to full knock-down dragouts, as she puts it.

Families are messy and boisterous and disagree,” she writes. “Our best chance for a healthy, prosperous state is to trust each other.”

Read “We really are one big family” here.

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Community Spirit Makes All the Difference https://arstrong.org/community-spirit-makes-all-the-difference/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=community-spirit-makes-all-the-difference https://arstrong.org/community-spirit-makes-all-the-difference/#respond Fri, 12 Nov 2021 15:59:07 +0000 https://arstrong.org/?p=1368 A few years ago, I gradually transitioned from a full-time stay-at-home, homeschooling mom to a part time job to a divorced mom working full time as a public school Speech...

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A few years ago, I gradually transitioned from a full-time stay-at-home, homeschooling mom to a part time job to a divorced mom working full time as a public school Speech Language Pathologist.  When COVID hit, I considered becoming a full-time district employee, but even factoring in the benefits, it would have been a decrease in pay.  I love what I do, and I love the community and district in which I work, but I could not afford that.

For me, like most of us, the spring of 2020 hit hard.  I managed to cobble together enough parents who were willing to do teletherapy that I survived.  Like much of Arkansas, not every kid has access to the same resources in our rural district.  Many of my parents were working essential jobs at the poultry processing plant while arranging care for their children and supervising their children’s education.  It was hard, but that was true for most of us.  There was a feeling of just trying to survive these unprecedented times. 

Last year, like many educators, I started school with a feeling of apprehension but also optimism.  I was anxious to see my kids in person again.  Honestly, it was a lot of extra work.  I had kids on site, virtual kids, and even virtual kids who came on site just for therapy.  However, there was a feeling of camaraderie in the schools and with families.  It felt like staff was doing what we could to put our students first and keep everyone safe.  Families seemed to appreciate what educators were doing.  Rules were clear and seemed to work, and the kids were rock stars. 

Like much of Arkansas, not every kid has access to the same resources in our rural district. 

This year is different.  Before we started the year (the 3rd school year impacted by COVID), I had been told to consider it a “normal” year.  There was no mask mandate.  Because of poor state leadership, the quarantine protocols for individual schools are complex and seem somewhat arbitrary.  It just feels very chaotic and disorganized on the state level, which has contributed to a much less cohesive unit within my district.  From school staff to families, we are all just tired.


There was a feeling of just trying to survive these unprecedented times
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Then, on the 2nd week of school, my kids were exposed on the way to their dad’s house.  We found out the day my youngest transitions to my house for the week.  (My oldest lives with her dad full-time.)  I left school early that day to pick her up and was greeted by several parents there to pick up their own children.  Assuming they had the same quarantine procedures, those parents also had to arrange for their child to be in quarantine for 9 days. 

District employees are allowed to take a set amount of COVID leave when a dependent is in quarantine.  After that, they must use sick days.  After that, they are actually charged for the substitute the district provides.  My best friend’s daughter actually ended up in quarantine at the same time as my kids.  She fielded questions and problem solved from home while keeping an active grade schooler entertained and using her COVID leave.

 From school staff to families, we are all just tired.

As a private contractor, I did not have COVID leave or any paid leave.  I am not eligible for unemployment or short term disability.  I do not have things set up to work from home in this situation.  I do not have an emergency sitter for this.  (My mom is a cancer survivor awaiting cardiac surgery.)  In no way is my situation unique.  In fact, I feel blessed to have the options I have had.  My rent is paid.  My family has food.  None of us actually contracted COVID.  My child returns to school tomorrow.  My district has since implemented a mask mandate.  However, it feels like we have become conditioned or immune to the hardships we are facing from COVID.  While I am ready for a return to normal, I am hoping that until that happens, we return to that feeling of community spirit and caring for our neighbor that was felt last year. 

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Wanted: Good Neighbors https://arstrong.org/good-neighbors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=good-neighbors https://arstrong.org/good-neighbors/#respond Wed, 10 Nov 2021 20:59:51 +0000 https://arstrong.org/?p=1351 The Gospel Story In 37 or so simple stories and a few sermons, Jesus paints a picture of the kingdom of God. We can call this picture The Gospel Story....

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The Gospel Story

In 37 or so simple stories and a few sermons, Jesus paints a picture of the kingdom of God. We can call this picture The Gospel Story. His parables and sermons hold together. They have the ring of truth. They have a power that’s nowhere else. Jesus had what Simon Peter called “the words of eternal life.”

I grew up knowing the parables of Jesus before I knew much else. That’s because my father was a pastor. He preached every Sunday—and twice on most Sundays because we had Sunday night worship. Every time my father preached, I was there. Dad had a great love for Jesus’s parables. Well over half of his sermons were on the words of Jesus. I heard them over and over. I don’t remember getting tired of them because they opened to me a world that I loved—and I still love it.


