Remodeling Our Lives

Our bath remodeling project is actually three or eight projects. Call it “domino effect” or a royal “Catch 22” sort of a deal. The bathroom absolutely needed remodeling. The old cast iron tub was, well, disgusting. Pieces of an attempted re-enameling job from some previous era and millennium had scaled away. Rust had grown in a thick layer around what was once an overflow drain. In spite of repeated scrubbings the tub was still nasty looking.

The once-turquoise-painted-pink tile didn’t really offer much redemptive value, either. Not even the ones that hadn’t come loose on the wall. And the hexagonal pattern on the linoleum flooring had somehow lost whatever appeal it once had. The blackened soot stains along the top of the wall and on the ceiling over the toilet had their own special touch. In short, it was an ugly little room.

But it seemed a bit of a shame to go to all of the work of tearing out, replacing, repairing and finishing and to still have such a tiny space. And, there was the laundry area stuck in the kitchen. Move that and have a little space to expand the bathroom.

The old washing machine worked fine and for added luster offered a perpetual slow discharge of transmission fluid underneath. The dryer also worked okay but without the special bonus of discoloration on the flooring. There wasn’t enough space to allow for constructing a wall and doors to hide the washer and dryer.

Conveniently, we had an empty room by the back door that opens onto the small deck. It had been claimed as a bedroom on the real estate listing and in fact also included a closet. However, it seemed to us that any area that serves as the only avenue of access to the back door should not be claimed as a bedroom. Made perfect sense to relocate the laundry to that room.

Of course, said relocation involved moving the 220v outlet and some strategic plumbing adjustment. Additional opportunities for problem-solving and quality time in the crawl space of the house. And, as if all that were not sufficient inducement, moving the laundry out of the kitchen created the opportunity for strategic enlargement of the bathroom.

It’s not enough extra space to merit a feature on “Love It or List It” but it is enough to make it possible to walk between the vanity and tub without having to slide sideways.

Sometimes remodeling our lives is a simple affair. Just tear out an old wall, put down some new attitude and finish it off with a little extra touch of friendliness and there you have it: a new you ready to love and be loved.

Other times we’ve allowed so much of the wrong stuff to sprout up, take root and take over that it requires some pretty serious demolition and restructuring. What seemed like a fine fad at the time turned into unpleasant reminders of the past. There may well be a few scrapes and scratches involved and some wriggling through the tight spaces of our psyche but in the end, having a good place that accommodates the needs of residents and guests puts us all in a much better place. Some stuff can be cleaned and fixed and made like new and some of it will just have to be torn out and thrown away.

Let’s just keep reminding ourselves about the glory of the destination while we’re in the process of renovation. One day, all will be made new and the rottenness of what once was will be swallowed up in the beauty of regeneration.

It’s going to be pretty special seeing what God accomplished with these ole fixer-uppers.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Metaphysical Reflection, Remodeling/Construction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Through All These Days

Through all these days
of coming and going,

In all these ways
of thinking and knowing,

For all these years
of planting and sowing:

We long to gather
all that is scattered,

We ache to hold
what really mattered,

We pray for healing
of what has been battered.

There is in us
some deep sense
that things once were better
long ago in a place
of calm peace,

Some place where the power of choice
moved us to claim our own voice,
our own ways of doing
and found we could not stay
in that Eden

but believed that Free Will
was worth the tilling of thorns and thistles.

And so we walk now in the midst
of rose and ashes,
somehow hovering between
paradise and purgatory,
something like angels
yet formed from dust,

Knowing that there are things
that will not rust.
Believing in spite of our birth
that we will one day walk
a New Earth

And that all of anguish,
of fear and fright,
of dread and night,
of pain and death
and faltering breath

Will be banished from that Land
That Knows No Night.

H. Arnett

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More Than an Upgrade

There are a few things I’ve learned about cast iron in my stint as a humanoid for sixty-plus years. It is heavy, it is hard, it is brittle when compared to steel and it is subject to corrosion. Protect it from corrosion, impact and torsion and it will last for a very long time.

For all appearances, the cast iron drain system in and under our house had been well-protected from corrosion… on the outside, at least. That black coating had preserved its exterior for over fifty years. And so, when I started taking it apart, it was not an easy proposition.

I had hoped to rent a “chain break” or pipe cutter which operates on principles similar to that of a tubing cutter. Tubing cutters use a small circular cutting wheel with a tapered edge. Clamp one onto the tubing, screw it down and start rotating it around the tubing or copper pipe. After each turn, tighten it down a bit more and turn again. Eventually, the combination of tightening and rotation press the cutter clear through the wall of the tubing or pipe. Pipe cutters for brass and steel work on the same principle—but on a larger scale.

The chain cutter consists of what longs like a section of extra-heavy duty motorcycle chain with a series of small tempered cutting wheels. Wrap it around your heavy cast iron pipe and start the tighten-turn-tighten sequence. Pretty soon, your heavy cast iron pipe snaps at the incision line. Drag it out in a series of small heavy pieces and before long, you’re done.

Our local tool rental place does not stock a chain cutter for the one-in-a-hundred-thousand customers who show up with a cast iron drain removal project at hand. So, using my eighteen-dollar diamond grit blade from Lowes and my battery powered DeWalt reciprocating saw (also from Lowe’s) I started.

With a fresh blade and fully charged battery, I can cut through a section of four-inch cast iron pipe in about three minutes. That blade stays fresh for one, maybe two cuts and then the time escalates dramatically. By the time I made the last cut through a long horizontal section in the crawl space, it took about eight minutes. I drug out the twelve foot piece through the crawl space access into the back yard.

When I turned it over, I discovered it had a long crack running along the first six or seven feet from the main ell. Years of ground contact on the outside and the nature of its function on the inside had corroded completely through that hard heavy pipe. The corrupted split was over a half-inch wide in places and thick scale had formed at some of the seep points. Metal so dense that it dulls files had yielded to the long slow persistence of chemical erosion.

I had no idea there was even a tiny leak in that pipe, much less a full-scale evacuation port like I discovered. There was no hint of bad odor. Even when I pulled off the two layers of old tar paper that had been laid over the pipe, there was not telltale sign of dark dampness in the dirt beside it. I thought I was simply replacing old with new, making it better.

Sometimes the good thing that we are doing turns out to be even more needed, more crucial and perhaps even more urgent than we ever suspected. The encouraging phone call, the friendly greeting, the cup of cold water, the caring touch may be more than the simple gesture of goodness we intended. It could be the very thing that lifts a laden heart, lights a spark that will catch and spread. It could even be the single act that keeps a lonely and discouraged soul from seeking its own dark release from this world’s pain.

The reason that brings us to some good thing may not be the reason it needs doing. We do not have to fully understand or even anticipate the good that comes from doing good. What we need is to simply do it.

And trust in greater hands than ours to direct us.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Metaphysical Reflection, Remodeling/Construction, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Praying for Strength and Stamina

I would have to go back to 1970 to find a day I can quickly recall when I worked as hard and long as I did on Saturday. Back in the summer of that year I worked on a hay crew in western Kentucky. We started in the field at 7:30 that morning. By the time we’d finished picking up over a thousand bales, hauling them and stacking them in the barn, it was 1:00 the next morning. A very long day but I found some comfort in knowing I’d made over two hundred dollars instead of the thirty bucks I’d have made working by the hour doing farm chores.

My Saturday began a bit earlier this past weekend. When I woke up at 3:00 and couldn’t get back to sleep, I decided to go ahead and start working on the bathroom remodeling project. Randa was gone for the weekend and I figured I might as well get something done. It was 3:30 by the time I finished my cereal.

I started on the things that didn’t make a lot of noise, installing new outlets and running the wiring for them. Cutting and hanging some drywall. Later, when it seemed less likely to prompt angry visits from the neighbors or their publicly-employed delegates, I started tearing out the old cast iron vents and drain lines. I worked in the attic, belly-crawling fifty feet through blown-in insulation in order to get over to the pipes and saw them off. I worked on the roof, pulling up the pipe, tearing out the old vents and replacing them. I worked in the bathroom, cutting into the walls and removing the cast iron stacks. Most of my time, though, was spent in the crawl space under the house.

I lay on my side, swinging a sledge hammer to break out the cast iron toilet drain. After four episodes of hammer—lie back and rest—hammer again, I managed to break the four-inch pipe. The main drain junction center had been installed and then framed around. I had to cut the framing to cut it back out. Then I had to saw through the horizontal section of cast iron pipe to make a junction for the new laundry room connection. Throughout the day I continued to pray for stamina and wisdom, “Lord,” I prayed, “Please give me strength and understanding. Help me to perceive things accurately. Bless the work of my hands.” Then I added, “Please don’t let me screw up anything today.”

By the time I crawled out from under the house at ten p.m., I’d replaced the entire drain and vent system. It took all that time plus four trips to Ace Hardware. I connected the new vanity drain line, corrected a Rube Goldberg distortion of the kitchen drain, and built a new connection for the tub. Over eighteen hours in one day.

By the end of all that crawling, turning and twisting, hammering and cutting, fitting and gluing, I was as sore as I’ve ever been after any mud run. Even the eleven mile Tough Mudder in 2014. To the best of my memory, it had been forty-six years since I’d worked that hard and that long in one day. One key difference was that forty-six years ago, I was able to work the next day, too.

Even when God grants our prayers and gives us more strength than we expected, even when He provides the stamina to endure our most trying days and wisdom to make good choices, we may still take our bumps and bruises and find a few spots that need a good long soak in a hot tub. That long soak is a good time for reflection and for giving thanks.

The same God who gives us strength for our days also gives us nights of rest and recovery. And the comfort of His own Holy Spirit.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Farming, Prayer, Remodeling/Construction, Spiritual Contemplation, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer Fatigue

A hot dry wind
sends brown leaves
sliding across the rough, cracked concrete.

In the lee of the birch tree,
they bunch against the ledge
of a single-stone layer
lining the north edge of the driveway.

From time to time,
a stronger breeze
rattles the leaves
and swirls them into different shapes
but in pretty much the same place.

I am weary of the heat,
the humidity,
the feel of tired feet after long days
and the way the desire to do nothing
wilts away the small plans I made
on the drive back home.

I am ready for cool mornings,
light mist forming over the pasture
in the low light of dawning,
and the smell of dark-fired tobacco
curing in old barns
in western Kentucky.

I am ready for autumn.

But in the gap between now
and the change for which I am longing,
I will welcome a bit of time
to sit still for a while,
a little rest in this place of quietness
and the touch of my lover’s voice
soothing the soreness
of my own choices.

H. Arnett

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Through Storm and Drought

We seemed to run a gauntlet
on our jaunt back from northeast Kansas,
the run of the road somehow
taking us through the seams of storms
rising up in the summer heat.

A few sprinkles spattered the windshield
from time to time
as we skirted the fringes
of a line of deep red clusters forming
from Oklahoma to Nebraska.

A bit east of Emporia
a long low rainbow showed faintly
against the curling blue
of yet another cell
passing through the plains.

Riding up toward the long ridge,
we saw a series of stacked white rumblings
rising up above the Flint Hills,
their miles of rolling folds as green as spring
on the last Sunday of August.

A great herd of beef
speckled the banks of a distant pond,
bits of red and white,
black and brown sloping down to the water,
shoulder deep in brome and prairie grass.

Even storms can bring blessings,
a harsh caressing that dims the memories
of dry-stemmed summers
that splintered into brown winters
and seemed to last for years.

In all seasons
there is reason to give thanks
and pray for mercy.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Farming, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Above the Stench, Beyond the Sting

I guess there is no shortage of ways that bad things can happen to people. First of all, there are the seemingly countless things that humans can inflict on one another; I don’t want to even list examples. Then there are our own bad choices that can set our lives on fire. Add to that the plethora of potential natural disasters and one begins to get the idea that our existence in this world is subject to alteration at any given time.

I’d have to say that having your home swallowed by a sinkhole would not a desired experience. Neither is having it flattened by a tornado. But I think flood damage carries a particular sort of torture.

There is the surprise of the collected torrent of seven inches of rain in two hours that comes sweeping down the natural drainage areas and pushing in through broken windows and swirling through every possible opening. Even before that, though, there is that disgusting eruption of backed up sewage forced outward and upward by massive hydraulic pressure.

Even “clean” water ruins things. Books, photographs, linens, carpets, drywall, insulation, et cetera, ad infinitum. Memories, souvenirs, necessities and niceties are soiled and soured by the mix of sand and silt, mud and muck. Add the element of back-flushed sewage and you get a very special blend of something that sends you retching and makes even the sight of once-treasured keepsakes repulsive and afflictive.

Fire and tornado, wind and storm change the forms of things for which we have loved and labored. They are ripped away from us, turned to ash and dust. Floods, too, sometimes take things away. Lawn furniture, trampolines, toys, even entire houses may be swept away. But flooding also ruins the things that are left behind, a special sort of torture as we are forced to let go, to throw into the trash the items once treasured.

Even for those most attuned to the reality that nothing of this world can forever endure, there is loss and pain in all these ways of suffering life in a fallen world. But even in such a world we see and hear of the ageless acts of caring by others, the unbidden coming of strangers to endure with others the stench and stink, to shovel out the muck and help haul out the repulsive debris.

In the offering of ourselves to one another in such humility and determination in the aftermath of life’s cutting catastrophes, we show that though we are formed from dust, there is yet something divine in us. We are more than mud and made to rise above the swirl and stench of this world’s calamities. In the darkest of this world’s afflictions, there is yet Light that lives within us.

H. Arnett

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