A Quiet Refreshing

On the morning after the storm,
we sat out on the porch for a while,
grateful for the cool air,
the quiet breeze beneath blue skies and green trees
and knowing that the sunrise
would bring some sort of reassurance,
a blessing of light beyond the night
of wind and flood.

We talked in between bites
of honey-drizzled waffles
and sips of caramel coffee:
possible plans for a holiday weekend,
time that we might spend traveling together
and a tear-touching story she had seen on TV.

We need such times as this,
time to contemplate miracles and minutiae,
to breath calm moments,
to give thanks for our daily bread
and not being led into paths of darkness
masquerading as light,
to be grateful for the night’s rest
and passing blessings,
a caressing of time and such moments as this
when we are reminded that not all of life
is duty and monotony and pressing needs,

to remember the answering of unspoken prayers
and to be prepared for greater works
that we will do
and will be done in us.

H. Arnett

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

Slip Sliding Away

I’ve never been much for pulling off the road in a rainstorm. Probably has something to do with barely repressed machismo, middle-aged male ego and maybe a few other things as well. But at least part of it is fairly keen memories of Dad driving through snow, rain, dark of night and whatever else lay between us and our destination. “Just slow down enough so that you can see at least a few seconds in front of you and keep moving,” he’d say in a way that was hard to tell for sure whether he was talking to me or to himself. “If you pull over and stop you’re more likely to get hit by someone who’s driving too fast for the conditions or just not paying close enough attention.”

And so over the years I’ve driven through some pretty intense storms, some of which had induced other drivers to pull off the road and wait for someone like me to run into them. I never obliged on that point, I’m happy to say. There were times when I slowed down to twenty-five or thirty miles an hour but I kept going. As long as I could see a few seconds in front of me.

Yesterday’s storm here in southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma set a new high water mark for my driving experience.

We drove through several miles of intense rain and wind heading over to the Lowe’s store at Ponca City. The rain fell by bucketfuls and the wind blew it into sheets that crossed the highway at a slant. Then it got worse. Even though the rain was falling by truckloads the wind was blowing so hard that there were no rain “drops” on the windshield. There were horizontal streaks running from west to east with no downward drift. “Well,” I mused out loud but in way that was hard to tell for sure whether I was talking to Randa or to myself, “this is probably as close to driving in a hurricane as I’ll ever come.” Randa was hoping it would be as close to driving in a tornado as either of us would ever come.

We made it to Lowe’s albeit in considerably slower fashion and with a bit more concern than usual.

By the time we headed back toward Ark City, the sun had emerged and starked a beautiful rainbow against the dark hindquarters of the storm that had moved on north and east. An SUV driver who thought fifty-five was way too slow passed by us on the left. He was barely ahead of us when his vehicle suddenly slipped sideways a foot or so. I slowed a bit but he didn’t. He kept right on going as if he didn’t want to be late to his next hydroplaning appointment.

Whether in the midst of the storm or in its aftermath, we know that God can see our path clearly, no matter how intense the circumstances that cloud our vision. We know that as long as we keep in step with his Spirit, we are on the right route. And if we sometimes find ourselves sliding sideways a bit, it might be that we need to ease up off the gas for a while.

H. Arnett

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Through the Panes

Following a long day and a Board of Trustees meeting at the end of it, I finally headed home yesterday evening, a bit after eight o’clock. I walked through an empty hallway toward the Second Street exit from the building. Through the glass entrance of our administrative wing, I could see one of our students standing outside on the concrete apron that bridges from building to sidewalk. She was obviously agitated, crying and talking on her cell phone. I pushed one of the doors open and walked toward my car parked on the opposite side of the street, pretending not to have seen or noticed. Interrupting a teenager in the throes of emotion can provoke rather unpredictable responses.

Just as I was two steps away from the curb, she finished her conversation. I hesitated, debating sanity and such matters. Something of compassion intervened and I turned back toward her.

“I know it would be a dumb question to ask ‘Are you okay;’ I can see that you’re obviously not okay. Is there anything anyone could do to help you?”

Still crying, she responded in a broken but non-hysterical voice, “A very close friend of our family died. He was my father’s closest friend… he had a heart attack. I think I need to go home.”

For some of our students, “home” can be several thousand miles away and involve inter-continental travel. Even though her voice held no discernible accent other than what one would expect in southern Kansas, I asked her how far she was from home. “Two hours.”

I suppose I could have given her the old “you need to stay here so you don’t miss the first day of classes tomorrow” admonition but she didn’t seem to be quite in a place of receptivity and I certainly wasn’t in a place where I wanted to deliver such admonition. Instead, I told her I was very sorry to hear that and that it is a really tough thing to learn of such loss when you’re not with your family.

“Do you have any friends here with you? Anyone you know?”

She replied that she did and said that she thought she would call one of them. She assured me that she would be okay and so I began to turn away and head back toward the street.

“Sir,” she spoke in a slightly trembling voice. I turned back toward her. She looked at my name badge and then turned her eyes back toward mine. Eyes moist and tears still streaming down her cheeks, she paused and tilted her face slightly forward toward me, “Thank you for asking.” She spoke in a tone of tender and yet almost desperate sincerity.

I nodded and answered gently, “You’re welcome.”

Sometimes the least we can do is also the most we can do. It’s not much but it’s infinitely more than pretending we didn’t notice.

H. Arnett

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In Memoriam: Sandra Sue Woodworth

On an August morning that threatens rain,
we are gathered here in the delicate pain of hope.
The notes of old hymns fill the spaces
between friends and strangers
as the organist preludes eulogy and prayers.

The high dome of the sanctuary arches over curving balconies.
Oak pews with hymnals and Bibles in the racks
slope from back to front toward the oak casket
nested against the raised platform and pulpit,
a silent harmony of hardwood
and hand-rubbed finish
resonating below the circular centerpiece high above:
eight main radials of stained glass
framed by inlaid maple and walnut.

I never knew this woman
except through patterned images reflected
in children and grandchildren.

The minister reads a fine bouquet of their good memories:
rides and food, meals and moments,
a lifetime of loving family and friends,
intentional sharing and caring,
an unaltered path of dignity and devotion.

After the final prayer,
we file down the stairs to greet the ones we know,
to convey what concern we may.
In between the hugs and handshakes,
the smiles and nods,
I find a table of pictures.

In one, framed from behind her,
Susie sits at a dresser,
mirrored image of an alluring young woman
in a long formal dress,
dark hair sensuously suspended barely above the shoulders,
her head tilted toward the earring she is clipping.

On the opposite end of the table,
one of her with her husband.
Even in her seventies and fully gray,
she still looked like an actress:
slender and elegant,
a radiant smile and a timeless sense of grace

that will yet live on
in those who bear her image and more—
lives like hers
that share an even greater reflection.

H. Arnett

Posted in Aging, Christian Devotions, Death & Dying, Family, Poetry, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Midnight Climber

There are certain sounds that seem to filter in gradually, a sort of faintly emerging consciousness that eventually reaches a point of actual awareness. Maybe it’s the sound of light rain falling while we’re busy in the house. It might be the drone of a distant airplane that never gets near enough for us to see it. It’s certainly not something like the sound of a certified NASCAR stock racer firing up in the neighbor’s driveway at 4:30 in the morning.

That sound goes into an entirely different category, one that is not the subject of this brief reflection.

There is another category of sounds that are not loud and obnoxious and yet immediately grab our attention. Such sounds would include the creaking of floorboards during the night when you are sleeping in what you thought was an empty house. The sound of a small child’s stirring about in the next room in the middle of the night. Sounds that you know deserve your prompt attention.

Another sound that at least relates to those but might deserve its own category is the sound of water dripping down the furnace vent while it’s raining. That one will catch your attention right handily, especially when you can hear it even when your hearing aids are lying on top of the dresser. That’s the sound that lead to me climbing up onto the roof at eleven o’clock, soon after the Royals managed to lose their third game in a row.

That sound subsequently had me driving over to Wal-Mart at eleven-oh-seven to see if they had any of that roof patching stuff that you can apply even when it’s wet. They did, indeed.

And so it was, boys and girls, that Grandpa Badger found himself climbing back up the step-ladder in the rain on the back porch for the third or eighth time around midnight with a big bucket of everything he needed to patch the leak. Everything except for the old towel he needed to wipe off the excess water and quite frankly, all of it seemed a bit excessive at the time. So the fourth or ninth trip provided the towel.

I scraped off the silicon caulking that had been put around the joint of the vent pipe and the roof flange during a lull in a border skirmish during the Cherokee Strip Land Rush. Then I pumped out enough roof patching to fill that joint and three others and carefully smoothed it all around the pipe with an old putty knife. By the way, any putty knife becomes “old” when used for such purpose. Thankfully, not one person drove by to see some old fool on top of the roof at midnight with a big white bucket and a flashlight.

While I was up there I went ahead and cleaned out the old leaves, twigs and junk that had been blocking the downspout on the northwest gutter. When the Lord provides an unexpected opportunity for elevated maintenance at an unexpected time, I figure you might as well make the most of it. I will say there was another benefit.

Every time I climbed up that wet six-foot-tall step-ladder and had to stand on the very top of it so I could just barely get my knee up onto the wet roof, my prayer life notched its way up a bit. Almost as much as it notched up when I was getting back off the wet roof. Some situations that bring us close to the Lord seem like they might provide a greater and more permanent closeness than what we were looking for at the time.

Turned out, this wasn’t one of them, and I’m okay with that. At least for the time being…

H. Arnett

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A Greater Grace

I write this with full apologies to my friend, John, knowing that he is never one to seek honor for himself, other than living in an honorable manner. But I find his example so compelling that I believe it needs sharing.

