A Greater Grace

I write this with full apologies to my friend, John, knowing that he is never one to seek honor for himself, other than living in an honorable manner. But I find his example so compelling that I believe it needs sharing.

I sat in his office on Monday, visiting with him regarding his mother’s death. Although my own mother passed away a few years ago, it was nothing like this. My mother passed away slowly, a steady loss of weight and strength. John’s mother was struck by a motor vehicle on Friday afternoon. Not only is each passing different, each loss is as well. We are each different, each relationship has its own character and each loss has its own distinctive elements. Even if my mom had been taken suddenly, I would not presume to know what John is experiencing but I do trust that there is pain and grief.

As we talked in this sharing of sorrow, John said something that struck me as quite remarkable.

“You know, the one I keep thinking about is that twenty-one-year old young woman that was driving that car. We’ve got our family and our friends; we have a great support system. I hope that she has that but I can’t help wondering about her. I hope that she’s got people to support her.”

We spoke a while longer about the heavy burden that she will carry, regardless of the exact circumstances of the accident. Whether she was texting at the time or distracted by something else or if it was purely a matter of Mimi not thinking to look both ways before crossing the street, this young woman will live with the realization that she was driving the vehicle that killed someone. She will need much support, counsel, love and forgiveness.

That is exactly what John hopes that she receives.

Over the weekend, he posted on Facebook his appreciation for the outpouring of love and caring that his family was already receiving. He thanked everyone for their prayers. And he also asked them to be praying for the driver.

This is exactly what Jesus told us to do, isn’t it? “Pray for your enemies… do good to those who do you harm… love your enemies.” Even when they had no intention of being your enemy.

Many people in such a situation would incubate hate and rehearse anger in their hearts, chaining themselves to darkness and entertaining fantasies of vengeance. John and his family have made a different choice, a choice that liberates them, a choice that celebrates the grace by which we are called.

Just knowing people like this makes me want to be a better person.

H. Arnett

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

A Greater Sharing

In the apostolic instruction “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep,” it seems pretty clear that we are expected to share life. That sharing is not dictated by our own circumstances alone but by those of others as well. Beyond self, there is the larger, the community.

Whether in triumph or in tragedy, we bring forth from within and from each other, the realities of life in a world that is fallen and fallible, yet also joyous and giving. This life is multi-dimensional and the greater the sharing of the incidents that fall all along that continuum, the stronger and deeper our relationships.

Sometimes the sharings from both ends collide in the same day, almost the same moment.

I had learned over the weekend that one friend’s mother had been killed in a car and pedestrian accident. Out for her evening walk and struck by a car. In this stage of the investigation, very few details are available to the family. They don’t know the exact nature of the incident but they do know that Mimi is in the care of the Lord. In spite of all the pain, grief and shock, they take comfort in that.

Another friend has found comfort in a very different manner.

As pastor of a local church, he gladly carries the burden of caring for his congregation. As is common in many churches, corporate attendance and giving drop off during the summer. He had recently shared with a friend who is not a member of his church that he was going to have to ask the bank if the church could skip this month’s payment. The friend made an unexpected offer as hopeful incentive, “Tell your church what the situation is, that there isn’t enough money to cover the mortgage. Also tell them that you have a private donor who will match their special offering the following Sunday—up to a certain amount.” Day before yesterday was the Sunday designated for the special offering; the pastor and I had planned a lunch together on Monday.

Although I was anxious to hear how that had gone I was also anxious to see the other friend. While cards and calls can certainly convey our caring, hugs and handshakes seem even more tangible to me. I dropped by the first friend’s workplace. We shook hands and hugged and talked a little while. Another hug and I was on my way to meet the fellow pastor for lunch.

I managed to wait for at least a minute-and-a-half before I asked him, “How’d it go Sunday?”

With his face beaming and a smile he could barely talk through, he told me. He laid out the backstory of how he had announced the need to the church a week in advance so they’d have time to think and pray and respond. He then told me about being in his office after church while the deacons counted the money. “Every now and then I’d hear one of them say, ‘Praise the Lord!’ so I knew it was going to be good.”

Naturally I had to ask “How good was it?” With the non-member’s match and the members’ giving, they’d collected enough to cover the next three month’s payments!

It wasn’t just the money that gave James reason to celebrate, although it certainly gave very visible expression to the Lord’s providence. Rather it was the way the Spirit had moved to bring him and his friend together for what seemed would be just a casual lunch which then set in motion a series of small events that lead to blessing for him and his congregation.

