Sunday, September 20, 2015

Texas Road Trip / Red Wolf Reunion 2015

Yesterday and today wrapped up a week-long vacation and road trip with friends from college who are now spread out between Arkansas and Missouri, along with one friend who recently returned from teaching in South Korea. Initially, seven of us left for Galveston, Texas early Saturday morning. We visited four Texas cities before returning to Arkansas. There is a lot to write about and I am short on time right now. I hope to write some reviews and blogs about our hotels, food and destinations over the next couple of weeks. But in the meantime, I wanted to post some highs and lows for each city.

Galveston (Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday)

  • Nice view of Pleasure Pier and the beach; balcony 
  • Cool weather most of the time
  • Evening walk on the beach
  • Sunrise on the beach
  • There were warnings about bacteria in the water and the beaches seemed a little dirty
Houston (Monday, Tuesday)
  • Houston Space Center
  • Seeing the signs that said we were leaving Houston
  • MASSIVE TRAFFIC JAMS (Two hours to go 25-30 miles on the interstate)
Austin (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday)
  • Awesome hotel (essentially a two-floor apartment) and friendly staff
  • Act of random kindness at In-and-Out when a stranger recommended our meals (ordering things that weren't on the menu) and then paid for the five of us.
  • Less traffic; easy to navigate
  • Karaoke and hanging out afterwards at the "apartment"
  • Accidentally being at the state capitol during the time of a scheduled event that we didn't even know about until we saw a bunch of people walking around in costumes
  • No free access to Lake Travis
  • GPS telling me to turn RIGHT while the GPS Map showed us turning LEFT. (Left was the correct direction to turn...)
San Antonio
  • Watching the sunset and seeing the city from Tower of the Americas
  • Walking the River Walk, especially our last night when we did "light writing"
  • Easy to walk in the downtown area where we stayed
  • Some crazy person walked out in the middle of traffic; I slowed down as to not hit him and he got mad at me, waved me on and almost caused me to go the wrong way down a one-way street
  • Walking behind our hotel the first evening and thinking we were about to get mugged
  • Knowing vacation was almost over

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Writing Prompt: What do you look forward to every week?

The weekend! That one was an easy one! I mean, it comes every week and I always look forward to it, even when I don't have anything planned. Don't get me wrong, I love my job and my work, but I still look forward to the weekend every week. Oh, something more specific? I think that is still a simple question -- I look forward every week to church on Sunday morning. 

I'm not a morning person and since the schedule change I think I have been on time one time, but it is something I look forward to each week. Some Sundays, my Sunday school class never makes it to our lesson. But that is OK. I go to learn, but the most important thing is the fellowship with other Christians. "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another -- and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:23-25)." And then after Sunday school is the worship service.

The Church is one of he reasons I chose to stay in Sheridan. I hadn't attended church regularly since graduating college; I'm glad to be back.

Other things I look forward to each week:
  • Watching weekly T.V. shows with my family
    • Duck Dynasty
    • The Last Ship
    • Once Upon a Time
    • Criminal Minds
    • NCIS
    • etc.
  • Bible Study with friends
  • Sleeping in

Monday, July 6, 2015

Preparing for Temptation

Temptations are around us all the time. Luckily temptation isn't sin, rather, we have a choice to make in how we deal with that temptation. Jesus himself was tempted three times at one of the times he would have been the weakest (Luke 4:1-13). "He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry."

I've heard this passage many times but as I read through it yesterday and lead a bible study discussion on it today, several things popped out.

It is important to learn and memorize God's word.
In verses 9-11, Satan quotes scripture to tempt Jesus to throw himself from the temples. Satan knows scripture and he will twist it to tempt us. If we don't really know God's word, it will be much easier for us to fall into Satan's trap.

Furthermore, each time Jesus was tempted, he responded with scripture (verses 4, 8 and 12). "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12)."

Even when things are going well, we should be prepared for Satan's attack.
In verse 13 it says, "When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time." Jesus passed the test. But the verse doesn't say that Satan left for good. Indeed, although I don't recall any specific instances the bible specifically states he was further tempted, I imagine there were many other temptations. In Luke 22:42 Jesus prays, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." There again was a choice to do God's will and go to the cross or to sin and disobey. We too should be prepared for that "opportune time."

We should always wear God's full armor (Ephesians 6:10-18). And again, we should memorize God's word. "Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Without God's word, we have no weapon to fight temptation. 

"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)."

There is a way of escape.
"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13)."