Being a follower of Jesus is all about being a good neighbor.
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One of Dad’s favorites was the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story that demonstrated the meaning of being a good neighbor. This theme of neighborliness ran all thru Jesus’s teachings. It was in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus…. the parable of the Great Judgment in Matt. 25…. the parable of the Rich Young Ruler… and the never-changing Golden Rule. These teachings and many others say that being a follower of Jesus is all about being a good neighbor.

Ears to Hear

In 1998 I attended a seminar that George Barna (a religious researcher) led at a church in Tulsa. Barna said two things that have stuck with me. First, his research has determined that fewer than 10% of Christians have a biblical world view. Think about that! Every week millions of professing Christians attend worship, sit thru Sunday school lessons, and engage in other religious observances, yet the vast majority of them have never really heard the Gospel Story. It has not taken root as a guiding force in their lives.

Second, Barna’s investigations into the ethical behavior of American Christians have revealed that conservative evangelicals (the group with which Barna himself identifies) are no more moral than the rest of society. That is, evangelicals are guilty of marital infidelity, substance abuse, domestic violence, and an array of other misdeeds at about the same rate as everyone else. In fact, in categories such as divorce their behavior is worse than average.

Barna’s findings seem to go together. A huge number of evangelicals, despite their loudly proclaimed religious allegiances, have never really heard the Gospel Story. It certainly isn’t the guiding force in their lives.

Good and Godly Neighbors

A good measure of any religion should be: What kind of neighbors does it create? Sadly, Christians have all too often not been good neighbors. In fact, there is much to suggest that way too many of today’s church people are very bad neighbors.

A good measure of any religion should be: What kind of neighbors does it create?

We can see this by looking at many of the state legislators in our nation who are passing measures that hurt people. The vast majority of these legislators are self-proclaimed Christians who claim to be doing God’s will. The test of this should be in how their actions affect others.

In about half of our states one of the biggest activities at present is gerrymandering. Its aim in almost all cases is very clear. It’s to minimize the voting strength of minorities and maximize the strength of the legislators and their political party. It’s to gain unfair political advantage. When such forces of racism and partisanship appear in society, it’s a sure sign that very bad neighbors are hard at work.

The banning of abortion is the really feel good issue among our legislators. They beam with satisfaction that they are “pro-life,” and they try to outdo each other in being the most pro-life. What they are doing in a great many cases is victimizing some of the most vulnerable people in our society. They show no sign of understanding the highly complicated physiology of pregnancy and childbirth. Some girls are pre-teen when they become pregnant. There are reports of pregnancy as early as age 9, and of course this is always under very undesirable circumstances. In many cases legislators don’t want to allow for any circumstances of pregnancies. They want to saddle women with 100% of the burden of every pregnancy. The men, who are equal partners in conception, often disappear into the night and never shoulder any responsibility. Many legislators want to enact the harshest penalties against pregnant women and their caregivers if they don’t obey their draconian laws. They want to strip women of any say in their healthcare and become dictators to medical professionals. Yes, we actually have neighbors who want to treat us this way.

The legislators about whom we’re talking (church people, remember), have more ambitions. They want to intrude into the lives of LGBTQ people. Once again, they act out of a combination of ignorance and mean spiritedness and with the smug assurance that they possess all truth and are on God’s side. They seek to block trans youth from receiving the medical care they so desperately need, and they want to discriminate against people on account of sexual orientation. Sadly, they have an insufficient knowledge of sexual orientation and of the Bible. They frequently quote the 6 or so passages in the Bible that appear to deal with same-gender sexual behavior. This matter is not as clear cut as they think. These passages present difficulties of interpretation that many Bible scholars have lifted up.

All Who Are Weary

One such scholar is David P. Gushee, who grew up among conservative evangelicals and became a Southern Baptist pastor. Gushee embarked on a long academic career and earned a Ph.D. in ethics. For many years he was not sympathetic to LGBTQ causes, but over time his views shifted due to his deepening knowledge of the Bible and the many personal relationships he formed. In 2014 he published Changing Our Mind, in which he broke with his earlier views and argued for full acceptance of LGBTQ Christians in the church. Gushee became convinced that these 6 passages in the Bible have been widely misinterpreted, and he deals with them point by point in his book. Gushee’s thought is readily accessible on YouTube. If you enter a search for his name, up will pop lots of lectures, sermons, and interviews that he has given over the years. Of special interest is his 11 minute talk, “You’re Hurting Me With Your Bible.” He details the journey has made on LGBTQ issues in the 34 minute lecture he gave at Elon University 6 years ago.

LGBTQ issues have been highly divisive among Christians. In recent years four of the larger mainline denominations have decided to fully accept LGBTQ people. It was a rocky journey in which these churches lost lots of members over the issue. The vast majority of churches in America continue to stigmatize and marginalize LGBTQ people in a variety of ways. Religiously affiliated people are significantly less accepting of LGBTQ people than are the rest of the population. This nonacceptance is highly concentrated in the more conservative religious groups.

Good Neighbors Show Grace

LGBTQ people share predictable struggles. They react to disapproval like we all do. They sometimes try to change. They ride a roller coaster of emotions as they try to come to terms with who they are (this was not a choice, remember) while knowing that they can never become what others wish them to be. They suffer from depression and thoughts of suicide. They dread the time of coming-out and being rejected. At the time of their greatest vulnerability, when they need good neighbors the most, they often don’t find them in their church or in their legislators or even in their families.

We could cover other controversial issues that involve similar dynamics. That’s because far too few people who occupy the pews in our churches have really heard the Gospel Story. Jesus’s message of extravagant love, acceptance, and grace is not the force that drives them. Their behavior is no more moral or commendable than the behavior of religiously non-affiliated people. In fact, it’s often worse. They are not good neighbors. They hurt other people, especially the most vulnerable. The most astounding thing of all is that they do what they do in the name of God.

Sandy Wylie is a retired United Methodist pastor living in Bella Vista.

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My First Time to the Fair https://arstrong.org/amber-fair-with-parents/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amber-fair-with-parents https://arstrong.org/amber-fair-with-parents/#respond Tue, 09 Nov 2021 00:27:40 +0000 https://arstrong.org/?p=1329 My parents took me to the State Fair in Fort Smith, AR, when I was 8 years old. We had just moved from Oklahoma to Arkansas. We lived very close...

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My parents took me to the State Fair in Fort Smith, AR, when I was 8 years old. We had just moved from Oklahoma to Arkansas. We lived very close to the fairgrounds. The news station was announcing on TV that it was in town, and I said to my mom and dad “Can we please go?” They said sure. Despite not knowing what it was, I was super excited. Anywhere I got to go with my parents I enjoyed. 

The first thing was the rides. I asked my mother, “Are they scary?” She said, “Some are, and some aren’t.” I felt the excitement inside of me and I literally couldn’t wait to go in the gate and see what this was all about. I heard the metal grinding, the kids screaming and laughing, and the carnival workers yelling. It was overwhelming.

My parents said to choose a ride I wanted to try. I pointed to what looked like a train. I remember walking up to it and it seemed so big and a little scary. But I was so excited at the same time I didn’t care. I got on my first ride, and it was a roller coaster. I remember the worker buckling my seatbelt and I felt nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. The ride started moving and my stomach had butterflies, but I was having so much fun! The sun was in my face as I was going up and down, twisting and turning. I had a grip on the bar in front of me and it felt rough, and it hurt a little because I was holding on so tight. The kids behind me were crying because they were scared, and I just told them, “It helps to hold your hands up–it makes the butterflies go away!” When the ride was over, my parents were there waiting for me, and I screamed that I was having so much fun!

After I rejoined them my parents asked me if I was hungry. I told them yes, because when we walked in, I could smell all the foods, candy, and the lemonade. My senses were in overload. My parents bought me lemonade and a funnel cake. I remember tasting the sweetness from both the lemonade and the cake. I thought to myself, “I could come here every day for this lemonade.”


My parents probably couldn’t afford to take me out that day, but they wanted to make sure I had a special day to remember with them.
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It was getting late, and my parents asked me if I wanted to try a game. I chose a game where you had to pick a duck and get whatever prize was on the bottom of the duck. My hands were soaking wet but the duck I picked had a number 14 on the bottom.

It is a day I will always hold in my heart.

My prize was a big pink fluffy fish. The worker handed me the doll and I remember telling him thank you! He said, “You are welcome young lady,” and that I had gotten the lucky duck. I held the doll up to my face. It felt soft, and the color was very bright, and the fish had a yellow star on its ear. My dad asked me if I needed something to go with that pink fish. I said, “What goes with a fish?” He said, “Let’s go get you some cotton candy.” So, my dad bought me some cotton candy and I fell in love with the taste and the color too. The pure sugar melting in my mouth was so good and it was close to the same color as my fish. I felt so tired by the end of the day, but very happy at the same time because I had so much fun that day with my parents. It was an exciting new experience.

I can still hear the sounds, taste the food, see the sun, feel the bar in my hands, and see how bright the doll is. It is a day I will always hold in my heart. My parents probably couldn’t afford to take me out that day, but they wanted to make sure I had a special day to remember with them. This was 34 years ago, and it still feels like it was yesterday. 

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