In the same way, I know that the Spirit will bring everything that is needed for healing and comfort to John and his family in the coming days, weeks, months and years. At just the right moment, someone will call, show up or send a card. Along with those moments when missing Mimi will seem almost unbearable, the Spirit will bring a sharing and caring that will help them through.

And in our sharing of both pain and celebration, we will all draw closer to one another and find ourselves also closer to the One who both gives and takes away. Blessed be his name.

H. Arnett

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

Coffee with Neil

After three weeks of triple digit heat index,
the next muggy morning could be the one
that sends you right over the edge.

A man could find himself on a ledge,
wondering whether the fall
would be that much worse
than this petulant summer sultriness
that has twisted blades of corn
opened cracks in the dirt
and even wilted the leaves of small trees
growing against the brick edge of city buildings.

Walking out into the early light
of the last Saturday in July,
I saw a heavy dew beaded on the fescue
beneath the fence
and knew that the night
had brought an unexpected coolness.

And so we sat on the sun-faded fabric
of the outdoor chairs on the patio,
sipping coffee and staring off
into the blue blur of distant bluffs,
sharing small stories
and right thankful for a mid-summer morning
that was this much other than what we expected

and grateful for the connections
that have led us to this good place
in the quiet space between where we were
and where we will be
when the heat comes slumping its way
back into our lives

and knowing that by God’s good grace
we will yet see good days
and thrive in ways we could not have imagined
even if the sky itself should fall limp and wilted to the earth.

H. Arnett

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Keeping It Straight

Since it had been about a month since the last mowing, I decided it was time to trim our small pasture again this weekend. Usually I’ll start along the fence and keep mowing in a clockwise manner in a series of laps around the shrinking perimeter of tall grass. “Grass” in this case means fescue, bluegrass, orchard grass and a generous sprinkling of burdock, Johnson Grass, pigweed, milkweed and mulberry sprouts along with a few vines and at least one yucca plant. Sort of a duke’s mixture with a good bit of indigenous infiltration.

I began, working my way around the first few laps and carefully negotiating my way under or around the very low branches of the two scrub oak trees at the south end of the pasture. Around the third lap I decided I would vary my strategy and work across the grain, so to speak. I divided the field up into four smaller sections, going back and forth so that the “seams” created by this mowing would run perpendicular to those made by the previous mowing.

In order to make a neater job of it, and to rehearse an old skill from my early days of plowing back in Todd County, Kentucky, I decided to make the section cuts as straight as possible. It seemed pretty natural to use the technique Dad taught me about fifty-five years ago. At the start of each new section cut, I picked out a landmark on the opposite side of the field and focused on it. Across the bumps and dips, across the terraced ridges, uphill or downhill, I kept steering straight toward whichever fencepost or tree I’d chosen.

Considering the lack of practice over the years, I made a right tolerable job of it. The mowed strips laid out behind me were mostly straight and generally parallel.

I think the odds of reaching our destination are probably improved considerably when we don’t let the rough spots of life turn into a detour that forgets where it was headed. And even if some of our rows aren’t quite as neat or pretty as we would have liked, it’s the progress that matters.

H. Arnett

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A Spark of Light

Sometimes it’s the simple shape
of the thinnest possible edge
of a slight crescent moon
barely visible in the evening sky,
a slender slice of white
caught in the radial slants
of blue and rose growing from the sun
as a sweltering summer day
fades away through the silhouettes
of scrub oak and hedge
on the edge of the western horizon.

Sometimes it’s the memory
of a fine moment,
a recollection of you at your best,
a time when life’s testing
found you full ready
and giving no thought or quarter
to the possibility
that you might not make it
and so you did,
and in such a fine way
that you had to say—
at least to yourself—
“well, maybe I did have the help
of some higher power”
and it was a mighty fine hour,
come to think of it.

Sometimes it’s that lingering voice
of a passed parent
telling you that short cuts
may sometimes save a little time
but often find you
going through some worse place
than waiting a little while would have taken you,
and that even though taking the high road
is sometimes a bit lonely
and may take a little more time
and a lot more effort,
it always leads you to
and leaves you at a better place
than all other routes.

Sometimes it’s that unexpected message,
the note or text or—for crying out loud—
an actual face-to-face conversation,
that reminds you
that you matter more than you thought,
that not everyone who knows you
is caught up in the easy road to criticize,
and that you always have a choice:

you can wilt and shrink and give up under the heat
or realize that your God is big enough
to stay with you in the kitchen
until the last loaf is baked,
the dishes are all washed, dried and put away,
the counter is clear and clean,
and even the stove is as shiny as a new attitude.

The Darkness will never love the Light
but there will always be some who travel with you
and sometimes struggle through the night
who see and appreciate
that you seek to do what is right and loving

especially when they know
that even though you may disagree
you will never quit caring
or seeking the Greater Good.

H. Arnett

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Golden Gloves & White Robes (Sunday School with Alex Gordon)

Even if you’re not a Royals fan, surely you would have enjoyed seeing what Randa and I and maybe a few hundred thousand other fans saw last night.

Detroit was hosting Kansas City for the second of a three-game series. Royals in the field, bottom of somewhere around the fifth or sixth inning, I think. I could be off an inning or two but that isn’t crucial to the point of the story. Alex Gordon playing left field, the position where he has already won two or a few Golden Glove awards.

Alex is playing maybe fifty or sixty feet from the left field foul line. One of the Tigers hits a deep fly ball over toward the edge of the playing field. Thanks to three or four replays, including a couple in slow motion, I am able to describe more detail of what happened next.

Alex takes off in a dead run, still chewing his bubble gum. Just before he initiates a diving catch, he starts blowing a bubble. He dives for the ball, bubble getting slightly larger. Since he is running to his right and is left handed, he has to twist and reach across his body to position his glove for the catch… while he is diving. He makes the catch, twists into something of a high speed forward roll and comes out of that move into a standing position, ball still in glove and bubble still growing.

He pulls the ball out of his glove, throws it to the infield, pops the bubble and starts walking back over to mid-left field. Just another routine, highly complex, amazing catch.

Obviously the dude is talented, no doubt about that. Very athletic, extremely well-coordinated, able to time a ball that leaves the bat at a hundred miles-an-hour, trace its arc over a few hundred feet, predict its angle of descent, and meet it at the precisely right millisecond and all that stuff. Lots of talent and lots of practice. Ability meets desire meets determination meets repetition. Result: Alex Gordon can chew gum, run, blow bubbles and do cool acrobatics while catching a baseball all at the same time.

Once we put that same sort of focus, effort and devotion into the imitation of Christ, we can walk through our lives, chew gum, and show mercy, compassion and forgiveness without noticeable effort. And make the world a better place at the same time.

H. Arnett

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A Very Convenient Truth

Having so little imagination that we just couldn’t think of anything else to do, and since tearing up something seems to fit right in with contemporary definitions of patriotism, Randa and I started remodeling our kitchen on the weekend just before the Fourth of July. Seems an appropriate celebration of our house’s fiftieth year and an equally fit response to the lingering bit of Sixties’ style.

Lots of painting and panting, especially during that attic stint of running wire for new ceiling lights. Fortunately for me, I had the coolest morning in the last six weeks for that. Sure as Sam Hill, I wouldn’t want to be in that attic during these Dog Days of summer! Talk about instant heat stroke…

In spite of the triple digit readings, Saturday was the day slated for appliance delivery. Even though the guy showed up a couple of hours earlier than expected, we managed to get everything sorted out and with his good help, got the old refrigerator and gas range moved outside. While he was reassembling the new refrigerator—required when you have to bring one in through a thirty-inch opening—Randa and I rested in the TV room.

Soon after he left, there was a knock on the door, which gave me the chance to meet another neighbor. “Are you going to be selling your old stove?” she asked in a very polite manner. “Well,” I confessed, “Randa and I have been discussing that very question. We have another house in northeast Kansas and we were thinking about putting it in the basement up there.” I paused then, noting a look of disappointment on her face, then asked, “Do you know someone who needs one?”

“Yes,” she replied. “Some friends of ours. He is disabled, she works for the school district and they have five kids. Their oven just went out on them.”

Dim as I am and hot as it was on Saturday afternoon, I could still figure out a few things. One is that when an oven goes out on you, you never know when that rascal is going to come back. Some of them never do. Family is all in the living room, door is open, and that oven will just go right out and never look back.

Second thing is if you’re working for the school district instead of running it, you’re probably not making a ton of money. And with five kids… seriously, you’re probably not ordering a brand new stove on impulse. Randa and I figured having a good stove sitting in a basement to be used twice a year wasn’t nearly as good from the stewardship angle as having it working like a Missouri mule in the kitchen of a seven-member family.

And so it was that our newly met neighbor came back over a couple of hours later with her son and potential daughter-in-law and took the stove. Ten minutes later, another knock on the door. The potential daughter-in-law smiled nervously and asked, “Do you want to get rid of the refrigerator, too?”

Old appliances gone, one or two other families blessed and I didn’t have to load, drag or lift any old appliances on a scorching July afternoon. The Lord does work in wonderful ways, now doesn’t he?

H. Arnett

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