Above the Stench, Beyond the Sting

I guess there is no shortage of ways that bad things can happen to people. First of all, there are the seemingly countless things that humans can inflict on one another; I don’t want to even list examples. Then there are our own bad choices that can set our lives on fire. Add to that the plethora of potential natural disasters and one begins to get the idea that our existence in this world is subject to alteration at any given time.

I’d have to say that having your home swallowed by a sinkhole would not a desired experience. Neither is having it flattened by a tornado. But I think flood damage carries a particular sort of torture.

There is the surprise of the collected torrent of seven inches of rain in two hours that comes sweeping down the natural drainage areas and pushing in through broken windows and swirling through every possible opening. Even before that, though, there is that disgusting eruption of backed up sewage forced outward and upward by massive hydraulic pressure.

Even “clean” water ruins things. Books, photographs, linens, carpets, drywall, insulation, et cetera, ad infinitum. Memories, souvenirs, necessities and niceties are soiled and soured by the mix of sand and silt, mud and muck. Add the element of back-flushed sewage and you get a very special blend of something that sends you retching and makes even the sight of once-treasured keepsakes repulsive and afflictive.

Fire and tornado, wind and storm change the forms of things for which we have loved and labored. They are ripped away from us, turned to ash and dust. Floods, too, sometimes take things away. Lawn furniture, trampolines, toys, even entire houses may be swept away. But flooding also ruins the things that are left behind, a special sort of torture as we are forced to let go, to throw into the trash the items once treasured.

Even for those most attuned to the reality that nothing of this world can forever endure, there is loss and pain in all these ways of suffering life in a fallen world. But even in such a world we see and hear of the ageless acts of caring by others, the unbidden coming of strangers to endure with others the stench and stink, to shovel out the muck and help haul out the repulsive debris.

In the offering of ourselves to one another in such humility and determination in the aftermath of life’s cutting catastrophes, we show that though we are formed from dust, there is yet something divine in us. We are more than mud and made to rise above the swirl and stench of this world’s calamities. In the darkest of this world’s afflictions, there is yet Light that lives within us.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Nature, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Special Company

I walked out the door early Saturday morning and felt like I walked into another world. The air was fresh and cool, almost chilly. After a couple of months of heavy heat and high humidity, this was wonderful! I stood for a moment, looking around and taking it in like someone who hasn’t been allowed to go outside for some time. Our flowers perked brightly above their bed of cypress mulch. A heavy dew beaded the grass and the vehicles parked in the driveway. A shining stillness spread about me.

A bit later, Randa and I sat on the porch, taking bites of fresh-baked walnut-date waffles and sipping coffee. We talked for a bit, lingering in that refreshing coolness before starting our two-hundred-and-fifty mile drive up to Doniphan County.

It takes a while for that first fresh coolness of an August morning to come around. It’s hard to put it on the calendar and plan around it. It helps, though, if you’re watchful for it and willing to pause for a bit. It’s the pausing that most of us miss; it doesn’t matter how often the opportunity comes if we can’t suspend our busyness for a bit.

In that regard, it’s not all that different from the refreshing of the Spirit. That’s not something we can spritz on as we bustle about getting ready for work. It’s not a thing to be brushed on in the mirror at the traffic light. Even as good as it is to give thanks before each meal, that alone will not yield the renewal that replenishes our minds and hearts and spirits.

For that we have to quit treating the Spirit as a casual acquaintance we see from time to time on the bus line or a colleague we greet in passing down the hallway. He is not the guy in the pickup truck over at the next pump or the cashier at the Quik Pik. If we want the lifting of his good work in us, if we want the refreshing renewal that fills us with grace and power and light and love, then we must quit treating him with casual indifference.

We must treat him as the Heavenly Guest; pull up a chair and sit for a while, as eager to listen as we are to speak.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Prayer, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Faith and Action

Sometimes they rant, sometimes they cry, sometimes they simply sit with frozen faces, deliberately keeping away all traces of emotion. Even that, at some point, becomes emotion. What they all share is the frustration of distance between what seems to be reality and the situation as they desire it to be.

The disciples and more casual followers of Christ sometimes came to him with similar situations: Why can’t I be the one at your right hand? Why does he always get to sit next to you? Where’s my kingdom? Make my brother divide his inheritance with me! We’re hungry!

Whether from faith or frustration, all of these people felt that their situation should be different and that Jesus had the power to make it different.

In some cases, it’s casual selfishness. In some it’s a keen awareness of repeated injustice. In some it’s the inevitable collision of physical and other needs in a non-distributed world. What seems to be a key difference among the sufferers lies in the area of hope and action. Some ingrain their resentment and begin to close their doors around them. Some spread their misery. Some withdraw into deep despondency. Others lash out, sometimes against the perceived cause or perpetrator and sometimes at whomever or whatever is convenient.