I have personally found that when I am spending time reading God's word and praying, I am much more well equipped to stand firm when temptation comes my way. Unfortunately, I know all too well how quickly I am to fall when I am not spending time in God's word and in prayer like I should. One of my favorite church sign quotes reads, "Seven days without prayer makes one weak;" it is so true. This is an area of my life that I know I have much room for improvement.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sharing Jesus Without Fear

"My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power." 1 Corinthians 2:4-5

This verse was my go-to verse before a "fishing trip" in college. I wouldn't hesitate to call myself socially awkward. When I am talking to people I don't know, I tend to stumble over my words. I don't know what to say. Carrying a conversation with a new person just, unfortunately, isn't one of my strong suits. But 1 Corinthians would remind me that it wasn't by my own power I would be speaking, it was the Holy Spirit who would be speaking through me. It has been a while since I was in college and we made these semi-regular trips to "tailgate city" to share the gospel. During those trips we were using tracts and a technique we had learned through Way of the Master / Living Waters. The tracts not only contained the gospel message, but were presented in a creative way that allowed us to walk up to strangers and start a conversation. My personal favorite was the "Survey Pad," which had a series of trick questions to break the ice, before moving on into more serious questions like "How does a person get to heaven?"

Even after those trips, I wouldn't say it really got "less scary." At the beginning of 2015, I participated in an exercise in which event participants wrote down things they wanted to leave behind from 2014 and then toss them in the fire. I have a lot of bad habits, but I chose one word to write down: Fear. Oddly enough, not long before that, I purchased a bible study from Lifeway, Share Jesus Without Fear. Unlike the previous study "Praying With Paul," our small interdenominational group chose to simply read through this study because of its layout.Share Jesus Without Fear was organized as a four-week study with each week broken into five days. With two hours, once per week, we managed to complete the study in about six weeks. Here are some of the things that stuck out to me:
  • Not sharing my faith is a sin; it is disobedience. (Sin of Silence)
  • Because sharing the gospel is a partnership with God and it is the Holy Spirit who will change hearts, I can't fail if I simply obey and share our faith. If the message is rejected, the person isn't rejecting me.
  • Even Moses made excuses; many of which are similar to an excuse we might give today. But he followed through. (Ex. 3:11-12,13-17; 4:1-9,10-12,13)
  • Remember to always Say something, Ask questions, Listen, and Turn the conversation (SALT).
  • There are ways to share the gospel, through questions, that make the person feel more at ease. Don't argue with the person, simply listen. The study presents five questions to help open the conversation.
  • Mark a small bible with seven bible verses (provided) and ask the person to read each of them aloud; ask them what it means to them after each.
  • Close with key questions, offering the person a chance to respond to the gospel.
  • If I need a "cheat sheet," it is OK. I don't have to know everything and the person may appreciate the fact I am a normal person, not a bible scholar.
The study closes with a list of 36 possible negative responses a person might have and some responses. Many times a simple "Why," is the response. Other times, more detailed answers are provided. I must say there are a few I don't agree with.

Maybe it is my semi-sarcastic nature, but if I were not a Christian and when I said I was not ready to make a decision the person told me something like, "OK, drive carefully," or "Have a nice day," and then walked away, I'm not sure I would take that positively. I think I would lean more in the direction of some of the previous responses and encourage them to think about our discussion and let them know I would love to talk to them again and at least leave my contact information.

So now I have to ask myself, what am I afraid of? " What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). When we started the study, my two responses were a fear of not knowing what to say, and not knowing how to start/hold a conversation (and social awkwardness in general). Now, I think the latter is my primary fear. In college, I found the gospel tracts from Living Waters helpful. The two methods in sharing the gospel are slightly different -- I could see a way to combine the tracts from Living Waters with the approach presented in Sharing Jesus Without Fear.

What are your biggest fears in sharing the gospel? What holds you back? How have you overcome these fears? I would love to hear from you; feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Travel: Bull Shoals - White River State Park

Destination:Bull Shoals - White River State Park
Destination Type:Outdoors
Location:Bull Shoals, AR
My rating:A-
Website:Arkansas State Parks

Whether camping, hiking, geocaching, swimming, kayaking or fishing, the many outdoor opportunities are my favorite thing about Arkansas. When I go camping, it is usually in one of Arkansas' 52 state parks, with the occasional Army Corp of Engineers or local park in the mix. I have my favorites -- based on what I want to do -- but I also like to try new ones; eventually I hope to visit all of them.

During my niece and nephews' spring break, I managed to take some vacation and go camping at Bull Shoals - White River State Park. I had never been and didn't know what to expect. I knew we would camp. I knew we would trout fish. I knew we would hike. We did all of that, plus some more.

