Columns

These columns were written for the newspaper before I started spotlighting the Arkansas State Parks. I have taken a break from writing these columns to concentrate on my blog and YouTube Channel. Thank you to everyone that has reached out to me about these columns, I appreciate your kind words so much!

June 17, 2018 Printed in the El Dorado News-Times

Speaking is Not My Superpower

Because I have used my fingers to type and communicate through articles and columns for a good portion of my life, speaking in public is not one of my superpowers.

Though I am not exactly sure how I came across it, I found the local chapter of the Boomtown Toastmasters. It was probably Facebook; but however I found it, I am excited about this group and I want to share it with y’all!

Wendy Brown and Faye Brown, no relation, are the two keeping this club going in this area and I am so very glad to have found them! They hold meetings every Tuesday at noon at the First United Pentecostal Church located at 1012 2nd Street in El Dorado. You can check out the club website at boomtown.toastmastersclubs.org.

When I was younger, I used to hear about the Toastmasters groups and was very intimidated. I never imagined that I could do something like that. When I found out about the club, I was hesitant at first. Though I could never be described as shy, the idea of speaking to a crowd makes me anxious.

Because of the different events and activities that I am involved with, I really need to improve my speaking skills. I am kind of tired of saying things that surprise me just as much as those in the room. I am keen on learning how to control what I say, as well as how to say it.

There are dues to belong to the club, but you receive a workbook that takes you through the speaking curriculum as well as a leadership program. With the new fiscal year coming up, I encourage you to visit with us and check the program out. If you are interested, Wendy and Faye will be glad to help you sign up. Not that you can’t join any time of the year, but there is a fresh vibe that comes with a new fiscal or calendar year.

The first speech members give comes at the third meeting with an “ice breaker” talk. This meeting allows new members to introduce themselves in a four to six-minute speech. My speech was received well and I am grateful for that because I sure was worried.

Wendy explained that the “evaluators” use a Sandwich Method when evaluating the speech. The first piece of “bread” is something positive, the meat is something that needs improving and the second piece of bread is ending on another positive.

I was grateful for the feedback on my speech, but it is easier for me to take criticism than praise. I am not sure why, but I know a lot of other people that are the same way. Hopefully, this organization will teach me to accept compliments without all of the silliness I start spewing when someone says something nice. Somewhere I read that it is just as important to receive compliments with grace as it is to receive criticism in a graceful manner.

Speeches are timed and a tally of “filler” words is gathered to identify what words the speaker needs to limit or remove from their speeches. Speakers also get points for using the “word of the day.” There are “table top topics” for impromptu speaking and the ladies keep a great handle on the time so that we are able to get out of the meeting before 1 pm.

God constantly amazes me by sending people to me just as I need them. A high school principal once told me that the right teacher comes to the student when the student is ready. I am ready to learn to speak and I just know Wendy and Faye and their Toastmasters Club is going to be a favorite part of my week!

If you might be interested in this club, I invite you to join us. You can reach Wendy via that http://www.boomtown.toastermaster.org website, or you can contact me at brendastuddardclark@gmail.com.

June 11, 2018 Printed in the El Dorado News-Times

What In The World Are We Thinking?

A few years ago, a guy from the area I grew up in was killed during a road-rage altercation in which he followed a car into a convenience store and jumped out with his gun. The other driver shot him in what was deemed self-defense. This guy was a good guy with a solid reputation, but his anger caused him to make a very large mistake that ended his life.

What in the world was he thinking?

What is it about driving that makes us reckless? What in the world are we thinking?

I’ve read of that behavior time and time again. I’ve even participated in that type of behavior. I was trying to decide which way I needed to turn once and, just as the light turned red, the car behind me started honking. I put my car in park. And sat there.

What in the world was I thinking?

When I started driving my daily commute to work, almost 3 years ago, I found that I would unconsciously go faster, slow down, jam the brakes or whatever without one thought about how dangerous it was.

I realized I was treading into dangerous territory when I heard myself say, “Oh h*** naw, you ain’t! Ya should’ve got up on time and ya wouldn’t be late,” as I floored the gas pedal so they couldn’t get in front of me.

What in the world was I thinking?

I wasn’t thinking. That was the problem. So, I did what I’ve learned to do over the last three years; I changed the way I was looking at the situation. Praying for a more loving and prayerful attitude toward other drivers, was my first step towards a more peaceful commute.

Because I leave my house in plenty of time to avoid having to hurry to work, I do have a much more peaceful drive and can now look at others with compassion. I don’t mean that I poke along because I don’t.

Consciously remembering what it was like to have to try to get everyone ready, out the door and to “where ever” on time, was another step I took in enabling the judgemental thoughts to vanish. Realizing that some people are just going to be jerks no matter what, also helped curb my behavior behind the wheel.

Realizing my “driving” attitude will set the tone for the rest of my day, I don’t wish to be the “lead” car anymore. Because of the construction work on the highway, if I do end up in front of others, I try to go fast enough that they don’t have to break the law by risking their neck to get around me in the no passing zone; but not fast enough to get a ticket. Not on purpose anyway.

There are a couple of places along the route that drop down to lower speeds and in those places, I tend to forget to turn the cruise off. If something is not logical, it just never sticks in my brain. With four lanes and a turning lane, but no traffic light, it isn’t logical to me to slow down. But I am trying to pay close attention to those areas.

None of this has to do with being holier than anyone else. It has to do with peace and compassion. Something I didn’t understand when I was younger.

Now, I can recall the times when I was stressed out, and I can pray for that person zipping in and out of traffic. I can pray for the mother I see speeding because she is late for work. I can pray God’s mercy for all of those on the road today, and every day, including myself.

When I am the one “stuck” behind the car who that is not going the speed limit, I can consciously have compassion for that person as well. Now, I think about how stressed out, upset, tired or unhappy they may be. Whatever the reason, I just trust God. Should He decide to take me in an automobile accident, I definitely don’t want it to be because I am unloving and uncaring towards others. And even more, I don’t want to be the reason someone else dies.

Hopefully, my having thrown this column out here won’t set me up for failure, or a wreck. We all know how it works sometimes.

The reason I write my column is that I have learned, and am learning, ways to cope with the everyday stresses of life and I hope that at least one person can take away something that will help them to find peace.

If you have any tips on finding peace that you would also like to pass on to the readers of this column, email me at brendastuddardclark@gmail.com.

June 2, 2018 Printed in the El Dorado News-Times

Watching my youngest child navigate the waters of Moro Bay made me so very proud and so very scared at the same time.

This was only her second time in a kayak and seeing that she adapts quickly to new adventures was marvelous; but knowing that if she got into trouble on the water, it would be up to me, was causing anxiety in the momma area of my heart.

Of four children, she is the caboose, so I’ve experienced this feeling before. It hasn’t gotten any easier. Each child had their own talent and interests, mostly determined by what we as parents were doing at the time. We’ve run the gamut from showing animals through 4-H, FFA classes and competitions, to hunting, fishing and trapping.

We had one to dabble in radio and film work and two to go on to be Marines. I’ve led 4-H classes in sewing and manners and worked alongside my husband for a 4-H wildlife class. Hubby is into coon dogs and he takes our youngest out hunting at night. I can’t see that great at night, even with that flashlight thing on my head, so I opt out of those adventures. It is sad how much I know how to do, but am so bad at all of it!

At home, our poor kids had to help run the family business and keep the house clean and the yard tended. As they got older we promised to be mean to all of them equally and to make sure they would leave our home ready to face the world. What they do with that information is totally up to them.

Though we’ve entered another phase with only one left at home, the rules are still the same.  Yes, we are mean to her and she has to help keep the house clean and the yard tended; but we’ve needed to find something fun she can do.

Hubby is a school resource officer and as his helper, I’ve taken archery and trap shooting and recently I added kayaking. Since she didn’t really have any idea what kind of hobby suited her, I’ve chosen one for her. Ha!

Both my hubby and I were raised in the woods and gratefully we are able to pass that onto the youngest. The other three were given the same opportunities so they too know and love the outdoors.

Dinner time was my favorite time of the day when all four would gather around our table and share their adventures.  I miss hearing their daily stories, but we try to do the same with the youngest so that she too will want to raise her babies around the family table.

She leads the blessing but sometimes she goes so fast I am not really sure what she said. We discuss the day and share the funny things that happened. Occasionally we skip the table but we try to not make that a habit.

Next to the obvious fear of our children being hurt, or worse, the other scary part of parenting is all of the mistakes. I’ve made more than my share of mistakes, and continue to do so. I so hate that. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t human. I wish I was a saint. I want to be a saint, but I don’t really know how, so I keep being me.

We will keep loving our children, keep going to church and keep going outside. Luckily we live in a state that caters to the outdoors. We have 52 state parks and if you choose one park a weekend, you can cover them in a year. Or you can spread it out over time, which has worked better for us.

Some weekends we just gotta rest! Not being a Saint is really exhausting.

As parents, we are all in this together and will all end up empty-nesters sooner than later; we need to get out there and do something wonderful with our kids. I mean something together, where we are interacting with each kiddo. Depending on each other.

One day those adventures will be dinner-table worthy stories. I promise.

May 27, 2018 Printed in the El Dorado News-Times

Most of the time nowadays, my heart is filled with joy because of Jesus, and I am learning to look at others through His eyes. But sometimes people just irritate me. I know without a doubt that without Jesus, I would go around knocking the who’d-of-thought-it out of bullies, loud, obnoxious people as well as manipulators and gossips not to mention the real troublemakers.

Something that I said had made a group of people upset with me. Smart remarks were made but no one would say anything directly to me. I confessed that I have to look at everyone through Jesus’ eyes, but that just elicited a derogatory comment about someone else who quoted scripture.

Bless their hearts, they do not understand that if I didn’t look at them through Jesus’ eyes, I would call them out for their loud, obnoxious, immature and disruptive behavior every single time and not just the once. But because I do love Jesus, I am trying to become a better person and to learn to love others unconditionally. I do not wish to cause anyone uncomfortable moments. Well, not anymore. And I truly mean that.

The little victories are growing into bigger and more victories, but only when I submit daily to my Saviour. Left to my own devices, I am not a very nice person. I just want to be left alone and enjoy the moment and when someone wrecks that peace for me, I get irritable. It isn’t just that either.

If someone lies, I don’t want to have to keep my mouth shut or, when someone is just a hateful person, I want to show them just how hateful is done. Sometimes people are just too darn loud and I want to make them shut up. Drama queens really irk me. I know that no one wants to be lied to and I know that I am not the only person in the world that wants loud, obnoxious people to just go away.

In fairness though, some drama queens are hilarious and tell the funniest stories about their drama. Anytime we laugh about anything, it is a good moment! Drama Queen or not!

With each of my little victories, Jesus is leading me to a place where it is becoming easier to just let people who lie, lie. It is getting easier to let people that are loud and obnoxious to just be loud and obnoxious without me getting emotionally invested.

We people deal socially with other people in a variety of ways. Some read books on the subject, some just walk away while others confront liars, troublemakers, and obnoxious people. I have done all three and none of it works as well as looking at the person and deciding that God made that person and they belong to Him. End of story.

There is usually a really good reason people act the way they do. For one thing, we as people are not trained in ways to love others, we are just told to love others. Same goes for social skills. We are told the behave a certain way, but there is not a lot of practical advice as to how.

Some of us come from broken homes, broken relationships and broken hearts. Selfish people usually don’t realize they are selfish. I know sometimes I am looking at a situation, thinking about how their drama is affecting me when I should be looking to see in what way can I serve this person. It is hard to swallow when God convicts you that you are selfish.

Realizing that I should be acting in this kinder way is a small victory. I search for these victories on a daily, sometimes moment to moment, basis. In my previous life, I had developed into quite a character. I don’t say that with pride. I say that in all sincerity in giving God credit in teaching me to be a better person. I am no longer as concerned with how the drama is hurting me, but how the drama is coming from a place of hurt in the person causing it.

Small victories. Daily victories. They are promises of more of God’s grace in creating a new creature in Christ. This is scary to say out loud because we all know that just when we think we have it going on, something happens. However, I know if it does, I will earn some really cool victories.

April 29, 2018 Printed in the El Dorado News-Times

The sun was hot with a breeze giving respite every now and then. Rugged was the smell of the shop; old tires, large equipment ready for repair. Sand and dirt, old grease and general wear and tear created its on worth.

It was evident this was a working environment. These are people who make things happen. These are the people braving the elements to build buildings, work shutdowns and fabricate the big things.

The tour started me thinking about the people in this world that take care of us. The military men and women, law enforcement, firefighters, ambulance personnel, teachers, doctors and nurses, highway workers, the farmers; the list goes on, including those working at this facility. You know, the people in the business of saving, feeding, protecting, teaching and building for America.

Military ground troops send men and women to fight on the ground or in the air. Everyone else is the “support personnel.”

Those actually fighting, those answering the emergency calls, those teaching us to read and write; we are the “support people” for them. Our tax dollars are used to pay those salaries but oftentimes, they are not paid what they are worth. As the support people for these men and women, we should want them to succeed and to be the best they can be for us, the people in their care.

The same should be said of each student. Many schools have opted out of providing vocational education and we are seeing industries and businesses struggling to find workers. While it is admirable to be college-educated, some students are not college material. There are some that are made to work with their hands; others feel a calling to serve the public.

Businesses and Industries are feeling the effects of the quest for college-ready only students. Trade jobs do not mean that the person is unintelligent. It means they thrive in a different environment than the traditional office.

They know how to use math to cut a board. They know how to use math to create a recipe. They know how to deal with the irate man wielding a gun at his neighbors. They have the courage to do that job and should be just as respected as the college-educated.

We are all in this together.

April 22, 2018 Printed in the El Dorado News-Times

Someone asked me recently if I thought that a new building enhances the ability of a student to learn. My answer to that was I am not sure. Some kids are going to learn better than others and that is just a fact.

What I do know, however, is that a beautiful environment feeds the soul and can also lessen one’s stress level. Years ago before Pinterest came into being, I used to keep what I called “my pink drawer.”

When my job got stressful, I would open my drawer and pull out the little pink knick-knacks that I had gathered and sit there for a few minutes. In my special drawer were little items my kids had given me, scraps of ribbon, or small books that my husband had gifted to me. I also had small books of poems I treasured and a pink journal with lots of hearts on it. In the journal I kept quotes and scripture that meant a lot to me. Also in the drawer were napkins covered in roses. I would use the napkins from time to time when I needed a bit of chocolate.

Sounds silly and a bit extravagant?

Not really. When my heart began to race, or I was really at my wit’s end, it was such a blessing to slide the drawer open and ease myself into a better frame of mind.

Nowadays I use Pinterest or Instagram as my escape. I can briefly open Pinterest and see beautiful things that ease my soul. And I sing, or hum, an uplifting tune and step back into my day a bit fresher because my soul rested for a moment.

So while I can’t say that a new building will cause children to learn better or faster, I do know that a bright, clean and happy environment is necessary in order to feed the soul.

Churches are great examples of this. While it may seem extravagant to some and did to me as well until I realized that religious works of art are holy reminders and as such, are meant to take the viewer into a deeper relationship with God. They are not to be worshipped, but to remind us that we are spiritual beings in need of solace.

A life in chaos with a disheveled environment amidst dull, dirty and dingy surroundings does nothing to enhance one’s desire for much of anything. It is hard to pull one’s self out of that environment.

If you find yourself in such a place, start with one drawer. Fill that drawer, or a basket or handbag, with things that matter to you. When you get stressed, stop and regain yourself. Repeat a scripture, sing a hymn or song with special meaning. Then start again.

April 15, 2018 Printed in the El Dorado News-Times

Do you know how to read a map? How about refolding it?

Somewhere along the way when I was growing up, I learned to read a map. My husband was surprised that not only could I read a map, I could refold one too. I never thought my map reading skills would entice a fellow!

There are maps on both my office door and my home office door. We have a special map all highlighted in purple. We’ve documented our journeys right there on the map.

When we plan a trip, my husband consults that map to always includes a road we’ve yet to travel. It is exciting to see new places and discover the treasures of Arkansas. Who would have thought that highlighting a map could be so romantic?

That purple map is more than 20 years old now and we are having to transfer our purple lines to a new map to keep up with ARDOT. While we understand Googling for directions and relying on the navigation system in our cars, maps let you see the big picture.

Maps let you see where you are headed and what roads you leave behind. You can see the larger bodies of water that twist and turn through the state. Maps tell you the state’s scenic byways in the state as well as the national scenic byways.

There is an index of cities, towns, and communities and all of the counties. There is a mileage chart and a map key.

The map key shows you the interstates, highways, state highways, multi-lane roads, paved roads and local roads. Symbols show you rest areas, national forest campsites, and even Amtrak terminal sites, among others.

Google maps, GPS and gas station directions all get us where we are going, but there is just something about a map. The history of map making itself is a tale of men and their dreams. Cartographers documented history, the same as those keeping travel journals. Old maps show us how things have changed over the years, where our Google maps update as often as possible.

We use both. When I am leaving to work in an unfamiliar part of the state, I look at the big picture and see which way I might like to go. Then I will use Google maps to print out a rough agenda.

Before leaving my driveway, I punch in the address of where I am going into my car’s navigation system and my cell phone. And I take a map — in case I enter into an unmapped area. That happens sometimes you know, especially in rural Arkansas.

People like maps, even if they don’t pick one up as often as they did in the past. Last year it was announced that fewer maps would be printed. That sparked a run on maps and we ended up running completely out of maps before the new ones arrived.

That was strange, to be without a map. How about you? Are you without a map?

If so, you can visit the Welcome Center at 3315 Junction City Highway and get your own copy of the map. If you need us to show you how to use a map, we can do that too. You never know when that phone my drop signal!

April 8, 2018 printed in El Dorado News-Times

Their shopping cart was full and he was pushing it behind her, stopping when she stopped and going when she went. They discussed purchases and moved forward after adding something else to the cart.

From the conversation, I concluded that they were just about finished with their grocery list. He slowly turns the cart around when she stops him, “We forgot the mac and cheese.”

Following my husband around the next aisle, I thought how lucky, this woman I don’t know, and I are that our hubbies go shopping with us and participate in the chore.

I also felt lucky to realize how blessed I am that God allows me to see the blessings in the moment.

That is not a gift I was born with, it had to be cultivated. God helps me to have a positive outlook. Unfortunately, there were many times He was showing the positives, but I wouldn’t look.

While I do not rank grocery shopping high on my list, I’ve come to realize that smiling at others and connecting with them briefly is truly a blessing. Some I may never see again and others we may see each week as we shop. I’ve had to force myself not to tell off the real jerks that are looking for a fight, but I’m getting there.

Most people respond to a smile and return it. “Saying, “oops, I’m sorry I got in your way,” usually brings that smile and sparks a quick interaction.

Many years ago I worked for a lady who went the extra mile with customers. She explained that she might be the only person that smiled at the visitor that day. She is right. We do not know what others are battling; we do not know their story.

Too many times in my life I’ve just not cared what the story was; just cut to the chase and get out of my way. Now I am able to recognize that look on the faces of others and to say a kind word and give them a smile in hopes they get a quick respite from the daily grind.

That does not mean that I am able to do that every minute of the day because I am not.

But I do try to find the blessings in each moment because with each blessing I find, it encourages me to keep searching and sharing with others.

Expanding the idea of blessings to beyond what we monetarily receive, or what new car or big house we have, helps us to notice the husbands and wives working together in the grocery store. It includes noticing the younger woman in the grocery store with her list and a passel of kids hanging onto the buggy and realizing she needs a smile. It is remembering what it was like to be at bygone seasons of our lives and dropping the judgment of others in a different stage of life than us.

“Practical Matters” is what I term it when I figure out how to put Bible scriptures into action. I’ve heard pastors and evangelists share scripture laying down the thou-shalt and thou shalt-nots.

What I was searching for was how to put the information into practical advice. How do I keep my mouth shut when somebody is being such a jerk? How do I turn the other cheek when my nature is to slap them back harder than they slapped me?

Finally, I realized I had to pray for God to show me because not a lot of other people know how to shut up either.

In writing these columns, I have reflected a lot on the attitudes I’ve had over the years and I don’t feel as though I have the right to give any advice. I’ve also come to understand that if God is sharing this with me, how many others out there that are similar to me, also need to hear it? Please pray for me because at any moment I could easily mess up!

Being able to get away to some of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth, right here in Arkansas, sure helps to clear my mind and help me become better attuned to God.

I’ve mentioned this before, but if you need a place to land in times of stress, go to the Arboretum on Timberlane. Or just take a drive.

Or just go to the store and look around. Smell the air. See the beautiful faces. Watch the little children playing. Be grateful you got the buggy that doesn’t squeak. Or maybe you got the one that wobbles as it rolls. That can be quite funny! If you enjoy the buggy with the bum wheel, you can smile at the man with the bummed-out look on his face.

Printed April 1, 2018 — El Dorado News-Times

Happy Easter!

For Christians, this is a special time of the year when we remember and celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is also a time of year when we dress youngsters in frocks of finery and decorate eggs for hiding and eat chocolate bunnies. We try our best to make the holidays very exciting for the little ones, bless their hearts!

That is when they are learning about the world and their minds are being molded and their beliefs are being developed, and their faith is being discovered.

I remember the first time that I caught myself in the middle of a fit and said a prayer. I was looking for my shoe and I couldn’t find it. I pulled everything out of my closet. Looked under the bed, behind the dresser. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I was six or seven years old.

A sudden peace came over me and I  felt the need to pray; to ask God for His help. It was the prayer that calmed me and prayer that helped me to see the shoe. Yep. Right there in front of me. Just sitting there in the middle of that pile of stuff I had yanked from the closet.

God blessed my heart that day. He taught me to rely on Him to be able to see what might be right in front of me if I would take the time to stop, gather myself and pray.

My momma and her sisters always used that phrase, “Bless your heart.” Until it was pointed out to me, I didn’t realize how often I say it, or its close cousin, “bless your pointed little head.” That one I use when I am making fun of someone.

Recently I re-posted a meme on Facebook alluding to the lack of discipline among children over the years and how we are all dealing with the consequences now.  The comment I received in reply read: “I feel sorry for you.”

My response: “Well, bless your heart.”

I didn’t mean it in a bad way, I truly meant, well bless your heart, as in “she really does think that discipline means violence, but her heart must be in the right place, so may God bless her heart for caring.”

Do you think God ever looks down here at us and says that? Do you think He just shakes His head and says, “Bless their hearts!”

On this Easter Day, I hope that God shall surely bless our hearts with His love and joy.

Brenda can be contacted at brendastuddardclark@gmail.com.

Printed March 25, 2018 — El Dorado News-Times

Easter speaks in ways that only the heart and soul understands.

Sometimes though, life is so busy that Easter gets overshadowed and we don’t hear what the soul is saying. When that happens we miss so many blessings. It requires a heart adjustment to reawaken the desire for Christ within us.

A couple of years ago, my husband was finishing up his degree at night while working every day. Our life had gotten very hectic making the Lenten season fly by and we found ourselves wishing for more. Something deeper.

We realized it, prayed about it and finally decided to take a break from everyone and everything. We loaded up the car and we headed to Subiaco to experience the Easter Vigil Service on Saturday night at the St. Benedict Catholic Church.

There are no words to explain how the traditional and ceremonial aspect of the evening event impacted us. It was just what we needed to recenter ourselves and get back on an even keel. The church and its music are breathtaking. The service begins at sunset with an Easter fire outside the church. This symbolizes the church keeping watch, celebrating the resurrection of Christ and awaiting His return.

The lights are off inside the church, with each person outside holding a small candle. A large Paschal candle receives its flame from the Easter fire, and the flame from the large candle is passed to the smaller candles. In turn, each person shares their flame with the person next to them. A procession slowly begins to make its way into the church with the flames illuminating the sanctuary.

It is a lovely Easter service, with so many reminders of God’s love for us. If you’ve never experienced it, I would recommend going. You don’t have to miss your Sunday morning service, especially if you visit a local or surrounding Catholic church on Saturday evening.

Should you be interested in going to Subiaco, the Coury House provides room and board just as a regular hotel does. That is where we stayed. It is not a four-star hotel, but it is very homey. The beds vary in sizes, so ask what size if you decide to go there. Meals are available in the guest dining room located in the main monastery building. Call 479-934-4411 for reservations or questions. There are other hotels in the area if you prefer.

Tours are given at the Monastery all year if you don’t wish to miss your church’s service. You are free to walk around the grounds of the Abbey.  You can find more information at www.countrymonks.org, or www.arkansas.com.

Happy Easter to you and your family, may you find joy and contentment. You can email me at brendastuddardclark@gmail.com. Share your Easter blessings with me.

Printed March 18, 2018 — El Dorado News-Times

Sometimes you can look at someone and see their soul. You know them by the look in their eyes, the smile on their face and their giving nature.

I met someone like that this past weekend.

She and her husband opened their Delta lake home to state tourism employees, serving delicious tamales, blackeyed-pea dip, a gorgeous sausage, and cheese tray made all the more special with servers in white coats; chilled white or lovely red wine flowed freely.

A fireplace greets you as you enter the porch, and on the other side, back to back, was the living room fireplace. There is just something about a fireplace. The scent immediately made me think of Petit Jean State Park and its grand fireplace.

The house was elegant with its rough lumber walls, gorgeous wooden floors and unusual appointments such as the coffee-table-like large turtles patiently waiting for guests to rest wine, lemonade or water upon their sturdy shells.

Chandeliers glowed warmly casting a comfortable and cozy feeling when viewed from the lake.

The home echoes the heart of Munnie Jordan and her love for Arkansas especially the Delta. She works tirelessly to share the Arkansas Delta’s rich history through her work as director of the king biscuit blues, festival and her Delta Heritage tours that she owns and operates. Munnie is also a vital member of the Downtown Helena Partnership and a 2018 Henry Award Finalist.

When your soul shows, your eyes glow and you create a place everyone feels welcome. That is what Munnie Jordan is doing and I am glad I have a new friend. I even took a selfie with Munnie, and I never take selfies!

She is lovely and kind and I wanted to share her with you. If you know someone like Munnie that lives here in our area, send me their name. I would love to feature them here and share what they do for Union County and south Arkansas. Contact me at brendastuddardclark@gmail.com.

Printed March 11, 2018 — El Dorado News-Times

Entering the old General Dynamics building in East Camden, I was surprised at how well the building is holding up. I am glad it is being taken care of and used some while it sits waiting for the next industry to make a home.

I was there for the dog show, setting up a booth to provide state literature to those attending. Several trips up and down the hallway later, I found myself wondering about the workers that had used the hallways.

The building has been empty for many years now. There is a large room that must have been the cafeteria. I wondered about the secrets shared, breaks taken and hurried conversations. I thought about the fellowship, happy news rejoiced, funny stories, gossip, good-natured kidding and even prayer requests. There was also sad news given, I imagine. Romances, both innocent and forbidden, were started. Friendships began, and I’m sure a few ended there.

A community was there, walking those halls, using those rooms. There were friends, enemies, and acquaintances in that community. They mourned the death of workmates together, wished each other the best in marriages and, divorces; and celebrated the births of sons and daughters.

Families depended on the jobs in that building and one day, those jobs were gone. Some transferred to other areas while others may not have been so lucky. Some have probably left this earth while others have stayed in touch. Some went to work together at other jobs, allowing their friendships to flourish. Some have never seen each other again.

The parking area is very large there. I thought of the former employees arriving early, those looking for the best spot, and those forever screeching in at the last minute. There were new cars shown off while other cars were accidentally dented, and of course, shared rides. All kinds of music played there, weekend plans were finalized there and final goodbyes were said in that parking lot.

One the second day of the dog show, I recognized people from the day before and realized that a new community had been created there in one day. People were smiling and nodding at each other and conversations were happening, just as they did when the building was up and running daily. Friends were being made, others were not clicking. But nonetheless, a community had formed. New friends were wishing each other safe trips home in the rain; old friends were hugging goodbye. I was enjoyed watching it unfold, living in the moment.

Maybe someday someone will decide to occupy the building again and jobs will be created there, and another community can come alive.

I wish this not only for East Camden but for all the Arkansas’ South region. El Dorado’s Murphy Arts District is an example of how a new community is formed. We are all invited to join in the positivity that is being created there. Let’s use that positivity to think about these old buildings and ask God to bring new, great-paying jobs to fill these empty buildings, or build new ones.

Churches are communities. It would be good if all churches pray in earnest for new jobs for South Arkansas. It would be good indeed.

Share your memories with me of long ago friendships from lost communities at brendastuddardclark@gmail.com, if you wish. I love to hear from those writing from the heart about things that matter.

Printed March 4, 2018, in the El Dorado News-Times

“I don’t like me without God,” said my friend. I don’t like me without God either.

