Hidden Treasures

It’s the last house
before you pass the city limit sign,
on the opposite side from the water tower
and the same side as the grain elevators,
giant circular slabs of weathered concrete
marking the crow’s distance
between prairie towns with other houses like this.

Furrows of paint mark the grain
of pine planks and peel from the eaves,
last year’s leaves rot in the gutters
and the vinyl shutters have faded
into some color between green and blue.

In what was once a gravel driveway,
a minivan sits, covered with dust
and racked with rust around the edges
of wheel wells and the space beneath
the sliding door.

Between the drive and the front porch,
several plastic toys fade in the sun and grass.

Just past the edge of the mowing,
a big blue trampoline stands in the shade
of a huge oak tree.
Weeds and orchard grass grow up
through the spaces of black line lacing the edge
to the metal frame.

Twenty feet away,
from the lowest, largest branch,
an old tire hangs down,
crabgrass covering the old paths
of small feet dragging the ground beneath.
The rope is faded but unfrayed,
still strong enough to carry the weight
of children on the couch,
eyes riveted to high-def pixels

while their parents smoke in the kitchen,
oblivious to how much that has held their lives
will never catch the eyes of their children.

H. Arnett
7/31/14

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Family, Metaphysical Reflection, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Young People These Days

My friend and colleague, B. J. Smith, is teaching a Lifetime Fitness class in our Summer Blitz program. He snagged one of our personal trainers, Tom Martin, and me on Monday. “What are you doing for the next couple of days, during the day?” he asked. I figured there was a lunch invitation on the way so I replied that I had a pretty open schedule. “I have a meeting with the academic VP on Tuesday morning; other than that I’m free.” Frankly, I was pretty pumped about the idea of a free lunch.

“I want you guys to speak with my Lifetime Fitness students. You know, talk to them about what “lifetime fitness” means to old people.”

Okay, he didn’t actually use the term “old people” but I knew that’s what he was getting at. Tom is only three years younger than me and in forty years better shape than I am. He rides a bike for a couple hundred miles and then works out. I can ride a bicycle, too, and I’ve probably ridden for a couple hundred miles in my whole life. Whatever the qualifications B. J. had in mind when he selected us, we agreed to represent senior citizens at the Lifetime Fitness class yesterday.

I admit I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, as anyone who knows me at all knows about me, I love to talk about stuff. Whether I know anything about it or not. And the chance to talk about mud runs and workouts, well that was just downright appealing.

On the other hand, I’ve taught Summer Blitz classes. I’ve also taught other classes whose enrollment primarily consists of freshmen athletes. A lot of those students have all the academic inclination and enthusiasm of a tanned otter hide. Actually, when it comes to enthusiasm for classroom learning, I’d have to give the extinguished otter a slight edge. At least it can usually keep its eyes open for most of the class period and it never tries texting during a class discussion or test.

I admit there have been notable exceptions. Two of the best students I ever had were football players at Highland. The other forty were not. Superficial social stereotypes notwithstanding, Tom and I showed up at the classroom at the Wellness Center yesterday at one, per B. J.’s instructions.

We spent the next hour-and-a-half having one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had with college students. They asked some very thoughtful questions and seemed genuinely interested in our responses. Tom made several excellent points about nutrition, determination, competitiveness and not letting ego and machismo in workout routines lead to longtime injuries. “Most problems with your body for athletes in middle-age are not because of something you just did; they’re because of little things you did over and over twenty years earlier.”

I’ll admit that there were a couple of students who seemed to make a deliberate show of how sleepy and disinterested they were. I’m pretty sure they’re football players. But the other twenty were shining examples of courtesy, respect and engagement. Apparently, there are still parents in this country who don’t just spawn their young and wait for them to hatch out and make their way downstream. There are teachers in our public schools who still insist that students pay attention, demonstrate respect and at least pretend to listen to classroom guests. These parents and teachers still teach and work to instill the same principles that raised people as old as Tom and me. That seems to be working out okay so far; I think this country might make it another generation or two.

H. Arnett
7/30/14

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The Carpenter’s Craft

A week of unseasonably mild weather
right when July wilts into August,
the worship song that unlocks every barrier
in your brain and makes you feel
close to God again,
the taste of the season’s first fresh tomato,
the sibling who is always willing
and usually able to do what needs to be done,
an eloquent encouragement
from a friend whose sincerity
is beyond suspicion,
an old photograph of you
and someone you love
in one of your favorite moments,
a quote you come across
that seems to have been written
for that particular time,
an unexpected friend who finds you
in the parking lot before loading the groceries,
a little while spent outdoors
in the cool of evening air with chairs turned
facing one another,
sensing the speaking of the Spirit
in the midst of some mind-jangling perplexion.

Connections such as these
and ten thousand others
lay soothing touch upon the needing heart,
like gentle rain on parched earth,
the Son of Man still moving
among miles of sinners aching in the shadows
of stone streets, brown fields and brick tenements.