The overcomers, though, take ownership and action. They talk face-to-face with the other party. They propose and pursue solutions. They accept the limitations of the current situation but do not believe in its permanence. They change their attitude or their circumstances, or both. They find common ground and make that their foundation for pursuing the future with others.

They pray for miracles and work their way forward, one small step at a time. When the crowd is too tall and too large, they climb a tree. When there is no crowd, they find a quiet place and pray for wisdom and courage. They cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They try something different rather than expecting the world to change its rules for them.

Sometimes, they skip a meal so someone else can eat. They bring their weakness to those who are strong, giving and gaining in their relationships. They forgive, they choose service, they act with bold hope, they endure.

And as long as we endure, there will always be hope.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunny Side Up

It is not always easy
to find the time or the inclination of mind
to focus on the beauty that is formed
in the world around us.

Sometimes it seems more natural
to be drawn into the swirl and swallow
of the wallowing in the muck
even when it should disgust us.

I’ve heard that “misery loves company”
but I’ve also noticed
that neither host nor guest
seems any better for all the sharing.

I’ve noticed, too,
there’s not a lot of fun
to be remembered
while you’re cleaning up after a pity party.

It does not come natural to me
to see the good in a bad situation,
but I do know that whether
the glass is half-full or half-empty

you can usually get a refill
if you ask politely.

H. Arnett

Posted in Humor, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons from the Past

Twenty years ago this month, I began working as principal at an alternative school in the heart of Kentucky’s Bluegrass region. In those seven years, we only had one or two students that ever made me wary regarding my physical welfare. We had a few with genuine psychological issues. Mostly, what we dealt with was immaturity and frustration. Clear, consistent boundaries combined with sincere respect and compassion go a long way in dealing with troubled youth and much of the remaining population.

Start pushing people into corners and embarrassing them in front of their friends, though, and you’ll usually end up with what you deserve: a fight on your hands. It’s bad enough when your insecurities disrupt your own classroom. When they disrupt a small school and everyone else has to deal with it, that gets downright annoying.

I had one or two teachers who deliberately provoked students for their own amusement. Fortunately, most of our staff had greater maturity and compassion. They didn’t tolerate behavior that threatened others or disrupted learning but they were very patient with the quirks and quips of adolescents who vibrated between childhood and maturity.

Probably owing more to their efforts than mine, we graduated a good number of students and helped many others through those awkward transitions. We also improved the learning environment of our own students and in the classrooms of the other district classrooms. Given a little personal space, constant supportive direction and a place where their good efforts were noted and encouraged, most of our students accomplished more than even they believed possible.

I think that model works pretty well in the other alternative spaces of our lives. Accountability coupled with appreciation for people and leadership molded by integrity aren’t just good things; I think they’re downright godly. Might have to try them out in this job…

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, College, education, Higher Education, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation, Teaching, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stronger Than Drought

A billowing cloud of dust rises out and up
from beneath the deck of the mower
as I push across the nearly bare space
below the elm trees.

A scraggly growth of weeds and grass:
not enough for green
but enough to be unseemly
when left un-mowed for three weeks.

I would like to sow seed
but it would sear in the summer heat
here in the heart of the Tornado belt
where the sun could melt shingles.

The sowing will have to wait
for more gentle times
when what is tender can survive long enough
to grow the roots needed for thriving.

This is not the time of planting
but of tending to what could wilt
in this long dry season
when not every reason seems clear.

Too much attention to what is new
can cause us to lose what has grown for years—
and tears are not enough
to carry to carry a crop through the drought.

Even something strong as hope
needs feeding from time to time
and something as fickle as weather
favors the farmer who prays for wisdom

that is stronger than his own ambition.

H. Arnett

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

Today’s Menu of Choices

If today I focus on all the ways that things could go wrong, there’s a pretty good chance some of them will.
If today I focus on the strength and wisdom that God supplies, there’s a very good chance that things will go well.

If today I focus on the things that frustrate me, disappoint me, and bring me sadness, there’s a very good chance that I will be frustrated, disappointed and sad.
If today I focus on the things and people that make me feel rewarded, fulfilled and blessed, there’s an excellent chance that I will feel blessed, fulfilled and rewarded.

If today I blame others, criticize others and find fault with others, there’s an excellent chance that I will have a perfectly miserable day and spread my misery to others.
If today I choose responsibility for my own choices and actions, and tolerance, patience and encouragement for others, I will help make a good day.

If today I choose to walk in faith, look for and see the good that is around me, and share the grace that I seek and have been shown, I will reflect the Light that lives in me and be a blessing to others.

I believe that I will make a good day today.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment