Not the Easy Way Out

Only a few miles out on a thirty-mile ride Saturday morning, I knew that something was up. I was breathing harder than usual, even on the relatively flat parts of the ride. (Relax, folks; there’s no heart attack in this story.) Usually when I’m biking east by Duncan Park, I’m easing along, enjoying the view of woods and boulders on the north, tree-lined fields on the south.

Saturday, I was pushing my way toward the curve that sweeps up the low ridge and turns north. Even on that low flat section I was breathing hard. By the time I got to the top of the rise, I was really sucking air and could feel my heart pounding in my chest.

I eased up on the pedaling and kept going, though slow enough to catch a bit of rest and my breath. “What in the world is wrong with me today?” I wondered. “I rode this same route a week ago without any problem.” I shook my head, wondering if a week without exercise could make that much difference. About the time I decided it apparently could make that much difference, I noticed the long grass on the shoulder and road bank to my right. It was bending toward me, swaying a bit in the pulses of the wind.

“Well,” I said to myself, “that would explain it!” Based on the weather forecast for the day, I’d expected a slight breeze, something that would barely bend the tall, slender stalks. This was something more than that. Enough something to make what was usually easy a moderate task and turn what was usually tasking into an outright chore.

So, being the natural glutton for punishment that I am, I rode a few miles more and then turned directly into the wind. I knew it would be harder that way and I could have turned east instead of west and taken a shorter and easier route back home.

Sometimes, though, the easier route does not take us where we want to go, especially when we are trying to follow the Higher Way.

H. Arnett

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A Good Place

For about as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by hammocks. The image of someone stretched out on a piece of canvas, gently swaying in the breeze beneath the shade of two trees always struck me as the ultimate notion of peaceful rest and relaxation. I was also struck by the entertainment potential of watching someone trying to get into one for the first time.

I can’t actually remember my first effort, but I think I was a teenager. Apparently I managed to sit near the center, pull my legs up and pivot on my rear end and get myself set into place without doing a Hollywood Flip. Otherwise, I’m confident my memory would be rather vivid in regard to the experience.

After several decades of thinking I’d really enjoy having one, I finally decided to buy a hammock. For several weeks I kept seeing ads on Facebook for a “free” hammock. I knew the price would actually be disguised as shipping and handling costs or something like that. But, figuring it would be worth twenty bucks and had a money-back guarantee, I finally clicked “Submit” on Fox Outfitters’ shopping cart page.

When I also finally checked the mail this weekend, I found my hammock stuffed into the box.

No, friends and neighbors, Randa and I do not have a huge mailbox. Just the usual off-the-shelf at Wal-Mart size. Off-the-shelf at Wal-Mart from twenty or thirty years ago probably. It’s darn near amazing how compact a double-size hammock can be when it’s made from nylon.

Another thing that amazed me or at least pleasantly surprised me was how easy it was to hang my hammock using the handy tree straps that were included at no extra charge. In very short order, I had that new favorite thing hanging from the heavy frame timbers of our corner porch. It would work better for hammock hanging if those posts were about four feet further apart. It would not work better for supporting rafters, though, so I reckon I will leave the posts where they are, at least for the foreseeable future.

Another thing I foresee is spending a fair amount of time in the cool breeze of the evenings, reflecting on the beauty of the surrounding trees. Reflecting on the happenings of the day and speculating about the days to come. A hammock seems like a right good spot for that, a good place for letting go, for forgiving and forgetting. A good place for focusing on whatever things are lovely, whatever things are pure and pleasant, whatever things are honorable, worthy of praise…

Any place where we do that would seem like a good place, I think.

H. Arnett

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Doing the Right Thing

One of the principles that Mom and Dad drilled into their kids was “always do the right thing.” It seems that as far back as I can remember, they worked to instill that in all six of us. “Even when it seems like it’s the last thing you want to do, do the right thing.”

I have to admit, there were times when I didn’t do that. More times than I want to admit, more times than I care to remember.

And yet, even with that admission, I can say that I have tried to live by that principle. Sometimes it cost me extra money. Sometimes it cost me opportunity. Sometimes it cost me popularity in a certain setting. Sometimes it made others angry for a while.

But it has worked to my benefit far more times. My neighbors know that they don’t have to worry about me swiping their stuff. My colleagues know that they can trust what I tell them. My friends know that I will keep my word, whether I swore to it or not. My family knows that I will admit my mistakes and work to make them right. That’s what a good raising will do for you.

Not only did Mom and Dad lecture us to do always do the right thing, they also demonstrated that concept. They were certainly not perfect but perfection in character and behavior was always their goal. It’s called “integrity” and Solomon was another admirer of the trait.

Though the legendary king recorded his observations nearly three thousand years ago, his words still ring true: “Better is a poor person who walks in integrity than a rich person who is crooked in their ways.” (Proverbs 28:6)

Through thick and thin, through lean and flush, that notion has guided me for about six decades. Even though it’s caused me a few bumps and bruises, it’s been worth the walk. Even when it leads me to resign from a high-paying job.

I think I’ll stay on that path a while longer.

H. Arnett

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A Simple Sharing

While it seems there is never any shortage
of heartache and grief,
there are times when it feels like
things come at us in bunches.

At lunch at the college deli yesterday,
two friends and I shared concerns:
we’d recently learned that another friend’s husband
was given a short time to live,
a resurging of cancer leaving little chance or hope
of much life this side of the river.

One of the two knew too well that particular pain,
having lost a son a few years ago—
a raging rush that took him in less than a month—
and the other had just buried a cherished mother-in-law,
and yet another friend here at the same college
about to bury his father.

There are times when we find the waves of grieving
sweep down upon us with force and fury,
a crushing weight,
the stinging of salt water in the eyes,
an impossible swelling in the throat,
a deafening roaring in the ears
that seems to block out every near sound
as we sink, drowning in the emptiness.

And yet we know that we have made it through
every other thing that life brings our way,
that faith and friendship, and force of will
still work their power within us.
That though we may occasionally walk with a limp,
we are not crippled,
and though we may sometimes
be bent beneath the load of sorrow,
we have somehow always received
grace for the day and strength for the morrow.

And so we pray for healing,
for the revealing work of Divine Direction within us,
accepting that we will be shaped
by those things that beset us,
but refusing to be disfigured by regret.

And though we cannot help but bear the marks
of battles we have survived,
even in our pain we will gain greater caring for others,
we will take measure of grace and sharing
and refuse to be defined by our scars.
Hoping against hope,
we know that even our woundings will bring healing.

H. Arnett

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Relationships & Organizational Effectiveness

Yesterday, I welcomed a group of new teachers to Cowley College. For several hours, I engaged them in a series of discussions and activities. The apparent purpose varied throughout the day. Sometimes it was to learn one another’s names, sometimes to learn about the evaluation forms, and other times to become familiar with the College’s mission, vision and values. But no matter what the particular topic was, the real purpose of the whole day was something else: forming and building relationships.

I know it’s not original with me and I’ll never be an expert on the subject but I am absolutely convinced that the most critical aspect of an effective college is based on relationships. The human connections that develop in an educational institution—or most any other organization—are the real glue that holds things together.

Most schools, churches, businesses, charities, etc., go through periods of change. New administration, new legislation, new organization, or whatever else brings perceived upheaval and threat to the status quo. Some will fight against it, some will embrace it, some will resist in passive aggressive manner and others will adopt a “this too shall pass” mentality.

Through its best and worst moments, through all the ups and downs, through the good, the bad, and the ugly, the real glue that will keep things from going absolutely topsy turvy is relationships. Connections that go deeper than job descriptions and assigned duties. Knowing and caring about each other. What began as acquaintance and grew into collegiality or even true friendship.

This is not new but it is always powerful. In the end, it is not ideas that make organizations great. It is not organizational charts and annual reports. It is not management theory or mandatory meetings. It is the choice to initiate, foster and sustain relationships that creates the true power of an organization.

H. Arnett

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More than Conquerors

In regard to “organization,” I’d give Saturday’s Conquer the Gauntlet-Wichita somewhere between four and six out of ten. There was no one directing parking, the PA system used by the starting gate folks wasn’t working and the line to relief was twenty to thirty minutes long. Just for the record, eight portable units are not enough for eight hundred people. Of course there was always the option to just go over and stand near some bushes and pee right there in front of the entire gathered group. So far as I know, the wacko who came to race wearing nothing but athletic shoes and pink underwear was the only one who chose that option. The mere sight of that probably upped the need for the porta potties by another hundred people or more.

As we recovered from that spectacle, Randa and I noticed a heavy front loader/backhoe heading out on the trail. Our suspicion was that at least one of the intended obstacles were not yet ready for use at race time. Finishing up my Powerade Zero, I also discovered that there wasn’t a single trash can to be found on the premises.

On the other hand, registration went well, with four separate lines assigned according to your quarter-hour start time. Well, at least your intended start time. By the time my scheduled wave got going, we were about forty-five minutes behind schedule.

But all the other runners massed around me maintained a pretty good outlook on things and I decided to rise to the level of my surroundings and enjoy myself. No point ruining a perfectly good opportunity to play in the mud and gain a bunch of bruises by having a lousy attitude!

And so, by the time I’d slogged through a small pond and crossed a very mucky creek three times, I was definitely having fun! There were four or five obstacles that I simply didn’t have enough strength to complete. I managed to do all but the last two of about thirty rungs of the overhead gabled ladder. I barely even got started up a couple of others. Every time I fell from an obstacle there was a nice cushioning of water beneath me, including the very last challenge. On that particular one, that nice cushion of water was rather deep.

Even though I was quite tired and my arms burned from the exertion of the day, I was still able to swim. And even found enough reserve to pull myself up out of the water pit and make it to the finish line.

In life we may find some obstacles that require more strength than we think we have at that particular moment. Fortunately, there is a Source that provides more than what we have. And when we can no longer climb the way we intended to go, we may find ourselves swimming instead of climbing. As long as we get to the Other Side, we have conquered.

In fact, as long as we keep our integrity and our faith intact as we complete the race, we have become more than conquerors. No matter how sore we are the next day!

H. Arnett

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The Waiting

Somewhere in between
migraine and insomnia,
something other than dreaming wakes me:
a faint clawing along the upper spine
that moves through the base of the skull,
unwinds thoughts
and pulls them out the wrong way,
a curious replaying of a day
that has not yet happened.

After three hours
of quietly turning upon my bed,
I get up and walk outside,
feel the cool of smooth stones
against my feet,
the defining air around my skin,
and wonder at the thin brightness
of a half-moon shining through the branches
of elm trees nearly as old as me.

It seems a bit odd
to play the chances of residential traffic
at three in the morning
but I’m pretty sure
no one’s headlights
are going to come shining through
for this particular view
of a man my age
standing in his underwear
and staring at the moon
as if it might have answers.

I know the Source I seek
and will wait for the speaking
that will come soon enough,
when I have made myself quiet and still,
ready to surrender to a Greater Will.

H. Arnett

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