God’s Will

“This is God’s will.”

The words carry such weight, such strength, such power. Sometimes they are spoken from the desire to comfort, sometimes from the urge to afflict. Sometimes they soothe the spirit, ease the aching heart. Sometimes they provoke contrition, submission and acceptance. Sometimes they provoke anger, hurt or resentment.

When we contemplate good and pleasant circumstances it is easy to believe that God has smiled upon us. Never mind that a few million other people in the same general area of the world were not so smiled upon; we were, God is good and this is just fine with us. Turn the circumstances around so that we become the Left Out or the Unchosen and the smiles are a mite harder to come by for a while.

I once heard a man “testify” in church in Kansas, praising God because his vacation home garage on the Texas coast had been spared by a hurricane. He didn’t say one word about the several hundred Mexicans who were killed by the same hurricane a couple hundred miles farther south on the same coast. His garage was still standing, God is good and this was just fine with him.

I know and believe that nothing happens in this world that God does not allow to happen. So, I guess in some sense, we can say that everything that happens is his will. Factor in human choice and circumstance, though, and the whole blame and credit thing changes rather dramatically. Jesus himself said that some things happen by chance. Carefully re-read his telling of the Story of the Good Samaritan; you’ll see.

I believe in God’s intimate familiarity with every detail of my life but I don’t believe that he’s such a busybody that he has to choose what pair of socks I’m going to wear today. It’s okay with me if that’s what you believe but I suspect that if that’s the case, you might occasionally be inclined to use God as your scapegoat, too. Pretty easy to blame our bad choices on his divine providence. Pretty easy to excuse ourselves from any sense of responsibility or compassion once we realize that poverty and sickness are God’s will… for other people.

I believe in submission even though I struggle with it. I know that God’s ways are not my ways and that his wisdom is far beyond mine. I know that I can neither comprehend nor explain him. I know that life is not fair and I give thanks for that every day. If it was, I would have been dead and reserved for hell long ago.

I will accept his will but I will not use it as a dodge for my bad choices. I will teach that we should all submit to his will and I will pray devoutly for wisdom to determine what his will is for my life. And along the way, I will try to pattern my choosings after the teachings of his Son. I am quite convinced that my imperfect attempts to imitate his perfection will be far more pleasant and productive than would be the alternatives.

H. Arnett

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The Evidence of Experience

When smiles are true
and the greeting of hand-to-hand
is sincere and genuine,
when heads bow in common seeking
and prayers spoken
are quiet and humble,
when hands are lifted in reverent joy
and voices join in celebration of devotion,
when hearts rejoice
in the Divine Presence
and spirits resonate
in an inexplicable harmony,
when the message spoken
brings hope and healing
and faith rises up
through the ceiling of the soul,

then we know
that we have worshipped
and that it is the Unseen
that is much more real
than anything we have ever touched.

H. Arnett

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True Grit

In the dim dawn and thin fog, I can barely see the shape of the hills beyond Peter’s Creek. Against the annoying glare of the billboard by Fleek’s Market, the silhouettes of scrub oak stand out in this muted morning as I walk through the grass past the birches and over to the round pen. I find by feel the halter and lead rope hanging just inside the door of the darkened shed. The gelding comes to me and lowers his head.

I lead him out of the pen, through the wet fescue and across the gravel lane. He walks along, staying with me so well that the rope hangs loosely the whole way. Just inside the gate, he pivots his rear end away from me, just the way Randa has trained him to do. I remove the halter and hang it on the post as he turns toward the tender grass at the low end of the pasture.

Walking back up the gravel toward the house, I remember the first time that Randa drove off alone, hauling the horse trailer. It’s the stuff Silverado ads are made of, I suppose. Black, crew cab Chevy Z-71. Ranch woman at the wheel, in jeans with her slightly bent cowboy hat, her looking out the window of the truck and horse staring out the window of the trailer as it rattles along the gravel. Camera pulls back over my shoulder as I’m watching her pause at the end of the driveway, then she pulls out, heading west.

It was at once exhilarating and terrifying.

The exhilarating part was from being so proud of her, her confidence, her willingness to step out of the shadows. Proud of her for not being afraid to drive off alone, driving a truck and hauling a trailer. Proud of myself, too, for not being too egotistical or too controlling. Encouraging rather than resenting. Satisfying, too, for knowing this was another landmark in me fulfilling a vow I’d made to myself before we married that one day I would see her reunited with her love of riding horses. It had taken me over twenty years, but I’d kept that vow and I see it celebrated in her eyes and in the smile in her voice every time she touches or talks about her horse.

The terrifying part was realizing that she didn’t need me to chauffer her around, didn’t need me in order to be able to load up her horse and take him anywhere she wanted to go. She didn’t need me in order to enjoy what she loved doing.

But even in that, there is mutual liberation. She is free to go and I am free to do other things. Instead of resenting her ability, I choose to celebrate it. I think there are a lot of men who would actually find their own lives more fulfilling if they would figure out how to take pleasure in what a woman can do instead of figuring out more ways of keeping her from doing it. A man who takes more pride in what his wife can do than he takes in what he can keep her from doing is more likely to have a longer life and to enjoy it more. And, just to be sure I make everybody mad, there are probably a few women who would enjoy their lives more if they didn’t spend quite so much time being furious about everything they’re not allowed to do or be or become and instead focused on their opportunities.

My mom spent pretty much her whole life being controlled. First by her parents, then by her husband and in her last years by court-appointed guardians. She was highly intelligent, extremely resourceful and talented. She could have been an engineer, an attorney, a college professor or any of a number of other challenging and fulfilling things. What she ended up being was an extremely skilled homemaker and farm wife in just about the broadest possible definition of those terms. And though she was always frustrated by the external controls, she focused most of her energy on excelling at what she was able to do. I’m not sure Dad was very good at giving her praise for what she did, but I do know that he took pleasure in telling other people about the time Ruby drove the two-ton truck into town to do her laundry and pick up a load of concrete blocks for him.

And I take pleasure in telling people about how Randa will be loading up her horse this afternoon and heading off to a horse show and competition for the weekend. And in telling them how much she has accomplished in training her Rocky Mountain horse. Heck, I might get so carried away that I tell her how proud I am of her.

H. Arnett

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More Than “Brother Charlie’s Wife”

One month ago today I sat in the chapel at JH Churchill funeral home in Murray, KY beginning what would be the family’s final good-by to our 99 year-old mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. The service began with a song that my brother, Harold, had written for the occasion. He and his wife gave a superb performance. Following Harold’s greeting of the group that had gathered for the occasion, Mike Turbeville, a man, not of the cloth, but of the Book, presented his remarks. They were interrupted by his tears that conveyed a clear message of his love and respect for Mom.

His remarks and prayer were followed by congregational singing of three songs Mom had requested. Her grandson did an excellent job leading the songs that she loved. They were favorites of generations past, not his. This was followed by the remarks of the minister that our parents contacted many years ago to be the main speaker at each of their funerals. Bobby Gardner spoke of knowing our folks for over sixty years and repeated many of the remarks he had made at Dad’s funeral five years and three weeks ago. Bobby referred to Mom several times as “Brother Charlie’s wife” but she was more than the preacher’s wife and it was her life we were celebrating. She deserved recognition as her own person and she had some qualities that were particularly significant.

Mom was resourceful. I wanted a particular white dress for my graduation activities. Her miniscule budget would not cover it so she went to the department store on the south-east corner of the square in Elkton; looked it over carefully then went home and duplicated it without a pattern of any kind. When any toddler in her Bible class refused to sit still, she fashioned what she called a “seat belt” out of fabric and that eliminated the interruptions to her illustrated Bible stories.

Mom was a financial genius. Dad gave her $20.00 a month or a week, I don’t remember which, but neither would have been reasonable to feed and clothe a family of eight and to the best of my knowledge, the amount never increased through the years. We never went hungry but some of our clothes were very creative and she made them herself on a treadle sewing machine. She also demonstrated her ability to manage money as the chief cook in the Mayfield, KY school system. That responsibility was a source of pride for her and she took it seriously.

She demonstrated her confidence in her ability to handle financial issues at a new height less than twenty years ago. Dad had emergency surgery for a previously undetected brain injury that occurred when he made a left-hand turn into the path of an oncoming vehicle, totaling their sedan. While he was recovering, Mom asked her younger sister to go with her to Taylor Motors in Murray and Mom bought herself a car. As she explained to Dad, getting in and out of his pick-up was difficult for a woman of her age and stature. Mom loved that Chevy Lumina longer than she owned it.

Mom was a survivor. She had that “Just do it” attitude long before Nike made the phrase a household word. Her independent attitude was frustrated by having lived under the strict control of first her parents, then her husband, and later her son but nothing any of them did could extinguish it. It served her well as she faced the heartaches of motherhood including the death of her first-born less than twenty-four hours after his birth.

To her grandchildren and great-grand children, Granny was an iconic maker of donuts and served as mentor to several of them as they grew up sharing her kitchen. Her children also remember fried pies-apple, cinnamon, peach-whatever was available. The birthday cakes she made for her kids were either angel food or chiffon but she never failed to make one even after some of us left home. Sometimes they came in the mail with popcorn for packing. We ate that too! Homemade ice cream was also a staple at our house as were jam and coconut cakes. She had one of those for her 99th birthday party and she ate it with pleasure but without useful teeth.

Mom was a woman of grace. I remember the surprise birthday party the members of the Hatler’s Chapel congregation hosted several years ago at a small restaurant in Lynn Grove. It was pure pleasure watching her move from table to table greeting every guest individually. She was just as comfortable doing that as she was picking blackberries.

Mom treasured her solitude. People used to fret when Dad went on extended mission trips and left her home alone. She enjoyed those trips at least as much as Dad did. Having the house to herself meant she could stay up as late as she pleased and sleep in if she chose. There was no one banging around at 5 AM waking anyone who happened to be in the house!

Mom loved kids; her own and everyone else’s. Obviously when there were fewer of us, she had more time to play with us and she did. She made our favorite book, “The Yellow Cat with Purple Ears” come alive. She used her blue food coloring to make our cat Sunbeam’s ears purple. The cat wasn’t particularly happy with the transformation, but we were ecstatic. She played ball with us, taught us to play Chinese checkers, and made our favorite food for our birthdays. She may have been the original “motorcycle mama”. No one remembers when she took her first ride but it was the start of a life-long love affair with the bike. She wasn’t particular about who was driving and each of her four sons chauffeured her on whatever the current motorcycle happened to be. She was often ready and waiting for them to mount. This was entertainment at its finest and continued until she was in her mid-90’s. Mom never wore pants but she could whip a skirt around her legs to maintain her modesty like no one else I ever saw.

It seemed appropriate to close her service with the congregation singing, “Jesus Loves Me” and I’ve never heard it sung with more enthusiasm.

We’re going to miss her but knowing that the pain that was constantly part of her life is no longer forcing her to live on pain medication gives us peace and we know that we’ll have an opportunity to see her again in her new body that is not distorted with arthritis. So good-by for now, Mom. You’re still the best!

Freeda Arnett Holladay


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Fresh in the Pan

Last night as we were crossing the river headed back home from Saint Joe, we had a quite pleasant and completely unexpected little surprise. “Little” is an important word here, folks; it wasn’t anything big or consequential, just a nice little bit of serendipity as it were.

Normally, when we drive through that section where Kansas bullnoses into Missouri and the river wraps around, there is some sort of foul odor. There are several potential culprits that lie toward the south end of the city: packing plant, leather processing plant, water treatment and a few other industrial operations that share their offensive odors with the world.

The city of Saint Joseph brought in the EPA several years ago, convinced that one of those operations was responsible not only for bad odors but for contaminating our pristine environment in more tangible ways as well. After an extensive investigation, complete with sophisticated analyses of various types, the EPA made its conclusions. Most interesting among those was that the city itself was guilty of violating EPA standards. That finding was accompanied by a fine of twenty thousand dollars or more, if memory serves me correctly.

On last night’s little deal, I am quite confident that my memory is completely accurate. I’m not quite as sure about my olfactory capabilities, though.

The scent that came into the car as we drove across the Pony Express Bridge last night was not the usual smell of chemical processing, biological by-product or some other such unpleasant encounter. Instead, it was the comforting and enticing smell of fresh bread baking. I’m not aware of a bakery in or even near that stretch of highway but that was the smell: a wonderful, pleasing, soothing aroma.

The experience reminded me of the delightful offerings of kindness, compassion and courtesy that rise up from the lives of those who have chosen the better nature, who walk by the Spirit and who take to heart that it is better to give than to receive. Even in our smallest behaviors, in our constant choices of interaction, it would be good for us to strive to be the aroma of fresh bread baking in this world of loss and hardship.

H. Arnett

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The Right Stuff

The idea seemed so brilliant at the time I could barely contain myself. With a minimum of effort, I would improve the thermal efficiency of the bedroom and provide a slight bit of soundproofing as well. What a great idea!

Okay, here’s the background.

As part of the remodeling, I carefully pried off the wooden trim around the three windows that make up the big bay window on the north wall. As I expected, the old cast iron window weights had been left in the narrow cavities on each side of each window and there was no insulation. As I did not at all expect, the plaster on each side had been extended all the way to the window frame. Enter my “Gee, I’m so smart!” moment.

Instead of cutting a five-foot strip of plaster and lath down along each side of each window to provide access for installing fiberglass insulation, I decided to bore a series of holes and use that access to shoot in foam insulation. The kind of foam insulation that comes in a can and expands somewhere between three and thirty times its volume. I bought the kind that is engineered specifically for doors and windows; the other kind will push boards right off the wall, or bend the window frame, if it doesn’t have enough room to expand. The brand I’ve used most often is Great Stuff. (Perfect name, don’t you think?) Given my keen sense of estimation which is almost never wrong by a factor greater than ten, I figured one can would do one window. Three windows, three cans. “Ahh, go ahead and get an extra one, so you have plenty,” I told myself. So I did.

Back home from Lowes on Saturday afternoon and eager to impress myself, I started in. I shook the first can vigorously, removed the cap, attached the flex tube and started shooting it into the first hole near the bottom on the left side of the first window. When that space was pretty well filled, I moved up to the next hole and continued. I left about eighteen inches of open space at the top, figuring the foam would expand up into that clear space. I used an entire can on the first space. I’d emptied the fourth can and hadn’t even started on the third window.

About the time I made that discovery, I looked back to admire my work at the first window. A tube of expanding foam had popped out of the first hole and was dripping down off the windowsill onto the floor. “Aaagghh!” I believe works as a sufficient paraphrase of my reaction. Then I saw a similar eruption beginning at the second hole. And the third hole… Within a couple of minutes, expanding columns of yellow foam were protruding from every hole. All twelve of them.

One important note here is that this uncured foam is as sticky as Super Glue. Anything it touches is going to have foam on it until it is scraped, sanded or otherwise abraded from the surface. That is especially true of skin.

I grabbed a small piece of scrap wood and started scraping off the spouting stuff and wiping it into the big garbage can. By the time I made one round, there was more coming out of the first hole. So I made another round. Soon, my right index finger was fairly covered with foam residue. I got another piece of scrap and started in on the third round. For the fourth round, I got a longer piece of scrap but still managed to get some on my middle finger. Somewhere around the eighth or ninth round, it seemed that things were slowing down a bit. If I could have put all the extra foam into the wall space, I would have had more than enough to finish all three windows.

Instead, I had enough foam to cover a scrap piece of drywall and the top of every can, block and wad of paper in the top of the big garbage can. I spent an hour dealing with this mess. The room was starting to look like a cross between a Dr. Suess book and a horror film. I took a break and came back fifteen minutes later and scraped off yet another set of foam stems sagging out of the holes alongside each window.

Finally, it appeared that the extrusion process was subsiding so I went back downstairs and watched part of a football game. When I came back an hour later, a dozen bright yellow sausages greeted me. Every one of them was pretty well fully cured and tough as an old piece of leather.

I can’t wait until my next bright idea gives me another much-needed dose of humility. There’s hardly any time more ripe for regret than those times when we think we know more than we know.

H. Arnett


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A Soothing Comfort

The strip along the flat of the highway
where the neighbor cut hay two weeks ago
shows yellow in the low light of this damp dawning.
In the pasture between the road and the creek,
the deeper green of dew-drenched fescue
spreads between the fences.

Hardwoods bulge above the bluff,
a rounded mound of elm and oak
beyond the cottonwoods and sycamores
that line the winding of the stream
along the seam of limestone cuts,
hard juts of ragged edges above the smooth stones
that bed the ebbing run toward the river.

Halfway to the top of the hill,
bridging across the pale gravel
between the woods on either side
of Randolph Road,
a single seam of mist hangs
its thin gray form in this gentle morning,

like a tender touch laid upon your arm
in the quiet of a funeral home,
a soft voice speaking peace
through the gloam of sadness,
love breaching the gaps
between life’s rough branches,
cushioning the feel of harsh stone
against bare flesh.

H. Arnett

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