A Pretty Good Day

Well, folks, for some people, it would take a lot of effort to put so many varied opportunities into one day. I pulled it off with hardly any effort at all.

It sort of started with a brand new commode I’d installed two or three weeks ago. A week later, while indulging in the subtle ecstasies of crawling around under the house, I noticed a little moisture under the bathroom drain. So I pulled the new commode up and found a tiny open seam between the anchoring flange and the drain pipe. Put a little silicone in that, put down a thicker wax seal and reinstalled the toilet. That seemed (pun intended) to take care of it.

Two days ago, while sanding drywall seams and patches, I noticed the floor was damp around one side of the commode. “Oh, boy!” I thought, “Another opportunity to cultivate problem-solving skills and develop greater expertise in this area of home maintenance and repair.” Perhaps that’s not an exact quote of what I was thinking but let’s pretend it was. The next morning, there was more water around the commode, even though it hadn’t been flushed in about eight hours. That meant water had to be seeping out of bowl, not leaking during the flush cycle. Not something one desires or expects from a brand new toilet.

So yesterday I detached the water supply, took the nuts off the anchoring bolts and lifted the commode off again. This time, I inspected the toilet as well as the drain. The drain looked fine; the silicone was still in place. There was however, a tiny crack running across the bottom of the toilet. In fact, there was a smear of silicone at one end of the crack, indicating the defect had been detected at the factory. Detected but not rejected as it should have been. Any number of people with experience in ceramics and/or porcelain can tell you that cracks seldom stop at the point of first detection.

“The bold look of Kohler” was going back to Lowes for a second look. I had four sheets of Hardie Backer™ to return and a sheet of drywall. This precipitated a “Three Stooges Meet the Keystone Kops” session of loading, unloading, rearranging and reloading that turned the ten-minute job into a thirty minute job. At one point, I had the drywall balanced on one side of the truck bed and the commode sitting on top of the cab but eventually everything was loaded and strapped safely and snugly into place.

As we were driving toward Ponca City, there was a sudden loud noise and a quick jolt. I thought we had a tire blowout and pulled onto the shoulder. Tire inspection showed all present and fully inflated. No tire damage. Couldn’t say the same for the drywall. There were two spots right at the strapping point where it had broken. Randa looked underneath the truck and solved the mystery. “The strap wrapped around the driveshaft.” I didn’t think the loose end was long enough to even reach under the truck much less get caught in the U-joint of the driveshaft. I was wrong.

We returned the materials and the really nice guy at the Lowes commercial desk even refunded our money on the drywall. We took the toilet up to the return desk at the front of the store and they promptly brought us another toilet of the same model. A friendly fellow helped steady the rocking roller cart while I inspected the replacement. It was almost identical to the one we’d returned. It even had the same evidence of repaired cracks at the factory. I left it sitting on the edge of the cart for a moment to go look for Randa.

The friendly fellow took his foot off the cart. The cart tilted toward the end where the commode was sitting. The commode slid off onto the concrete floor. The floor did not break, crack or even flinch. The toilet, however, became quite emotional. You could say it went to pieces. I broke it; I paid for it.

The friendly folks at Lowes brought up a third sample. Same inspection process, same evidence of factory crack repair. This one was returned safely to its box and we decided to go with a different brand of toilet. With any luck, I’ll have it installed by the time my vacation is over this weekend.

By some counts, it was a pretty rotten afternoon. A hundred-and-forty dollars lying in sharp pieces of porcelain on the floor at Lowes. Broken cargo strap and what have you. Another commode still to be installed…

But, in fact, I was still healthy, mobile and semi-agile. And by bedtime, the walls and ceiling in the bathroom were all sanded smooth and freshly coated with primer. And besides that, the Cubs beat the Dodgers 10-2.

It actually was a pretty good day. Most days are when I try to look at them that way.

H. Arnett

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

Conversation That Matters

Sometimes, even after a good day of honest work, I find myself not quite sleepy when it comes the usual time for going to sleep. Caffeine after supper will definitely cause that but caffeine was not the cause last night. I’m not really sure what the reason was last night. Whatever it was, I’m glad it happened.

After a longer than usual Board of Trustees meeting, after the Indians proved ungrateful guests of our neighbors to the north by taking a 3-0 lead in the American League playoffs and after the Cardinals defeated the Jets and during yet one more Forensic Files rerun, I tapped into Facebook. While rummaging through the lives of friends and acquaintances, I came across a post by a friend. On an unusual impulse, I messaged the dude who responded immediately.

We ended up carrying on a digital conversation for ten or fifteen minutes. While that was going on, a friend from over thirty-five years ago sent me a message. After a while, I initiated yet another conversation with a third friend. Mister Never Chats on Facebook oddly found himself in pretty serious dialog with three different friends.

One of them mentioned having had a rough day. “I was thinking about calling you,” he typed, “This was even better.”

I think it’s pretty cool when God works out little things like that in our lives. On an unlikely impulse, I’d contacted someone who needed to talk for a while. I ended up carrying on conversation with two other people who needed to hear from someone who cared, someone who would listen and respond, someone who would say something they needed to hear. And all three of them provided that for me.

As a result, four people eventually went to sleep last night (at least presumably) a little more at peace, freshly reminded that they matter to someone else, freshly reminded that God is still at work in their lives, working for their good.

I think it’s pretty awesome knowing a God who can turn inane chatter into something that matters, at just the right time.

H. Arnett

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Tiny Preacher

I suppose I should claim that I was multi-tasking at church Sunday morning: standing, singing, praising and watching the small child in front of me. Pressed for honesty, though, I’d say at some point my attention was rather dominated by the kid.

He was a cute little scamp, probably in the neighborhood of fifteen months old. He had dark hair, dark eyes and an impish grin. He was small enough that he wanted to be held and old enough that he didn’t want to stay with one holder for more than a minute or two. There were five or six adults indulging him in the game: two who passed for parents, maybe a young aunt, all flanked by presumable grandparents. They took turns passing him around according to his whims. One would hold him for a while, then he’d reach out his arms to the next one and move on, back and forth throughout the course of the worship.

It wasn’t terribly distracting but it was sufficiently so that this morning I’m writing about it instead of the song service. Of course, watching the kid was a choice I made, so I’m not blaming him, the parents or the grandparents. In fact, it led to an interesting incident, one that I’ve witnessed before more than a time or two.

At one point, the little fellow leaned over toward the oldest man in the group and stretched out his hands toward him. The man turned toward him slightly and leaned over with a big smile on his face. He bent over as if to take the child but as he did, the kid grabbed his shirt pocket trying to yank out an ink pen.

“Hmmm…” I thought, “I’ve seen that before. Ole bait and switch. Kid acts like he wants you to hold him but what he really wants is to grab something from you.” Pretty soon, that got me to thinking a bit harder. Got me to wondering how many times I’ve done that to God.

You know, for all appearances, it looks like I’m reaching out to him, wanting to be closer, longing for close relationship when in fact, I just want him to give me something. On my knees, crying out to God and asking for peace or prosperity or one of a hundred other things when in fact, if I’d just draw close to God I’d find out everything else I needed would be provided.

Little brat! There I was thinking he was just distracting me and then he goes and lays a whole sermon on me. Right in the middle of church! Didn’t see that coming…

H. Arnett

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Storm in the Flint Hills

Just before we reached Meriden
a hole opened toward the west.
A sudden platinum
blazed the pin-feather edges of broken clouds
and the whole section burned a bright salmon
while drifts of rain streaked bits of blue
below the bellies of heavier clouds.

We drove on through bits of showers
in the hour passing between
Topeka and Emporia.

As dusk turns into darkness,
the moon holds high in a broken sky,
just to our left as we drive through
this autumn night.

Off to our right,
lightning flashes
in a dark bruised cluster
mustering above the northern drift
of the southern Flint Hills.

Holding between storm and silence,
we pass by unseen miles
of autumn-colored prairie grass
smoothing the shapes of long-sloped fields
broken by scrub oak and cottonwood
along the jagged lines of ditches and gullies.

Tornadoes and thunderstorms
with torrential rains
are not the things of a usual fall
in these rolling plains

but we have learned
that definitions
are sometimes subject to revision
without our input or consent.

In a world where even dictionaries
reflect the changes of time and minds,
we either learn to move on through
both storm and calm

or else find ourselves driven about
by fad and fancy,
our beliefs more reflection
of our surroundings
than solid guide
and anchor to our better foundings.

H. Arnett

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

Rehearsal of the Concert Choir

Thirty-one young adult voices of various parts
move through five pieces in fits and starts
under the direction of Mr. Smith.

Psalm One-Eighteen has its complexities
and the students work their way forward—
after loosening warm-ups—
back and forth in progressive turn
as subtle shifts in melody are learned.

In the shaping of Wanting Memories,
Mr. Smith finally gets the blend he wants
from the sopranos
after catching himself at the piano—
“No, that’s not it”—and corrects the line.
All the sopranos get it this time
and Mr. Smith exclaims to the altos,
“Wasn’t that beautiful?!”

The group moves more quickly
through Slave Chorus,
perhaps owing to more practice
or maybe it’s a bit easier
in ways an observer cannot easily tell.

Something in their singing
of Eyes of All catches me
a bit off-guard
and I forget for a while
that I am here as teaching coach
and evaluating administrator.

In such singing as this,
at certain moments,
we become—even in the listening—
something more,
something larger,
something better.

In these finest notes
we seem more like angels,
less like dirt and sweat and bone.
Something more like light and air—
something closer to the home
we left long ago
in a place of ancient waters
where we were formed
by the finger of God
and became living souls.

In the blending of voices like this,
I close my eyes and believe
that indeed we received
and still carry
the very breath of God.

Yes, this is
Festival Sanctus.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, College, education, Higher Education, Music, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Blessing of Inconvenience

Those steel wiring boxes used to house outlets and switches back in the Sixties are mighty durable. Come fire, hurricane or busted water pipes, those things are going to hold up. Everything around them might disintegrate but not those steel boxes.

In addition to being durable, they’re pretty good conductors of electricity. Say, just for example, you’re drilling a hole through the floor and happen to bump against one of those steel boxes. Say, also just for example, there’s a loose wire inside that steel box. You might see a little flash and then the lights go out. Literally speaking, not figuratively. Although it could be both meanings. Sometimes similar encounters do result in a loss of consciousness as well as a loss of lights.

Since I happened to be wearing gloves and using a drill with plastic housing, there was no coma. In fact, I didn’t even get shocked. I went to the breaker panel, found the tripped switch and reset it. Lights came back on and I resumed drilling.

But when the same thing happened a week later during the plumbing phase of the laundry relocation, the lights did not come back on. The only thing I could figure out at first was that the breaker must have broken. Bought a new one, then checked the old one and found out it was still good. I used an extension cord and back-wired the circuit.

The lights came on but not the outlets in the kitchen. This suggested that maybe there was another wiring problem that did not manifest itself until the second time I shorted out the circuit by bumping the steel box in what was turning into the new laundry room. Another happy little insight gained in the experience was the realization that every ceiling light in the house, all the outlets in the kitchen, half the outlets in living room, all the outlets in the back room, all the outlets in the entry room and all the outlets and lights in the garage were all on the same circuit.

Diagnosing and repairing the problem could take hours of tracing wire through the attic, walls and crawl space. Since one of Randa’s nephews is a licensed and well-experienced electrician, I gave him a call. He listened patiently, asked a couple of questions and then said, “Yeah, could be anywhere.”

“You know, Matt,” I complained, “I could spend forty hours tracing down the problem and fixing it and it won’t add a dollar’s worth of value to the house.”

“No,” Matt responded lightly, “But it could keep your house from burning down.”

Sometime I get so focused on the wrong reasons and all the little inconveniences of doing something that isn’t quick, isn’t easy and isn’t fun that I forget that quick, fun and easy may not be the most important part. Sometimes, our inconvenience is the very thing that needs to happen so that we realize that what we are doing may be a lot more important than we realized. “Thank you, Lord, for the inconvenience of a loose wire in a steel box. And for the blessing of not getting electrocuted in the process.”

And, by the way, it only took about twenty hours. Time well spent.

H. Arnett

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The Heavy Dews of Autumn

These heavy dews of autumn
speak of changes on the way,
days of clear skies
that hang a bright blue
above miles of prairie hills,
heavy-bellied beef grazing
in the still-green grass
of late summer rains.

Stretching west from the river,
lower plains of corn and milo
stretch long threads of copper and bronze
beyond the section lines of gravel roads.
The smoky haze of harvest
rises behind green or red machines
separating seed from stalk
and filling the lean, low bellies
of semi-trailers filed along the near edge
of fields that spread into dusk.

Dreams of gold and rust
filter into the night;
some will sleep the tired slumber
of long days of sweat and dust
while others stir
and turn toward one shoulder,
hoping a change that small
will somehow call away the worries
that turn the darkness into thought
and leave some space
for the peace of rest

while the heavy dew of autumn
forms thick beads that will stream down windows
and gleam silver in the sun
that dawns the beginning
of one more day of hope and promise.

H. Arnett

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