I sat in his office on Monday, visiting with him regarding his mother’s death. Although my own mother passed away a few years ago, it was nothing like this. My mother passed away slowly, a steady loss of weight and strength. John’s mother was struck by a motor vehicle on Friday afternoon. Not only is each passing different, each loss is as well. We are each different, each relationship has its own character and each loss has its own distinctive elements. Even if my mom had been taken suddenly, I would not presume to know what John is experiencing but I do trust that there is pain and grief.

As we talked in this sharing of sorrow, John said something that struck me as quite remarkable.

“You know, the one I keep thinking about is that twenty-one-year old young woman that was driving that car. We’ve got our family and our friends; we have a great support system. I hope that she has that but I can’t help wondering about her. I hope that she’s got people to support her.”

We spoke a while longer about the heavy burden that she will carry, regardless of the exact circumstances of the accident. Whether she was texting at the time or distracted by something else or if it was purely a matter of Mimi not thinking to look both ways before crossing the street, this young woman will live with the realization that she was driving the vehicle that killed someone. She will need much support, counsel, love and forgiveness.

That is exactly what John hopes that she receives.

Over the weekend, he posted on Facebook his appreciation for the outpouring of love and caring that his family was already receiving. He thanked everyone for their prayers. And he also asked them to be praying for the driver.

This is exactly what Jesus told us to do, isn’t it? “Pray for your enemies… do good to those who do you harm… love your enemies.” Even when they had no intention of being your enemy.

Many people in such a situation would incubate hate and rehearse anger in their hearts, chaining themselves to darkness and entertaining fantasies of vengeance. John and his family have made a different choice, a choice that liberates them, a choice that celebrates the grace by which we are called.

Just knowing people like this makes me want to be a better person.

H. Arnett

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A Greater Sharing

In the apostolic instruction “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep,” it seems pretty clear that we are expected to share life. That sharing is not dictated by our own circumstances alone but by those of others as well. Beyond self, there is the larger, the community.

Whether in triumph or in tragedy, we bring forth from within and from each other, the realities of life in a world that is fallen and fallible, yet also joyous and giving. This life is multi-dimensional and the greater the sharing of the incidents that fall all along that continuum, the stronger and deeper our relationships.

Sometimes the sharings from both ends collide in the same day, almost the same moment.

I had learned over the weekend that one friend’s mother had been killed in a car and pedestrian accident. Out for her evening walk and struck by a car. In this stage of the investigation, very few details are available to the family. They don’t know the exact nature of the incident but they do know that Mimi is in the care of the Lord. In spite of all the pain, grief and shock, they take comfort in that.

Another friend has found comfort in a very different manner.

As pastor of a local church, he gladly carries the burden of caring for his congregation. As is common in many churches, corporate attendance and giving drop off during the summer. He had recently shared with a friend who is not a member of his church that he was going to have to ask the bank if the church could skip this month’s payment. The friend made an unexpected offer as hopeful incentive, “Tell your church what the situation is, that there isn’t enough money to cover the mortgage. Also tell them that you have a private donor who will match their special offering the following Sunday—up to a certain amount.” Day before yesterday was the Sunday designated for the special offering; the pastor and I had planned a lunch together on Monday.

Although I was anxious to hear how that had gone I was also anxious to see the other friend. While cards and calls can certainly convey our caring, hugs and handshakes seem even more tangible to me. I dropped by the first friend’s workplace. We shook hands and hugged and talked a little while. Another hug and I was on my way to meet the fellow pastor for lunch.

I managed to wait for at least a minute-and-a-half before I asked him, “How’d it go Sunday?”

With his face beaming and a smile he could barely talk through, he told me. He laid out the backstory of how he had announced the need to the church a week in advance so they’d have time to think and pray and respond. He then told me about being in his office after church while the deacons counted the money. “Every now and then I’d hear one of them say, ‘Praise the Lord!’ so I knew it was going to be good.”

Naturally I had to ask “How good was it?” With the non-member’s match and the members’ giving, they’d collected enough to cover the next three month’s payments!

It wasn’t just the money that gave James reason to celebrate, although it certainly gave very visible expression to the Lord’s providence. Rather it was the way the Spirit had moved to bring him and his friend together for what seemed would be just a casual lunch which then set in motion a series of small events that lead to blessing for him and his congregation.

In the same way, I know that the Spirit will bring everything that is needed for healing and comfort to John and his family in the coming days, weeks, months and years. At just the right moment, someone will call, show up or send a card. Along with those moments when missing Mimi will seem almost unbearable, the Spirit will bring a sharing and caring that will help them through.

And in our sharing of both pain and celebration, we will all draw closer to one another and find ourselves also closer to the One who both gives and takes away. Blessed be his name.

H. Arnett

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