Drifter at the Door

In the hot weather, I usually go over to our church building early on Sunday morning to get the AC going so the sanctuary temperature will be relatively comfortable by worship time. When I pulled up under the entrance canopy at six-thirty Sunday morning, I got a bit of a surprise: there was a body lying on the mat right outside the front doors.

Before my imagination could get too revved up, the body stirred. As I stepped out of the car, the man roused himself up, rubbed his eyes and got to his feet. He started folding up the lightweight long-sleeved shirt that was covering his torso when I’d arrived.

“I’m sorry, I was walking on the highway last night and my feet got to hurting so bad, I had to stop. I saw this church so I thought, ‘I’ll just spend the night there.’ Sorry.”

I looked at the thirty-something-year-old dude and thought he looked rather well groomed for a drifter. Just over six feet tall and with just a bit of a belly, his soft voice and gentle eyes put me at ease. “No problem,” I replied, “You need to use a bathroom?”

He responded quickly, “Yes, that’d be great,” and bent over to pick up what looked like an empty backpack. “Oh,” he said, sticking out his hand, “I’m Jamie.” I introduced myself and he followed me in and I led him back to the fellowship area. I showed him where the restroom was and then went on into the kitchen. I was happy to see a large supply of snacks for our Children’s Church program. I laid out a couple of packages of peanut butter crackers and poured him a cup of orange juice. “Hungry?” I asked, feeling pretty confident of a positive response.

Then I asked him, “Would you like to take a shower?”

His eyes widened and brightened, “Oh, man, I haven’t had a shower in…” he paused and then finished “… over a month.” So I showed him the towels and turned on the shower. We have an inline, on-demand water heater located about sixty feet away from the bathroom so it takes it a little while to begin delivering hot water.

Then I showed him to our small fellowship area near the front entrance, “There’s a couch there if you’d like to try and catch some more sleep. Won’t be anyone else here till about nine o’clock. You’re welcome to rest a while.”

“Thank you,” he replied with conviction and sincerity in his voice, “I really appreciate all of this.”

When I came back at nine, he was sleeping away, clean bare feet hanging off the edge of the couch. It was the best use that room had gotten in quite some time. I came back later with some donuts and more juice from our Sunday School group. He ate like a hungry man and I couldn’t help thinking about that scripture, “Be careful to entertain strangers, for some thereby have hosted angels.”

Whether angel or not, I can’t say, but I do know that whatever good we do for the least of the family of faith, we do for Christ. Jamie joined us for worship, wearing a clean shirt one of the members brought to him. After church, one of our deacons took Jesus on over to Atchison, helping all of us make it just a little farther along on our journey.

H. Arnett

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Of Memory and Monuments

We carry the weight of our worries,
often unhurried in our healing,
curiously choosing rather to linger
in the shadows of those things
that have marred us.

We polish scars as if they were medals—
enormously deserved—
awards given pre-posthumously
in honor of valiant pain
and self-conscious sacrifice.

We measure conversations
in terms of appreciation expressed
for what we have endured,
hoping to find some Thomas
who will welcome the invitation
to thrust his hand into our side
and feel the extent of our love.

We omit the part of our own resurrection,
choosing a cheaper affection
that never quite feels like admiration.

Some can walk this trail for years,
wearing a deep path to the place of their own tears,
never understanding that all the collected agony
of stuffed toys, teenage trophies
and carefully arranged snapshots in gilded frames
are not so much monument to the memory of others
as they are shrine to our own pain.

H. Arnett

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Of Risk and Reward

It is a pretty natural human response to avoid situations of vulnerability. I suppose it’s most drastic in those instances of physical threat, or at least, most visible. Sensing that flirting with the edge of the cliff might trigger a launch into thin air, we avoid the edge. Having heard that snake bites can be rather painful and sometimes fatal, we tend to vacate the immediate vicinity when we see and hear a rattlesnake in close proximity to what was formerly our intended path. Not only do we seek a different path, we might even seek a different woods, national park or planet.

This sort of aversion seems quite reasonable to me. Not being an adrenaline junkie, I have no desire to free-climb a two-thousand-foot cliff face, go BASE jumping or run with the bulls in Pamplona. I suspect that a widely-shared avoidance of the risk of significant physical injury is a key to the survival of our species.

On an individual level, we often heed the same sort of self-preserving instinct when it comes to emotional vulnerability as well. Whether from painful past experience or insightful observation of others, we realize that opening ourselves up to sharing inner glimpses of our psyche carries a certain level of risk. On the other hand, like many of our natural instincts, this one also carries a risk of undesirable side effects.

Fearing judgment and rejection, we avoid self-disclosure. Without self-disclosure, close relationships are impossible. Ironically, it is our fear of this vulnerability that often leads us into isolation. Afraid of the sharp pangs of rejection, we endure loneliness, accepting its dull, constant ache as alternative to the other. We miss out on multiple opportunities for mutual satisfying and even gratifying relationships. Acquaintances could become friends. Colleagues could become companions. But under the guise of being too busy, we choose the safety of distance and detachment.

When we make such choices in full awareness, we knowingly accept the consequences. Too often, though, we make such choices without that awareness. We end up cursing our fate, bemoaning our existence and frustrated by life’s seeming unfairness with no realization that we have become our own enemy.

I have known both hurts in my life, rejection and loneliness. While both have led to some share of hurt, some degree of pain, I must acknowledge whenever the villain has been loneliness, it has nearly always been me behind that mask. Those who would have friends must show the willingness to run the risks, take their chances and learn to dance with others who know that most fears shrink when we dare to take them head on.

Perhaps in our emotional adventures, we should spend more time imagining the possibilities of success. Our Savior came to this world fully knowing the degree of rejection that He would endure. But He came anyway, so that we could have the choice of knowing Him.

H. Arnett

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Topeka Rain

The sound of thunder rouses me
but not from slumber;
I have been half awake for the past half hour.
brain feeding on or devoured by thoughts
caught in the sifting of speculation.

I slide my feet slowly across the floor,
wary of low edges in a strange room
that might strike a shin
and cause me to sin in some slight way.

I make my way to the heavy drapes
without suffering or causing injury.
I pull back the shades,
lean against the window.

Rain falls into the stark whiteness
of the Capitol Plaza floodlight
aimed against my window
from five floors down.

An occasional car drifts down the avenue,
lights shift in the wind and rain
and a motorcycle snarls its pain
against the soft silence of a sleeping city.

I unlatch the window,
slide it the full five inches it will open.
Pressing my face into the opening,
I feel the mist that swirls in the draft.

I close my eyes and wonder
if I could actually sleep standing up,
feel this gentle healing
soothing skin and soul in the cleansing
of a hot night calmed and cooled
by strong breeze and falling rain.

H. Arnett

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Two Weddings and a Fun-for-All

Sometimes, times go by so slowly we feel that nothing is accomplished. Minutes drag into hours that seem to last for weeks. And then, there are the times that seem to flash by without even a moment’s pause. It’s not very often that a weekend goes by that I feel that absolutely nothing was accomplished. This weekend, though, seemed incredibly filled.

On Friday afternoon, I drove my little tractor over to the next hill east of Blair and helped Neil and Katrena move their garden shed over to a more permanent location. Then I helped re-cut a ditch along one side of their driveway and open up a new water diversion patch on the other side. Hopefully, our work will drastically reduce the amount of water going down the driveway and thereby reduce the amount of driveway going down the larger ditch.

Friday evening, I helped conduct a wedding rehearsal at our church building and enjoyed the rehearsal dinner with family and friends of Jared Meng and Katie Smith. A disappearing dairy cow diverted Jared’s father and brother for a while and so we ate supper first and then did the rehearsal. Worked out pretty well that way.

After getting home that night, I filled six gallons’ worth of hot water into a picnic chest so that Brett, Luke and I would have water for cleaning up after our mud run on Saturday morning.

Saturday morning started just before five a.m. for me. I didn’t need to get up that early but couldn’t get back to sleep after waking up at 4:45 so I decided to make a double batch of my super-healthy oatmeal cookies. By the time Brett and Luke arrived just before seven a.m., I had the cookies done, the waffles ready and the sausage on the table. Randa joined us for breakfast and by 7:20, the Three Amigos were headed to Grain Valley to run Conquer the Gauntlet. Lord willing, I’ll provide more details on that at another time. For now, let’s just say that was the toughest four miles of my life. If you’ve ever encountered Missouri black gumbo mud in a close up and personal way, you have an idea of what our run was like. How that much torture could be that much fun is something I can’t explain quickly.

After cleaning up a bit and changing clothes, Luke, Brett and I headed back to Blair. From there, they headed back to their homes and I headed to the whirlpool tub to soak for an hour or so. After that, I drove my Kubota over to the church property and used the blade and bucket loader to scrape away a few inches of mud that had accumulated on top of the paved access to the highway. There’s another driveway that needs some ditching and diversion work but that’s another story, too.

Cleaned up and better dressed, I headed back to the church building around six o’clock for Jared and Katie’s wedding. They had to bring in a couple dozen extra chairs from the fellowship hall to accommodate the crowd in the sanctuary, the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen there. After the initial challenges with getting the microphones to work, everything went quite well. I’ve been doing weddings for forty years and I’ve never seen a couple who more obviously like each other than Jared and Katie.

After saying the blessing for the rehearsal dinner, I headed home. On Sunday, we had our usual morning Bible study and then the worship service. Luke and Brett and I all wore our tee shirts from the Conquer the Gauntlet mud run. They reluctantly joined me at the front of the church for a few minutes as I used the race as an object lesson for the race of life. They’re good guys and tolerate more from me than they would from most old geezers.

After church, lunch and a welcomed nap, Randa and I headed over to Lenexa, Kansas, to do another wedding. This one was a private affair in a back yard for Tristan Collins and Katie McKee. Tristan has been almost like an adopted son to me since 2004, when I started working at Highland and he was one of the first study group leaders I hired. Having the privilege of doing their wedding and being with them and their families for the occasion was absolute joy. Getting to eat some of the barbecue ribs his brother-in-law grilled was a nice fringe benefit, too.

Back home just before dark, Randa and I led the horses over from the pasture back to their pens. As we walked back to the house, I looked up over the tall spruce tree. A full moon showed in the clearing sky. The smell of honeysuckle and catalpa blooms sweetened the still, humid air of the evening. Silhouettes of hardwoods framed the ridge to the west and the last bits of daylight filtered through broken clouds like God’s good grace on a fulfilling day.

H. Arnett

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A Hope of Roses

Just about a month ago, I spent an evening pruning the roses that are planted on the south side of the house. Judging by the extent of the dead branches, this past winter had taken a surprising toll on them. It had seemed, at least for most of the dark months, that we had a mild winter. The evidence I saw before me, though, belied that impression of memory. Most of the five bushes had little left above the base, nothing but brown brittle stems. I cut each section back to the nearest evidence of green, a crackling and crunching testifying to the lack of life. In just a few places, though, a bare bud of green had sprouted out of the side of a stem.

By the time I finished, there was nearly a pickup load of jangled pieces, each one heavily fanged with thorns. I lifted them carefully, relying mostly on the leaf rake for the handling, loaded them into the truck and hauled them over to the burn pile. The bed of bushes looked quite bare, almost void of hope in the midst of early spring. The sparse, naked stubs of bushes gave little reason for expectation.

In spite of that lack, the bushes have flourished in the warming weeks that followed. A heavy growth of leaves and stems sprouted from the stubs. Last week, the first few buds began to show their form amidst the green of leaves. Yesterday, the first rose opened fully, a flush of red showing in the bed of foliage. A few feet away, another bud rippled its promise.

As long as the roots hold life, there is always hope for the coming of spring. From the base of even the most bruised and blackened branches, there is still the chance of fresh flowering, given the working of warmth and time. But when the foundation gives way and the decay extends even to what is hidden, it will require a greater miracle than the changing of seasons. It will take the very touch of God.

H. Arnett

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

Jam Band Dance Pit

There is something in this,
something of pulse and breath and life,
this rhythmic running of the blood,
this drawing of all that is of us—
mind, heart, body, spirit.
Can you hear it?
Can you feel the call of music
pulling us into this mellow merging
of something greater
than the sum of its parts?
Boundaries fade
amidst the swaying
of hips and shoulders,
older joining younger
in the calming thunder of bass,
the stirring riffs of mandolin,
the crystal clinking of banjo,
mellow merging of flat-picked acoustic guitar
and the sweet careening of fret-less fiddle.
There is something here of worship,
of peace and love
of sweat and beer,
rednecks and hippies,
college kids and blue collar groupies,
and a dozen other sorts of souls,
all seeking the summit of Yonder Mountain.
I join the dance pit crowd,
near the front and toward the middle,
note the bobbing heads,
swinging arms,
feet shuffling, sliding, tilted,
eyes half-closed and hands lifted
in triumphant surrender.
H. Arnett

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