H. Arnett
7/29/14

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Shining in the Mud

My thirty-something friend, Luke, warned me that he has a weak ankle but I managed to get him to agree to run a challenge course with me last Saturday, anyway. He’d also had a severe bout with a viral infection at the end of June but he didn’t mention that. As we were doing our finally prep for the start of Conquer the Gauntlet at Grain Valley (MO) on Saturday morning, I realized I had not taken his warning about the gimpy joint as seriously as was warranted. Instead of wearing running shoes, Luke started pulling on hiking boots to give some support and protection to his ankles. That’s when I saw the heavy black leather brace on his left ankle. “Man, you were serious about that ankle problem,” I confessed, “I didn’t realize it was that bad.” Then I realized something else. “You’re going to start out carrying an extra five pounds with those boots… and after the first mud pit it’ll be an extra fifteen!”

Fortunately for both of us, the only hills in the four-mile course laid out at Valley Speedway were small man-made ones in the motocross segment and a few other random lumps. There were the steep slippery banks of the two creek crossings that were so steep we used ropes for going down and coming up out of the creek. Those were challenging but they were not the biggest challenges for us.

I’ve run seven or eight Warrior Dashes as well as a Rugged Maniacs, Ruckus and a couple of other non-series events. In all of those races, I’ve never encountered an obstacle I couldn’t complete. I found several Saturday that I couldn’t have done without help and a couple that I just couldn’t do.

The first mud pit required a combination of help at the bottom and at the top for all of the twenty-five or so runners in our group, including the young super-athletic ones. The walls were too slick and too tall. The bell ringer, requiring a ten-foot pull up a vertical rope was too much for all but the elite. I am not elite. But then, I’m not always proud, either. I made it up with a little help.

But there were two for which I didn’t have nearly enough grip and upper body strength. The first was the ring swing, a series of ring grips on the end of short rope sections, suspended above a twenty-foot-long pool of water. Thanks to the folks in front of us, the rings were smeared with mud and water. Well, at least the first one was; that was the only one I touched. I gripped it for a few seconds with my entire body weight hanging from one slippery hand. I waded out of the pool shortly thereafter.

Luke is a lot stronger than I am. He made it to the fourth ring on his first and second efforts. He chose the water route after his third effort. Only one person out of our group made it all the way. He looked like the kind of guy who could hang on to a muddy ring. All day long, if necessary. He was built like a cross between Bruce Lee and Rocky Stallone. I’m more like a mix of Jimmy Stewart and Betty White.

By climbing over Luke and whomever else was willing to help, I made it over the series of five ten-foot high vertical walls. Somehow, I managed to swing my way across the gabled monkey bars mounted over the forty-foot long pool of water. It didn’t help that the bars could spin in place.

The only easy obstacle was the first one, a two-foot high bar. After that, nothing was easy. They all were challenging, whether because of the strength needed, the agility necessary or the complete lack of friction available. The last of the twenty-five was the toughest.

Imagine a stepladder twenty-two feet tall with flat two-by-eights for steps. Imagine this ladder set up so that it spans a pool of water six feet deep and ten feet wide. Now imagine that you have to climb this ladder, from the inside. Without using your feet. You have to grip the broad flat surface of the steps and pull yourself up from one to the other, then turn a hundred-and-eighty degrees, grip the top step on the opposite side and work your way back down. It was already getting hot by nine-thirty Saturday morning. The water felt great.

I love doing these mud run challenge courses. I like that it’s not something you expect a sixty-year-old to even try, much less accomplish. There is satisfaction in succeeding at something difficult. But I also feel young again, like a kid playing in the outdoors, climbing, running, jumping, doing things I did fifty years ago, or things I would have loved to do if I’d had the opportunity. I like the camaraderie of strangers in the mud, helping one another do what none of them can do alone. I also like, strangely, facing the fact that there are things I cannot do but trying to do them anyway. And I love the inspiration of a friend who will go out on a hot July morning and stay the course in spite of a bad ankle and being severely sick less than a month earlier.

I’d love to take my whole church on a mud run. I actually think that would be a lot closer to being what a church is supposed to be than most of the things churches usually do. Not being afraid of the mess or the muck. Dipping down and helping one another through the tough stretches. Helping each other face our fears and overcome them. Recognizing that no matter how nicely we dress, life’s going to be messy at some point or another. Knowing that none of us are good at everything and all of us are good at something. Using each others’ strengths to overcome our own weaknesses. Loving each other through all of it and at the end, never being too muddy or messy for a big ole celebration hug.

H. Arnett
7/28/14

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Exercise, Metaphysical Reflection, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beauty Harvest

Seeing some small shadow flit briefly by the window late last evening, I remembered seeing a couple of hummingbird moths by the honeysuckle vine back in early June. Decided I’d go take a look while Randa and Jaylon finished eating their supper. Sometimes a bit of a head start on one thing opens up opportunities on another.