My family has missed church for a few weeks because of work and illness. I can sure tell I’ve missed. I have such peace when I stay close to the Lord. It helps me to hold my tongue and my temper. That peace has been lacking.

Recently there was a situation where I just couldn’t be quiet. I fell back into my old ways and allowed myself to become irritated. Then I spoke up, trying to correct a perceived problem.

It was not really even a problem; it just wasn’t how I would behave.

And it was very judgemental of me.  Another side effect of not getting enough God-time.

I have been on a journey to learn every lesson that I can, as quickly as I can, so that I do not have to repeat the same mistakes over and over. It is how I choose to honor the memory of my mother and I fell very short this week.

Near the end of Momma’s life, we were talking, and I was looking out the window of her bedroom, at the squirrels busy playing and gathering. She had said something, and I remember saying that I understood what she was meaning. I heard her make a crying sound and my heart just sank! I turned and rushed to her, fearing the worst. She had her hand over her face and tears were gently rolling down her sweet face. It scared me and I felt panic rising all over me, but she looked at me and said she was okay, but that she was glad that I understood. She said she had only learned it a few months earlier. I was so relieved that she was okay that the conversation dissolved out of my mind.

Sometime after she passed away, the conversation came to my mind. I replayed it over and over, hoping to recall what the lesson was she had referenced.

Eventually, I decided it must not matter what the specific conversation was, but that the gist of it led me to know that I need to learn all of my life “lessons” as quickly as possible so that I do not keep repeating the same mistakes.

It became the impetus for honoring her daily and making sure that her death was not in vain; that her leaving this earth early has to make a difference in my life.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve learned a lot but wasn’t until the last two and half years that I have made any real progress.

Unfortunately, certain situations bring out the worst in me. Finally, I am beginning to recognize the signs of these situations. I don’t like drama and I hate negativity and I especially hate being around bullies. There is something inside of me that calls that behavior out and usually I am not very nice about it.

Fortunately, I’ve also realized that I am very judgemental.  In my own little pea brain, I somehow feel justified in calling those people out.

Now I know the circumstances that make me testy, and I know that not getting my  Jesus time makes me a contrary person! I ask for prayers that I can put this new information to good use.

Have a great week!

Printed February 25, 2018, in the El Dorado News-Times

Replaying awful moments seals them in our brain. Memories of abuse or bad feelings will pounce without warning causing the blood pressure to rise, the heart to race, increase anxiety, and even give us the blues.Couldn’t that same replaying of the great moments over and over cause the wonderful times to get stuck in our heads as well?Those suffering from real depression and debilitating anxiety should not take this to heart if you are unable to bounce back from what ails the mind, heart, and body. You have what is different and should be addressed by a professional.

However, for daily stress, recalling funny family moments has a great effect. When one person laughs, it is hard to not at least crack a smile. My family memories have lifted me up over the years. Even though my sister and I lost our mother 15 years ago, telling the funny things Momma said and did keep her memory alive and makes me happy to think about her. Everything looks brighter when I remember just how funny and joyful she was.

One of my favorite stories she told was when she knocked the old rooster out. it wouldn’t shut up, so she went outside, picked up a rock and threw at the old rooster, expecting to scare it away. The rock struck just right and down that rooster went. She just knew it was dead. She just knew her daddy was going to kill her. She grabbed a bucket of water and doused him good and up from there that old rooster came! She said she was never so glad to hear a rooster crow in her life!

Then there was the time she knocked out a momma sow. My mother would never hurt anything or anyone out of meanness, but she and my step-dad were building a hog pen when he got between momma pig and her babies. He didn’t realize it but my momma saw that sow headed straight for him!  She started hollering and reached for the first thing she could get her hands on! My dad turned around in time to see my tiny, 5-foot-mom swing a pole and lay his prized swine on the ground. Don’t worry. She didn’t kill the sow. It got back to its feet and everything returned to normal.

For those times we get into situations where we don’t have time for reminiscing, we have to find another way. About a year or so ago, I was trying to figure out how to block the thoughts that were attacking me in the morning as I was getting ready for work. You know, stupid stuff that someone said or did that made me feel bad or made me mad. I made that my prayer concern and in no time a song came to mind. June Carter Cash’s Keep On The Sunny Side. I love music that has the old sound to it, so this just fits. I can’t remember anything but the chorus. You can search YouTube to hear her and Johnny sing it.

I found the chorus online:

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side

Keep on the sunny side of life

It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way

If we keep on the sunny side of life.

Throughout my life, I encountered people who whistle and they seem to be joyful people. This is sort of the same thing. Soon, singing this chorus to myself has become a great habit and helps me to be more joyful. I’ve noticed that I have a better handle on situations than I’ve ever had.  God’s grace is amazing!

***

In honor of Johnny and June and what June’s song has done in my life, I want to tell you about Johnny’s restored home in Dyess. It is a glimpse into another time with its unpainted wooden walls, antique furniture and its magic mirror! You have to go to experience the mirror!

Johnny’s daddy, Ray, brought his family to Dyess in 1935 during President Roosevelt’s administration.

The Cash family received  20 acres of fertile bottomland with a five-room house, all with no money down. The house appeared in the movie, “I Walk The Line,” and is now owned by Arkansas State University.
Tickets are available at the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home Visitor Center located at 110 Center Street in Dyess with tours held from 9 am to 3 pm. You can either ride their bus or follow behind as you make your way through the backroads to reach the house.

Go out and make some great memories to replace those old cantankerous ones that don’t want to leave without some coaxing and remember to keep on the sunny side!

You can reach Brenda at  brendastuddardclark@gmail.com

Printed February 19, 2018, in the El Dorado News-Times

This time of year we tend to be more shut up than normal and sometimes we find ourselves in a bit of a funk and joy seems unattainable.  Sometimes our “happy” abandons us, especially when we deal with sickness or money problems.

So how do we keep from dropping off into the blues? Thanking God for that very moment is a great first step. Then whip out that cell phone, tablet or laptop and start searching for funny videos.

Seriously, laughter is the best medicine and we’ve been told that a billion times in a billion ways. YouTube is quite a gift when used to bring joy to the world. But we have to make a conscious decision to look for the funny.

Laughter has always been a part of my family life and I am grateful for that. In 1986 my Aunt Lillie Mae suffered a brain aneurysm and was hospitalized in ICU for three weeks before she passed away. Before the worst hit, we were only allowed to see her for a few minutes and only two at a time. Her daughter-in-law and I went together. Aunt Lill was a character; so we told her jokes, made fun of her, each other and the people in the waiting room. She couldn’t speak, but her eyes would light up and her face would crinkle. It was working. We were getting a response!

It was wonderful to be a part of how laughter touched her at such a bleak time. It is a time I’ve depended on, repeated to all who would listen, and still cling to because I know she enjoyed those moments before she slipped away.

It wasn’t until a couple of years back that I realized that sometimes laughter has to be a conscious decision because situations, people, and politics can drive you crazy.

Making a conscious decision means deliberately searching to find the funny.

Making a conscious decision to find joy means finding those people we just naturally laugh with and hanging on to them.

Making a conscious decision to interrupt the funk means stepping out of the norm; changing our perspective.

Once we learn to consciously look for the funny, it gets easier to find. The YouTube subscription button comes in handy. Facebook can be another place to find your kind of humor. But wherever you find your funny, be sure to take it with you.

Where should we go after being so cooped up? Well if we don’t want to take a walk around the neighborhood, or down the road, we can head to the South Arkansas Arboretum in El Dorado, located at 501 S Timberlane Dr, next to the old high school.

There is also shopping on the square and walking around the arts district. Take in a movie or pick out an antique store. Check out goeldorado.com for places to visit. Who knows, once we start laughing, there is no telling where we may end up!

PS. If you are sick though, stay home and Google your funny.  Won’t anybody be laughing if you show up with the flu!

 Printed February 11, 2018, in the El Dorado News-Times

As native Arkansan and former newspaper owner/publisher/editor, it is a joy to be given my own little spot to write about our Arkansas. I am aware that we have some ways to go in some areas, but that is not what this little spot is about. This little spot is about finding happiness, peace, and joy in our little state, in our own little worlds.

How did I become a former newspaper person? I got really fed up with politics and realized that I was mad at the world because of what I had seen politicians do during the nearly 20 years I was at the helm of the little weekly paper.   Once I realized I was so unhappy, I begged God, “If you want me to be that sweet little lady that I know you want me to be, you are going to have to find me a job.” He did and I started my journey back to happiness.

In the two and half years I’ve been out of the newspaper business, I’ve finally gotten rid of the chip on my shoulder and have started caring about people again. It feels great! Now I am not going to pretend to be something I am not, and I am probably always going to call it like I see it, but with God’s grace, I have found a better way to look at things.  It helps not being broke all of the time too. Business owners are sometimes at the mercy of their slow, or no-pay, customers.

But God is bigger than all of that and once I was willing to let go, he got me out of that misery.  I’ve relearned to look at what God has given me and through His grace, I’ve relearned to be thankful. I’ve relearned how to laugh, relearned to not judge others and learned to just let go and let God. And I am loving every minute of it!!!

Speaking of loving, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday share the same date on the calendar this year. Won’t it be great seeing all of the sweethearts that celebrate both days smiling and giggling in restaurants all over south Arkansas, sporting those wonderful little smudge marks on their foreheads?  It will just be grand!

In case you are not sure what Lent is, it is the first day of the penitent season before Easter and is celebrated in churches with liturgical calendars, or set of rituals and observances, including Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans and some Protestants. It is a time of repentance before Easter. A time to reassess our life with God.  You might say it offers a fresh start.

Fresh starts are gifts. This new column is a gift for me and I plan to use it to spread happiness and joy as gifts to others seeking such. Oh, and to brag on Arkansas!

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