Benevolent Conspiracy

For the past few days I have worked with other higher education professionals in a special collaborative event in St. Charles, Illinois. Other specially trained mentors and I joined with two talented scholars and some key employees of the Higher Learning Conference (the north central regional accrediting agency) to work with representatives from several colleges. They are focused on developing and refining projects they hope will help college students stay with it long enough to continue and complete their formal post-secondary education goals.

While landscape workers labor on a chilly autumn day, laying sod and finishing up a fountain and bench attraction in the cul-de-sac outside the Q-Center, these faculty, student support staff, and administrative teams continue often intense discussions.

It’s mentally challenging and tiring, even in this lovely setting in the hardwood groves lining the banks of the Fox River. Sorting through proposals, sifting out the best ideas, anticipating challenges and developing strategies for a very complex process isn’t for the faint of heart or weak of mind. Lots of high carb nutrition is definitely in order with this degree of cognitive exertion. My role as facilitator is much less demanding but I stock up on the carbs anyway, just in case. I answer some of the easier questions, ask a few blunt questions of my own with little or no effort to be diplomatic, make one or two audacious suggestions. Mostly, though, I try to stay out of their way and let them work.

These are some of the most intelligent, dedicated and caring people that I have ever worked with. They remind me of other professionals with whom I have worked in the past. Those in previous work here with HLC. Other colleagues with whom I worked at Cowley, Highland, Missouri Western, Ohio State and Murray State. Other teachers and administrators in Kentucky at Scott County, Calloway County and Fulton City schools.

People who’ve never done it might not understand and appreciate the level of energy, effort and emotional stamina required in education. I’ve worked in public schools, universities and community colleges and I can tell you, none of it is easy. It is demanding, exhausting, extremely complex and—when it works well—very rewarding.

Some of these projects being planned here will touch thousands of students and some will touch a few hundred. Some students will succeed and some will not. Some of them would succeed regardless of what was or wasn’t done for them. Some, though, will succeed only because of the special effort of many people working together. It is very easy to underestimate the good that will be done.

You see, for every student changed by one of these projects, for every learner who is encouraged, enabled and equipped for successful training and education, the rest of their life will be made better. They will be better able to find and keep jobs that are worthwhile and rewarding. They will be better prepared to deal with challenges, make good choices and sustain positive relationships. They will be better able to provide for themselves and their families because of the work that the people meeting here—and their colleagues back at home—will plan, do, and check together.

There is also a ripple effect, slight waves of positive benefit spreading out in all directions around each successful student. You see, I believe the lives of everyone closely related to and/or significantly involved with these present and future learners will also be made better. In some cases, slightly better and in other cases dramatically better. Key parts of the foundation for those good changes are being laid in these meeting rooms, hallways and lobbies. There are all sorts of different ways to explain and approach what is going on here: dedication to education, determination to make a difference, professionalism, etc.

I like to think of it as people who believe in something greater than themselves, people who believe in the power of comprehensive or holistic education to improve lives. People who believe in planting and tending to seed that others may harvest. I like to think of it as people who actually are trying to do for others the things that they would like to have done for them, treating them as they would like to be treated. I like to think of it as caring and character.

Above all the other ways, I like to think of it as love. Real, tangible, meaningful, love.

And I am privileged well beyond what I deserve to be a part of it.

H. Arnett

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

A Greater Hope

Even in the beauty of rain
there is the presence of pain and power.
The blessing of the earth’s refreshing
could turn at any hour
into a devastating deluge,
a surging flood of overwhelming rush
turning hillsides into huge mudslides
that splinter houses and make lives disappear.

Even in the quiet moment
there is the chance
of some awful calamity,
some twisted circumstance erupting
in the midst of peaceful routine of an ordinary day:
cars wreck, planes crash, houses burn, towers fall—
evil people prey upon good,
the mighty devour the weak,
the powerful destroy the helpless.

And yet—
flowers grow in the aftermath of volcano,
forests once again cover blackened earth,
birth follows death and joy comes after mourning,
millions of good deeds are done every day,
faith sprouts up in hearts once mangled by doubt,
hope wins out over fear
even in the nearness of death’s own shadow,
and love still fills the hearts
of those who refuse to follow evil,

who know that the Light that came into the world
will outlast the world,
who know that even from the darkest night
a greater good will come,
and that the meek shall inherit an earth
better than the one from whose dirt they were made.

H. Arnett

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

18th Hole

(for Kristi Shaw, in memory of Brian Shaw)

I suppose there must have been
some sort of anger,
some sense of betrayal or disappointment
when you first knew
that he’d decided he’d had enough
of fighting this thing,
was going to leave you alone
with a daughter still in high school
and another just finished college.
You knew how much he adored both of them
and besides,
it wasn’t like him to leave any club in the bag
and give up, even on the toughest course.

But then you knew, too,
the way the treatments
had left him half-alive
and sick to the bone,
the side effects barely better
than the disease that kept coming back,
like a slice that gets worse
the harder you try to hit the ball.

And once you’d decided
that you were going to be there—
not just for him but with him—
right up to whatever end was coming,
there was no turning back from there.

“I said for better or worse,
through sickness and health,
and I’m a woman of my word.”

And even though nothing about you
was made for sitting and waiting,
and even though the two weeks
turned into ten weeks,
you stayed beside him
throughout those long, thin hours,
playing through the rough
no matter what the lie,
waiting for and relying on a Greater Power.

And so, you were there right beside him
when he laid up just a few yards shy
of that last green
and finally let go of those few tears.

And, maybe, just maybe,
he said to the angels that he saw coming,
“Took you boys long enough;
my grandmother could fly faster than that.”

He smirked just a bit
and reached his hands up toward Jesus.
And Jesus said, “Come on.”

He adjusted his stance,
chipped softly toward the cup,
and followed through.

H. Arnett

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

Indian Summer

It’s not supposed to be this warm. October is supposed to come with crisp nights and clear days, not with haze and humidity hanging over the day like summer’s slow passing, the temperature edging up too close to ninety.

My mother would call this “Indian summer,” a late season warmth that would make for good traveling across the prairie, a few days of being able to do the things that still need to be done before autumn turns late and winter’s coming breaks into another year’s ending. It also made picking corn an easier thing, working in short sleeves instead of jackets, although the shoveling from wagon to crib would soak a man with sweat in just a short time.

I’d shove the wide mouth of the scoop into the pile, and softly curse—inside my head—at the way the ears would jumble and tangle and catch across the corners instead of sliding smoothly into the catch. Then I’d lift and swing, throwing the half-scoop of corn through the narrow opening. I’d dig down as quickly as I could in one spot so I could get to the floor of the wagon. Once I got a space there, I could shove the scoop in underneath the pile and fill it up every time. It was a man’s work and another way of making a kid feel like a man even before he’s old enough to start shaving.

I suppose there were other things, worse ways of feeling like a man before his time, doing things that neither men nor boys should really be doing. I mostly stuck to the harder ways, sometimes because of character but more often than not from fear of getting caught. And so, the corn was shoveled into the barn, the hay was stacked in the loft and the tobacco loaded and lifted up onto the tier poles.

And now, in the Indian Summer of Life, I find that I had plenty of time later for doing some of those things that neither men nor boys should do. I have learned that maturity is more about responsibility than privilege.

And though I’m not much of one for nostalgia, I do wish that boys still envied the work of grown men rather than their toys.

H. Arnett

Posted in Aging, Farming, Metaphysical Reflection, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Watching Death

I’ve watched old men die slow,
seen life take them low,
stripping their strength away blow by blow,
day by day,
month by month,
even year by year

until all that was left was a rattling shell,
hardly anything left that one could tell
had once been too eager to wait for the starting bell—
so many years,
so many memories,
so much of life ago.

I’ve seen, too, the occasional passing in middle age,
men I thought too young to turn that page,
caught by cancer and its slow rage,
a cursed crippling,
counting down life
cell by cell.

I’ve seen the hell their women go through,
long nights of agonized doing what they do,
hours of prayer from rocking chair and pew,
strength drawn from unseen sources,
their hands a chorus
of “I love you and I’m here for you.”

I am moved to marvel at such devotion,
a determined focus of chosen emotion,
love stronger than fear of weakening motions,
staying near
during that final breath,
believing that there are things

stronger than death.

H. Arnett

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

A Deliberate Casualness

I enjoy sitting on the porch in the cool quiet of the morning, sipping coffee and watching the changing light play on the neighbors’ trees as the sun slowly rises. I’d like to spend more time doing that and less time doing some of the other things I do. But were it not for those other things the coffee would be harder to come by and maybe it’s the other things, too, that make the time and the coffee more precious to me.

We need the doing of things, though perhaps not as much of it as we think. Or maybe just different things. When we’re doing the things that bring true reward, rather than just diversion or entertainment, we may well find we have less need of diversion and entertainment.

I don’t think of my porch time as either of those. It’s time for Randa and me to visit briefly at the beginning of the day. Alone, I sometimes use that time to pray or otherwise prepare for the day I’m expecting.

This morning, while enjoying a cup of Coconut Caramel Crunch coffee given me by a very good friend, I wondered about coffee, prayers and praise. I hoped that my prayers and my praise offer a savory scent to Papa God. I imagined him closing his eyes and drawing in that offering in something like the way I pause before each sip, deliberating taking in the smell of the coffee. As I move from inhaling to actually tasting, I hope that Papa also finds the substance of my praise and prayers to be satisfying. A pleasing aroma and also pleasing to the spiritual palate as it were.

I believe that God truly does delight in the time that we take to deliberately spend in communion with him, time spent for the pleasure of the relationship, not just the desperation of the current urgent crisis. Kind of like the time Randa and I spend together on the porch or on the phone just before bedtime when one of us is away from home.

Though all of our interactions and conversations form our relationships, it is the deliberateness of casual time in which I find the greatest pleasure. Might not be too much of a stretch to think that Papa feels the same way. I’d bet he rather enjoys those times of “No, don’t need anything in particular; just wanted to visit for a while.”

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Prayer, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Praise Beyond the Day

Even as the rising sun gives light to a new day,
you have given me hope, O, Lord.
Therefore I will magnify your name and give you praise.

Even as the heavy dew of a cool night drenches the grass,
you have refreshed my spirit, O, God.
Therefore I will fall on my knees and give you thanks.

Even though trials come and troubles have found me,
you have surrounded me with love and grace.
Therefore I will confess that you are God and I will still seek your face.

Even though the path is sometimes hard and steep,
yet you keep me in your care and strengthen me from day to day.
Therefore I will trust in you, O, God, and follow your way.

I will magnify your name, O, Lord, and give you praise.
I will fall on my knees and give you thanks.
I will seek your face and I will trust in you, O, God.
I will follow you all the days of my life.
By the power of your name and by the strength of your Spirit,
by the grace of Christ and the prayers of your saints,
I will overcome all that stands against me.

I will give you praise and confess that you—alone—are God.

H. Arnett

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