Even with my head start, it was already dark enough that I couldn’t tell much about colors outside. Shapes were still clear but not the details of color so much. I know the hibiscus blooms are a light red, almost pink color and the roses are a dark red. The honeysuckle vine that Randa planted two years ago has climbed its way to the top of the black metal trellis that sets right against the white siding of the house. From there, it has formed a thick heavy clump with some vine ends sending their tips toward earth in graceful curves that swayed a bit in the light breeze. Its slender trumpet blooms are yellow at their base, transitioning to a deep red at the opening. And last night, it was those openings that seemed to create a small Eden for a few unfallen angels.

At least five hummingbird moths dipped, darted and hovered about the honeysuckle, moving from bloom to bloom. The wind from their wings shimmered the leaves as they flew from sip to sip. The largest ones looked about four inches long with a wingspan neighboring on six inches. In the dusk, I could not tell much about their coloring but did notice that two of the smallest ones had striped abdomens. Occasionally, one of the moths would move along the row of roses and then make a quick circle of the hibiscus. Most of the time, though, all five of the creatures made their business about the honeysuckle vine.

At the time she planted it, I thought that Randa was setting the honeysuckle simply for the sake of the pleasure we would take in seeing its blooms and smelling their fragrance. Of course, it would not be even slightly unlike her to be thinking a lot more than she was saying. We’re kind of opposite in that way; I tend to say a lot more than I think.

Personalities to the side for the moment, it was clear that we have gained more from having beauty near than what I suspected or expected. We’ve also seen a hummingbird or two checking out the same blooms of honeysuckle and hibiscus and the roses, too. From what I can tell, deliberately putting some beauty into your life often draws other beauty as well.

Having never even heard of hummingbird moths until four years ago and having only seen two or three in my whole life, I find them fascinating. Standing there in the coming darkness, I felt like a little kid seeing his first dragonfly land on the end of his fishing rod.

H. Arnett
7/25/14

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Gardening, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Morning Chores

I walk out into this morning’s cool
to water the tomatoes in the huge planter,
notice the few spider webs
silver with dew in the grass
out past the patio.

I know that my shoes will be soaked
in the short walk to the horse pen
but I head over while the bucket
fills slowly from the spigot by the garage.

I rub the gelding’s head for a moment
but he is not interested in being petted
at this particular time.
I climb back over the fence,
see sand stuck to the wet of my shoes;
it is gone by the time I cross the lawn again.

I finish filling the bucket,
water the tomatoes,
the hibiscus and purple-heart,
a few other planters
that Randa started a month ago.

We know that some beauty
comes with duty in the hot months,
that things held close
sometimes take the most caring,
that sharing tasks
should not always rely on reason of being asked,
and that appreciation is always in season.

H. Arnett
7/24/14

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Gardening, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetry, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Short Circuiting the Golden Rule

Over my years of remodeling, I’ve occasionally found interesting objects behind quarter-round and baseboard. Usually it’s just junk like paper clips and hair pins but I once found a title for a 1943 Ford pickup truck. Another time I found a half-dime from 1863 or 1868. I haven’t been able to tell for sure which year it is. If it’s one year, it’s supposedly worth about ten or fifteen dollars. If it’s the other, it’s worth about ten times that much.

That’s the closest I’ve come to finding anything behind or underneath the floor trim that could make me rich. What I found this weekend came mighty close to making me angry enough to want to hurt someone.

While remodeling what will become the master bedroom upstairs, I pulled off a piece of the wide baseboard that runs throughout this house. It had covered the point of entry for a live electrical wire. The wire then ran beneath the baseboard and behind the quarter round for a few feet, turned two forty-five degree corners at the left side of the bay window wall and then continued to the outlet on the north wall, beneath the wood and tile apron for the whirlpool tub.

There was no protective conduit, no label, no warning, no indication. Nothing at all to have kept a carpet installer from slicing into the wire with a carpet knife. Nothing at all to have kept a carpenter from driving nails into it while installing or replacing quarter round after the carpet installation. Nothing at all to have kept a remodeler from driving a pry bar into it while removing baseboard or quarter-round.

Even if we forget about the potential shock, the very rare possibility of electrocution and the very real possibility of fire hazard, this thing should never have been done. Simple courtesy precludes it. It’s rude. It’s inconsiderate. And, remembering what we just agreed to forget, it’s dangerous. I’ve never met a homeowner who wanted dangerous wiring in her house. Never met a person who actually desired this kind of surprise.

Yet, I’m suspicious that the homeowner at the time of this sin was probably complicit in it. To save the extra hour of labor it would have taken to have done the installation in a safe and sane manner, he or she approved this. I’ll admit it’s possible that the electrician pulled off the quarter-round, ran the wire and then re-installed the quarter-round without telling the homeowner how the wiring had been done. It’s not likely but it’s possible. It’s also possible that, just like the present case, the installer and owner were one and the same. In either case, neither party observed the Electric Code or the Golden Rule.

And if the Golden Rule doesn’t govern how we install wiring and remodel houses, we probably aren’t wearing it out using it anywhere else, either. Remember folks, gold gets shinier the more you use it. That dullness comes from only talking about it.

H. Arnett
7/23/14

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Metaphysical Reflection, Remodeling/Construction, Spiritual Contemplation, Work | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment