Something Stronger than Blankets

In the aching darkness of this cold night
I drive through the long slopes of winter
in the Flint Hills.

A wind-anchored chill
locks ice and snow along the shoulder
from El Dorado northward.

The flickering reds of traffic miles ahead
trace trails moving through the curves
and along the road,

Paralleled by opposite lines of headlights
drifting off into the night
on their outward bends.

Steady at the limit
and with them five miles slower,
I pass truck after truck after truck.

Halfway to Topeka,
a low flatbed stacked high with propane tanks
banks by me on a downhill run.

We leapfrog up and down
the next few humps
until the last long slant before Emporia.

From there he pulls away bit by bit,
all the steep slopes behind him,
making his way against the wind and darkness,

Running eighty miles-an-hour
toward wherever it is
that stands between him and home.

I hope that something
stronger than blankets
will keep him warm tonight.

H. Arnett

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Against the Bitter Cold

It’s the kind of cold here today that leads to those “it’s so cold…” jokes. The kind of wind chills that lead public school officials to close schools. When the “feels like” temperatures drop into negative double digits, it changes things. For some people…

Livestock farmers go ahead and feed their cattle. Dairy farmers proceed with milking. Garbage collectors and postal workers continue making their rounds. We still expect grocery stores, gas stations, and fast food places to be open. Mostly…

There’s a degree of relativity, of course. Folks in Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and other points well north of here pretty much figure it’s just another winter day. “Only in double digits below zero? Well, we’ve seen worse than this. Oh, you betcha.” And most likely, they still went ahead and walked to school anyway, even those it was uphill in both directions.

Regardless of the amount and degree of experience, there are extra precautions. A car breaks down when it’s sixty degrees and it’s an inconvenience. At minus twenty that inconvenience has implications that can result in tissues with permanent damage and make us confront issues of mortality.

And so when I head out through the Flint Hills tonight on my way three hours north, I’ll pack extra clothes and extra covers. Maybe even a bit of food and water. And hope that I don’t need them. I found out some time ago that prayer and preparation are a good combination. Especially when the wind is against you.

H. Arnett

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Just For a Day

What if—just for a day
I decided to lay aside those things
that seem to separate me from certain others?

What if—just for a day
I decided to let mercy
triumph over justice
in my own heart?

What if—just for a day
I decided to believe the best
of those I know?

What if—just for a day
I decided to put a smile
over all my worries
and trust that the One
who feeds the sparrows
and adorns the lilies
would also care for me?

What if—just for a day
I decided that I would expect good
rather than evil?

What if—just for a day
I decided that I would forgive
—from the heart—
every insult and every injury?

What if—just for a day
I decided that I actually would
love my enemies,
bless those who curse me,
return good for evil,
clothe the naked,
feed the hungry,
truly bless the widow and orphan,
care for those who are sick,
visit those who are in prison,
welcome the stranger,
share with others?

What if—just for a day
I truly obeyed
the One to whom I pray?
And quietly lived
my greatest praise?

Maybe then—at least for a day
I could hope (and pray)
that “I” might turn into “we?”

H. Arnett

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Yes, Dorothy, We’re Still in Kansas

In some parts of the world, I suppose, people don’t give much thought to the wind. Unless some sort of storm blows in, there’s not much reason. I’m not really sure where those places are exactly. I am right sure, though, that Kansas isn’t one of those places. Without the benefit of documented knowledge, I’m going to guess that we have fewer than twenty or thirty days a year when there’s not a readily discernible breeze. Probably a couple hundred a year when the wind will top twenty miles an hour and more than enough days when it’ll top thirty.

So, in a place where the wind blows steady enough to make trees lean, a warm day in January without wind is not an ordinary thing. In fact, it’s unusual enough that I seriously considered taking a couple hours of vacation time on Monday afternoon so I could go for a long bike ride.

Duty won out over the beauty of that opportunity, as it often does. It wasn’t an easy choice, though, I’ll tell you that!

With the temperature at fifty-two and the wind speed at two-three miles an hour, I sat at my desk computer, briefly staring out at the parking lot and thinking about the Flint Hills, the bottom lands of the Walnut River and a particular road that leads to both. And stayed at my desk, working at the computer.

Tuesday and Wednesday were warm as well. But with the wind topping twenty miles an hour, there was nothing tempting me in the direction of a long bike ride. I got most of the things done that I needed to get done. That’s the nature of duty and one’s attention to duty can be pretty vital in keeping one gainfully employed. No matter what the weather happens to be.

Today’s high will be half of yesterday’s and there’s a sixty per cent chance of freezing rain and snow. Wind gusts up to forty-one miles an hour. Tonight’s low: twenty degrees below freezing. Not much of a day for a long bike ride.

But, by God’s good grace, we will sleep warm and dry tonight. Tomorrow, by the same good grace, we will rise, safe and rested, to another day’s opportunities. Opportunities to do good work, to share good things, to bring blessing to others and be blessed. And I will remember that doing good to others is always worth doing.

Especially when a cold wind is blowing.

H. Arnett

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A Divine Nourishment

I had lunch with a dear friend yesterday. Nothing elaborate, simple food in a simple place, served by pleasant people. The food was delicious, as it has always been at this particular restaurant. But, of course, it wasn’t the food or the place that made the meal more than a meal.

As you well know, it’s the time and the talking. The sharing of stories, the answering of questions, the being together, if only for an hour. Some might say that such times are the flowers in life’s garden. There are aspects of that metaphor that I like: the notion of beauty and fragrance, of color and brightness.

I’m more inclined, though, to believe that such visits are even more organic than that, something of the soil, of nourishment and life. There’s something sustaining and refreshing, maybe more like the gentle rains that come in due season.

Lately, I’m more inclined to think that time spent with friends who hold us up to the Light, who understand our flaws and faults yet still are part of our calling to better life, is a part of God’s own grace. A part of the Divine nurturing, the actualization of his caring. When I consider that time spent with such friends may rather be a key part of God’s own provision, it makes me believe that I should be more deliberate, more proactive about arranging such things.

Especially when I consider that I may also well be a part of God’s caring for my friends, even as they are for me.

H. Arnett

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The First Gifts of Christmas

I would guess that more than a few of us come to Christmas each year with some mix of excitement and at least a slight bit of apprehension. Perhaps I over-externalize but I find myself wondering what reaction there will be to the gifts I give. I try to give in a genuine spirit of love and with a minimum of expectation.

I want these gifts to be liked, appreciated and enjoyed. Even though I do not give with the notion of impressing anyone, I do hope my giving is received as intended: an expression of love and affection. I think that is fitting with the very first “Christmas.”

A careful reading of the gospel accounts, as contrasted to the more modern blending of carols, advertising and un-careful storytelling, shows that it was the shepherds only who came to the stable. (By the time the magi arrived, Jesus was approaching two years of age, hence Herod’s order to kill all the male toddlers in the vicinity.)The shepherds found, as promised by angels, a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. They rejoiced and proclaimed their story that this was the promised Messiah, born in Bethlehem as prophesied.

Thus, it was their belief, adoration and proclamation that were the true first gifts. And so, I believe, apart from the costs and appraisals of our modern day exchanges, the real gifts of Christmas are not purchased at stores and wrapped in paper and bows. The true gifts are our faith in family and friends, our exchanges of genuine love and affection, and our time spent together in sharing our stories and in listening to one another.

To me, this is a liberating awareness: even if we are as poor as shepherds and regarded as living among the least of all occupations, we can still give the greatest gifts. No matter how broke we may be, no matter how lean our living, we can still give of ourselves.

H. Arnett

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A Reminder of Hope and Light on a January Morning

In the dry heart of winter,
the cold splinters around us,
shards of light cut through
night’s thinning darkness.

A teasing sun rises to the south
of what we believe is east,
bringing an illusion of heat
to leafless limbs and bare branches.

On other days,
a gray heaviness hovers around us,
hazy shadows shift slowly
in frozen passings.

Even through this mist of clouds,
a touch of Light still moves within,
easing clenched fist into outstretched hand,
whispering hope into a land of doubt:

“You live yet
and God still works within you.”

H. Arnett

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