Of all of the state parks I have been to, this was the hardest one to find. First, I missed the turn into the visitor center which wasn't well marked. I quickly dismissed it and decided it was probably a country club or lodge of some sort, not part of the park. I continued driving, and soon saw some more signs for the park, which I followed. It turns out, check-in for the camping wasn't even in the visitor center -- lucky for me -- it was in a small building closer to the camping area. It also happened to be right at another turn in the road that goes down to a restaurant called Gastons. Luckily there were a couple of no-hookup tent sites available. I hadn't made reservations and didn't know if there would be space available upon arriving. I had a backup plan to take a road trip if there hand't been but as it turns out there are a lot of camp sites at the park.

Our campsite was at the very end of the campground. After we set up camp, we quickly went down to test out the fishing. We had learned at Walmart that artificial baits, treble hooks and barbed hooks were banned on portions of the river. Before fishing, we talked with park staff to make sure the game and fish weren't going to ticket us for fishing in the wrong spot. Once we were sure of where we could fish, we walked down the shore and began to wade in the water. Just deep enough to cover my feet, I stopped. It wasn't long before I had pain shooting up my entire leg from the cold water. It was only March and they were trout waters after all. I ended up fishing from the bank for half an hour without any luck before going back to camp and cooking dinner.

I think the best part of where we were camping was all of the open space. Right behind our site was a large open field where my nephew and I were able to throw the Frisbee around. He also found some other kids and threw around a football while I was (failing at) building a campfire for the night. We also found the park had a playground and basketball court. Like most of the parks I camp at, there were bathrooms with flushing toilets and showers.

Being March, the cool/cold evenings were to be expected. What we didn't expect was the lack of hot water. I think the park only had three bathrooms for the park with more than 100 campsites. There just was not enough hot water to support that many people. At least the bathrooms themselves were warm. Much warmer than the tent.

I slept well enough, despite the sirens from the dam when they would open the gates. The next morning I woke up before sunrise and cooked breakfast so we could be at the water by daylight. Of course, we still didn't catch any fish. It is a good thing I had brought enough food for dinner every night, although I had wanted to eat some trout for dinner. After giving up on fishing, we hiked one of the trails the park had to offer. It was nice, but I have been on better trails. Still, it provided our first overlook of the river -- at least that I could stop and enjoy without risking a wreck.

I know there were more trails in the general area outside of the park, but I hadn't prepared to hike elsewhere so we settled on going to the trout doc and charging our phones. It was nice to relax, read a book and look out on the river. The trout dock was also a nice place to escape the rain. I must admit there was one staff member there I didn't like a whole lot, but most of the staff were very friendly. One of them came out and talked to us for a while. Since we had all heard it was probably going to rain most of that day, I decided to take a road trip. While I was preparing for the trip and looking for geocaches, I saw a dotted line going across the lake. When I zoomed it it said "Peel Ferry" so I investigated a little further and learned that it was indeed an operating ferry. I asked the staff on the trout dock (since they were state employees) if they knew anything about it. One of them told me it was the last operating ferry in Arkansas, was indeed free and gave me directions. So my nephew and I set off for a drive, hoping to escape the rain.

It turned out to be a really beautiful day- at least most of it, where we were. On the drive to the ferry we saw a bald eagle which appeared to have caught its prey (a snake). Once on the other side, I proceeded to my planned destination, which I didn't tell my nephew was Branson, MO. There we met up with one of my friends from college and spent the day. We ate at Olive Garden before heading back to camp. Then we drove back in the storms the entire way. Instead of being cooped up in a tent, we were driving with the storm. By the time we arrived back to the park, the rain was over. We were able to lead in some lost visitors who were camping that night -- poor signs striking again. 

On our last day we walked through the visitor center, waiting for the water levels to go down. They had opened several extra gates that morning which meant the water levels were high and the river was flowing fairly quickly. Once the levels went down we were able to go kayaking. That was fun but probably not the best idea. We ended up getting in shallow water and having to wade to get back to the campground.

At first, I gave the campground a "B" but decided I would give it an A- because of its proximity to other locations, the open spaces and the friendliness of staff. I expect the bathrooms would be kept cleaner in the summer and the water itself will feel better when the temperatures are higher. Although I won't put Bull Shoals - White River on my list of favorite places, it is definitely a pretty park and worth at least one visit.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review: Z82 Retrocade

Business name:Z82 Retrocade
Business type:Entertainment
Location:Sherwood, Ark.
My rating:

I enjoyed video games much more when I was younger, mainly because I had more time to play. Since high school, I have spent less and less time playing video games as my daily responsibilities have increased. Although I find myself playing less, I still enjoy the occasional game. 

This weekend I finally had the opportunity to go to Z82 Retrocade in Sherwood, Ark. I had been wanting to go since a friend told me about it in 2014 but hadn't had the chance. With rain forecast for all day Saturday and no plans, I needed to find something cheap to do indoors. Z82 offers a variety of old arcade games set up on free play and only costs $7.50 per person for the entire day.

The arcade is a family-friendly environment. There were kids and adults enjoying the games. The machines looked new, the facilities were clean and the staff was very friendly. There aren't a lot of options for food and drinks and no outside food or drinks are allowed. However, a thirty-minute pass is available to allow for reentry. Several fast food restaurants are within walking distance, including Subway, Sonic, Arby's and McDonalds.

The Games
I was first introduced to Galaga when I was in middle school at which time I spent way to many quarters to play. Later I found it again on Gamecube. Saturday was probably the first time I had played in 10-12 years. Z82 Retrocade features classic arcade games such as Galaga, Donkey Kong, PacMan, Frogger and many others. I was even reintroduced to some games I had played in the 90's on the computer but had forgotten about like Asteroids and Missile Launch II.

Along with the classics other options such as Foosball, Air Hockey and Digital Dance Revolution were available.

My nephew and I spent from noon until about 9 p.m. at the arcade on Saturday. It was an affordable indoor option for a rainy day. My rating: A!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Prompt: What is your favorite way to spend a lazy day?

To answer the question, "What is your favorite way to spend a lazy day," I must first determine what kind of lazy day it is. At first thought, it is just a day when its cold, cloudy and rainy outside and I am stuck indoors. That is the easy answer to the question. Those days are usually spent on the couch in front of the television. If I am lucky, it is spent on the couch, in front of the television with family.

But then there is the other side. Sometimes there are days I just don't feel like doing anything. A few years ago, I was living in Washington D.C. for two months. I had planned to get up and go hiking from Georgetown up to Maryland, but the weather was just the opposite of what I previously described -- it was sunny and more than 100 degrees. That morning, I decided to roll over and go back to sleep. 11 a.m...2 p.m....4 p.m...6 p.m... I ended up sleeping the entire day away. Now, if that isn't a lazy day, I don't know what is!

But my absolute favorite way to spend a lazy day is out camping. Usually I am always on the go -- fishing, hiking, geocaching or something. But there are those few moments in there when I get to "be lazy" and just sit around camp and relax in nature. That has to be my favorite way to spend a lazy day.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Out with 2014 and in with 2015

Please bare with me. This post may be quite lengthy. By the time I get home in the evenings, I tell myself it is too late to make a blog post. As I begin writing this post, it is 10:45 p.m. I won't finish tonight!

Reflections of 2014
I wanted to start with reflecting on years past, especially 2014. I've tried making resolutions just the opposite of what I really mean in order to motivate myself. "This year, I will gain 20 pounds." Since I don't usually meet the resolutions, maybe I wouldn't meet those. And if I did, I could at least say I finally kept one! But in 2014, things were a little different. I didn't really make a resolution at the beginning. After all, why wait until the beginning of a year to make positive changes? Resolutions can be made at any time of the year, not just January 1.

I knew I wanted to take more photos, improve spiritually and lose some weight. January and February weren't off to a great start for any of them. In mid to late January, I went through somewhat of a dark time, which I didn't really tell anyone about. It was a time of doubt and questioning everything I believed. I went through something like that while I was in college as well, but it wasn't like this time. I found myself sinking into a degree of depression I hadn't experienced since I came to know Christ, as I questioned whether God really existed. How did I know he was the true God? How did I know that Christianity was right and not Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Wicca, etc.? I feared what was to come next. I don't remember the order exactly, but my grandfather passed away March 1, 2014.

In late February or early march I began showing some signs of the flu and had a 103 degree fever. It was a Friday so all I could do was curl up in bed and take tylenol to lower the temperature. Monday evening I went to the doctor -- feeling much better and with only a low grade fever. It turns out it was merely a sinus infection. But something else came out of the doctor visit. The  nurse asked me if my blood pressure was normally that high. I don't remember what it was exactly but it was definitely higher than the last time I had taken it. When I got home and my family asked the diagnosis I told them, "I am officially on a diet now." I did not want to be put on blood pressure medicine at age 25.

Almost a year later, things have gotten a lot better. All of those other religions, including atheism, offer no hope. And I thought back to the life of Jesus and the empty tomb he left behind. If he weren't who he said he was, how did his body disappear from a guarded tomb? Why were there so many witnesses to him walking around before ascending to heaven? Why do so many people still believe today? And if Jesus is who he said, then that is the proof of God and his promises.

In August, I was finally hired at Heifer after a little more than two years as a temporary worker. God answered a prayer. After finally becoming an employee, I was able to get an apartment of my own. I weighed the pros and cons of moving to Little Rock and settled on staying in Sheridan for the time being which lead me to join First Baptist Church which I had been attending for about six months.

In October, I started what we are calling "Central Arkansas Young Adults Bible Study" in Little Rock. We are trying to emulate a group we were a part of in college in which we studied the bible, witnessed and provided each other with accountability. The new bible study group has put me in a place of leadership once more and I have felt God moving in my life through both my church and the bible study.

Faith has also been an important part in losing weight, which I must admit I haven't had the right focus lately and have fallen back into old ways of going back for seconds, eating sweets, etc. I did my best at losing the weight when I focused it on glorifying God. I took encouragement in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, "19 Or do you not know that your body is a [a]temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from [b]God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." The verse isn't talking about weight but I think it is still applicable, and realizing that my body is a temple for the Holy Spirit means I should take care of it -- whether it be exercising, what I eat or what I do.

Looking Forward to 2015
I made excuses about writing this blog for five days now. Oddly enough, one of the things I want to challenge myself to write at least one post every couple of weeks in 2015 on whatever topics come to mind. They may be life lessons or completely random writing prompts I find online. But I want to write more. Not only that, I want to do things I love doing more -- hiking, camping, geocaching, photography, spending time with friends.

I actually spent my first day of the new year at Pinnacle Mountain State Park. And then Sunday, I went back for another guided hike "off the beaten path."

After the #FirstDayHikes, we returned to the pavilion for hot chocolate and a campfire. The ranger had pieces of paper for each participant to write down something from 2014 they wanted to leave behind in the new year. I thought about it and some of the ways God had been moving in my life. I wrote one word on the piece of paper: Fear.

In 2014, I was asked to help at the Fall Carnival at church. There were clipboards going around to sign up for different posts. The one I was going to sign up for never came to me, but the parking attendant came to me three times so I finally signed up. I had no clue what I was doing and was nervous up until the night of the event. I had signed up for a two hour shift and ended up arriving early and leaving late. And nothing went wrong -- no cars had a wreck because of me. God was in control. A few weeks later there was an incident at the gas station which I wrote a note about on Facebook. Fear took over and I didn't do or say what I had wanted. Finally, I received a letter that I was to serve as an usher at church for January and October 2015. Again, I had never done this, don't like getting up in front of people, but knew that it was important and there was a reason God had me there. The first Sunday a rolled around and went just fine. In 2015, I want to be fearless. God began showing me the conflict between faith and fear. I want to have more faith. I want to trust him more.

Prayer is another aspect I want to work on in 2015. I strongly believe in the power of prayer, but so often I fail at actually praying. If I pray in bed, I fall asleep. If I pray at my desk, my mind wanders off to other...squirrel! You see? So most of the time I just fail to pray all together. I have started 2015 with a devotional on prayer and we are beginning an eight week study, "Praying with Paul" in the bible study group. I led the first session yesterday and a couple of things stood out. I think my three biggest take aways were to be intentional/schedule time for prayer, use a prayer list/journal and don't be afraid to ask others for prayer. 

I need prayer that I would get up early in the mornings to pray. I am NOT a morning person. Waking up at 6 a.m., Monday through Friday, to be out the door by 6:30 a.m. and to work by 7:30 a.m. is difficult enough. Now I am attempting to wake up by 5:45 a.m. to allow at least 15 minutes of time with God before I begin my day. If I do not get up by 5:50 a.m. (or at least consciously choose to turn the alarm off), I have to solve 10 difficult math problems to snooze the alarm or one difficult math problem to turn it off. Again, I am not a morning person and do not want to do math problems that early. Hopefully it works! And eventually, I would like to move it back to 5:30 a.m. and maybe 5 a.m. I'm just not sure how I will function on an average of 5-6 hours of sleep per night.

And finally, I want to continue trying to eat healthier, exercise and reach a healthy weight range in 2015. I lost about 40 pounds in 2014 and if I can do the same in 2015 I will meet my goal. I currently need to lose about 35 pounds to reach the upper limit of my target range.

Only seven days into 2015 and it has already been a year of firsts. I hope it will continue to be so and continue to bring improvements.

Happy New Year everyone!